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Smoky Mountain Historical Information

The Smokies offer activities for visitors of various ages and interests. Recommended activities include camping, hiking, picnicking, sightseeing, fishing, horseback riding, and nature viewing. There are also opportunities for ranger-guided programs.

smoky mountains history

Smoky Mountains History

The origin of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be traced back to 1923 when Mrs. Willis P. Davis of Knoxville, Tennessee traveled to the American West and was amazed by the beauty preserved in the western national parks such as Yellow Stone. Living near the Smoky Mountain foothills, Davis knew that the Great Smoky Mountains needed to be preserved as well. This modern woman began the park movement!

The movement began slowly because local and national politics served to delay progress. Disputes over whether the land should become a National Forest or a National Park, exactly what land to use, as well as lack of federal funding stood in the way of creating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When the suggestion of constructing a better road between Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina arose, the Park Movement gained more support.

Colonel David Chapman became the spearhead national park supporter, and in 1926 the three-year struggle ended when Congress finally authorized the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park Commissions quickly raised money to purchase 6,600 land tracts through beneficiary donations and Tennessee and North Carolina state funding.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking at Dedication of National Park, Newfound Gap (Sept 2, 1940)
Smoky Mountains History

The devalued currency and skyrocketing land prices of the Great Depression posed a problem for the Park Commission; they appealed to Congress for extra funding, but actually received needed support from a $5 million donation from the Rockefeller family. In 1933 the U.S. Government contributed $1.55 million to complete the land acquisition.

Despite the struggles with money and politics, Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on June 15, 1934, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the park six years later on September 2, 1940. The hard road from conception to realization was complete.

Thankfully, the insight of Mrs. Davis and donations from kind philanthropists preserved this land of “smoky” foothills and unique wildlife. Today the Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosts nearly 12 million visitors annually. This refuge to amazing flora and fauna continues to grow in popularity as an attractive getaway.

Cades Cove and the History of the Cherokee Indians

Before 1819, Cades Cove belonged to the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee called it Tsiyahi, “place of the river otter”. At this time, river otters, elk, and eastern bison, since removed, lived in the Cove. As the Cherokee were exposed to European traditions, they made efforts to include them in their own culture. Log and frame houses soon appeared and Cherokee children attended schools. By 1820 a written language was established and in 1830 a census showed that slaves were actually working for the Cherokee!

Andrew Jackson’s Presidency led to the “Trail of Tears”, the removal of American Indians from their lands east of the Mississippi River. More than 14,000 Cherokees left the Southern Appalachians in 1838 with over 4,000 of these dying before reaching Oklahoma. Some Cherokee chose to hide in the Smokies in order to avoid removal. The Eastern Band of Cherokee reclaimed some of their lands in the 1870s. Today this is the Qualla Boundary in western North Carolina.

By 1850, the Cades Cove settler population had reached 685, but as Americans moved westward, this number shrank. The Civil War, new logging industry, and factory jobs in Maryville, TN all continued to encourage Cades Cove residents to move away. When the park was created, most lands were purchased and only those with leases were allowed to remain until these agreements terminated. The last resident, Kermit Caughron, died in 1999, thus ending the period of settlement in Cades Cove.

To learn more about Cades Cove, visit the visitor center located along its 11-mile loop road. Oconaluftee Visitor Center contains interesting relics from when the Cherokee Indians inhabited these mountains and the community of Cherokee, NC, actually a reservation, offers interesting exhibits in museums and shops.