Atlas – Landscape

This page will be a Geographical Atlas that will break the landscape down into geo-features as they evolved from the earliest maps and surveys to our modern topographic maps. The old map symbols and various techniques are very interesting.

Two additional Atlas pages on this site will focus on:

1) ATLAS ARCHAIC GLOSSARY: Archaic terms and phrases described as used by early natives and settlers regarding the landscape. 

2) ATLAS OF HISTORIC MAPS:  This page will be a collection of basic historic maps/details and surveys relating to Eastern Cherokee history, events and their territorial claim.

More maps and archaic terms and phrases will be found throughout the website and especially in the Cherokee Ecology sections.

This map is from an 1821 survey along the Unicoi Mountains dividing Tennessee from western North Carolina. Some of the major trails and roads were noted. The mountains were painted in using watercolor (it appears). The Little Tennessee River is shown on the left and the Hiwassee on the right. Note that there is no scale in this map. The shaded mountain areas are symbolic and represent mountainous areas. The rivers, likewise, are representative which the exception of named tributaries.

Basic Landscape Geographical Features

We are not dealing with earth science as taught in modern classrooms, but the old, practical means by which people traveled and lived on the early frontiers and wilderness’s of North America.  This breaks down into basic elements that determined where and how folks traveled, where they camped, landscape obstacles and challenges, etc. I will include simple sketches that I have made over the years as well as reproducing non-copyright material from old books and archives. 

Travel was determined by mountain passes (gaps), river/stream fords (shallows), swampy expanses, since mountains had to be crossed, rivers forded and swampy quagmires circumvented. Therefore we will deal with geographic features first and ecological landscapes secondly. 

Native peoples and early Euro-travelers used a primitive technique of mental triangulation similar to modern orienteering with a compass. If you can see two mountain peaks at a distance and get a compass bearing from your position to each one and draw the angular lines on a map, you can pinpoint your physical location. Early travelers relied on several “plug-ins” to their computer-mind apps:    TIME TRAVELED KNOWING THE AVERAGE SPEED FOR WALKING OR HORSEBACK; GEOGRAPHICAL LANDMARKS;  and SOLAR LANDMARKS (MOON, SUN AND STARS).     

Fording places were important geographical points where animals including bison and elk crossed streams, native trails, later wagon roads, then sometimes ferries and bridges were built.
Notice that the trail on this map does not cross any streams. It is following a dividing ridge which would keep the traveler's feet dryer in cold weather. Sometimes these trails were longer than "as the crow flies" but avoided dense canebrakes, thickets, and deep stream crossings.
Dividing Ridges were sometimes suitable for trails since they had no major stream crossings. They also made perfect borders to divide political or tribal land claims. They were watershed divides that could divide great rivers or small streams and tributaries of the same watershed. They were used prolifically by natives and early frontier people to identify where they were and where they were going. This divide is in northeast Alabama in the Talladega National Forest. A common name for trails that followed ridgetops was "ridge path" or "ridge road."
This aerial view of the gap between Rich Mountain and Snake Mountain was a major buffalo trail and Indian trail connecting Trade, Tennessee (a historic meeting place) to the Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin River
Indian Gap facing north from Newfound Gap Road just north of Cherokee, NC and just before crossing the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Long valleys made great travel corridors since they were flat and usually contained rivercane for forage and mountain springs for water.
This image shows a detail from a 1777 map along the North Carolina and South Carolina border which was a portion of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. It's ruggedness and forbidding terrain gave it a reputation among whites as "impassable."
Bluffs and canyons were obstacles that served as landmarks, obstructions and shelters if there were overhangs or "rock houses along the baselines."
The Little Tennessee River (as all rivers) was the main artery of life since it provided fish, bathing, traveling and where flat adjacent land was found, towns and villages.
The Cherokees had a main trail that left modern Cherokee, North Carolina and crossed the Great Smoky Mountains to modern Gatlinburg, TN. Gatlinburg was known in early days as "White Oak Flats."
A special rock on the Indian Gap trail certainly was a mental marker
After crossing Indian Gap just west of Newfound Gap, it continued around Mount Mingus and intersected the modern highway near the Chimney Tops parking area. This section of old trail which became a wagon road in the early 1800s, is now a trail that can be walked in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The above are some of the very basic but major geographic or geological landscape features. They influenced where trails evolved.  

Other geo-landmarks originated from names of legendary or mythological personalities such as the Devil’s Den and Devil’s Courthouse. Below are some features I became familiar with through the years of exploring about 300 miles of blufflines in North Alabama. 

Large natural rock houses or bluff shelters located near water or other necessary or coveted amenities sometimes became centers of life. Russell Cave in north Alabama and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky are some prime examples.
Deep in the Sipsey Wilderness of north Alabama are countless features that were either named by early settlers or carried on from Native American traditions.
Waterfalls alone, waterfalls with pools, or sometimes isolated pools of water were special and/or sacred places to Native Americans.
Rock bluffs that appear to be faces make memorable landscape features that identify where one is at on a particular journey.