The following maps and research is based on historical records and field work, including archaeological documentation, confirming general locations of towns and trails. The work was done over a period of ten years and primarily funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Broadly categorizing, the time is after 1600 until after the 1838 Removal and Trail of Tears in order to tell the story of those Cherokees who refused to leave their homeland in the mountains of western North Carolina including some residing in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

The Cherokee once had a strong presence in Virginia and gradually moved southwesterly down “The Great Valley” of the Holston River over time. They established towns in and around modern Johnson City and Elizabethton, Tennessee and along the northern rim of the Great Smoky Mountains. They established a cluster of towns that became known to the British colonists as the Overhill Towns.  The Middle Towns of the Little Tennessee River and nearby Out Towns of the Tuckasegee River  were situated in the heart of the mountains. The Lower Towns were located southeast of the Blue Ridge along the foothills and Piedmont of upper South Carolina. 


This map displays approximately 1700 Western North Carolina and adjacent Tennessee (Calhoun, Maryville, Sevierville). Note the Great War Path from Virginia which terminated on the Gulf of Mexico at Pensacola.  East of the great Blue Ridge Escarpment the Cherokee Trading Path to Virginia and the Trading Path from Charles Town, South Carolina are depicted. The green shading represent the fertile valleys along river bottoms where the majority of the towns were located. 

This GIS snapshot shows the location of many historic Cherokee towns in the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounding vicinity. Note the Great Valley to the north.
Trails connected all the towns and tied into the continental-wide travel system that included trading routes and war paths.

Cowee Town - A Brief Historical Outline

The first contact by English colonists with the Cherokee is believed to have been in 1654 when a large band of Rickahockans settled at modern Richmond, VA. Rickahockan was the Powhatan name for the Cherokee. In 1673, Major General Abraham Wood sent James Needham and Gabriel Arthur from Virginia to the Overhill town of Chota in order to establish trade.

According to the January, 1845 edition of the Cherokee Advocate, a South Carolina manuscript reveals an 1684 agreement between eight chiefs of the Lower Towns and authorities in Charles Town.

By 1700, Cowee and Nikwasi were the two most important and centrally located of about sixty towns of the Cherokee Nation.  

In 1716, Cowee and Tennessee (an Overhill Town) were chosen by the British as the first two towns to host factories or trading posts supplied from Charles Town, South Carolina. By 1716 George Hill was the principal trader residing in Cowee. 

Cowee was located at the crossroads of two major trading travelways. A northern fork of the Charles Town Trading Path left modern Clayton, Georgia and followed the Little Tennessee River through Nikwasi, Watauga, and Ayoree to Cowee. From Cowee, a path called the Yona Canara Road led west across the Nantahala Mountains. This path name is believed to be a variant of the Cherokee name Yonah Ganela, or “where the bear lives.” This path passed through Burningtown Gap and descended the Nantahala Mountains at Junaluska Gap.

Nikwasi, or “Star Place,” was only seven miles upstream of Cowee on the Little Tennessee River, connected by a trading path that was later used in the 1838 Trail of Tears to transport Cherokees from Fort Lindsey to the site of ancient Nikwasi, located at modern-day Franklin, North Carolina.

Both Cowee and Nikwasi towns had sacred mounds on which council houses overlooked the surrounding houses and fields. Nikwasi was a “mother town” and a significant council place where chiefs or headmen from the Lower, Overhill, Out, Middle and Lower Towns convened for important meetings. Both towns were located at crossroads of major travel ways. 

According to James Adair, smallpox brought to Carolina on slave ships in 1738 broke out among the Cherokees and killed half the tribe within a year. Population estimates around this time numbered the Cherokee at around twelve thousand, with over sixty towns previous to the smallpox plague.

In 1750, some Cowee headmen were noted as Corone the Raven and the Mankiller of Cowee, titles of rank.  Other Cherokee headmen and chiefs included The Raven of Nikwasi and the Blind Warrior of Watauga. The White Buffalo Calf represented Nikwasi and Cowee in the Treaty of Hopewell in 1785. Sharp Fellow of Watauga was also a noted warrior. The Warrior of Cowee was a prominent figure in 1768. 

In 1752, Cowee had an estimated 110 fighting men. Most of the records of the 18th century show that Cowee had over a hundred households at any given time. 

In 1751, the Board of Trade in Charles Town (Charleston) divided 39 Cherokee towns into 13 trading districts with one trader per district. Cowee, Tarsalla (Usanna), Coweechee and Elejoy were in the same district. Tarsalla was located about two miles northwest of Cowee, and Coweechee and Elejoy were downstream several miles.

The 1761 John Stuart map identifies a trail connecting Cowee and Kituwha.  The path crosses the Cowee Mountains, then Alarka Creek and appears to follow Kirkland Creek to its mouth just west of Kituwah, or Governer’s Island. A chart of towns lists Cowee with 130 gun men, and nearby Usanah or Oosarlah with 45; Coweechee, 50; Burning Town, 60; Allejoy, 60; Ayoree, 100; Watauga, 95; and Nikwasi, 120. Stuart’s figures indicate that there were at least 830 Cherokee families living on the Little Tennessee River in a 17-mile stretch as the crow flies from near Franklin to the Needmore area.
War broke out between the Cherokee and the English in 1759, leading to two incursions by the British army. The first was repelled by the Cherokee, who soundly defeated Archibald Montgomery at Echoy near modern Franklin.  Outraged, the British beefed their troops to 2,600 men, and enlisted Stockbridge, Catawba and Chickasaws to lead the way and scout the Cherokees. The 1761 military record notes that the soldiers carried no tents but essentials: bearskins, blankets and liquor.  Eighty-one black slaves were forced to serve the army.  Six hundred pack horses carried flour bags and ammunition. The Cherokees, having been blockaded, did not have enough guns and ammunition to withstand the most powerful army in the world. 
In 1761, British Lieutenant Colonel James Grant invaded the Middle Towns and burned 15 total which included some Lower Towns
Some of the 1820 reserves claimed across the river from Cowee Mound in and along Cowee Valley.
From Cowee Mound facing east up Cowee Valley 5 miles to the Bald
Cowee Town proper and council house was on the west side of the Little Tennessee River. It faced east across the river and across the Cowee Valley and Mountains.
The British burned their way to Cowee and commandeered the council house on the mound as their field hospital and headquarters. From there they sent detachments over the Cowee Mountains to the Tuckasegee River in a circular march,  burning every town in their path. 
When they made their way back to the Little Tennessee River north of Cowee, they recorded: “We marched to Allejoy, the only remaining town in the middle settlements, having in our way passed the Etchoe River. Our Indians found five Cherokees in this place, one of them was killed and one taken prisoner. The other three tho’ closely pursued made their escape but when these Cherokees get into the mountains none of the other Indians can come near them. After destroying the town and country we marched about three miles further, passed the Etchoe River [Little Tennessee]again with great difficulty at a very bad ford and encamped on the north side of it within six miles of Cowhitchie.”
Fifteen Cherokee towns including Cowee were burned, crops destroyed and every prisoner murdered. The headman of Kituwha was killed by the Chickasaws.
In 1767, Thomas Griffith dug white kaolin clay from the famous Ayoree mine located between Cowee and Nikwasi; the clay was hauled on horses to Charleston, SC, and shipped to the Wedgewood Company in England.
In 1775, naturalist William Bartram passed through Nikwasi to Cowee Town where he stayed for several weeks. While exploring the Nantahala Mountains, he met and was advised by Attakullakulla to leave Cherokee country before the looming Revolutionary War broke out. 
In 1776, the Cherokees were convinced by the British that a joint British-Cherokee victory over American rebels would guarantee Cherokee possession of their lands west of the Appalachians. Attacks on the Carolinians brought two U.S. armies into the Cherokee heartland only 15 years after the previous war. Fifty-two Cherokee towns, along with their crops, were destroyed that fall. The starvation, suffering and death that followed into the winter of 1776-1777 is unrecorded. 
 After these two wars and continued attacks by North Carolina and Tennessee militia, Cowee rebounded and resumed its role as an important Cherokee town. 
In 1819, about 27 Cherokee families opted to become American citizens and claimed reserves of land in and around Cowee. Since each reserve was a square mile, this totalled 27 square miles of land and included the prime farmland along the river bottoms. Driven by greedy and ruthless land speculators, the government of North Carolina extinguished the rights of these families and their claims were sold to whites. Some of the Cherokee families who were displaced included those of Euchella, the Old Mouse, Yellow Bear, the Axe, Little Deer, Trout, the Wolf, Jenny, and the Fencemaker.  Euchella, a headman, claimed a reserve containing Cowee mound and lived close by.  
Detail from a 1796 land patent entry which was determined to be fraudulent