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A Glimpse of Cherokee County's Past

by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

[Do not copy and upload this on other websites or blogs of any kind; do not attach any pages to online family trees; do not print in any publications of any kind. See copyright notice at the foot of each page. Visitors may read my articles here, but they are not for sale nor for thieves to upload elsewhere.]

The year 1820 saw the first white establishment in the southwestern corner of North Carolina. A Baptist church and mission school was built there at the Cherokee Indian town called Old Natchez located about six miles south of what is now Murphy, the county seat. In this primitive structure, Reverend Humphrey Posey struggled to teach English to the Indians. He was on a sacred mission for the education and Christian conversion of the Cherokee Indians, some of whom honored this minister by naming their sons "Posey." Even decades later, his revered name was still frequently used as a Christian name for Indian braves and others.

Only seven years later in 1827, gold was discovered just across the mountainous border along Co Co (Coker) Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee. When even more gold was found to the south on Cherokee lands in Georgia, numerous pale-faced prospectors wandered into this Indian domain and were followed soon thereafter by ambitious traders into the Indian villages. One white trader Colonel Archibald R. S. Hunter, an officer in the War of 1812, finally built a trading post called Huntersville at the present site of Murphy in 1830. Five years later, it was known as Huntington Post Office, and the Colonel served as postmaster.

During the 1830s, white man's lust for this valuable land so swelled that all measures -- even cruel and illegal -- were employed by government officials and their representatives to procure it. "Gold fever" is said to have sealed the fate of the Cherokee. Six forts were established in Western North Carolina in 1838 because multitudes of Cherokees refused to relocate to Oklahoma Territory. The largest fort was called Fort Butler and erected at the present site of Murphy. It was used as the official U.S. Army headquarters for the forced removal. A smaller fort named Delaney was also established within the present bounds of Cherokee County at what later became known as Andrews.

So began the great travesty, The Trail of Tears, referred to as "the greatest blot on America's history." Historical museums at New Echota in Gordon County, Georgia and Red Clay in Bradley County, Tennessee depict the plight of these Cherokee Indians and honor them as true Americans. North Carolina's package of Indian land secured by the Treaty of New Echota fell within the jurisdiction of Macon County. Later, in 1839, after "The Removal," Cherokee County was officially established out of this newly acquired section and, paradoxically enough, named for the tribe forced at gunpoint and driven under extreme duress to relinquish these rich, fertile mountains.

There's Culture in 'Them Thar' Hills.
by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

Not only did the Cherokee Indians who were herded along the devastating "Trail of Tears" relinquish most of their personal property but also their homes, farms, livestock, crops, and sacred burial grounds. In their wake, they left behind a rich cultural heritage affixed to the very geography of the land itself. This legacy has endured so like the Nation who produced it. The beautiful names of Cherokee County's rivers, streams, valleys, coves, and mountains still whisper of colorful Indian legends associated with them.

Nowhere can one travel in Cherokee County without encountering this heritage. It guides every tourist studying a road map and stares at all passers-by from road signs. Many former Cherokee Indian titles and place names represented indigenous plant and animal life. Examples of these such as Beech Creek, Fox Grape Creek (now Grape Creek), Peachtree Creek, and Persimmon Creek have assumed English translations for Indian names of plants commonly surrounding these creeks. Other examples such as Buzzard Roost, Beaverdam Bald, Owl Creek, and Panther Top referred to typical wildlife.

Some titles commemorate beloved Cherokee chiefs and courageous warriors. Notable among these are Junaluska Creek and Road named for the great Chief Junaluska who lived in that location and so bravely saved General Andrew Jackson's life at the famous Battle of Horsehoe Bend in the War of 1812, thus altering the course of American history.

Other locations relate to legends of Indian names lost in obscurity. A prime example is Vengeance Creek, the south branch of Valley River, so named for the "cross looks of an Indian woman who lived there."

Hanging Dog Creek and Community, often shortened to just "Hang Dog" by locals, has a name bound up in the legend of an Indian brave's devoted hunting dog and its unrelenting pursuit of a wounded buck. In the midst of an extremely bitter winter and harsh famine, the hunter brought meat to the wigwam thanks to the undaunted efforts of his cur. It bravely chased the buck across a swift creek and would surely have been swept away and drowned except it hung on some fallen tree branches. The hunter, later named "Deer Killer," rescued his "hanging dog," and both then tracked their prey.

Ironically, the name "Cherokee has no meaning in the Cherokee language" which is called the Kituwha. Cherokee is of foreign origin to the tribe which uses Tsa-la-gi for the term according to tribal language expert Mary Ulmer Chiltoskey.

Yet, many original Indian titles are still evident today although spellings vary. Hiwassee (Hiawassee) River retains its Indian name meaning "the only one." Nantahala, Nottely (or Notla), Ogreeta, Tomotla, and Wehutta are other geographical titles that followed suit. Frank McKinney wrote, "The Indian gave to these mountains a name, and to the rivers a title expressive of the poetry of his soul . . . ." This poetry and all the myths and legends wound therein form Cherokee County's splendid cultural heritage.

Early White Settlements in Cherokee County
by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

Though adventurous settlers flocked into newly established Cherokee County from distant states, by far the greatest numbers simply moved across bordering county lines of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, and Polk Counties to the west in Tennessee and Haywood and Macon Counties to the east in North Carolina. This is evident from early censuses, of which the 1860 report is particularly helpful because specific birthplaces are listed for all county residents. Relocation from even such a short distance was in no way easy since the county was accessible only through rugged, mountainous wilderness or by one of the treacherous river gorges.

R. E. Barclay wrote in Ducktown Back in Raht's Time, "Cherokee County's roads in the 1840's followed the aimless trek of settlers as they took up Indian lands along Persimmon, Shoal, and Hot House Creeks and down the valley in the direction of the present site of Culberson." After the Indians were removed, land here was first claimed by the occupant enterer standard. Rich river bottom land in Shoal Creek, for example, was granted for as little as .20 to .50 cents per acre -- all at the expense of the banished Cherokee Indians.

Settlers had already built homes and barns and "staked out claims" by the 1840 census count. Some whites merely took up residence in Cherokee log homes and used existing barns, corn cribs, and other buildings. When the census taker made his rounds, he counted a population of 3,427 individuals.

Drewry Weeks, Cherokee County's entry taker, did not open the land office to claims until March 1842. At that late date, he was immediately swamped by "occupant enterers" who had then been local residents for as long as two years. The impatient crowd soon became frantic and uncontrollable. Fear of claim jumping grew into panic. Facing a riotous mob, Weeks was said to have "fled his office for safety." Luckily, he was unharmed and sooner or later managed to take all the claims.

By 1843, residents along Persimmon Creek could boast of a community because they had their own post office officially established on 29 September with Benjamin Stiles as postmaster. Great strides were made in development and population growth during the decade of the 1840s. Post offices were set up in corners of barns, gristmills, and trading posts throughout the county. Turtletown Post Office in Shoal Creek, the western-most civil district in the county, was established on 23 December 1847 with Elias Milton Kilpatrick, Sr. as postmaster. The name of this post office would later be changed to Patrick, his clipped surname, and then later to Oak Park, but the postmastership was kept in the family until its demise. Post offices and churches became hubs of society with postmasters, local preachers, and circuit rider ministers often the primary means of news dissemination.

Industry Arrives in Cherokee County
by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

Although most early settlers earned a living by farming, day laborers secured jobs in various local industries before the close of Cherokee County's first decade. Elias Milton Kilpatrick, Sr. built and operated one of the first gristmills in Shoal Creek Civil District. His gristmill on Camp Creek had an undershot water-powered wheel. Millers were direly needed in this backwoods country to grind farmers' corn, wheat, and rye, and the gristmill business was profitable.

Logging became the county's first major industry with the many waterways providing free and rapid transport of logs downstream to numerous sawmills. Water power was the most easily tapped and ready source of energy. Flumes for mining gold were built on several creeks. Goods and supplies were transferred in and out of the area via river rafts and flatboats, these being the most rapid and efficient modes then available.

Water was also used to power twelve-foot wheels that drove the iron forges, bloomery, and chaffery. Numerous iron works were built throughout the county beginning in the early 1850s. Iron was a commodity in great demand because it was used to make so many necessary products -- everything from a farmer's plow to a housewife's pot.

Fain's Bloomery Forge began operation on Owl Creek in the Hanging Dog section in 1854. Harmon Lovingood, a pioneer settler along Hanging Dog Creek, owned and also operated an iron forge in the community.

Another iron works called the Persimmon Creek Bloomery Forge was constructed on Persimmon Creek about twelve miles west of Murphy according to R. E. Barclay. He records that "about 45 tons of bar iron was made at this place in 1855."

About five miles west of the latter forge was another on Shoal Creek and named for this creek which powered the wheel. This forge near Kilpatrick's Turtletown Post Office was owned by John Jones who, according to Barclay, "was granted 3,000 acres of land, called the 'forge donation,' in consideration of his erecting the forge and manufacturing iron."

According to the 1850 U.S. Census Schedule, Cherokee County was thriving with the following tradesmen: 32 blacksmiths, 22 carpenters, 3 cabinet makers, 2 gunsmiths, 2 painters, 8 millers, 7 millwrights, 8 saddlers, 3 tailors, 5 tanners, 2 tinsmiths, and 7 wagon makers. In addition, it was home for each of the following individual workers: brickmason, chair maker, collier, cooper, distiller, hammerman, miner, and sawmiller. James Allen, who lived there by 1840, became the county's first hatter. He and his son William plied that trade for decades. One of James Allen's handmade felt hats is displayed at Cherokee County Historical Museum located in Murphy.

Only a year after that census was enumerated, the village of Murphy was incorporated in 1851 as county seat and named for a prominent attorney in North Carolina, Archibald Defoe Murphey. Barclay noted that the e was an accidental omission in the official spelling and this error was never corrected. Murphy, formerly the site of Fort Butler, was strategically located for trade and transit at the confluence of the major waterways, Hiwassee and Valley Rivers.

J. E. Raht's copper mining industry in Ducktown, Tennessee witnessed its heyday during the 1850s. Many Cherokee County farmers and young men relocated to Polk County, Tennessee for employment in the mines.

John Caldwell opened a road down the rugged Ocoee River Gorge from Ducktown to Cleveland, Tennessee in 1853, in order to transport copper to Cleveland railroad docks where it could be outbound to markets. A mail route was later established via this treacherously winding road. By 1854, wagon travel all the way from Cherokee County, North Carolina to Cleveland, Tennessee, a distance of over fifty miles, was possible for the first time when Caldwell's Old Copper Road became an official state road. Today, it remains the shortest land distance between the two points.

Early Churches in Cherokee County
by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

As industry developed throughout Cherokee County's expansive civil districts and their populations grew, the need increased for community churches in isolated settlements. Religious services were held in homes, barns, gristmills, groves, brush arbors, and "down by the river" until one-room log cabins could be built and consecrated as official houses of worship. Names for many of the earliest churches often coincided with the names of local post offices. Persimmon Creek Baptist Church, so named, and Hiwassee Baptist Church, named for the river flowing nearby, numbered among the first in remote Shoal Creek Civil District. Stiles and Coleman families figured predominantly in activities of these two congregations. Reverend Absalom Coleman preached for many years at Hiwassee where John L. "Black Fox" Stiles and later Gamaliel Coleman served as deacons.

Baptist churches in western sections of the county fell within territorial membership range of the old Liberty-Ducktown Baptist Association, now known as the Polk County Baptist Association and located at Benton, Tennessee. Grandview Baptist Church, once a thriving member of this association, was named for a defunct post office which once stood in the Hanging Dog Community. Reverend John Henry Hampton served as one of this congregation's earliest pastors.

One of the earliest churches, the Old White Church (now Hanging Dog Baptist Church), was established near Hanging Dog Creek about 1846. Reverend George Washington Lovingood, a Cherokee County pioneer, became its first pastor and continued in that capacity until his death 28 April 1862. James Dockery and Reason Davis, also pioneers in the county, became the first trustees, and Mr. Fain, Owl Creek settler, deeded land to them for the present site of the church and cemetery on 26 May 1857.

Baptists, who already had a foothold with Reverend Humphrey Posey's mission school even prior to the county's formation, quickly outnumbered other denominations. However, by the Reconstruction Period, Methodists were well-established throughout the county.

Holston Methodists' fondness for nature and the local people found possibly their most eloquent expression of appreciation in the words of their Dr. Talmadge. Following his survey mission to western-most North Carolina, he published his account, an excerpt of which follows:

It is indeed a garden of recuperation. All the conditions seem favorable. If there is any one who is so constituted that enjoyment can be had in life, and can't find it here, rest assured such a person will not be able to find enjoyment in heaven when he gets there. What more can one ask for than healthful climate, pure air, good water, unsurpassed scenery, and congenial people? Western North Carolina to-day offers more solid comfort, hope, and happiness to the invalid and health seeker than the whole materia media from the time of AEsculapius down to the present time.

Even though Reverend Talmadge's words were written for generations long since passed, their truth remains as fresh as if written only yesterday!

Unaka Ridge, Cradle for Church of God Denomination
by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

The international denominations of Church of God and Church of God of Prophecy trace one system of roots to Shoal Creek Civil District in Cherokee County, North Carolina. More specifically, the movement for such a Pentecostal "holiness church" was fully initiated near Camp Creek that twisted within the Unaka (now Unicoi) Mountain Ridge rising along the North Carolina and Tennessee border.

In 1884, Richard G. Spurling, Sr. and a few others from Barney Creek just across the state line in Monroe County, Tennessee became dissatisfied with Baptist and Methodist churches. Setting themselves apart, they worshipped in private homes, prayed, and studied the Bible devoutly.

Under the leadership of the elder Spurling, a miller and farmer, the little group was "moved by the Spirit" to establish a church on 19 August 1886. First referred to as the "Holiness Church," these dissenters soon became objects of community ridicule and scorn. Members of neighboring churches who "dared to darken the doors" of this new congregation often found themselves "turned-out" of their own churches for doing so.

In addition to Richard G. Spurling, Sr., the group included John, Polly, Melinda, and John Plemmons, Jr., Barbara Spurling, and Margaret and Adeline Lauftus [sic - Loftis] as its first members.

On 26 September 1886, the church ordained Richard G. Spurling, Jr. as first pastor. Services were held in Shearer School at Camp Creek or in homes because they had no building and no funds to purchase land. This school, used often as a center for various community activities, became their common gathering place until local opposition so raged that they were ejected.

Sympathetic toward the "outcasts," Miles Dickson "Dick" Kilpatrick, a well-known miller and land owner at Camp Creek, came to their rescue with his donation of land on which to build a church. Dr. Conn wrote that the land was "ideally situated across the dusty road from the schoolhouse within a stone's throw of the place where they had been ejected." Kilpatrick also helped the members cut timber from his land and erect a crude log church. With thanksgiving in 1896, they were worshipping in their new building. The denomination calls 1896 the year of "The Great Revival" in which some 100 people received the Holy Ghost and "a few were baptized in the Ghost and spake in tongues."

Antagonists to the movement burned this church about 1897, and church meetings had to revert to nearby homes such as William Franklin Bryant, Jr.'s located at the present site of Fields of the Wood. Bryant, Dick Kilpatrick's nephew, had been selected a lay leader to serve in Reverend Spurling's absences.

The first general assembly was held January 26 and 27, 1906, at J. C. Murphy's home in Camp Creek Community. Reverend Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson who had joined the church on 13 June 1903, was elected the first General Overseer. Along with William Franklin Bryant, Jr. and other ministers, he spread the doctrines and established World Headquarters at Cleveland, Tennessee.


Arthur, John Preston. Western North Carolina a History 1730-1913. Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Reprint Company, 1973-4.

Barclay, R. E. Ducktown Back in Raht's Time. Cleveland, Tennessee: White Wing Publishing House, 1974.

Chiltoskey, Mary Ulmer. Cherokee Words with Pictures. Asheville, North Carolina: The Stephens Press, 1972.

Conn, Charles W. Like a Mighty Army. Cleveland, Tennessee: Church of God, 1955.

Freel, Margaret Walker. Our Heritage the People of Cherokee County, North Carolina 1540-1955. Asheville, North Carolina: 1956.

God's Country. Murphy, North Carolina: Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, 1982.

McKinney, R. Frank. Torment in the Knobs. Athens, Tennessee: 1976.

Price, R. N. Holston Methodism from Its Origin to the Present Time. Vol. I. Nashville, Tennessee: Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. (pg. 33)

Raper, Glen T. Some Kilpatricks Past and Present. Cleveland, Tennessee: (privately published) 1976.

Stewart, Mrs. Christine. (Church of God history in preparation). Cleveland, Tennessee: 1983.

U.S. census reports of Cherokee County, North Carolina, 1840-1880.

This site is dedicated to the memory of my parents, Tommy and Beulah (Cline) Nipper.

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Sandra Ratledge

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