State Park – TOT SITE
1140 Red Clay Park
Chattanooga, on I-75, take exit 3-A (
E. Brainerd Rd.), travel 8 miles East on Brainerd Rd., turn right on
London Lane for 2.3 miles. Continue traveling straight to
Keith Rd. for .5 mile, turn left on
Mt. Vernon Rd., travel for 4 miles. Turn left on Old Apison Rd. Turn left on
Red Clay Park Road and travel 1.5 miles to the park.
The last capital of the Cherokee Nation in the east, known as the Red Clay Council Ground, is located approximately 13 miles south of
Tennessee. The Cherokee Nation was forced to abandon their meetings in
Georgia after the state government passed legislation which forbade all assemblies of Cherokees in groups of three or more. The Cherokee Nation moved its national assembly from New Echota in
Georgia to Red Clay in 1832. The Red Clay Council Grounds became the center of the Cherokee Nation’s diplomatic efforts to avoid removal. At the Cherokee Council in October of 1835, Rev. John F. Schermerhorn, a Baptist minister, appointed by President Andrew Jackson to negotiate a voluntary removal treaty with the Cherokee, addressed the council. Chief John Ross, Elias Boudi not, Major Ridge and
Ridge were among the prominent Cherokee in attendance. The assembly of as many as 4,000 Cherokees overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. Two months later Schermerhorn met with a small group, who had no authority, but were in favor of the removal, and signed the treaty of New Echota. Despite a chorus of nationwide protests and a petition with 15,565 Cherokee signatures denouncing the document as a fraud, the Treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on May 23, 1836 and the Cherokee people were given two years in which to voluntarily remove from their homeland.
In September of 1836, the Cherokee Council again met at the Red Clay Council Grounds to discuss the New Echota Treaty. Chief John Ross presided and over 3,000 Cherokee were in attendance, including representatives from the pro-treaty faction. Brigadier General John E. Wool, who commanded the troops engaged in the removal, observed the meeting, and John Mason, Jr., a special agent of the
United States, addressed the crowd. The Cherokee unanimously voted to reject the New Echota Treaty. Those who had signed the treaty refrained from voting in fear of retaliation.
Because of its historical significance, the Red Clay Council Ground was acquired by the state of
Tennessee and is now a state park. The Red Clay Council Ground site consists of 150 acres. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and the park includes a museum and outdoor replicas of an 1830s Cherokee Council House, sleeping huts, and a farmstead.
In April of 1984, the first joint council meeting of the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians was held at Red Clay. To reaffirm Cherokee unity after 146 years of separation, an eternal flame was placed at the site of the original Cherokee Council house.
Story of interest
Rattlesnake Springs is located approximately five miles northeast of
Tennessee. It was the water source for Cherokee prisoners camped nearby during the summer of 1838 and the site of the last council of the Cherokee prior to the removal. Thousands of Cherokee gathered at Rattlesnake Springs for the final council meeting prior to their forced departure to the west. At this meeting, tribal officials agreed to continue their government and constitution in their new land. Military outposts for the
U.S. Army established near Rattlesnake Springs included
Worth. Conditions at the Cherokee camps provided little comfort or shelter during the heat of the summer. Army medical reports suggest that as many as 200 Cherokee died at the springs before the removal began. Rattlesnake Springs was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The forty-acre property consists of farmland and pasture in
Valley north of
Person of interest
Rev. Jesse Bushyhead was a close associate of Rev. Evan Jones, a Baptist missionary, and together worked tirelessly to convert the Cherokee people to Christianity. He served as a translator for Cherokee negotiations with the federal government during the Council meetings at Red Clay from 1832-1837. He also translated worship services at the Red Clay Council meetings from English to Cherokee. During the summer of 1838, he conducted services in the removal camps and may have baptized as many as 500 Cherokees at Chatata Creek near Fort Cass in the Summer of 1838. Jesse Bushyhead was selected to lead the third Cherokee detachment under John Ross on the Trail of Tears. His detachment traveled in tandem with Situwakee’s detachment of Valley Town Cherokees who were also Baptists. He and Evan Jones sometimes preached to white congregations along the trail including a large assembly at
Tennessee. After the removal, Rev. Bushyhead was appointed chief justice of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court, a position he held until his death in 1844. His son later became the principal chief of the Cherokee from 1879 to 1891.