WCU & Indians

Western Carolina’s campus is currently the site of an Indian cemetery. However, long before it was a cemetery for Cherokee Indians, it was a distinct Indian village. A mound existed near where the Killian building currently stands. Cherokee Studies professor Freeman Owle believes that this mound, which extended from the Mountain Heritage Center all the way up to the Killian building, was in existence for almost thousands of years. “There was a village site here where the campus of Western Carolina University is now located and was most likely here for thousands of years. This mound was dozed down in order to make more room for the campus of Western,” said Owle. According to Owle, this mound that once existed on campus was more than likely dug into by The Valentine family, and that any remains are currently at the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia. “This village that once stood proudly on the campus of WCU would have housed at least 100 people during the time of its existence. Unfortunately, most Cherokees left this area by force in about 1776,” stated Owle. The reason for their departure from North Carolina was mainly because of divisions over continued accommodation of encroachments by white settlers, and consistent violations of previous treaties, caused some Cherokee to begin to leave the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee people moved from the Great Smoky Mountains to areas across from the Mississippi River. They lived in a land that would soon become the states of Arkansas and Missouri. Considering how Western Carolina University is a part of the Cherokee Culture, the history of the tribe is very interesting and intriguing for students to know about. In 1838, the Trail of Tears occurred and resulted in the deaths of nearly 4,000 Cherokee Indians in the Western United States. The Trail of Tears was forced relocation of the Cherokee Indian tribe due to the strict enforcements of the Treaty of Echota. In this treaty, the United States government agreed to pay the Cherokee people $5 million for relocation. The government also agreed to give them land in Indian Territory, which would soon become modern Oklahoma, in exchange for the Cherokee reservations in both Georgia and Alabama. While, the Treaty was ratified in Senate, no Cherokee representative officially signed it, thus causing the Cherokee nation to refuse to comply with the treaty. While 4,000 Cherokee died in the Trail of Tears, not all of the eastern Indians were forced to move. William Holland Thomas helped 600 Cherokee obtain North Carolina citizenship therefore causing them to move out west. As students at Western Carolina University, every morning we walk onto the campus we are walking on a piece of Cherokee history, whether we realize it or not. As students, we have a responsibility to walk on this campus with pride and respect for the Cherokee Indians.