Charleston, Tennessee, was the site of the federal agency relating to the Cherokee Nation and Fort Cass, as the government prepared for the Cherokee Removal to the west. Since I was writing about that event, I went to investigate the geography and environment, and to discover what was left of the 1830’s era facilities. The town is small, so it is easily navigated in a few circles of about sixteen square blocks. My sources had identified a harbor that fronted Hiwassee River on the north edge; the agency building sat at the southwest corner of the harbor. I found the shallow lagoon that remains of the harbor, and a stone foundation that remains of the old agency. Across the lagoon stands the Henegar House, a fine old Victorian house with a marker in front that states that the house was originally constructed from the wood of the military barracks that had stood there.
One of the confinement stockades that housed the people of the Treaty Party supposedly stood on the hill to the east. The hill was clearly visible above the town, but, of course, the stockade area was covered by trees and brush. Like the other stockades of the twelve or so that composed “Fort Cass,” it was probably burned as soon as it was evacuated, about five horrible months after it was supposed to be evacuated, because of delays in beginning the move west. The dilapidated housing near the foot of the hill was the semblance of a tribute to the days when hundreds of people were confined without sanitary facilities, decent food or lodging in each of those stockades.
Down the street still stands the house that Lewis Ross built in 1820; he served as treasurer of the Cherokee Nation and brother of Chief John Ross. Like his brother, Lewis Ross prospered during that era while most of the people suffered. The original house hides within the current structure that was expanded and rebuilt many times since Ross lived there.
I decided to drive west on Cass Road, since a stockade at Mouse Creek and the Candy Creek Mission (of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) supposedly had stood west of the Charleston settlement. I turned around at Mouse Creek, about seven miles west, which was easy to identify from the map, and stopped at the other creek I had crossed, where a large industrial complex obscured the river on the north, and a picturesque valley with a new log cabin home extended to the south. I parked at the side of the road to take some pictures.
After taking the photos, I returned to the Jeep. I had left it running, since taking pictures would be quick and easy, but I must have touched the lock button when I exited. I had locked myself out of my car while it was still running. The windows were all closed since the day was chilly. The extra key in the magnet box under the bumper must have fallen off, so the only choice left was to call AAA to come and unlock my car. My cell phone was in the seat of the car. The car wasn’t going anywhere.
I walked up the lane to the new log cabin, hoping to find someone home. When I knocked on the door, no one answered, so I sat down on a chair nearby to decide what to do next. After a minute or so a man did come to the door, saying that he was on the phone and could not come when I knocked. What did I want?
I explained my stupid mistake and why I was in the vicinity. He seemed interested and said that he didn’t know where any of the old stockades had stood, but this was Candy Creek flowing by his house, and he had heard that there had been a school upriver that served the Cherokees. His friend owned the land where Rattlesnake Springs flowed, and, after I had made my call to reach AAA, he’d call his friend and get permission for me to visit the springs, that were south of Charleston on old Dry Valley Road. Until the AAA man arrived, we had a good visit about the area, he called his friend and made arrangements for my visit, and he gave me directions. The delay took about half an hour, and what I gained more than made up for what I lost.
Rattlesnake Springs had been a Cherokee meeting area for many generations. Its abundant water provided much of the drinking water for the stockades in that valley during the confinement. The last meeting of the people occurred there before their trek west. Although it is designated as a national landmark, and has been for several years, there has been no money to develop it, and it is still owned by the family that purchased the land after the Cherokees were forced out. I had a good visit with the owner, and we looked at the spring, and what remained of the homestead that had stood nearby .
If all of my stupid and embarrassing mistakes would have led to such discoveries, I would try to make more.