Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Benita J. Howell

Committee Members

John R. Finger, Charles H. Faulkner, Gerald Schroedl


Within a few years of 1838, when most members of the Cherokee Nation were forced to emigrate to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears, a small group of Cherokee families reestablished settlements in and around the Ducktown Basin in the southeastern comer of Tennessee, away from the major Eastern Cherokee remnants in North Carolina. This dissertation reconstructs the history of these Cherokees from 1838 through the 1910s, focusing on the nature of their communities; their economic, social, and religious relationships with local whites; their associations with other Cherokee enclaves and individuals; and their ultimate disappearance from the Basin.

Data are drawn from a broad spectrum of primary and secondary sources, and include evidence derived from documentary, oral, ethnohistoric, ethnographic, folkloric, and material sources. Theories of Fredrik Barth (1969) and Edward H. Spicer (1962, 1971, 1972c) on ethnicity and ethnic persistence and Eric Wolf's Europe and the People Without History (1982) provide a framework for interpreting the Ducktown Basin Cherokee experience within the broader contexts of Cherokee, American Indian, local, regional, and national history and culture. Historic and contemporary Indian and non-Indian voices as well as multiple layers of "thick description" (Geertz 1973) are employed to represent this "historically obscured" American Indian enclave and to reveal how its members collectively and individually enacted "being Cherokee" in the course of daily living after the extreme disruptions of Removal.

In terms of economic pursuits, material culture in general, and material wealth, the Basin Cherokees differed little from their non-Indian neighbors. Boundaries protecting their sense of Cherokee identity, however, were marked and maintained in several important ways. A central ethnic marker for this post-Removal group was the recreation of and participation in traditional matrilineally-and matrilocally-focused community. Continued use of the Cherokee language, values, and intermediaries were equally important signals of the members' "Cherokee-ness," as well as forms of passive resistance against the new non-Indian majority. Maintenance of traditional rivercane basketry by some women connected the group economically and socially with non-Indians, but at the same time produced objects imbued with symbolic links to past lifeways and to contemporary social affiliations: family, locality, and tribe.

Economic and social interactions between the Ducktown Basin enclave and non-Indians stand in marked contrast to the experience of other Eastern Cherokee enclaves during the same period. In particular, the discovery of a major copper reserve in 1843 quickly led to national and international industrial speculation and development in the Ducktown Basin. The Cherokees who had reestablished communities in the Basin, and other Cherokees drawn in as peripheral industrial workers during the first copper boom, were profoundly affected by the changing nature of local white society and by shifting perceptions about "Indian-ness" in America and the South. As the Ducktown Basin's copper industry developed, competition for limited agricultural lands and industrial work intensified. these changes, coupled with local and national tightening of racial boundaries, increased social and racial stratification, and growing racial intolerance eventually caused Cherokee families to withdraw from the Basin. Links maintained with traditionalist Cherokee communities in North Carolina, however, ensured their continued participation in the traditional kinship and social relationships then central to Cherokee community and ethnicity. In this symbolic sense the Ducktown Basin Cherokee enclave continues; as one descendant says, "We are all from there."

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