The World of Cherokee
In our upcoming World Premiere of Cherokee, two couples from Houston embark on a life-changing camping trip in Cherokee, North Carolina. Here's a quick guide to the world of Cherokee.
Cherokee, NC – Cherokee is located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina. It is the center of the Qualla Boundary, the home of the Easter Band of Cherokee Indians. It is a major tourist attraction in the Southeastern U.S. because of its magnificent scenery, a Harrah’s casino, and a summer outdoor drama, Unto These Hills.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – the history of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is far too complex to do justice to in a short passage. It is composed of descendants of those few Cherokee (perhaps as few as 700) who were able to remain in the East when the rest of the Cherokee Nation was forced to leave on the “Trail of Tears” in 1838. Some of those who stayed behind held land titles under the Reservation Act of 1819, but most were fugitives who fled to the mountains. Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee and a lawyer who had defended the land title rights against the Indian Removal Act of 1830, bought land in his own name with Cherokee money (native people could not hold property), allowing these fugitive Cherokee to live there. This ambiguous situation lasted until 1870, when those living on the land were able to obtain a corporate charter. They then wrote a Constitution. The Eastern Band continues to operate under both a Constitution and corporate charter. There are now around 12, 500 members of the Eastern Band. Their land is officially the Qualla Boundary, a land trust, although it is often called the “Cherokee Indian Reservation.”
The “Trail of Tears” – in 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, declaring that all members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” – the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Muscogee-Creek, and Chickasaw – be relocated west of the Mississippi, to what is now Oklahoma. President Andrew Jackson argued that this was a question of federalism, although pressure from white settlers for land and a gold rush in the southern Appalachians played a strong part. The Trail of Tears lasted for more than a decade. The Cherokee held out until 1838, taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court; in Florida, it prompted the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), in which approximately 3,000 Indians and soldiers died. The Cherokee “relocation” started in the dead of winter. Approximately 16,000 Cherokee started on the Trail of Tears; 4,000 died before reaching their destination.
Through Mountains and Tears – is a fictional drama. There is a summer outdoor historical drama performed in Cherokee, Unto These Hills, about the Cherokee and the events leading to the Trail of Tears. All of the details of the rehearsal process and production of Through Mountains and Tears are entirely fictional, as are any references to actors or directors involved in the production.
Outdoor historical drama – Summer work at outdoor historical dramas is an important part of the early training of many theater students in the South. The outdoor historical drama movement was originated in the 1930s by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, with The Lost Colony (1937). Many of Green’s plays are still performed today. Others, like Unto These Hills, were inspired by his work. The plays represent significant events in the history of the towns nearby, and most are significant economic engines for the communities. The first version of Unto These Hills was written in 1950 by Kermit Hunter, a protégé of Green’s; over the past decade, the script has been revised several times to remove historical inaccuracies and increase the number of Cherokee in the cast. The story focuses on events leading up to the Trail of Tears, culminating in the prophet Tsali’s self-sacrifice in order to allow several hundred fugitives to remain on the land.