In 1990 President George H. W. Bush declared the month of November as Native American Heritage Month. The purpose behind creating the commemorative month is to bring attention to the culture, traditions, music, crafts, dance and ways of life of the Native Americans. There are two places in Anderson County where you can get a sense of how the Native Americans lived in East Tennessee; the Lenoir Museum and the Museum of Appalachia.
There is evidence of Native Americans living along the Tennessee River Valley dating back over 12,500 years ago. However, as mentioned in the Native American display at the Lenoir Museum, the “environment was quite different than it is today.” The Paleo Indians would have lived in a much cooler climate where glaciers still covered large areas of what is now known as North America. The display at the Lenoir Museum goes on to talk about the Archaic Period, the Woodland Period, the Mississippian Period and the period when the Cherokee Indians occupied the Tennessee River Valley. The artifacts on display range from axes made of wood and stone to pottery to arrow heads to an actual burial vessel that when found, contained skeletal remains. There is also a collection of smooth, round stones with which the Indians used to play games. The Lenoir Museum is located at Norris Dam State Park adjacent to the Norris Watershed, Grist Mill and Clinch River. It is a great place to spend a day learning about the heritage of the Native Americans, talking a walk along the river and having a picnic lunch.
The Museum of Appalachia has an extensive display of Native American artifacts and interesting stories to go along with them. For example, the story of Eva Wolfe’s Famous Basket. Eva Wolfe was born in the Soco Community in the Great Smokey Mountains on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in 1922. According to the display of one of her famous baskets at the Museum of Appalachia, “She is regarded, as one scholar put it, as one of the most widely renowned creative basket makers in America.” You can read her story and see one of her “Chain and Cross on the Hill” design baskets in the Hall of Fame building at the Museum of Appalachia.
While you are in the area be sure to check out the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee. It is about an hour drive from Anderson County and it tells the story of how Sequoyah, born in 1776, created the Cherokee writing system and how the Cherokee people used the symbols to transform themselves into a literate society.