April 2009
I'm pleased to announce that the partnership of Wildsouth, Inc with offices in Asheville, NC and Moulton AL, Mountain Stewards in Jasper GA, and Southeastern Anthropological Institute in Muscle Shoals, AL have been granted an award from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (ECBI) to locate old Indian Trails on the ECBI reservation as well as on the adjacent lands of the Great Smokey Mts. National Park. Work will begin in April 2009. Mountain Stewards, in conjunction with WildSouth, developed the techniques to extract the trails data from old 1700 and 1800 maps. These computer-based processes will be used to extract the trails data from old maps and to ground-truth the data using GPS. This process has already been used to extract data from the 1832 Land Lottery Surveys in GA, Goverment Land Office Surveys in NE Alabama and the 1775 Henry Mouzon Map of NC/SC. Work is on-going extracting trails data in NC and GA from the Lt. Williams Army map of 1839.
Don Wells

November 2007

The Mountain Stewards got started when a group of hikers decided they wanted to share the trails they'd found in these North Georgia Mountains with others. Since then, miles of hiking trails have been restored to make them easily accessible - even by the handicapped. In the process, there have been other things that have come along with these efforts - wildflower photography, birding, conservation, etc. The Mountain Stewards Trail Tree Project, looking into the curious "bent trees" that pepper these forests, has lead to a National effort to explore their origins. Recently, we've become interested in the roads and trails of our Native American past in general. Our area of North Georgia is near the center of the Cherokee Nation of yore. It was here that the first treaty between the U.S. and the Native Americans was signed in 1794 - the Treaty of Long Swamp Creek. Some of the Cherokee rounded up for the "removal" in 1838 lived here and were housed in Fort Newnan in Talking Rock before being taken to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. So many of our trails in these mountains are remnants of the Indian Trails from only a little over two hundred years ago.

The Cherokee had no written language and drew no maps. What little we know is from the early Europeans who explored the area and is heavily contaminated by their presence and/or contemporary view of this new land. The 1779 map on the left is typical. There's one Trading Path cutting across otherwise empty North Georgia, but the map is so distorted that it reveals how little was really known about the region and its inhabitants. The well known Jedidiah Morse 1796 map from the period when Georgia reached across to the Mississippi is geographically more precise, but still shows only one road [path] through the Cherokee Nation.

Old Maps:

So, although we've had trouble finding any accurate maps of the roads and trails of the Native Americans anywhere in the country, we decided to focus on the Cherokee Nation as a start by collecting old maps. Here are a few:

1748    1751    1757    1779    1796    1805    1819    1822    1823    1831    1838    William P. Cumming Collection

They are fascinating, but they don't move us toward accurate maps of the Indian roads and trails. One important landmark is apparent in these maps. Beginning in the 1805 map, there's a road running from Chattanooga southeast across North Georgia. This is the Federal Post Road ["Old Federal Road"] that the Cherokee allowed the U.S. to build through their Nation. It was surveyed by the Federal government, but built by the State of Georgia and maintained by the Cherokee. We still know the path of this road. Another important map was compiled by Georgia State Geographer, Marion Hemperley, in 1979 of the the major Indian trails. It's a great general guide, but lacks the precision to show the exact location of these routes.

Early Surveys:

In the end, maps come after accurate surveys have been recorded. In Colonial America and the early United States, the Surveyor was the definitive explorer/historian [George Washington was a Surveyor before becoming a soldier and then President]. The tools were crude - a compass, a transit for sighting angles, and chains for measurement [1 chain = 66 feet, 1 mile = 80 chains]. But in Georgia, there were simply no complete surveys of the western Indian Territories - ergo, no accurate maps.

Last Spring, we met Lamar Marshall, publisher of Wild Alabama [now Wild South], who was a remarkable resource for early maps. On our first meeting, he excitedly showed us the Bureau of Land Management Survey Maps for Alabama from 1822 that are now available on the Internet. These are precise, handwritten plats with many roads and trails clearly marked. We raced home to look at the Georgia version, but found what we should have immediately known - that Georgia, one of the original States, wasn't part of that survey [the Cherokee Nation was not even part of Georgia at that point]. Then recently, we learned from Dr. Charles Walker [local historian] that there were Surveys prior to each Lottery in which the Indian lands were given to Georgia settlers. Before we even had a chance to go to the Georgia Archives to look up these plats, we learned from Linda Geiger, local Geneologist, that these maps are available on the Internet! So, our fledgling Indian Trail Mapping Project finally had a place to start. As we've looked further, there are plats for all of the Georgia Land Lotteries [beginning in 1805]. In addition, in Alamaba and Mississippi, there are a series of early surveys done by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, so there's a surprising amount of data available - and we've just begun our search.

Georgia had a unique system of distributing the land that was taken from the Native Americans - a series of seven lotteries between 1805 and 1832. The animated graphic shows the land that was auctioned off. A portion of the Cherokee land was given away in 1820, and the remainder in the Land and Gold Lotteries of 1832. You can read about this strange piece of our history here and here. These Lotteries have been extensively researched by Geneologists because approximately 75% of the land in Georgia was distributed by these Lotteries! If your ancestors are from inland Georgia, it's likely that their "home place" started off with a winning Lottery ticket for purloined Indian land.

We could call our new project the First Surveys Project since these Surveys are the ones done by the States and the Federal Government to distribute the land taken from the Native Americans. Or maybe we could call it The Last Look Project since it's the last look at the Native American lands before the white settlers swarmed over them. Our goal is to transcribe these early Surveys into as accurate a set of Road and Trail maps as possible. Our motives are obvious - curiosity, preservation, recreation, scientific study. Ultimately, we hope to locate and transcribe the first surveys [last looks] of the domain of the Indian Tribes across the South in a format that is easily accessible to all, and can be used as a basis for a growing database of information about our Native American past.

The first order of business is to develop the technology to turn these scanned survey plats into modern digital maps that can be displayed in a variety of formats [Google Earth, USGS Topo maps, GPS files, etc]. We used the 1832 Georgia Lottery Survey as our Pilot Project toward this end. The plan is to add other surveys below as they are completed, expanding the number of available file formats as we become more proficient and adding historical information as time permits. Each Survey is displayed on a separate page [click the heading to pop-up the page]. An updated graphic of all of the completed information follows the links to the individual Surveys:

The Mountain Stewards Indian Trails Project

1832 Georgia Lottery Survey

By 1832, the Cherokee had become heavily assimilated into the white culture. They had a Congress, their own Courts, and a written language with their own newspaper. They wore suits, lived in cabins on their cultivated farms, and rode in horse-drawn wagons. But even though our real interest is in the Cherokee Trails from a more ancient time, these survey maps of the roads of the Cherokee Nation before their "removal" were our first chance at something like accurate mapping of anything except the Federal Road. The plats themselves are a series of hand-drawn maps laid out on an idiosyncratic grid. The roads are sometimes labelled, other times not. Each plat has a different surveyor [some of whom noted no roads at all]. But, in spite of their variable state of preservation and the differing styles [and thoroughness] of the individual surveyors, they can be pieced together to produce a very useful picture of the "lay of the land" in North Georgia in 1832, in the years before the Trail of Tears.

Since this is our Pilot Project, it contains a description of the general methods we used to transcribe these plats. The resulting Road/Trail Maps are available for download as a Google Earth® KML file, a LONG/LAT Text file that can be imported into most mapping programs or GPS devices, and a .tpo for the National Geographic's TOPO! Program [using the USGS Quad Maps]. There are also links to the actual plats from the Georgia Archives and the georeferenced version of the plats from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The area covered by this Survey is the final extent of the Cherokee Nation.

1820 Georgia Lottery Survey [Northern Part]

By 1820, the Cherokee had lost the lands east of the Chattahoochie River, including their Capital [Echota]. This area contains the lower Unicoi Turnpike and the eastern beginning of the Federal Road through the Cherokee Nation.

The Team of WildSouth and Mountain Stewards completed their first contract effort for the Cherokee Preservation Foundation (CPF) locating, documenting and validating fifteen Cherokee Indian Trails on or near the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. A follow on project for the CPF will begin in 2011. The data from the CPF Project was integrated with the data from the Lt. Williams 1838 Survey and the 1820 and 1832 GA Land Lottery Survey's to create a comprehensive Indian Trails map for parts of NC and GA. Other work is on-going in Oconee County, SC and Rabun County GA to map the Indian Trails in those areas which will be integrated with the other trails data as it becomes available.

Some work has also been started on Creek Indian Trails south of Atlanta, GA.