3d - Cherokee Museum



   Cherokee Museum


For more information about the Cherokee contact:

Dr. David LaVere

Director of the Museum of the Cherokee in S.C.

E-mail: CoachL@mindspring.com



Funded by Oconee County ATAX


Envisioning the Past:

             The Cherokee have made Oconee County their home for centuries. Many of their towns were located on the five major rivers (Chattooga, Chauga, Tugaloo, Keowee, and Seneca) and their tributaries. “They are also strongly attached to the rivers, all retaining the opinion of the ancients that rivers are necessary to constitute a paradise. Nor is it only ornamental, but likewise beneficial to them, on account of purifying themselves, and also for the purposes of common life, such as fishing, fowling, and killing of deer, which come in the warm season to eat the saltfish moss and grass which grow on the rocks, and under the surface of the waters. Their rivers are generally very shallow and pleasant to the eye” (James Adair, 1730’s).


Agriculture and the Establishment of Towns

By the early 1700’s the Cherokee had established more than 2 dozen towns (see map). Most towns had a population of 150-200. However, some of these towns were quite large. According to a census in 1721, Estatoe’s population exceeded 600 and Keowee’s, 400. Each town had a council house, often located on a mound; summer houses, winter houses, a moontime hut, and a granary (see front cover).

Agriculture provided the stability for these towns. “The town of [Esseneca], as example, shared the best lands, with each family marking out a separate plot. The entire community engaged in planting, men and women, old and young. Women tended the crops of corn, squash, pumpkins, melons, and the rest, and the village turned out again for the harvest. Each family kept the harvest of its own plot. Every family contributed to the town granary, available to the headman for entertainment of guests and for a reserve supply in case of famine” (William Bartram, 1775). Bartram further noted that at one time all the river land from Esseneca to Sugar town, a distance of over 17 miles, was entirely under cultivation.



            The Cherokee developed trading paths throughout the southeast and beyond (sections of these are still evident today). With the arrival of Europeans in the late 1600’s, many of these paths evolved into major trade routes. Tugaloo and Keowee became commercial centers and served as 

gate way to other regions. Some paths passed through the mountainous regions of Oconee County and led to other Cherokee towns in the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Here, the Cherokee witnessed magnificent mountain vistas and majestic waterfalls, including Issaqueena Falls. At the peak of Oconee Mountain, William Bartram wrote: “I was in a very elevated situation, from whence I enjoyed a view inexpressively magnificent and comprehensive.” The mysteries of the mountains became the basis for legend and folklore.

Water Transportation:

            Recently, two Cherokee dugouts were reclaimed from local rivers. These vessels date back to the 1700’s and were often used to transport goods across rivers. Today these dugouts are on display at the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla (www.oconeeheritagecenter.org).



            The work of archaeologists over the past several decades has helped to piece together some of the mysteries of the Cherokee past. Fortunately, some excavations, including those at Tugaloo, Eastatoe, and Keowee, took place before the creation of Lake Hartwell, Keowee, and Jocassee. Other town sites excavated but not affected by the flooding include Tamassee and, most recently, Oconee Town. Such efforts have revealed unique styles of pottery, ceremonial pipes, projectile points, burial sites, trade items, fire pits, post holes, and rock features. These two chunky stones were found at an upstate site.


The Cherokee Today

            Many citizens of Cherokee descent live in Oconee County and some continue to preserve the ancient ways including dancing, hide-dressing, storytelling, and weaving. The art of basketry, for example, was practiced specifically by one of the seven clans of the Cherokee whose additional responsibility included passing the skill to future generations. “They make the handsomest clothes baskets I ever saw. They divide large swamp canes, into long, thin, narrow splinters, which they dye of several colors, and manage the workmanship so well, that both the inside and outside are covered with a beautiful variety of pleasing figures” (James Adair). Many basket designs related stories and family histories. This woven mask was created by Nancy Basket (www.nancybasket.com). 



Dave LaVere,
Luther Lyle


This Plaque recognizes Colonel R.T. Jaynes  
who lived in Walhalla and built this building
which he used as his law office.                  





Indian Trees



            The Cherokee often used “trail trees” to indicate the direction of paths, water sources, and village locations. These trees were often white oak saplings tied with leather strips to form distinguishable shapes as they grew. Many of these trees live 500 years. Recently, nearly 50 of these trees have been documented and represent part of the county’s “living legacy.”


Addendum (10/30/13):

The Mystery of the Trees: The Mountain Stewards (www.mountainstewards.org) published in 2011 the Mystery of the Trees book. This is a never before told story of how the Indians used trees to mark trails, water sources, stream crossings and more covering the entire US and Canada. The book captures seven years of research into this part of Indian culture that soon may be gone. Part of their effort is directed toward changing the national preservation laws to protect these "living artifacts."

See review of "The Mystery of the Trees" in the Reconteur & Litery Reviews sub section of this web site.

In Walhalla this book may be purchased at:

                         Oconee Heritage Center
                         123 Browns Square Drive

                              Walhalla, SC  29691