New Echota

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 The monument on New Echota Historic Site honored the Cherokees who died on the Trail of Tears.
The monument on New Echota Historic Site honored the Cherokees who died on the Trail of Tears.

New Echota is part of a much larger area that was once the Cherokee Hunting Grounds. By the start of the 19th century (1800) the game had been depleted and the hunting grounds had moved further west. There is archeological evidence that earlier villages had occupied the site before the Cherokee occupation of New Echota in 1819. At the confluence of the Coosawattee and Conasauga Rivers (where they form the Oostanaula River) and Town Creek, the city had three good water sources. Water was not only necessary for survival, it played a key role in the Cherokee ceremonies.

While the names of the earlier villages have been lost to time, the name New Echota is commonly ascribed the meaning "New Town," which is the name given the area by settlers. In fact, the area around the state park is still known as "Newtown" or "New Town." Chota was the name of two Cherokee villages, one in White County, Georgia, on the northern end of the Chattahoochee River, the other in Tennessee, near Fort Loudon. The area was also known as "The Fork" and "Fork Ferry" by the settlers and Gansagi by the Cherokee (this is possibly the name of the earlier Cherokee village).

By 1823 the Cherokee Nation was meeting in New Echota. Its central location and easy access made the city an excellent choice for the capital. On November 12, 1825, New Echota was officially designated capital of the Cherokee Nation. At that time the tribal council also commenced a building program that included construction of a two-story council house, a Supreme Court, and later the office of the Cherokee Phoenix.

In 1832 Georgia's Sixth Land Lottery had given away the Cherokee land to settlers. There was one small problem: the Cherokee Nation had never ceded the land to the state. Over the next 6 years the brutal Georgia Guard would enforce their own brand of vigilante justice to the Cherokee. By 1834 the city of New Echota was becoming a ghost town, and the council meetings were moved to Red Clay, Cherokee Nation (now Tennessee). In 1835, a small group (300-500 Cherokee known as Ridgeites or the Treaty Party) signed the Treaty of New Echota in the home of Elias Boudinot.

In 1838 the U.S. Army, under the command of Winfield Scott, began the forced removal of the Cherokee from the state of Georgia. A Cherokee removal fort was located here, known as Fort Winfield Scott or Fort New Echota. The fort held Cherokee prisoners from Gordon County, Georgia and Pickens County, Georgia, and as the prisoners began their exodus to Rattlesnake Springs, Cherokee Nation (4 miles south of Charleston, Tennessee), the Cherokee from counties south and east of the area also were housed here.

After the Cherokee left, the capital remained abandoned for more than 100 years. Some of the houses continued to be used, most notably the home of Samuel Worcester. When the citizens of Gordon County deeded the land to the state for preservation the Worcester home, largest remaining structure, had been vacant for two years and the wear of the elements in that brief time was apparent. In 1954 archeologists Lewis Larsen and Joe Caldwell begin the step by step process of finding out more about the land given to the state, with the intent of preserving the site.

The Print Shop, one of rebuilt places once was stood and owned by Cherokees.
The Print Shop, one of rebuilt places once was stood and owned by Cherokees.

New Echota Historic Site

In addition to the standard finds, Larsen and Caldwell astonished the world by discovering much of the type used to print the Cherokee Phoenix, plus remains of many of the buildings. On March 13, 1957, following the news of Larsen and Caldwell's archeological finds, the state of Georgia authorized that the town of New Echota be rebuilt, as a Georgia State Park.

Now there are many highlights within the village of New Echota. The Council House, where the laws of the Cherokee Nation were enacted, to the Supreme Court, where the laws of the nation were enforced. Both are open to visitors. Another highlight are the offices of the Cherokee Phoenix, where Buck Oolwatie (Elias Boudinot) wrote and a white printer laid out the first Native American newspaper by Sequoyah. Further on is the home of Samuel Worcestor, The Messenger, a missionary who brought the word of God to the Cherokee.

The three-quarter mile walk can be expanded by walking the Newtown Trail, a 1.2 mile interpreted trail that takes hikers to Town Creek, where the majority of Cherokee camped when the Council was in session.

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