Submitted by:Joe Irons

Coker Creek has always been a timber center for East Tennessee. This early photo of a logging scene is typical of how the industry begun in the resource-rich hills.
. . . . . When the first Scotch-Irish settlers pushed into what is now Tennessee in the late l7th and early l8th centuries, they were searching for land which would provide them with the freedom and space to stretch out their lives across the generations. Unafraid of toil and hardship, they were intent on finding good land to farm, land rich with the smell of fertility and promise and rich in timber. Their log cabins often were adaptations of the stone houses of Scottish forebears and just as often were inspired by the wise counsel of the Cherokee Indians who had been living in log cabins for centuries.
. . . . . More than anything else, the immigrants were in search of virgin land that presented them with charms as well as dangers, unspoiled land that offered them the opportunity for spiritual renewal as well as physical improvement.
. . . . . Part of the famed Blue Ridge, which humpbacks its way from Georgia to Maryland, the Unicoi Mountains of Monroe County, are home to a way of life that has all but passed from existence in the United States. Fortunately and despite the erosion of the 20th Century, the mountains and foothills around Coker Creek have acted like a preserve, providing us now with some missing links and harboring still many of those ancient ways, tales and lore.
. . . . . Tucked into the southeast corner of Monroe County and nestled between the massive Unicoi Mountains on the east and Cataska Mountain on the west, the Coker Creek area thrived for hundreds of years, first as Indian land, and later as a settlement for white men and their families.
. . . . . Long before Anglo-Saxon, Scotch-Irish settlers from Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina migrated into the new frontier, Indians (mainly Cherokees) foraged these hills for as far as the eye can see and for miles beyond the imagination. Indeed, their first known center had been in the Southern Alleghenies. Masters and rulers of Eastern Tennessee, they claimed land even to what is now the central portion of the state.
. . . . . The Cherokees were a great tribe and many of our hills, valleys and rivers bear their names. The name "Chera" is translated to mean fire. Chera-tage has been found to mean men possessed of divine fire.
. . . . . Early settlers into this region discovered the fire and wrath of the Cherokee, one of the few Indian nations to farm. Later, with the invention of Sequoyah's sylabary, the Cherokee people learned to read and to write from their own phonetic alphabet.
. . . . . In the beginning this was a wild unforgiving land, a region called Appalachia. As this terrain was shaped, so were the fortunes of the people who would arrive eons later, hoping to tame the mountains, control their mighty waters and take sustenance from rich lands.
. . . . . The settlers did not find - nor did they expect to find - an easy or carefree existence. This was a land where they could either eat or be eaten. Staying alive took great cunning, guile, wisdom and courage. The first white men and women to trod this ground and survive possessed all of those traits and more.
. . . . . Thousands of years before, their forefathers had been shaggy, stumpy warriors, who had foraged about, carrying spears, bow and arrows and rock knives for weapons, possessing an ingenuity and creativity for existence in harsh surroundings - survivors in a savage land.
. . . . . When in the 1700's the first Scotch-Irish settlers came over the mountains from North Carolina (the seat of British power in this part of America), they encountered the short, dark-skinned people of another race, fierce both in outward appearance and in their desire to keep their land free of intruders. The Cherokees stood in a face-to-face confrontation with the descendants of that shaggy warrior of the lowlands of Scotland, equally brave, undaunted, unafraid, adaptable, unstoppable, the first whites most Cherokees had ever seen. At first, the flow of people with their wagons, oxen, tools and children were but a trickle, creeping in on the edge of night.
. . . . . Then the trickle became a mainstream of white-skinned immigrants looking for the Promised Land, Scotch-Irish, English, French, Swiss and Germans, people with new cultures and values, arriving in an ever-widening tributary of people flowing west and south from the ports of Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia and from Charleston, South Carolina, upward to North Carolina and finally over the high mountains into Tennessee where heretofore the Cherokee, Creek and Iroquois had hunted abundant game and farmed the land with impunity and without serious interruption.
. . . . . Mere fingers of the mighty Appalachians that run from northern Alabama to southern Quebec, the Unicoi Mountains were not an easy destination. In addition, the Cherokees, who had been generous and tolerant in allowing other Indian tribes to hunt their lands, weren't always so hospitable to white outsiders wishing to put down roots there. In fact, they proved to be formidable and ferocious in protecting their land.
. . . . . However, the Scotch-Irish immigrant was up to the battle. Their historical background was as tough as Damascus steel, for they came to "Tanasi" (the original Cherokee spelling of Tennessee) with generations of battle-hardened history coursing through their veins. Such a man was part warrior, part gypsy, creator of his own future, pushing into the unknown, blessed with God-given talents of survival and a remarkable ability to adapt to his changing environment - a combination which would create a fearsome foe for the brave and equally skilled Cherokee. Here was an enemy who hunted with gunpowder or flint arrow, who could survive in the woods and who, above all, learned very well from his adversaries how to live with and on the land. In essence, this hearty immigrant was an almost matchless machine, equipped with the finest attributes required to survive in the wilderness he confronted, here to stay and to spread his generations into the hills and valleys.
. . . . . For the Cherokee Indian, descendant of the earliest forest dwellers, this was an unfortunate turn of historical and cultural events. How could the Cherokees have anticipated that they were facing one of the greatest human migrations ever?
. . . . . Indeed, the tribes of the mountains stood before a human wave, advancing boldly against the borders of an untamed frontier, a wave which eventually washed over the Indians in a tidal fury, endangering their very existence.
. . . . . Out of this generational and geologic turmoil, this tiny community on the Tennessee-North Carolina border took root, a product of that ocean of culture lapping across the land. Coker Creek, as we know it today, comes with sparkling historical bloodlines that are the essence of this entire region. They are descended from the earliest Scotch-Irish settlers, from Unicoi tribes themselves, as well as from the English, French, Germans, Welch and Swiss. Of these varied groups, however, the Scotch-Irish of Ulster, Northern Ireland, dominated most indelibly.
. . . . . As the settlers adapted more and more successfully to their new environment, their respect for their Indian neighbors grew, as it should have. The Cherokees had much wisdom to share and the settler, were happy to learn from them.
. . . . . As time passed, the two cultures became more tolerant of each other and intermingling became more and more common. Thus, many of today's residents are the proud descendants of both cultures and the lore and knowledge is certainly enriched by this duality.
. . . . . One favorite tale involves Coqua, an Indian princess who did her best to settle periodic armed battles between the whites and Indians. She is also known as Coco Bell, Coyuu Bell, Cocoa Bell and Coker Bess. Later, she eventually married John Coker and supposedly became known as Betsy Coker. Princess Coqua was revered in this community and is said to have been buried in a special grave site, underneath a mound of stones and that she left instructions that anyone who wished to enjoy good luck should toss a rock onto her grave - but should anyone remove a stone from her grave, he or she would suffer a lifetime curse.
. . . . . Beyond the mountains themselves and the Cherokees, gold was the next most important feature of this area. In the 1800's, the white man's lust for this rich mineral would drive the Cherokees deeper into isolation and far away from their proud and rightful ancestral land for gold would become the standard by which our nation measured its currency and eventually itself. With the discovery of gold came a collective and unconscionable greed that did as much to change the way we live as did those first shiploads of Scotch-Irish immigrants.
. . . . . Much of the gold that was mined in this nation during the early 1800's came from Coker Creek, the second area in the US in which the mineral was discovered - almost 25 years before the California Gold Rush of I849.
. . . . . Gold in Coker Creek proved to be both beauty and beast. Veins of gold lay armored in quartz beneath the forest floors. Nuggets said to have been the size of chestnuts were found in her streams.
. . . . . And always - even still today - there are the ever-present deposits of gold which take keen eyes to spot in the creek-beds and white quartz that cover the countryside of the Unicoi Mountains.
. . . . . The Cherokee were aware of gold's allure. They understood its inherent qualities and what it would bring, that it was a sleeping giant which would eventually awaken and usher forth huge and swift changes. And it did.
. . . . . With the discovery of gold in the hills around Coker Creek, a story lodged in fact, myth and magic, the Cherokees would be systematically forced off of their land so that the precious mineral could be mined by the white man, whose "yellow fever" honored few boundaries or paid little regard to decent moral behavior. Immediately the surrounding hills and mountains succumbed to the particular rough and tumble sounds generated by mining camps. Meanwhile, other more forceful events were taking shape in Washington, DC With the election of Andrew Jackson as president in l828, a certain manifestation of the new government's philosophy had been forged. The country's bounty and resources were to be used and processed by those with the financial wherewithal to do so. In such an atmosphere, it was but a matter of time before gold mining would develop full bore in the mountains of East Tennessee and North Georgia, only to seal the fate of the Cherokees, now doomed to be pushed aside for the sake of the white man's version of progress and profits.
. . . . . By 1832, official Jacksonian policy toward land use was entrenched. Four years later, in his second term, President Jackson ordered the removal of the Cherokee and other tribes in order for the land to be more easily exploited and on a grander scale.
. . . . . During their forced winter march of 1838-39 to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, of 17,000, Indians who had been rounded up from the many stockades and held until the departure date, more than 4,000, or one in four, died en route. About 1,000 Cherokee Indians refused to leave their ancient homeland and were helped by some whites, appalled at this treatment of their Indian neighbors. They aided and abetted those Cherokee who were able to avoid the federal troops, led by Gen. Winfield Scott under orders from the White House to carry out the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded the remaining Cherokee territory east off the Mississippi River. The treaty was ratified by Congress and the Cherokee were given two years to leave their ancestral lands, a promise President Jackson made in his campaign and a promise he kept.
. . . . . Not all white people listened to conscience; the smell of gold was stronger and with the bothersome Cherokee nation disposed of for all practical purposes, gold-hungry speculators were free to rip and tear the countryside apart in their lust for the mineral. According to the politicians, the serious business of advancing the frontier was on track.