A BRIEF OVERVIEW
When talking about Sequatchie Valley’s history, one of the first questions is almost always about the name. Where did it come from and what does it mean? Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to that question. The word is from the Cherokee language, but the meaning is debated. Some say it was the name of a Cherokee chief. Others believe it means “beautiful valley” or “deep trough” due to the valley’s shape. Still others claim it means “smiling opossum!”
European settlers first began moving into the valley in the 18th century and were not welcomed by the Native Americans who already occupied the valley. After years of fighting, the Cherokee finally ceded the area to the United States government as part of the Third Treaty of Tellico in 1805. Three decades later, in 1838, all Cherokee people were forcibly removed from the region in a mass exodus in what is known as the Trail of Tears.
The Civil War brought more disruption to the Sequatchie Valley, especially since Sequatchie County voted to secede from the Union while the other two counties that make up Sequatchie Valley (Marion County to its south, and Bledsoe County to its north) opted to remain in the Union. In October of 1863, Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler led a cavalry raid against a Union supply train moving along the Sequatchie River on their way to relieve besieged Federal troops in Chattanooga. Wheeler burned an estimated 1,000 wagons and captured livestock in the battle known as Wheeler’s Raid.
Conflict between supporters of the Union and Confederacy continued long after the war ended, and the valley’s remote location invited criminal activity from marauders and deserters, leaving citizens to carry out their own brands of justice. The valley’s remote location also made it attractive for moonshiners, especially since the valley and surrounding ridges were full of springs, providing a necessary ingredient for their product.
In the early 1900’s, Sequatchie Valley enjoyed a coal mining boom as miners worked the west side of the valley (the Cumberland Plateau) to provide fuel for the iron and steel foundries of nearby Chattanooga. The coal boom ended with the Great Depression, and agriculture once again became the chief industry in the valley, a place it still holds today.
The Coal Miners Museum in Whitwell, Tenn., offers storytelling in its most engaging form: from the mouths of those who experienced it. The museum operates out of an unassuming building on Main Street, just down the road from the old mines and coke ovens on the side of Cumberland Mountain (also known as Olive Mountain). The volunteers who work at the museum are all retired coal miners, and their stories about the relics left behind from coal’s bygone era bring the museum to life.
Relics from coal mining days in Whitwell, TN
Looking at the Sequatchie Valley today, with its open farmland center and densely wooded edges, it’s hard to believe that it was once home to a thriving coal industry. Get a glimpse of this fascinating history at the Dunlap Coke Ovens Park, just a few minutes from downtown Dunlap.
The 88-acre park features 268 beehive coke ovens, which were used in the early 1900s to convert mountain coal into industrial coke. A museum (call for hours of operation) on the property highlights photos from Sequatchie Valley’s coal boom days. Both the park and...more
The Sequatchie Valley based bluegrass band Track 145 recently captured in song the story of the infamous outlaw John Murrell, who was laid to rest in Pikeville, Tenn., in the mid-1800s after a lifetime of outrageous criminal behavior.
Murrell was so notorious that Mark Twain referenced him in his books “Life on the Mississippi” and in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” when Tom, Huck and Injun Joe search for Murrell’s lost treasure. His antics have been featured in books, movies and folklore tales that circulate to this day.
Whitwell Middle School, located within the Sequatchie Valley of Southeast Tennessee, is home to one of the world’s most profound remembrances of the Holocaust victims of Nazi Germany: the Children’s Holocaust Memorial.
The memorial is the result of the efforts of the school’s former principal, Linda Hooper, and teachers Sandra Roberts and David Smith, who began an eighth-grade Holocaust education class in 1998 to teach diversity in their small, mostly white, Christian community.
The Holocaust took place between the years of 1933 and 1945...more
The Chattanooga region of Southeast Tennessee can be experienced through so many lenses, but the historical lens is one of the most captivating. Once you learn the fascinating history of the landscape, it can be difficult to stay put in the 21st century, easy to get caught up toggling between the ages.
“Moonshine” was the original term for clear unaged whiskey produced with fermented corn mash. It makes sense that Appalachian farmers were the prime producers of this high-proof – and highly illegal – distilled spirit. Produced and transported “under the light of the moon,” moonshine and its purveyors have become legends in Tennessee history.
Today, there are lots of places to sample Tennessee’s modern whiskey tradition – including...more