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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.

(Have a suggestion for a featured story about Sequatchie Valley history? Please contact jveal@sedev.org.)

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