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26th Cherokee Fall Festival held in Vonore

Posted on Friday, October 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm

In the land of the Cherokee they came to witness history come alive. In the land of Tuskegee, where Sequoyah was born they came to listen to tales of the Cherokee people and to pay homage to our grand American legacy. On September 9 and 10, 2017, the 26th Cherokee Fall Festival was held on the location where in 1776, Sequoyah was born. He was the son of Nathaniel Gist and Wut-the, daughter of a Cherokee Chief. Sequoyah fought in the War of 1812, but is best known for developing a written language (comprised of 85 symbols), as well as publishing the “Cherokee Phoenix.”

The Cherokee Fall Festival included a grand opening ceremony with honor guard, teaching, and storytelling, along with warriors of Ani-Kituhwa. Included in the festivities were a blowgun competition, living history, flute playing, powwow dancing, and Civil War reenactment. The reenactment was a recreation of the Cherokee braves that came through the river crossing at Tuskegee and was attacked by the Federal troops. Gary Holt, a living historian who portrays Colonel William H. Thomas, shared with the large audience the saga of Wil-usdi (Little Will).

According to Mr. Holt (Gary has been in the Heartland series and has over 30 movies and documentaries to his credit), Colonel William Holland Thomas was born in 1805, and was raised by his mother. His father was a revolutionary soldier but left the family. At the age of 12, Chief Yonaguska (Drowning Bea) adopted him. “Little Will” became proficient in the Cherokee language and became the voice of the Cherokee people. William Thomas became a self-taught lawyer and negotiated treaties with Washington on the Cherokee’s behalf. In 1835, Little Will lobbied against the infamous “Trail of Tears” and argued for some of ‘The people’ to stay within their traditional homelands in and around present-day Cherokee, North Carolina. He was tribal chief of the Eastern Band from 1848-1861, and served in the North Carolina Senate. He is also credited with building the first road across the Smoky Mountains.

When the War Between the States began, he aligned himself with the Confederacy and raised what was known as Thomas Legion. He is credited with saving the sacred hills known as the Smoky Mountains (Cherokee, North Carolina) and upon his death several thousand acres of land were given to the Eastern band of Cherokees. It is widely accepted that through his devotion to his adopted people, the land of the Cherokee was preserved.

It was under this umbrella of stories that the annual reenactment took place. Both days witnessed history come alive and a celebration of the great Cherokee nation contributions to our American heritage and inheritance. Let us offer our gratitude to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and to all those men and women of vision who donated their time and energy to give us a glimpse into the “rising of the phoenix.” For more information about the Cherokee Fall Festival, go to, call 423-884-6246 or email

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