The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is in Cherokee, North Carolina. We strongly recommend you go there. Cherokee is directly across the Great Smoky Mountains from Gatlinburg. And if you want to learn about the Cherokees and their culture, this is the best place to go.
In the meantime, let us tell you a bit about the museum. The institution is older than you might think; it was first opened in a log cabin in 1948. A few years ago, it underwent a major upgrade and today has some really cool, high-tech exhibits. When you first get in you will find yourself in a small theater with a wide screen and stereo sound that tells you some of the ancient Cherokee legends. Believe me when I say that it will hold your attention. I sat through it twice.
You then move onto the exhibits, which start 11,000 years ago and work their way to the present time. There’s a lot of stuff behind glass, and it’s kind of overwhelming. But everything here is authentic and certainly belongs in a museum. You will find things such as pottery, tools, weapons, and an authentic dugout canoe. The items on display were chosen because of what they specifically demonstrate about Cherokee culture.
Obviously the trip to the museum isn’t worth it if you don’t learn something about the story of the Cherokees, but you should learn quite a bit here. In hindsight, these are the exhibits we liked the best:
- A wonderful diorama of a Cherokee village
- A hologram of an old Cherokee man beside a campfire telling stories about tribal history
- A huge mural that tells stories of Cherokee life and culture
- Another mural that depicts the Trail of Tears
- Life-sized waxed depictions of the three Cherokee chiefs who visited England in the 1760s
- Original copies of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, plus copies of very old books (including the Bible) printed in the Cherokee language
- An axe that a Cherokee warrior used to kill several people with in a settlement raid in 1794
- The actual rifle used to execute the legendary Tsali, the Cherokee who killed an American soldier during the Trail of Tears and turned himself into authorities so that some of his fellow Cherokees could stay in the mountains
After you have had your fill of the museum, don’t forget to stop in at the gift shop. This is probably the best place in the world to buy Cherokee-related things. You will find everything from baskets and beadwork made by Cherokees to books about the Cherokees that target younger audiences.
Here is a link to the museum’s official web site. If you are a teacher, you might want to check out some of their educational programs, most of which are scheduled in the summer.