European exploration and settlement
In the 16th century, three Spanish exploration expeditions passed through what is now Tennessee. The Hernando de Soto expedition entered the Tennessee Valley via the Nolichucky River in June 1540, rested for several weeks at the village of Chiaha (near modern Douglas Dam), and proceeded southward to the Coosa chiefdom in northern Georgia. In 1559, the expedition of Tristan de Luna, which was resting at Coosa, briefly entered the Chattanooga area to help the Coosa chief subdue a rebellious tribe known as the Napochies. In 1567, the Juan Pardo expedition entered the Tennessee Valley via the French Broad River, rested for several days at Chiaha, and followed a rugged trail to the upper Little Tennessee River before being forced to turn back.
Chronicles of the Spanish explorers, while scant, provide valuable information regarding the Tennessee Valley’s 16th-century inhabitants. Most of the valley, including Chiaha, was part of the Coosa chiefdom’s vast sphere of influence. Inhabitants spoke a dialect of the Muskogean language, and lived in complex agrarian communities centered around fortified villages. Cherokee-speaking people lived in the remote reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, and may have been at war with the Muskogean inhabitants in the valley. The village of Tali, visited by De Soto in 1540, is believed to be the Mississippian-period village excavated at the Toqua site in the 1970s. The villages of Chalahume and Satapo, visited by Pardo in 1567, were likely predecessors (and namesakes for) the later Cherokee villages of Chilhowee and Citico, which were located near modern Chilhowee Dam.
Discovery and interaction with native peoples
Possibly because of European diseases devastating the Native tribes, which would have left a population vacuum, and also from expanding European settlement in the north, the Cherokee moved south from the area now called Virginia. As European colonists spread into the area, the native populations were forcibly displaced to the south and west, including the Muscogee, Yuchi, Chickasaw and Choctaw peoples. From 1838 to 1839, the US government forced Cherokees to leave the eastern United States. Nearly 17,000 Cherokees were forced to march from Eastern Tennessee to Indian Territory west of Arkansas. This came to be known as the Trail of Tears, as an estimated 4,000 Cherokees died along the way. In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nunna daul Isunyi—”the Trail Where We Cried”