Fort Butler and the Trail of Tears

fortbutlerLocated on a hill overlooking present-day Murphy, North Carolina on the Hiwassee River, Fort Butler was the headquarters of the Eastern Division of the U.S. Army overseeing the  forced Cherokee emigration.

On a late July day, my husband and I found the remnants of Fort Butler along Hitchcock Street near Lakeside Street in what today is a private residential neighborhood. Down the hill and overlooking the river, Cherokee Street follows the former Unicoi Turnpike along which the Cherokee were marched to Fort Cass, Tennessee and on to Indian Territory as depicted in Beyond the Cherokee Trail.

By early 1838 it became clear that most Cherokee would not willingly leave their land. After a deadline in May passed, the Army prepared for forced removal. Fort Butler was enlarged with barracks, officers’ quarters, offices, shops, kitchens, and other buildings.

The military removal of the Cherokee began in Georgia in late May, but reports of abuse and mistreatment of the prisoners caused General Winifred Scott, the overall commander stationed at Fort Cass, to halt operations until early June.

Southwest North Carolina was one of the most densely populated regions of the Cherokee Nation and was believed to be rife for violent resistance. Therefore, General Scott travelled to Fort Butler in order to personally direct the roundup of Cherokee in the North Carolina.

During the early summer of 1838 more than 3,000 Cherokee prisoners from western North Carolina and northern Georgia passed through Fort Butler en route, via the Unicoi Turnpike, to the larger internment camp at Fort Cass. Unlike the long imprisonment at Fort Cass, most of the prisoners spent only a few days at Fort Butler, although some remained for a few weeks.

fortbutler1Despite the housing development, one isolated clearing in a grove of trees gives a haunting reminder of the atrocities which took place here.

For more behind-the-scenes photos of Beyond the Cherokee Trail, visit


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