Qualla Boundary

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Cherokee Indian Reservation sign
Qualla Arts and Crafts Center in Cherokee, North Carolina

The Qualla Boundary or The Qualla is territory held as a land trust for the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who reside in western North Carolina. The area is part of the Cherokees' historic territory. The land was not "reserved" by the federal government; the tribe purchased the land in the 1870s and it was subsequently placed under federal protective trust.[1][2] Individuals can buy, own, and sell the land, provided they are enrolled members of the Tribe of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.


Map of the Qualla Indian Reserve (circa 1890)

The Qualla Boundary is located at 35°30′N 83°16′W / 35.500°N 83.267°W / 35.500; -83.267Coordinates: 35°30′N 83°16′W / 35.500°N 83.267°W / 35.500; -83.267.

The main part of the Qualla Boundary lies in eastern Swain and northern Jackson counties (just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park). A small portion of the main trust lands extends eastward into Haywood County. The trust lands include many smaller non-contiguous sections to the southwest in Marble, Hiawassee and Hanging Dog areas of Cherokee County, North Carolina, and the Snowbird community in Graham County, North Carolina. The total land area of these regions is 213.934 km² (82.6 sq mi), with a 2000 census resident population of 8,092 people.


"Qualla Indian Reservation" sign in North Carolina; text of 1975 sign included in article

The Cherokee have long occupied this area, having migrated here centuries before the Europeans arrived. During their colonial expansion west, European settlers sometimes came into conflict with the Cherokee, who had territory extending into present-day Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The Cherokee were forcibly removed from much of this area, especially the Black Belt in Georgia and Alabama, under authority of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. They were relocated to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

During the winter of 1838 and early the spring of 1839, the U.S. Federal Government relocated approximately 11,000 Cherokee from their lands in North Carolina, in what is known as the Trail of Tears. Some of the Cherokee were able to evade the initial removal and hide themselves in the Great Smoky Mountains, some were free to stay on their lands due to earlier treaties, but the majority of the Cherokee people were removed from the land. This was when the main struggle for the boundary began.[3]

The Qualla Boundary was first surveyed in 1876 by M. S. Temple under the auspices of the United States Land Office. These pieces were embodied in a map published as the "Map of the Qualla Indian reserve".[4]

The Qualla Boundary is a land trust supervised by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. The land is a fragment of the extensive historical homeland of the Cherokee in the region, and was considered part of the Cherokee Nation during the nineteenth century, prior to certain treaties and Indian Removal in the 1830s. William Holland Thomas had lived and worked among the Cherokee people for a good portion of his life. He had a knowledge of their traditions and language, and was close friends with some members of the tribe. The Cherokee valued and respected Thomas, he even served as the only white chief in their history.[5] Thomas purchased lands around the Oconaluftee River for the tribe, the total area adding up to around 50,000 acres; this land is still a large part of what makes up the boundary today. The Cherokee organized and formed a corporation in 1870 to be able to purchase and hold additional lands.[1] These Cherokee that were allowed to live in North Carolina were seen as a separate organization than the Cherokee living in Oklahoma.[6]

A United States Department of Interior sign, entitled "Qualla Indian Reservation", reads:

The Cherokee domain once extended far beyond the distant mountains, but the white man, with broken treaties and fruitless promises, brought trouble to the Indians and caused their banishment to an Oklahoma reservation. A few escaped capture and fled into the Great Smokies, eventually forming the Eastern Band that now lives on the Qualla Reservation in the valley below.

Law and government[edit]

The tribal community functions like most municipalities, operating schools, law enforcement, and rescue services, as well as their own hospital and casino. The Tribe has operated a court system since 1987.

Tribal police have exclusive police jurisdiction on Indian lands, though the FBI and other federal agencies also have jurisdiction to handle major federal offenses. NC State Troopers, motor vehicle inspectors, wildlife officers, state alcohol agents, SBI agents, and other state peace officers assigned to counties that overlap with the Qualla Boundary can be called to assist tribal law enforcement officers, and can be commissioned as "special officers" of the Department of Interior to assist in investigations. Non tribal members charged with a crime are referred to local county courts.

Representation in media[edit]

In the mid-1950s, much of Disney's five-part television series, Davy Crockett (starring Fess Parker), was filmed here.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "History & Culture". Eastern Band of Cherokee. Archived from the original on April 15, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  2. ^ Qualla Boundary, NCPedia.org (retrieved 15 April 2015)
  3. ^ "NCGenWeb Project | North Carolina Genealogy Resources". Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  4. ^ Map of the Qualla Indian Reserve (Boundary) N.C. :: North Carolina Maps
  5. ^ Mitchell, Anne (1997). "Culture, History, and Development on the Qualla Boundary". Appalachian Journal and Appalachian State University. 24.
  6. ^ Denning, Shea (July 10, 2019). "Criminal Jurisdiction on the Qualla Boundary". NC Criminal Law Blog | UNC Chapel Hill School of Government. Retrieved March 31, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]