Middle Tennessee History Coalition
The Great Indian Warpath
Long before the arrival of humans there was a series of animal trails scattered across Tennessee. The game trails used by large game such as bison and elk attracted nomadic, prehistoric humans in search of food.
The Great Indian Warpath was part of the network of trails in eastern North America developed and used by American Indians and ran through the Great Appalachian Valley branching out east and west as it went north. Offshoots of the trail stretched to present day Nashville and connected to other trails farther west and south via what we now call the Natchez Trace.
The Warpath follows series of valleys in the Appalachian Mountains stretching from Alabama through Tennessee and on to Canada. It has been a major north-south route of travel since prehistoric times and many modern roads now follow its path. American Indian populations used this trail to travel to war, for trade, and hunting. In fact, it is believed that as early as 2,500 years ago traders from as far away as the Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, and Mexico traveled parts of the trail for purposes of commerce.
The first Europeans used the trail system in 1540 when Hernando de Soto and his party crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fort Loudon was built along the trail by the British in 1756 to support their alliance with the Cherokee Indians during the French and Indian War. Long hunters traveled the trails to explore what is now Kentucky and Tennessee leading to the first mass western migration in American history as settlers followed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in search of opportunity.
Travelers on the Natchez Trace can still see original portions sunk into the ground, and visitors to Martin’s Station, Virginia can walk a trail that follows the path of the Wilderness Road; retracing Daniel Boone’s footsteps through the Gap.
Great men and women traveled these trails. The Cherokee Chief Oconastota, George Washington, Daniel Boone, and “Mad Anne” Bailey all left their footprint in the mud.
As I have studied history I have come to the conclusion that most of what we have today is merely an improvement on something we had in the path. The idea that our ancestors were traveling the same paths that we have covered with four lane highways supports that idea.
The next time you are driving from Chattanooga to Nashville or traveling up Interstate 81 in Virginia, try to imagine who you might have passed on the trail three hundred years ago and remember they were here first.
William Myer, "Indian Trails of the Southeast," Forty-second Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1924-1925 (1928).
http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry.php?rec=1396 (accessed January, 2015)
Maxwell, Hugh. "The Seneca Indian Trail". The Tucker Democrat (Tucker County, West Virginia), 1924