Ed Henson, left, and Chief Leon Jones rededicated the Eternal Flame June 29 at Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee. The flame burns as a reminder of the hardships endured by the Cherokee when they were removed to Oklahoma by Andrew Jackson's troops in 1837-38, and as a symbol of the Cherokees' desire to forgive and forget the injustices of the past. Embers to light the Eternal Flame were brought from a 100-year-old Cherokee Council fire in Oklahoma and kindled in North Carolina June 23, 1951, at the opening performance of the historical drama "Unto These Hills," which tells the story of the Cherokee nation before and after the arrival of Europeans. Performances begin at 8:30 p.m. every night except Sundays during the summer. Herald photo by Virginia Culp
"We have to remember the things that were given to us," Leon Jones, chief of the eastern band of Cherokee, told a small crowd at Mountainside Theatre June 29. "It's good to be reminded of the history we have."Jones joined Ed Henson, chairman of the Cherokee Historical Association, Eddie Bushyhead, Brett Riggs and Ray Kinsland in a rededication ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of a 1951 trip by four Cherokee tribal members along the infamous "Trail of Tears" from North Carolina to Oklahoma and the lighting of the Eternal Flame at Mountainside Theatre that same year.Mary Visage, daughter of Vice Chief McKinley Ross, who was one of those who retraced the Trail, remembered her father's stories of their adventures."He always said he wanted to ask for our land back right then," she said. "He had a dry sense of humor."The 1951 delegation, which was sponsored by the Cherokee Historical Association, also included John Parris, public relations director of the Association, and tribal members Arsene Thompson, Leroy Wahnetah and Joseph Washington. Thompson created the outdoor drama "Unto These Hills" and performed the part of Elias Boudinot. Washington was a descendant of Tsali, who helped Cherokee who had hidden in the mountains to escape the removal, and many of Wahnetah's ancestors were on the Trail."We came here to forgive and forget," Ross said when they visited President Andrew Jackson's home in Nashville. Jackson was responsible for the original decision to move the Eastern Band of the Cherokee west in 1837. in Hopkinsville, K.Y., a marker commemorates Chief Whitepath and others of the Cherokee who died along the Trail. According to a marker there, 13,500 Cherokee camped overnight in Hopkinsville on their way to Oklahoma.The delegation's journey received extensive media attention and helped to bring attention to the North Carolina Cherokees and "Unto These Hills," which premiered that summer.When the delegation left Oklahoma, they took with them embers from a century-old Cherokee Council fire. Carefully tending the flames along the way, they brought the fire to North Carolina and kindled the Eternal Flame at the newly built Mountainside Theatre.An inscription above the flame tells the story of the 1951 journey and the history of the flame."I hope we can always be true friends," Jones said, referring to the inscription, which calls the flame "a symbol of friendship eternal between the white man and the red man."