Walter Jackson

EBCI Chief Walter Jackson.

By Beth Lawrence


The Jackson County Board of Commissioners heard an update on the question of redesignating the person for whom the county is named at a recent work session.

At its Feb. 9 meeting County Attorney Heather Baker told the board she could not find a precedent that would prohibit the board from changing the county’s namesake.

In January commissioners were presented with the renaming proposal. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Tribal Council passed resolution 324 supporting the idea of changing the county’s namesake to honor the late Principal Chief Walter S. Jackson of the EBCI, May 1923-April 1971.

It is believed that Jackson County was named after President Andrew Jackson.

Baker and librarians from the Jackson County Public Library and Western Carolina University could not verify that as fact.

“(We) went back into the North Carolina legislation,” Baker said. “We found the 1850-51 session law where Jackson County was created. The law itself mentions nothing about how the name came about. I went in and found the journal of the Senate and the journal of the House of Commons … It never once mentioned where the name came from.”

She also found an 1852 supplemental law that re-formed the county because the original session failed to designate a county seat. That supplement does not appoint Andrew Jackson as the county’s namesake either, Baker said.

Additionally Baker spoke with Kara Millonzi of the University of North Carolina School of Government who agreed with Baker’s determination that there was nothing legislatively that would prohibit the county from designating Chief Walter Jackson as the county’s namesake.

“It’s up to you if you want to move forward on that, (and) how you want to do that,” Baker said.

At January’s meeting Board Chair Brian McMahan and Commissioner Tom Stribling expressed reservations about changing the designation while Commissioners Gayle Woody and Boyce Deitz supported the idea.

Baker also noted that the EBCI had offered to provide the legal and cultural research needed to examine the issue. Baker spoke to the tribe’s attorney general and members of the executive branch on Friday about their research regarding the issue.

“As a sovereign nation, have they (EBCI) transmitted a copy of that resolution to the state, to the legislature,” McMahan asked. “That’s a question I think we need to know. What steps have they taken asking for this action to take place and if so.”

Baker advised she would ask that at the Friday meeting.

Jackson became Principal Chief in 1967. Prior to that, he served in the Navy in World War II, and held positions as Cherokee police chief, council representative for 12 years and tribal council vice chief among his other accomplishments.

President Jackson was a slave owner and a supporter of Manifest Destiny, the idea that America belonged to white people; and he supported Indian removal policies pushing eastern tribes further west and allowing white settlers to take native lands.

The board plans to revisit the issue again at a future work session.