A unique and exciting project is developing at Red Clay Historical Park.
It all began several years ago after a sycamore tree and sweet gum tree conjoined.
Red Clay was the final council meeting place for the Cherokee nation prior to their removal along the Trail of Tears. In essence, Red Clay was where the Cherokee people grew together and decided to “stick together” and avoid division in their fight to save their lands.
They eventually had to make their deal for a peaceful removal to Oklahoma and lands west of the Mississippi. They were “conjoined” in their effort, much like the sycamore and sweet gum tree located on thei old council grounds at Red Clay.
“I saw an opportunity to make the best of this tragedy,” said Erin Medley, park manager at Red Clay.
“The tree kept dying after the lightning strike. Eventually we had to keep cutting it back and had seven limbs coming from the conjoined stumps,” she explained.
Upon observation, the trees are one. There are no definitive breaks to identify the tree as one or the other — sycamore or sweet gum — but a single tree of two species, much like the Cherokee and the Europeans as they intermarried and became mixed families.
Cherokee legend says “at first, there was no fire and the people were cold. Only the thunders who lived in the world beyond the sky arch had fire. At last, they sent lighting down, putting fire into the bottom of a sycamore tree.”
Medley came up with the idea to have someone preserve the historical tree through art.
Dan Hartman, Cleveland’s Urban forester, is set to visit the park to get an approximate determination on the age of the conjoined tree that has seven limbs to be carved. He will also offer advice how to preserve the tree after carvings are finished.
John Grant, a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, has taken on the role of artist. He is carving the “Masks of the Seven Clans.”
Each clan of the Cherokee had significant roles.
The clan is connected through family. Each family was characterized in the clan and significance was important to their life roles.
For example, John Ross was of the Bird Clan. Ross was the principal chief of the Cherokee prior to and for decades after the Removal.
The Bird Clan was designated as the communicators or messengers and Ross was an excellent statesman and patriot for the Cherokee nation as it existed.
Other clans include:
- Potato Clan — Keepers of the land.
- Long Hair Clan — The Peacemakers.
- Deer Clan — The hunters or fast runners and messengers.
- The Wolf Clan — This was the largest Cherokee Clan and were known as the protectors.
- Paint Clan — Known for their medicinal knowledge and nature.
- The Blue Clan — Known for medicines.
There were also subdivisions in each clan.
“We have received a number of donations from interested parties to preserve what I feel is a new monument to Red Clay,” Medley said.
“We also plan to someday provide a cover for the Masks of the Seven Clans after Grant is finished with the carvings, to offer better preservation,” she added.
“Please, we encourage everyone to come and witness this blessing as we preserve it and the significance of the Seven Clans of the Cherokee,” said Medley.