Located behind the school, the Council House has been a vision since 2006 and thanks to the efforts of Principal Jeff Elliott, teacher and coach Scott Carroll, the Bradley/Cleveland Public Education Foundation and Dr. Ashley Smith, it is now a reality.
A lot of planning and hard work went into building the Council House and preserving the rich history of our Cherokee heritage.
Having been involved in the long history of Red Clay Historic State Park, I know firsthand how important this project is to this area. I can recall working with the late Col. James F. Corn, who purchased and helped preserved the park land so it would remain noncommercial. As president of Red Clay Association, I worked with the Tennessee Department of Conservation and former State Sen. Ben Longley to begin bringing the dream of developing the park toward reality. Gary Lawson became our first park ranger.
The Cherokee Council House was a combination temple for religious rites and public hall for civil and military councils. The traditional Council House was seven-sided and could seat as many as 500 people. The seven sides corresponded to the seven clans of the Cherokee with the members of each clan being seated in its designated section. The framework of the Council House was also based upon the sacred number 7.
Sacred numbers are present in the beliefs of most of the people of the world, and the ancient Cherokee were no exception. For them, the number was 7, and it pervaded nearly all aspects of their lives and even their concept of the universe, their concept of the seven clans and the seven great ceremonies.
According to an historical research piece by eighth-grader Jennifer Felton, Cleveland Middle School was built on land that was once owned by the Cherokee Indians. A.A. Spriggs married a Cherokee woman and the couple received land from the Cherokee tribe. L.M. Campbell and his mother, Nannie Campbell, purchased 240 acres from Spriggs, of the Wynen Indian territory, for $575, on Nov. 28, 1900. At the time of the purchase, the farm was known as the Clingnan Farm. Through the years, the farmland had several owners, but it was Owen Baker who last owned the property and named it Baker Farm, the last name it held before being purchased by the city of Cleveland and Cleveland City Schools for the new middle school now located on the site.
Learning about the rich heritage of the Cherokee through the years, I recall when the chiefs of the Eastern and Western Band came to Cleveland. There are numerous misnomers about these tribes and we discovered firsthand that they did not wear traditional feather headdresses, but rather dressed much like the western civilization in buckskin pants, shirts and moccasins, with no feather headdresses.
They were a modern tribe and very skilled at working with their hands, creating their log-cabin homes and making clothing, pottery and utensils.
We also learned there was never a complete peace among the two when we attempted to bring them together for several events. We had to do a great deal of research and learn a lot of Cherokee protocol during that time to eventually bring together both bands to dedicate the park.
Getting the land developed into a state park was a long process and many people, some now deceased, are to be credited for the state park we now have in Bradley County.
I recall when President Ronald Reagan sent a letter of congratulations to the two Cherokee bands and he used the word “pow wow.” The Cherokees quickly recommended it be read as “meeting” and not “pow wow.” Some news media had a heyday when they saw the message and mentioned that the president was still living in Western movie days. That was a boo-boo that we quickly overcame.
The Council House at Cleveland Middle School took a lot of people working in unison, including the project contractors: True Custom Builders Inc., Kim True; the city of Cleveland, Assistant City Manager Melinda Carroll; and Bent Twig Landscaping Company, Tim Davis. Generous donations and gifts were also made by the following: The George R. Johnson Family Foundation (Janice Wilson, Beverly, Mark and Doris Johnson); Olin Corporation (Ken Corley, plant manager); and the Tucker Foundation (Hayne Hamilton, Matt Bentley and Summerfield Johnson).
Being a part of Cleveland Middle School’s dedication of the Cherokee Council House made me very proud that our students are learning about this area’s history and preserving it for future generations.