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the history of tva

Before TVA—The First People in the Tennessee Valley

photo of Tennessee mountainsLong before there was a Tennessee Valley Authority, the Tennessee River was important to the people of the river region.

For many thousands of years before Europeans and Africans arrived, native peoples made their home here. Scientists say Native Americans have been living in the Valley for at least 12,000 years. Hunters who followed large game south during the last ice age were probably the first humans in the Tennessee Valley. (Read about the prehistory of the region.)

In the thousands of years that followed, Native Americans adopted a more settled way of life, building more permanent homes, and developing villages. Different tribal groups, including the Shawnee and the Creek, used the Tennessee River to travel throughout the region and to provide water to grow food.

phot of sequoyah
Sequoyah created the Cherokee alphabet.

Perhaps the best known Native American tribe of the Tennessee Valley is the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee people were accomplished hunters, farmers and craftsmen, and they had their own language and system of government.

In 1809, the Cherokee scholar Sequoyah began work on a written version of the Cherokee language. The Cherokee nation adopted Sequoyah's alphabet and, during the 1820s most Cherokees learned to read and write in their own native tongue for the first time.

During this same period, white settlers were increasingly intruding on Native American lands in the Tennessee Valley. In 1830 the Congress of the United States passed the Indian Removal Act.

Although many Americans were against the act, including famous Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, United States President Andrew Jackson was able to get the bill signed into law. In 1838 the United States began the forced removal of all Cherokees in the southeastern United States to what later became Oklahoma.

In what became known as the Trail of Tears, Cherokee men, women, and children were taken from their land by U.S. soldiers and forced at gunpoint to march a thousand miles without shoes, warm clothing or sufficient food. More than 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives during their long walk from the Tennessee Valley to Oklahoma.