Sand Town: Cherokee/White community lost, but not forgotten

Dills has collected utilitarian items that were used by both his ancestors and Cherokee families who lived in Sand Town.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

The boards of pottery shards that Willard Dills found on his family’s property, which was once part of the the Sand Town community, only represents a small portion of the thousands of pieces that he has found.

In his basement of his Franklin home, Willard Dills has thousands of pieces of Cherokee pottery on display on walls and in jars that he has picked up on his multi-generational family land in Cartoogechaye. He has found shards of pipes, game balls made of stone, arrowheads, and his most exciting find – a small unblemished ceremonial effigy in the shape of a man. Alongside these Native artifacts are utilitarian items such as a water dipper made from creek-bed cane and dogwood, as well as hand-made saws, hammers, guns, and more.  

“This is my museum,” he said, explaining that the reason family and Cherokee items were found on the same land is because it was all considered the Sand Town community at one time. 

“Sand Town in Cartoogechaye was situated on a few hundred acres at the mouth of Muskrat Brook and along Dills Creek,” said Robert Shook, curator at the Macon County Historical Museum on Main Street in Franklin. “That’s where the chief of Sand Town, Chuttahsotee, built his cabin when he came back after being part of the Indian Removal Act [1830] … William Siler deeded land back to the Cherokee. William’s house was in sight of the chief’s house. They were best friends. In fact, when William died, the chief followed the wagon with his casket in the pouring rain for eight miles until it got to the graveyard in Franklin. 

“People need to understand that families, white and Cherokee, had homes in Sand Town together. There was even a trading post out there,”  he added.

A hand-drawn map of the community, which existed just off what is now Hwy. 64 before the pass at Winding Stair, shows homesteads all along the creeks and branches. An 1851 “Census of Cherokee … Cartoogechaye Macon County, N.C.” included close to 20 Cherokee families with names such as Choo-tah-so-tih (or Jim Woodpecker), Eno-leh (or Catamount), and Cos-kel-lo-kih (or Hog Bite). Also, families with the last names Siler, Rush, Addington, Moore, McDowell, etc., occupied homes and land. 

Currently, no formal remains exist of what was known as Sand Town. Farm land, developments, individual homes, and wilderness exist there. However, families have passed down the history so that not forgotten is the fact that some Cherokee and white families did live peacefully in close proximity. 

Margaret Redding Siler, who married Dr. Fredrick Lawrence Siler in 1900, documented the Sand Town history in the 1939-published “Cherokee Indian Lore & Smoky Mountain Stories,” available for sale at the Macon County Historical Museum. In it, she writes that her father-in-law, Albert Siler, was so familiar with the Cherokee language that he spoke it “as he did his own. He grew up with the Cherokee children for playmates.”

She explained in her book about the formation of Sand Town.

“Near the Cartoogechaye Creek, in a cove that was sheltered on the north by high mountain walls, but open to the fertile valley to the south, the homesick Cherokee built their cabins. … It was called Sand Town because of the white sand along the banks of the stream (Muskrat Brook). Albert Siler grew up with the Sand Town Indians. He had six sisters and no brothers, so the Indian boys taught him to trap, and to still-hunt without gun or dog. The only weapons they used were the bow and arrow and blowgun.  … As Albert Siler recalled them, the Sand Town Indians were always loyal to their friends, and it was evident from the way he talked that he was deeply attached to them.”

The small, historic St. John Episcopal Church is situated where the Sand Town community was once located, and Chuttahsotee and his wife are buried there. [See Sept. 19, 2019 article on St. John’s Episcopal in MCN.] Margaret Siler wrote: “One of Albert Siler’s daughters had the marble top of a dresser broken in two and placed at the heads of the Indian graves in the St. John’s churchyard …” 

She also pointed out in her book that often the Cherokee and white families in Sand Town would worship together. 

“When the Cherokee attended services at the white churches, they joined in with the utmost reverence and sang, but in their own language.” 

Dills’ family settled in the early 1800s in what became Sand Town. Both his great grandmothers were full Cherokee: Tiny Rogers and Elda Patterson. On his display wall is the water dipper he remembers his grandmother, Elise Patterson Dills, who was half Cherokee, making. “I was with her when she made it. I grew up on every inch of that property out there. She knew how to make that dipper because her mother, full Cherokee, taught her.” The intricately made dipper has thin cane woven so close together that it held the water. 

Several men in Dills’ family were employed by the Ritter Lumber Company, located in the late 1800s and early 1900s in nearby Standing Indian. Some family members died while logging.  And, even though the Dills family “old homeplace” of the mid-1850s succumbed to decay, Dills still maintains his family’s 51 acres and has a 1980s-built getaway cabin there. He walks the property several times a week to see what he can find. 

One item from Sand Town that is on Dills’ wall features still legible Cherokee writing. However, extensive research determined that the writing most likely pre-dates the Cherokee syllabary of the early 1800s. Some of the pottery pieces feature consistent designs and colors. 

“I’m always finding things that the Cherokee or my family used for eating, drinking, living … My family thinks I’m nuts collecting all this stuff but I don’t want it to just lie there and get lost.” 

The effigy, which Dills had framed, along with a few other “treasures,” such as tiny sharp arrowheads, was dated by the Cherokee at around 11,000 years old. Even though it was found in what was Sand Town, it must have been passed down from Cherokee family to Cherokee family for multiple generations, ascertained Dills. 

Dills said that the history of his family, the Cartoogechaye Cherokee, and Sand Town, will continue to live on in his and wife Tammy’s children, Christopher and Elizabeth, and their grandchildren. Lawson, 7, the oldest grandchild, has already been accompanying Dills to the family property to help him search for and preserve as many historic artifacts as possible from those years when Sand Town thrived. “Lawson loves going with me,” said Dills.