One of the "most unique archeological areas in the National Park System" will be the subject of a ranger-guided hike on February 8, and the location might surprise you. The Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, which "spans 12,000 years of continuous human habitation," is part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, an area best known for major Civil War battles.
Moccasin Bend is a meander in the Tennessee River at Chattanooga, Tennessee, and its name comes from the area's appearance when viewed from the nearby Lookout Mountain. Because of its strategic location, the Bend has served as a crossroads for a wide variety of cultures dating back to the Paleo-Indian Period (10,000 B.C.- 8000 B.C.).
Preservationists sought to protect Moccasin Bend from development for years, trying repeatedly to have it designated as a National Park. Their goal wasn't realized until archeologists made an important discovery in the 1980s and 1990s: evidence of European contact in 1540 with ancestors of today's Muscogee (Creek) and Yuchi people at a village site referred to as Hampton Place.
Site of One of the Earliest Contacts Between Europeans and Early Americans
According to a park spokesperson, "With that discovery, Moccasin Bend became one of a handful of archeological sites that possibly 'witnessed' some of the first interactions between native peoples and Spanish conquistadors in the present-day Southeastern United States. These findings and others helped catapult Moccasin Bend to become the newest unit of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in 2003."
What was life like for the native people during the Mississippian Period (900 A.D. -1650A.D.) before and after European contact?
That question will be the focus of the two-hour interpretive hike on Saturday, February 8, 2014. The hike will begin at 1:30 p.m.; participants should take Moccasin Bend Road in Chattanooga south toward the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, and follow the Special Event signs directing them to the parking area. That area is shown on Google Maps at this link. Comfortable, supportive footwear, appropriate clothing for the weather, and drinking water are recommended for this program.
Moccasin Bend Added to National Military Park in 2003
Addition of the 780-acre Moccasin Bend National Archeological District to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 2003, and the stories connected to this site range from early Native Americans to Spanish explorers and Civil War soldiers.
The earliest known human inhabitants of Moccasin Bend were nomadic tribes which were attracted to the area's rich resources between about 10,000 B.C.- 8000 B.C. The development of stone tools during the Archaic Period (8000 B.C.-700 B.C.) assisted in the establishment of permanent villages.
Archeological excavations have uncovered approximately twenty village sites on the Bend from the Woodland Period (700 B.C.-1000 A.D.), which is notable for the introduction of ceramic pottery and the beginnings of agriculture. During the Mississippian Period (900 A.D. -1650A.D.), the native people began building large mound complexes, farming larger tracts of land and having a strong socio-political structure based on kinship ties.
At the height of the Mississippian Period (1540), Hernando de Soto's Spaniards made contact with inhabitants of Hampton Place, a village located on the Bend. These ancestors of today's Muscogee (Creek) and Yuchi people had largely abandoned the area by about 1650, and they were followed by the 'Chickamauga' Cherokee.
In 1838-39, Cherokees in the area were forcibly removed and deported along the "Trail of Tears" to lands in Oklahoma. During the siege and battles that took place in the area in the fall and winter of 1863, Union artillery entrenched on the Bend and periodically exchanged fire with Confederate batteries on Lookout Mountain. This peninsula was also used as part of the Union army's main supply line, known as the Cracker Line.
Visitor Facilities at Moccasin Bend Are Still Under Development
It's a long and rich human history, and the park and a partner organization, Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park, are still working to develop the area to tell these stories more effectively.
Public access to the District is currently limited to a three-mile loop trail; the trailhead for the Blue Blazes Trail and parking area are located off Moccasin Bend Road in Chattanooga. Since the site is still under development, access to other areas of the district requires at least two weeks advance notice to the park. You'll find information about requesting such permission at this link.
The park website includes more information about Moccasin Bend National Archeological District and other things to see and do at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.