Cultural Creative – “Unto These Hills”

By Jeff Goss, President/Creative Director

The original script of the outdoor drama Unto These Hills was written by Kermit Hunter, a University of North Carolina professor, in 1950.

The play told the story of the Cherokee people, who can be traced back to the Paleolithic period, have lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina for thousands of years, and since 1839 have lived on land incorrectly labeled a “reservation.” The land was actually purchased with money from working Cherokee by their white lawyer friend Will Thomas, as Indians were not allowed to own land at the time.

The Unto These Hills story begins with the Cherokee chief adorned in a turkey feather robe and his warriors meeting Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his men. Then come the European settlers, some ancient and meaningful ceremonial dance, a beautiful traditional Cherokee wedding, and some old-time bluegrass by local settler friends. Then comes the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend, where the Cherokee saved Andrew Jackson’s life, a life-altering visit to Washington, D.C., and ultimately the infamous Trail of Tears.

The story was so moving that I saw the young girls in our group cry along with people of all ages.

My wife, two daughters, ages 9 and 12, met up with four couples and their children from Atlanta and Asheville. We began our adventure with a swim and wading in the Oconaluftee River at the Island Park, where the stones were smoothed by the millennia of pure, cool mountain water rolling out of the Great Smoky Mountains. Our friend from Atlanta commented she “had not seen water that pure since wading as a child in upstate New York.” After building a dam and lying in the cool waters for a while, we got out, dried off, and picked up a couple of buckets of KFC and found a picnic table outside the outdoor theater. There, we pulled out our large Riedel wine glasses and uncorked a special red burgundy or two before entering the theater gates to experience the ancient story of the Cherokee’s life-and-death struggle over the very land on which we enjoyed our Kentucky Fried Chicken and imported wine. It kind of put things in perspective for us.

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