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From military campaign to political campaign

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then surely Rutherford Trace offers some curious pillow talk in the legislative halls of Raleigh and Washington, D.C.

Why else would Joe Sam Queen, a Waynesville architect and Democrat running for state senate, seek help from Congressman Charles Taylor, a Republican from Brevard? Taylor, the chairman of a powerful Congressional subcommittee on House Appropriations, is being tested in a closely watched re-election race. As he holds sway over key federal dollars for the U.S. Department of the Interior that could designate Rutherford Trace as a National Heritage Trail and bring recognition to the region, Queen is lobbying the effort from what he hopes to be his elected district this fall.

Queen is quick to point out the unique characteristics of the Rutherford Trace. At a time when North Carolina frontiersmen weren’t particularly interested in the Patriot cause in New England, the threat of Cherokee attacks suddenly mobilized this Colonial militia into a force to be reckoned with, Queen explains.

“It was a march of overwhelming force,” Queen says. “They were taking Britain’s ally on the western frontier out of the war.”

But Queen is careful to make the distinction between “commemorating” the anniversary of Rutherford Trace and “celebrating.” Initial plans to have Cherokee dancers at the Rutherford Trace re-enactment were dropped. No doubt, the burning of Cherokee towns is not cause for joyous celebration or public consumption among today’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Although the Rutherford Trace appears to have its place in the annuls of history, it’s not as well known as other historical events such as the Trail of Tears or Gettysburg.

Ten highway historical markers are currently in place to recognized Rutherford Trace, according to Garrett Smathers a retired Forest Service ecologist and member of the Haywood Rutherford Trace committee. Even with the volumes of records on Rutherford Trace, there’s no one book that takes a top-to-bottom look at this whole expedition.

“We need a definitive study,” Smathers said.

While historians agreed on the route of the Rutherford Trace, the sites of some Cherokee towns are kept secret in order to deter potential grave robbers and collectors looking for Revolutionary War relics and Indian artifacts. In addition, some historians keep their own secret records as they work on publishing articles about Rutherford Trace.

If Rutherford Trace gets approved as a National Heritage Trail, it would be North Carolina’s fourth such trail with federal designation. The others are the Appalachian Trail, the Trail of Tears, and the Overmountain Victory Trail, which follows the Colonial military march to victory over the British at Kings Mountain.

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