The Siege of Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals State Park

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
May 21st, 2014
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A Cherokee war party appears suddenly out of the thick foliage of the surrounding trees. A group of women standing outside the fort take notice. The first scream pierces the air. A moment later the first rifle is fired, sending a billow of smoke into the air as a shot echoes. The Siege of Fort Watauga has started.

The Siege of Fort Watauga is a massive reenactment portraying a Cherokee war party attacking frontier settlers at the rear of the fort while British soldiers attacked from the front. While the founding fathers were busy with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of our country, hundreds of miles away along the Nolichucky and Holston Rivers frontier settlers were at war with Dragging Canoe. Dismayed by the Transylvania Purchase, the largest private land purchase in North American history, he vowed to cover the land with the blood of the white settlers.

Cherokee reenactors open fire from the cover of a tree line near the fort.

The Cherokee reenactors run after the men and women still outside the fort, capturing some, and killing others. Settlers appear above the wall from inside the fort. Shots ring out and smoke fills the air. A few Cherokee drop to the ground, but more appear at the tree line nearby.

The settlers, confident they can repel the attack, leave the safety of the fort to confront them head on. It would turn out to be a mistake as British reenactors appear at the front of the fort and begin their own assault. At the peak of the battle musket fire echoes around the park from all directions, a thin smoke fills the air, and reenactors drop one after another.

A family asks questions about the real bear hides inside the recreation of Fort Watauga during the Siege of Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton, VA on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette The Siege of Fort Watauga is a two-day reenactment held each year at the recreation of the fort inside Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. The reenactment brings in dozens of reenactors and hundreds of visitors as they tell the story of an attack on the early settlers village by Dragging Canoe, and how they successfully defended themselves. During the reenactment, the fort is open to the public with demonstrations of all areas of early settler life on the frontiers.

A fur trader answers questions inside the fort during the activities surrounding the siege.

Their deaths are short-lived, however. The reenactment lasts a mere thirty minutes, though it certainly feels longer while standing just a hundred feet away. The smell of the smoke and then gentle breeze blowing through your hair are vivid reminders you’re not sitting in a stuffy movie theater. This is as real as it gets to ever watching history unfold.

The annual event anchors a weekend of activity around Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Inside the fort men and women in period attire display various trades such as hunting, cooking, and blacksmithing. A few hundred feet from the fort visitors can walk through the Cherokee camp and watch as they cook their food over open fires. A Colonel from the local militia walks around drafting children into service and demonstrating how the old weapons of war operate.

Native American reenactors march across the field after the Siege of Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton, VA on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette The Siege of Fort Watauga is a two-day reenactment held each year at the recreation of the fort inside Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. The reenactment brings in dozens of reenactors and hundreds of visitors as they tell the story of an attack on the early settlers village by Dragging Canoe, and how they successfully defended themselves. During the reenactment, the fort is open to the public with demonstrations of all areas of early settler life on the frontiers.

The level of authenticity with the reenactors is pretty amazing, down the fact they sleep in teepees outside the fort each night.

By the end of the day visitors head home with the faint smell of smoke in their nostrils and the memory of a vivid battle reenacted right before their eyes. The reenactors are volunteers, some who travel full-time across the country, but they portray a very real event that happened a long time ago. Who knew Sycamore Shoals was the sight of such a battle on the eve of the founding of our country? Well, now you know.

If you would like to view more photos of Sycamore Shoals State Park, please visit my photography site at photography.southeasterntraveler.com/Tennessee/Sycamore-Shoals-State-Park/

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