Eternal Flame Returns to Red Clay State Park


CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WDEF)-The last capitol of the Cherokee Nation was located just south of Cleveland in Bradley County.

In 1838, this is where they learned they were being kicked off of their ancestral lands due to enforcement of the Indian Removal Act, which led to the Trail of Tears.

This weekend, the descendants of the Cherokee who endured the trauma of the Trail of Tears have returned to Red Clay to mark a special occasion. The return of the Eternal Flame.

Erin Medley, Park Ranger at Red Clay, said that, “The Eternal Flame is a memorial to the Cherokee people and to those who died on the Trail of Tears. That fire represents the spirit of the Cherokee people and how it will always remain here on these grounds.”

That flame goes back to the day the Cherokee had to leave their homes.

Medley explained that, “They wanted to take their council fire with them, so they had four men put those coals and iron pots, and they carried them all the way from here to Indian Territory, to what we know now as Oklahoma.”

The flame remained away from its origin for nearly 150 years as it stayed with the Western Band of Cherokees in Oklahoma. The Eastern Band, who stayed behind in Western North Carolina, wanted to have some of the fire as well as they were allowed to bring the fire separately back in Cherokee. With the fire back in the east, there was one last trip it needed to make.

Medley said that, “In 1984, the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band decided to come back to their homeland for the very first time and they wanted to bring back that fire back to Red Clay and they had seven runners light a torch, and they ran that torch all the way from Cherokee to right here at Red Clay and the two Chiefs at the time lit the memorial.”

Ever since, the Eternal Flame has been lit. That is, until it went out in 2020. To combat the flame from going out, a permanent flame inside of what’s called the Phoenix has been created to ensure the flame can be reignited. The flame was relit at a ceremony on Friday evening attended by many of the Cherokee Nation.

Throughout the weekend, many Cherokees are performing music, telling stories, and selling crafts. You can experience the festival for yourself on Sunday from 10 a-m to 5 p-m. The cost to enter is five dollars per vehicle. More information can be found at


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