While Buncombe County has been firmly established since its official incorporation date of 1792, we know its story begins before that date. Traditionally, Buncombe County and much of its surrounding land belonged to the Anigiduwagi, more commonly known as the Cherokee. In an attempt to take the first steps of officially honoring and acknowledging that Buncombe sits on the ancestral land of the Cherokee, the Register of Deeds collaborated with its Cherokee counterparts to collect information for a website featuring the history of Cherokee land cessions that created Buncombe County.
This interactive website details how Cherokee Nation eventually lost its land to the United States, and in particular North Carolina. “To see how the land was lost is devastating,” notes Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger. “To see North Carolina’s aggressive and illegal encroachment on native land while forcing treaties… a lot of that land was taken violently under guise of the American Revolution.”
Originally, the Cherokee people’s territory stretched more than 100,000 square miles across the Southeast, almost twice as large as North Carolina. During the time their land was taken, many treaties and promises were broken. Many of these early agreements used the phrase, “As long as the grass shall grow,” as a symbolic reference to the Cherokee’s evergreen status as a sovereign nation. While we know those treaties weren’t honored, Buncombe’s first land records were reported as if these mountains were just unclaimed land, free for the state to sell. “For a long time we’ve wanted to have a better grasp on Buncombe County’s origin story. As the Register of Deeds, our office feels a responsibility since we’re charged with keeping land records to better understand our past,” explains Reisinger.
Beyond collecting and making that data available to the public, Reisinger says he wants further discussions and collaborations with our Cherokee neighbors. “We need to do a better job understanding the history of what happened, but we also have to work on building those relationships built on the basis of our understanding of how the land was lost,” says Reisinger, adding that begins primarily with listening.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Buncombe County encourages everyone to take some time to read and interact with our new StoryMap website chronicling the loss of Cherokee land in our County and beyond.
Official statement from Buncombe County’s Register of Deeds:
Buncombe County recognizes that the entirety of the Anigiduwagi land was unjustly taken by the United States in cooperation with the State of North Carolina. As citizens on that land, we have benefited from the inhumane actions they took. By acknowledging the historical context of this land, our hope is that Buncombe County and the State of North Carolina will begin the process of strengthening our relationship with our Indigenous neighbors. Buncombe County Government recognizes that there is a lot of work to do, and we look forward to initiating a longer conversation about partnering with the thriving community that is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Go to BuncombeCounty.org/CherokeeLand to view the project.