Clingmans Dome may soon receive a new name; what you should know

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

The original name for Clingmans Dome, and likely the observation tower that rests on the site, may soon be restored (photo by Jason Sponseller/shutterstock.com)

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council has officially endorsed a resolution to change the name of Clingmans Dome.

They plan to move forward with the federal government to restore the Cherokee name “Kuwahi” to the mountain. They cited a willingness by the United States Department of Interior to give ear to such a petition. 

Clingmans Dome observation tower
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pictured: The Clingmans Dome observation tower (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

What is Clingmans Dome?

Located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Clingmans Dome straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina state line. 

It is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest in North Carolina.

Additionally, it is also home to the Clingmans Dome observation tower, one of the most visited sites in the Smokies.

And, the tower parking lot serves as a de facto trailhead for several popular hikes. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome as well. 

Not far from its peak is the Rockefeller Memorial, the spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the national park in 1940. 

In many figurative ways, if not literally, Clingmans Dome is the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Renaming mountains in national parks

The land is of great significance to the Cherokee, according to the resolution. 

“‘Kuwahi’ or ‘Mulberry Place’ is the highest point in our area … it was visited by medicine people who prayed and sought guidance from the Creator regarding important matters facing our people,” the resolution states.

“… [It] has unique cultural and historical significance to us.”

The resolution says Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has shown a willingness to engage with tribes to “correct the naming of sacred and reverent places back to their historically appropriate names.” 

Additionally, the resolution cites precedence with the renaming of mountains in national parks.

Firstly, they referenced the recently restored “First Peoples Mountain” in Yellowstone National Park – renamed “Mt. Doane” after a military general who committed unthinkable acts against Blackfeet in 1870.

Secondly, they referenced “Mt. Denali” in Alaska (renamed “Mt. McKinley” by the U.S. government and restored to “Denali” in 2015).

Thirdly, there’s a reference to “Uluru Rock” in Australia. 

Clingmans Dome with ramp
Clingmans Dome was named after Thomas Clingman, who served in the house and senate (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

Who is Thomas Clingman?

Clingmans Dome was named after Thomas Clingman.

Clingman was a North Carolina congressman who served in the house and later in the senate. Additionally, he was a vocal advocate of both slavery and secession. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he was one of 10 senators who declined to resign their seats. As a result, they were all expelled. 

During the war, Clingman was a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. According to the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, he served without distinction in Eastern North Carolina and Virginia, taking part in the Battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia near the end of the war.

He later received a full pardon and spent his days exploring and measuring the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. According to his biography, he became a propagandist for the development of Western North Carolina.

Prior to the war, he had an ongoing dispute with a professor at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, about the highest peak in the Black Mountain Range. 

Ultimately, that mountain became Mt. Mitchell, known in Cherokee as Attakulla, which is the highest peak in the Appalachian mountains. 

Why did the name originally change from Kuwahi to Clingmans?

Clingman’s friend, Andrew Guyot – a Swiss geographer and professor – renamed the mountain from “Kuwahi” to “Clingmans” in 1859.

For years, Guyot spent his summers exhaustively documenting the Appalachian Mountains. And, in 1861, he published a map of the entire chain.

The names Guyot and his friends gave to individual mountains – sometimes naming them after each other – became adopted by the U.S. government even though those mountains had names already given to them by the native peoples going by generations for centuries or longer. 

As noted in the resolution, Guyot believed in race-based superiority. He regularly expressed and published his beliefs that continent locations, topography and climate all contribute to the superiority of “certain races”.

What happens next?

The Tribal Council endorsed the resolution on July 14.

The resolution indicated that the name Clingmans Dome is not derogatory in and of itself, but called for acknowledgment and correction.

“There is no valid reason today by which Kuwahi should continue to be known as ‘Clingmans Dome,'” the resolution states. “Promoting the name Kuwahi will promote pride in our Cherokee people and in our shared cultural history.”

The resolution will grant the power to those interested to study how to proceed through proper channels to prepare and submit an application to the United State Board on Geographic Names. 

What happens next, you might ask?

First, upon determination, the resolution would further authorize the drafting of an application.

Then, the application will be given to the council before being submitted to the U.S. government.

“There is historical precedent in this country and around the world for reinstituting indigenous names for sacred spaces,” the resolution stated. 

Show in the theme park Le Puy du Fou in France
The theme park Le Puy du Fou, pictured above in France, is also planned for the Exit 407 site (photo by Page Frederique/shutterstock.com)

Kituwah’s plans for a mixed-use area in Sevier County

The resolution comes as the Eastern Band of Cherokee is developing at least one – possibly more – major project(s) in Sevier County. 

First, we have the mixed-use entertainment destination at Exit 407.

In 2020, officials representing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the organization’s business development arm, Kituwah, LLC, announced plans for a 200-acre mixed-use “experiential destination” in Sevier County.

Read Also: Buc-ee’s Sevierville TN opening date: Massive travel center coming soon

The site will feature one of the world’s largest Buc-ee’s convenience stores in the nation. They also recently announced an immersive walk-through show by European theme park company Puy Du Fou.

The Dumplin Creek site is ancestral territory for the Cherokee.

The land became available after a previous development fell through in the wake of the economic downturn of 2009. 

Finally, we have the stadium.

In June of 2019, the Eastern Band of Cherokee purchased more than 100 acres of land across Interstate 40 near what is now Smokies Stadium. 

However, there has been no word on plans for that site.

What do you think about restoring the name Kuwahi to the mountain? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Clingmans Dome may soon receive a new name; what you should know”

  1. Great article . One thing is the proposal is to change the name of Clingmans Dome to “ Kuwahi” and not “Kituwah” ,as stated in the question at the end of this article . Granted the two names are similar ,but “Kituwah” is the first or mother village of the Cherokee and Kuwahi” is the ancient Cherokee name for what is now named Clingmans Dome .

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