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Siege of Fort Watauga ~ Sycamore Shoals ~ Elizabethton, TN

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On a perfectly gorgeous day with crystal blue skies, punctuated with fluffy white clouds, we headed up to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in nearby Elizabethton to watch the "Siege of Fort Watauga."

It’s 1776 and the Colonies are in the throes of the American Revolution. Tennessee is part of the wilderness on the western frontier, a part of North Carolina. The frontier alternates between a peaceful area with frontier families and Indians living in harmony, and a state of chaos.

As you pass the fort on the way down to the Watuaga River, you begin to hear the slight roar of the river, as it begins to go over the shoals. A shoal is the shallow portion of a river. This section of the Watauga became known as  Sycamore Shoals. The shoals were a distinctive landmark for the Cherokee to meet. Later the settlers met by the shoals, and it was the mustering place for the Overmountain Men. 

We arrived in time to see the see the Cherokee War Council in the Native Camp, down by the river. Militant Cherokee leaders met with the English, who are working to arm the Indians. They plan to launch a plan of attack against the settlers in the fort. First, they had asked to stay in the area for 20 days. The Indians granted it. The settlers asked for another 20, the Indians granted it. In that time, they built the fort. The Cherokee decided to attack it, and try to drive them out.


When it was time for the battle, the crowd was moved outside Fort Watauga's wooden walls, and behind a safe yellow line. We all waited in anticipation, watching the Indians creep through the woods, encircling the Fort. Inside, the people were going about their daily business, as much as they could, waiting and watching.

Women were out milking the cows when the Indians initiated the attack on Fort Watauga. They women ran, screeching, back into the fort, and the battle began to rage between the Indians and the frontiersmen. The Indians attacked the fort, they were shot at from guns atop the walls of the Fort. When they ran up with a ladder, they were rebuffed by women with tubs of scalding water. Then men lined up in ranks, and headed outside the Fort, to battle with the Indians away from their families. 

It was fascinating to watch the story of the Siege of Fort Watauga unfold. Frontiersmen vs Indians are a new and different battle than Civil War or Revolutionary War battles. Well worth seeing, we recommend you bring chairs or a blanket and sunscreen, to settle in to watch.

History tells us that that first battle began a two week siege. Settlers brought their livestock in, so they would not feed the enemy during the siege. Families made due in cramped quarters. They adjusted their needs and necessities to sustain the time within the wooden fort walls. 

Life was already a risk for the brave people settling in the area. King George had already forbidden anyone to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. The people in Sycamore Shoals were slowly filtering into the valleys of the great mountain range. It was a rough, forested land. Friendly relations with the neighbors were the path to survival along with hard work. The frontier families were tough, hardy folk.

After the battle, the Fort reopened and we went back inside to enjoy more of the living history. Games were being played by children. A woman sat under a canopy weaving baskets, surrounded by handmade items.  Men gathered around in period dress, talking about politics. Conversations were liberally sprinkled with King George, England, laws and more.

Be sure to wander beyond the Fort. Camped in amongst the trees, down by the river, you will find the Indian camps filled with the bright and colorful dress of the Cherokee Indian tribes that inhabited the area.

Longhunters, special hunters who went out on long hunts, also camped in the trees outside the fort, along with French traders and British soldiers.

John Curry, author and frequent contributer to Muzzleloader, who has portrayed a longhunter for about 40 years, gave a special presentation in the auditorium. He was riveting - dressed in the simple garb of a longhunter, sharing stories from his book. John got us thinking about adding yet another category to LivingHistorySites.com, called Living Historians. Look for that soon (as if we don't have enough to do!) We attended both days, it was so good! 

Sycamore Shoals teams with living history. We are incredibly impressed with their dedication to living history, their accuracy and how they do a great job of keeping every moment of their events hoping with activity. Plan to stay all day, you will not be bored!

Living History Sites highly recommends visiting Sycamore Shoals for the Siege of Fort Watauga. You won't want to miss a minute of the non-stop action...and tell them the folks at LivingHistorySites.com sent you!

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area

1651 W. Elk Avenue

Elizabethton, Tennessee 37643 

Phone 423-543-5808    Fax  423-543-0078   

Hours of Operation

Monday - Saturday 8 am - 4:30 pm

Sunday:   1 - 4:30 pm

We observe all State holidays

Schedule of Events for 2009 Siege of Watauga at Sycamore Shoals 


9:00-Officers Meeting
9:45-Group Colors and Company Inspection
10:00-Skillet Toss Contest – Contest for the women to see who can toss the skillet the longest distance
10:30-Tomahawk Throwing Contest – Contest for men and women to see who can throw the Tomahawk the most accurate
11:00-Fire Starting Contest – Contest for men and women to see who can start a fire the fastest using a period correct method
1:00-Battle Re-enactment - Siege of Fort Watauga
2:00-John Curry Seminar – Longhunter, author and film maker will be hold a presentation to discuss the Longhunters in the Tennessee (Western North Carolina) during this time period
3:30-Life in the Native Camp – Native Americans will discuss their ways and lifestyles in their camps
4:30-Husband Calling Contest – Contest for women to call their husbands, winner will be the person with the most crowd approval
5:00-Camp Closes to the Public


9:00-Camp to Camp Inspection
10:30-Divine Service
11:00-Alexander Campbell – Presentation by Alexander Campbell including recruitment of children into service
1:00-Militia Drill
2:00-Battle Re-enactment - Siege of Fort Watauga
3:00-John Curry Seminar - Longhunter, author and film maker will be hold a presentation to discuss the Longhunters in the Tennessee (Western North Carolina) during this time period
4:00-Camp closes