Original Occupants: McDonald Farm

  • Thursday, June 13, 2024
  • Mason Montague Eslinger

It’s a known fact that Hamilton County sports a long history of human occupation, going as far back as 13,000 years. The recently headlined Moccasin Bend Archaeological Site stands today as a testimony of these ancient people. Even with the research conducted at sites such as the Bend, researchers are always striving for new perspectives. Having such a unique history, McDonald Farm could be the setting for boundless new discoveries of prehistoric Tennessee. The property has remained private for exactly two centuries, the relatively untouched environment could provide us with a further understanding of what life was like for these early Americans. According to the community and family history, McDonald Farm was the site of a large Cherokee Village forgotten in time. Many locals claim to have pieces of this history on their mantle, such as arrowheads, spear points, and countless other fragments of archaeological significance. 

Roy Ketner McDonald was known to have a great sense of pride for the heritage his land held. His daughter Helen McDonald Exum inherited the same sense, believing historical knowledge to empower one’s mind, as it’s easier to see where you’re headed, once educated on where you’ve been. She was an advocate, as well as a lifetime student of world history and its preservation. Being an active member in the Daughters of the American Revolution helped land opportunities to host seminars for students and scholars alike, she got a great sense of gratification from recounting the McDonald Farm Native American history. Helen and her father wanted to confirm what they had already known, adding to the oral history by gathering evidence for documentation. The McDonald family soon found themselves in a legal skirmish with the proposed route of Highway 27. The Highway was set to widen Coulterville Road, taking not only the front yard of the family home, but also seeing the partial desecration of the McDonald Cemetery. Roy used its significant native history as one of the pillars holding up their disagreements with the government. In 1988, TDOT came out to study multiple sites on McDonald Farm, finding exactly what they had been told they would… and more.

When asking about the property, you may have a few people answer with some bits of family history, or some Civil War knowledge, but how many people know of the Native American significance this property has hosted? Many generations in the community have heard about or seen artifacts coming from the farm, I’ve always held these stories in high regard as they’ve continuously piqued my interest. Hearing of ancient weapons and remnants of pottery ignited an imagination I doubt could be matched. Once the professionals were able to study a few of these pieces, the dates thrown out there were baffling.  It doesn’t just stop 300 years ago with a Cherokee village; it doesn’t stop 600 years ago when it was the site of a seasonal settlement likely used by the Yuchi Tribe. The lab analysis of a few artifacts came back stating that as far as we know, McDonald Farm has hosted a human presence sporadically since the Woodland Period. To put that into perspective, the Woodland Period started in 300 B.C., and it ended around 900 A.D. That places the prehistoric settlement of McDonald Farm back 2,000 years or so. This is around the same time that an estimated 20% to 40% of the world’s population was still under the Roman Empire. For the last century it has been common knowledge among locals that there are sacred burial mounds scattered around the property. Although these sites require further documentation to confirm, chances are they coincide with the Woodland Period natives, as the foundations for advancement into agriculture, ceremonial practices, religion, and political structures were made during this time. A few known sites of comparable significance in the state would be the Glass Mound Archaeological Site in Middle Tennessee, the Pinson Mound site in Western Tennessee, Moccasin Bend National Archeological Park in Chattanooga, and the Old Stone Fort in Coffee County.

I can’t help but wonder, how big was this woodland settlement? How many different tribes utilized the property throughout the last 2,000 years? Yuchi? Cherokee? Does this site predate the Woodland Period? Is it Archaic? Are there people of significance buried there? What was the cultural importance of prehistoric McDonald Farm? Did events such as tribal warfare or ceremonies take place on the property? With today’s equipment and modern techniques, the story of McDonald Farms original occupants would unfold before us given the opportunity. Even with such knowledge the property’s future remains uncertain, but optimism continues to rise. 


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