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Outdoor Drama at Cherokee Revived

An audience watches 1952 performance of “Unto These Hills.” Image from the State Archives.On July 1, 1950, the outdoor drama Unto These Hills premiered to a capacity crowd at the Mountainside Theater in Cherokee.

The pageant told the story of the Cherokee people from their first encounter with European explorers in the 1540s through the period of forced removal from their homeland and subsequent journey to Oklahoma in the late 1830s. The trip became known as the Trail of Tears because of the high number of people who suffered and died along the way.

Unto These Hills was written by Kermit Hunter and directed by Harry Davis. For many years it was enormously popular, but when later compared with true Cherokee history, Unto These Hills came up lacking. Locals lost a connection to the play and stopped identifying with it. Attendance dwindled.

The eagle dance during a 1952 performance of “Unto These Hills.” Image from the State Archives.In 2006, the play underwent a major overhaul under the direction of American Indian playwright Hanay Geiogamah. Additional revisions followed, and now, although many reminisce about the original version, Unto These Hills better reflects the history, culture and traditions of the Cherokee people.

Unto These Hills is still performed each summer in Cherokee and draws upwards of 30,000 people a year.

Visit: Unto These Hills is just one of the great summer arts experiences you’ll find across North Carolina. Check out a complete list of outdoor dramas from Visit North Carolina and a guide to summer arts experiences from the N.C. Arts Council.

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