Located five miles northeast of Cleveland in Bradley County, Rattlesnake Springs in 1938 served as the site of the last council of the eastern band of the Cherokees, where approximately thirteen thousand Native Americans assembled to begin the long journey to the Oklahoma Territory, a forced migration known as the Trail of Tears. At this last council meeting, tribal officials agreed to continue their old constitution and tribal laws in their new Oklahoma homeland. Unfortunately, many did not survive the journey west, as hunger and disease claimed thousands of lives before they reached Oklahoma.
Federal troops, along with Tennessee and Georgia militia, supervised the assembly and removal of the Cherokees. Troops established two military camps near Rattlesnake Springs–Camp Foster and Camp Worth–to oversee and guard the Cherokees prior to removal. Soldiers herded the Cherokees into stockades like cattle, where they remained penned under intolerable conditions until removal. Sanitation was deplorable, while food, medicine, and clothing remained in short supply. Reportedly, over two hundred Cherokees died at the springs before the removal began.
From August through December of 1838, soldiers divided the Cherokees into thirteen detachments of about one thousand people each for the journey west. On the Trail of Tears, most people walked, with only the sick, aged, children, and nursing mothers allowed to ride in wagons.