The Great Indian Warpath, also known as the Great Indian War and Trading Path, or the Seneca Trail, was a network of ancient Indian routes with many branches. The Native American trail ran through the Great Appalachian Valley and the Appalachian Mountains through several states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama. It had been a major north-south route of travel since prehistoric times, and parts of the trail are thought to have been used as many as 2,500 years ago when Indian traders from as far away as the Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, and Mexico traveled parts of the trail.
In more recent history, various northeastern Indian tribes were known to have traded and made war along the trail, including the Catawba, numerous Algonquian tribes, the Cherokee, and the Iroquois Confederacy.
The first Europeans known to have used the trail system were Hernando de Soto and his party when they crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1540. By the late 1600s, British colonists used portions of the trail as they traded with the Indians. The British traders’ name for the route was derived from combining its name among the northeastern Algonquian tribes, “Mishimayagat” or “Great Trail,” with that of the Shawnee and Delaware, “Athawominee” or “Path where they go armed.” Later, hunters and settlers traveled the trail to explore Kentucky and Tennessee, leading to the first mass western migration in American history as settlers followed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap.
The system of footpaths branched off in several places onto alternate routes and, over time, shifted westward in some regions to adjust to pressure from the British colonies. In the north, from West Virginia to the Great Lakes, the route was called Seneca Trail and formed the boundary of “the frontier” by the time of the French and Indian War (1756–63). When King George III proclaimed in 1763 forbidding further settlement beyond the mountains and demanding the return of settlers who had already crossed the Alleghenies, a line was designated roughly following the Seneca Trail. Parts of the trail would later be blazed as other trails, including the Great Valley Road, Kanawha Trail, Wilderness Road, Catawba Trail, Unicoi Trail, and the Georgia Road.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated February 2022.
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