A local researcher is looking to unearth an important piece of Cherokee County history that has gone missing for more than 100 years.
History buff Larry Vogt is on a mission to locate the site of Fort Buffington, a designated removal fort used for rounding up members of the Cherokee Native Americans before sending them off on the devastating Trail of Tears.
The site is believed to be somewhere in the Buffington community just outside Canton along Highway 20, and the Colorado native has spent the last five years of his life trying to find it.
Now, as plans move forward on the widening project for Highway 20, the search becomes ever more critical before it is possibly lost forever in the paving project.
“It’s been lost for years and nobody knows where it is,” he said Friday. “But it’s somewhere near here.”
The Woodstock man has spent years studying documentary evidence, old photos, diaries and newspaper clippings from the era in an effort to locate the missing fort, which was built in preparation for the removal of local Cherokee.
“Between the state militia back in 1838 and the federal government, they lost track of about 25 forts in the Southeast,” he said. “They existed at one time but they don’t know where any of them are.”
Vogt said he’s searched high and low to find any reference to the missing site, getting permission from local property owners to scour their land for any artifacts that could assist him in discovering the fort’s location.
After years of searching, Vogt believes he’s finally onto something big.
“I have located what I believe is the site,” he said. “It’s near here along 20. I have a couple pieces of evidence that seem to indicate that I’m right about where I should be.”
The problem with the artifacts he’s uncovered, he said, is that they are typical everyday items from the time period.
“This is not a U.S. military fort,” he said. “Usually around U.S. forts you find buttons and buckles and things that have military insignias on them.”
But because Fort Buffington was manned by militias formed by area residents and men from across the state, Vogt has found it difficult to prove he is digging where he should be.
“They came in off the farm and just had the clothes they’d be wearing at home,” he said. “Many of the guys didn’t even have guns.”
Records show that Fort Buffington had 103 horses, and Vogt said he’s unearthed a number of horseshoes and oxen shoes that indicate something big happened there.
The fort itself, he said, served as a “symbol of authority,” a place from which troops could go out and gather any Cherokee who hadn’t yet left voluntarily.
“It’s a very sad thing,” he said. “And if this is the fort, then at the gate of the fort would be the beginning of the Trail of Tears. It started here.”
Cherokee natives and white settlers lived alongside one another for hundreds of years prior to the Indian Removal Act, he explained.
“There were Cherokee all through this area because this was their nation,” he said. “From the Chattahoochee River all the way to Alabama was their country.”
He said the long-lost fort serves as a symbol of loss for the Cherokee who were displaced by the white man, but it also serves as a symbol of American expansion.
“Sometimes cultures clash and sadly, it happened here,” he said, pointing to a marker behind him with information about the fort and the purpose it served. “But If I were around then I probably would have run things a little bit different. I don’t see any reason why the Cherokee had to leave.”
He said the state didn’t want people gathering up their own neighbors so Capt. Ezekiel Buffington marched in troops from Gainesville to round up Cherokee’s Native Americans and send them away. But there were some locals who signed on later to assist them.
The fort, he said, was made up of somewhere between 70 and 90 militia men who collected about 450 Cherokee natives.
There were possible other forts in the county used for the same purpose, Vogt explained, adding that the Sixes fort collected and removed about 900 people.
“It was a much bigger community down there,” he said.
From Fort Buffington, the Cherokee were forced to march to Fort Wool near New Echota in Calhoun and then north into Tennessee.
The fort was in operation from October 1837 through July 1838 when it was abandoned.
But with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to widen Highway 20, Vogt says he running out of time. He’s calling on locals with strong family ties to the community to scour through old shoeboxes in search of any evidence that might help him identify the fort’s original location.
“Out of the 90 fellas here, somebody must have kept a diary. Somebody must have drawn a map of where he was for a year and a half or something,” he said. “That stuff is just not around, so I’m asking people to look through old crates in their attics to find anything that would give me the slightest hint about where this is.”
Unless he can find something definitive, Vogt says he’s hard-pressed to prove he’s uncovered the location of Fort Buffington.
“My concern is that this highway is going to get big real quick,” he said as cars whizzed by. “The site will get encroached upon depending on how they expand the highway and it will impact any site along here. We have a limited amount of time for me to find this fort and have a chance at protecting it.”
Anyone with any old records or documents they believe could help identify the location of the historical landmark is urged to email Vogt at email@example.com.