08 August 2011

Cherokee-American wars

The Cherokee-American wars (also known as the Chickamauga Wars and Dragging Canoe's War) were a series of back-and-forth raids, campaigns, ambushes, minor skirmishes, and several full-scale battles in the Old Southwest from 1776 to 1794 between the Cherokee (Ani-Yunwiya, Tsalagi) and the Americans on the frontier.  While their fight stretched across the entire period, there were times, sometimes ranging over several months, of little or no action. 


The Cherokee leader Dragging Canoe, whom some historians call “the Savage Napoleon”,  and his warriors fought alongside and in conjunction with Indians from a number of other tribes both in the Old Southwest and in the Old Northwest, most often the Creek or Muscogee (Muskokulke) in the former and the Shawnee (Saawanwa) in the latter.  During the Revolution, they also fought alongside British troops, Loyalist militia, and the King’s Carolina Rangers.

Open warfare broke out in summer 1776 along the frontier of the Watauga, Holston, Nolichucky, and Doe Rivers in East Tennessee, as well as the province (later states) of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It later spread to those along the Cumberland River in Middle Tennessee and in Kentucky.

The wars of the Cherokee and the Americans divide into two phases. 

In the first phase, lasting 1776-1783, they also fought as allies of the Kingdom of Great Britain against its rebellious colonies.  This first part of this phase, from summer 1776 to summer of 1777, involved the all sections of the entire Cherokee nation, and is often referred to as the “Cherokee War of 1776”.

In the second phase, lasting 1783-1794, they also served as proxies of the Viceroyalty of New Spain against the new United States of America.  Because of their relocation westward to new homes initially known as the “Five Lower Towns”, they then became known as the Lower Cherokee, a moniker which persisted well into the nineteenth century.  In 1786, the Lower Cherokee became founding members of the Native Americans' Western Confederacy organized by the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, and took an active part in the Northwest Indian War.

The conflict in the Southwest ended in November 1794 with the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse.  The Northwest Indian War, in which the Cherokee were also involved, ended with the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

Prelude

Since it’s beyond question that at the time of Spanish contact in the 16th century the Appalachian region later held by the Cherokee was then occupied by the Yuchi, it’s safe to state that the Cherokee were relative newcomers to the area, much more recent than previously thought.  Ethnologist James Mooney reported that the last town of the Cherokee living in the upper Ohio region was destroyed by the in 1708, with its people driven south to join their fellow tribespeople.  Add to this information to the fact that one of the names of the Erie Nation, adjacent to the Great Lake named for them, was Riquéronon, we have a good clue of their true origin and that the reason for the migration was the Beaver Wars of the 17th century.

While in the north, they were known to their Lenape neighbors to the east, whom they themselves called the “Grandfathers”, as the Talligewi (the uncorrupted original form of the name Allegheny).  The Lenape likewise referred to the whole basin of the Ohio River (“Alligewi Sipu” in Lenape) as “Alligewinengk”.

First interactions with Europeans

If Mooney is correct, the first contact and conflict of the Cherokee with the British occurred in 1654 when a force from Jamestown Settlement supported by a large party of Pamunkey attacked a town of the “Rechaherians”.  Although the English had about 600–700 Pamunkey warriors, the Cherokee drove them off.  The same settlement was recorded as “Rickohakan” German traveller James Lederer when he passed through in 1670.

When the Province of Carolina first began trading with the Cherokee in the late 17th century, their westernmost settlements were the twin towns of Great Tellico (Talikwa Egwa) and Chatuga (Tsatugi) at the current site of Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

After siding with the Province of South Carolina in the Tuscarora War of 1711–1715, the Cherokee turned on their erstwhile British allies in the Yamasee War of 1715–1717.  Midway, they turned against their former allies the Yamasee, which ensured the latter's defeat.

French and Indian War (1754–1763)

At the outbreak of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the Cherokee were staunch allies of the British, taking part in such far-flung campaigns as those against the French at Fort Duquesne (at modern-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and the Shawnee of the Ohio Country. In 1755, a band of Cherokee 130-strong under Ostenaco (Ustanakwa) of Tomotley (Tamali) took up residence in a fortified town at the mouth of the Ohio River at the behest of fellow British allies, the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee).

British Indian Department

The British colonial government yielded to the appeals of some of its administrators that colonial Indian policy should be centralized, with control over both trade and political affairs of with the various tribes.  The department was divided into two districts, the Northern District, which William Johnson administered from Johnstown, New York, and the Southern District, which Edmond Atkin administered from Williamsburg, Virginia.  The dividing line between the two districts was the Ohio River.  The affairs in the Southern District were divided into six groupings, the five major tribes: Cherokee, Catawba, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw and the Small Tribes, mostly along the Lower Mississippi River: Biloxi, Houma, Attacapa, Bayogoula, Tunica, Apalachee, Ofogoula, and Quapaw.

At the time, and lasting until nearly the 19th century, the Seminole were counted, even by themselves and the Creek, as part of the Creek Confederacy, which was itself further divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower Towns.  The Choctaw had three divisions, the Eastern Towns, the Western Towns, and the southern group, the Six Towns.  The Chickasaw main body stretched from the Mississippi River in West Tennessee and northern Mississippi across northern Alabama to the area at the beginning of the Great Bend of the Tennessee River later called Chickasaw Old Fields.  Around 1757, a body of Chickasaw seeking to be closer to British traders settled on the Savannah River in the vicinity of Augusta, Georgia, and were known as the Lower Chickasaw.  The Catawba were wholly within the province of South Carolina,  Control over relations with the Virginia tribes seems to have been retained by the colony of Virginia.  The divisions of the Cherokee are discussed below.

Pro-French in the Overhills

For several years, French agents from Fort Toulouse had been visiting the Overhill Cherokee, especially those on the Hiwassee and Tellico Rivers, and had made in-roads into those places.

The strongest pro-French sentiment among the Cherokee came from Mankiller (Utsidihi) of Great Tellico (Talikwa), Old Caesar of Chatuga (Tsatugi), and Raven (Kalanu) of Great Hiwassee (Ayuhwasi Egwa).  Stalking Turkey (Kanagatucko; called 'Old Hop' by the whites), the First Beloved Man (Uku) of the nation, was very pro-French, as was his nephew Standing Turkey (Kunagadoga), who succeeded at his death in 1760.

Great Mortar and Coosawattee

In 1759 a Creek contingent under the chief named Great Mortar (Yayatustanage) occupied the former site of Coosa. It had been long deserted since Spanish explorations in the 16th century. He reoccupied the site in support of his pro-French Cherokee allies in Great Tellico and Chatuga.

The occupation was also a step toward an alliance with other Creek, Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw (Chikashsha), and Catawba (Nieye) warriors. His plans were the first of their kind in the South, and set the stage for the alliances that Dragging Canoe would later build.


Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-1761)

The Anglo-Cherokee War was initiated in 1758 in the midst of the French and Indian War by Moytoy (Amo-adawehi) of Citico. He was retaliating for British and colonial mistreatment of Cherokee warriors. The war lasted from 1758 to 1761.

During its course, Cherokee hostages were murdered at Fort Prince George near Keowee (Kiawiyi), and other Cherokee massacred the garrison of Fort Loudoun near Chota (Itsati).

Those two connected events catapulted the whole Cherokee nation into war until the fighting ended in 1761.  The Cherokee were led by chiefs Oconostota (Aganstata) of Chota (Itsati); Attakullakulla (Atagulgalu) of Tennessee (Tanasi); Ostenaco of Tomotley; Wauhatchie (Wayatsi) of the Lower Towns; and Round O of the Middle Towns.

During the war, the British forces under general James Grant destroyed a number of major Cherokee towns, which were never reoccupied. These included most notably Kituwa, whose inhabitants migrated west and took up residence at Great Island Town on the Little Tennessee River among the Overhill Cherokee.

The peace between the Cherokee and the colonies was sealed by separate treaties with the Colony of Virginia (Treaty of Long-Island-on-the-Holston, 1761) and the Province of South Carolina (Treaty of Charlestown, 1762). Standing Turkey was deposed and replaced with pro-British Attakullakulla.

Post-war events

After the end of the French and Indian War, Great Mortar rose to be the leading chief of the Creek and maintained sporadic attacks on frontier settlements until his death in an ambush by the Choctaw in 1774.

John Stuart, the only officer to escape the Fort Loudoun massacre, became British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District in 1762, based out of Charlestown.  In 1764, the two Superintendents, Stuart and Johnson, were authorized commissaries to assist them at permanent posts in the field.  Two years later, each was authorized Deputy Superintendents, Johnson three and Stuart two.  In addition to continuing duties as commissaries, Stuart appointed Alexander Cameron as deputy superintendent coordinating relations with the Catawba, Cherokee, and Creek and his cousin Charles Stuart in West Florida as deputy superintendent coordinating relations with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Small Tribes.

Each commissary was assisted by an interpreter and a clerk, and have authority over local trade and politics as well as serving as justice of the peace.  By 1771, there was a commissary post each for the Cherokee, the Upper and Middle Creek, the Lower Creek, the five southernmost Lower Creek towns and the Seminole, the Eastern and Western Choctaw, the Six Towns Choctaw, the (western) Chickasaw, and the Small Tribes, plus one each at the West Florida towns of Pensacola and Mobile.  The Virginia tribes still fell under the province of Virginia while relations with the Catawba and the Lower Chickasaw were handled out of Southern District headquarters in Charlestown, South Carolina.

Stuart's commissary to the Cherokee, and later deputy superintendent, Alexander Cameron, lived among them, initially at Keowee town on the river of the same name.

Shifting boundaries (1763-1775)

In the aftermath of the Seven Years War, the European end of the same conflict, France in ceded that part of the Louisiana Territory east of the Mississippi River and Canada to the British. Spain took control of Louisiana west of the Mississippi, in exchange for ceding La Florida to Great Britain. The British created the jurisdictions of East Florida and West Florida.

The land in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions (the Illinois Country or, under the French, Upper Louisiana), meanwhile, later known to the fledgling independent American government as the Northwest Territory, was originally planned as a British colony to be called Charlotina.

Royal Proclamation of 1763

Plans for the new colony were scuttled by the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  King George III issued this after the visit to London of Henry Timberlake and three Cherokee leaders: Ostenaco, Standing Turkey, and Wood Pigeon (Ata-wayi).  It prohibited colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, in an effort to preserve territory for the Native Americans.

From the northern end of the Appalachians in the Province of Nova Scotia, the Proclamation Line ran down the spine of the mountain chain until reaching the headwaters of the Ocmulgee River, when it turned south until the border of newly-acquired Colony of East Florida.  Many colonials resented any interference with their drive to the west, and the proclamation was a major irritant contributing to the American Revolution.

In 1774 the lands meant for Charlotina (Upper Louisiana to the French and Ohio County and Illinois Country to the English), became part of the Province of Quebec.  To the north and west of Quebec lay Rupert’s Land, owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  To the east of Quebec lay the Colony of Newfoundland and the Province of Nova Scotia bordering the Province of Massachusetts Bay’s northern territories that had once been the Province of Maine.

These changes left reserved to the Indians the area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Ogeechee River on the east, the Mississippi River in the west, the 31st parallel in the south, and in the north the Ohio River until Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, then the St. Lawrence River until the 45th parallel. 


The prohibition against white settlement west of the Appalachians remained in place, however, so the Indians of what was now southern Quebec only had to contend with the French Creoles already in their midst in addition to the British officials assigned to the district and British troops garrisoning frontier forts.

Treaty of Hard Labour  (1768)

To resolve the problem of settlers living beyond the line established in the previous treaty, John Stuart, as Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs, negotiated a treaty signed on 17 October 1768 with the Cherokee surrendering their claims to the Colony of Virginia to the land between the Allegheny Mountains and the Ohio River.  Essentially, it covered what is now West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, with a bit of the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

Treaty of Fort Stanwix  (1768)

After Pontiac's War (1763–1764), the Iroquois Confederacy and each tribe (Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora) individually, ceded to the colonies of New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania their claims to the land between the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers, known to them and other Indians as Kain-tuck-ee (Kentucky), to which several other tribes north and south also lay claim, in the 5 November 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix.

Vandalia  (1769)

With a significant obstacle removed, in 1769 developers and land speculators planned to start a new colony called Vandalia in the territory ceded by the Cherokee.  Plans for that fell through, however, and in 1774 Virginia annexed it as the District of West Augusta.

Treaty of Augusta (1773)

In this treaty signed on 1 June 1773 with the Province of Georgia, the Cherokee and a small number of Muskogee ceded their claims to 2 million acres and 675 thousand acres respectively in return for the cancellation of their enormous debts to traders of the colony.  It established the boundary between the two nations and the colony at the Oconee River.

Lord Dunmore’s War  (1773-1774)

The next year, in response to the first attempt to establish a permanent settlement inside the hunting grounds of Kentucky in 1773 by a group under Daniel Boone, the Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Mingo (Mingwe), and some Cherokee attacked a scouting and forage party that included Boone's son James (who was captured and tortured to death along with Henry Russell), beginning Lord Dunmore's War (1773–1774).  

The Cherokee and the Creek were active also, mainly confining themselves to small raids on the backcountry settlements of the Carolinas and Georgia.  The fighting reached into the later Tennessee with an attack by the Shawnee and their allies upon the recent North-of-Holston settlements.

In the Treaty of Camp Charlotte that ended the war, signed 19 October 1774, between the Shawnee and Lenape and Virginia, the former two ceded all their claims to Kentucky in addition to pledging an end to fighting.  The Mingo refused to take part.

Early colonial settlements in Upper East Tennessee (1768-1772)

The earliest colonial settlement in the vicinity of what became Upper East Tennessee was Sapling Grove (Bristol), the first of the North-of-Holston (River) settlements, founded by Evan Shelby, who purchased the land from John Buchanan, in 1768.

Jacob Brown began another on the Nolichucky River and John Carter in what became known as Carter's Valley (between Clinch River and Beech Creek), both in 1771.

Following the Battle of Alamance in 1771, James Robertson led a group of some twelve or thirteen Regulator families from North Carolina to the Watauga River.

All these groups believed they were in the territorial limits of the colony of Virginia.  After a survey proved their mistake, Cameron ordered them to leave. However, Attakullakulla, now First Beloved Man, interceded on their behalf, and they were allowed to remain, provided there was no further encroachment.

On 8 May 1772, the settlers on the Watauga and on the Nolichucky signed the Watauga Compact to form the Watauga Association, and despite the fact the other two settlements were not parties to it, all of them are sometimes lumped together as “Wataugans”.  A much better term for these four and their offspring is the Overmountain settlements.


Cherokee divisions in 1775

The Overhill Towns were on the lower Little Tennessee River and the Tellico Rivers.  

The Valley Towns occupied the upper Hiwassee and Valley Rivers in southwestern North Carolina.

The Keowee Towns stood on the Keowee and Seneca Rivers in northwestern South Carolina.  

The original Lower Towns lay along the Tugaloo and Chattooga Rivers in Northeast Georgia.  

The Middle Towns sat on the upper Little Tennessee and Natahala Rivers and and Little Tellico Creek in western North Carolina.  

The Out Towns (later known as the Hill Towns) were on the Tuckasegee and Oconaluftee Rivers in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Hiwassee Towns sat along the lower Hiwassee and Ocoee Rivers in East Tennessee and are sometimes counted as part of the Overhill Towns

Later Cherokee settlements

The Chickamauga Towns, occupied after 1776, mostly lay in modern Hamilton County, Tennessee, with a couple in modern Bradley County, Tennessee and one in modern Catoosa County, Georgia.

The later Lower Towns, occupied after 1782, were at first limited to modern Marion County, Tennessee, Dade County, Georgia, and Jackson County, Alabama, later expanding to the south.

The Upper Towns were in modern Georgia north of the Chattahoochee River, first settled by the diaspora from the Keowee and original Lower Towns during the American Revolution.

Though the town groups were loosely associated with each other, each town was sovereign and towns within groups went their own way.  The only coercive power within the nation lay with the seven clans (formerly fourteen) to which all Cherokee belonged.  The Cherokee spoke three dialects:  Upper Cherokee in the Valley and Overhill Towns, Middle Cherokee in the Middle and Out Towns, and Lower Cherokee in the Keowee and Lower Towns, the last being much different from the other two and sharing features with the Siouan languages of their neighbors.

Henderson Purchase  (1775)

One year after Dunmore’s War, on 17 March 1775, a group of North Carolina speculators led by Richard Henderson negotiated the Treaty of Watauga at Sycamore Shoals with the older Overhill Cherokee leaders, chief of whom were Oconostota and Attakullakulla, surrendering the claim of the Cherokee to the Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda-giga'i) lands and supposedly giving the Transylvania Land Company ownership thereof in spite of claims to the region by other tribes such as the Lenape, Shawnee, and Chickasaw.


Dragging Canoe, headman of Great Island Town (Amoyeliegwayi) and son of Attakullakulla, refused to go along with the deal and told the North Carolina men, “You have bought a fair land, but there is a cloud hanging over it; you will find its settlement dark and bloody”.

The royal the governors of both Virginia and North Carolina quickly repudiated the Watauga treaty, however, and Henderson had to flee to avoid arrest.  Even George Washington spoke out against it. The Cherokee appealed to John Stuart, the Indian Affairs Superintendent, for help, which he had provided on previous such occasions, but the outbreak of the American Revolution intervened.

In the view of both Henderson and of the frontierspeople, the revolution negated the judgments of the royal governors, and the Transylvania Company began pouring settlers into the region they had “purchased”.

Revolutionary War phase: Cherokee War of 1776

During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee not only fought against the settlements in the Overmountain region, and later in the Cumberland Basin, defending against territorial encroachment, they also fought as allies of Great Britain against its rebellious subjects.

In the first phase, British strategy was focused on the North, and not so much on the backwoods settlements, especially those in the west.  The Cherokee, therefore, were on their own, except for supplies from British ports on the coast and some joint operation in South Carolina.

British provinces in North America, 1775

Majorities in thirteen British provinces supported the rebellion that broke out in 1775 and became a revolution.  These provinces were Virginia (including West Virginia and Kentucky), Massachusetts Bay (including Maine), South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and New Hampshire, including Vermont).

Each of those provinces (officially; colloquially called colonies) had significant minorities of Loyalists, especially those in the South.

Six British provinces in North America remained Loyalist.  These were Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Rupert’s Land in the North and East Florida and West Florida in the South; plus the Indian Reserve south of the Ohio River. East Florida served as a haven for Loyalist refugees in the South and Nova Scotia the same for the North.

Southern District of the British Indian Department, 1775

On the eve of the Revolution, John Stuart remained Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District.  His brother, Henry Stuart was Chief Deputy Superintendent.  Alexander Cameron still served as Deputy Superintendent to the Cherokee, now at Toqua (Dakwayi) on the Little Tennessee River, with John McDonald as his assistant, set up at a commissary post hundred miles to the southwest on the west side of Chickamauga River, where it was crossed by the Great Indian Warpath.  

Elsewhere, David Taitt served as Deputy Superintendent to the Creek, Charles Stuart as Deputy Superintendent to the Choctaw, John McIntosh as Deputy Superintendent to the western Chickasaw, and John Thomas as Deputy Superintendent to the Small Tribes in West Florida and on the Mississippi River.  All of the commissary posts mentioned above were probably still operational, but that was soon to change in the chaos of war.

Flight of the Loyalists

Stuart, meanwhile, was besieged by a mob at his house in Charlestown and had to flee for his life before he could act. His first stop was St. Augustine in East Florida.

Another noted Loyalist later associated with the Cherokee, Thomas Brown, was not nearly so fortunate.  In his home of Brownsborough, Georgia, near Augusta, he was assaulted by a crowd of the Sons of Liberty, tied to a tree, roasted with fire, scalped, tarred, and feathered.  After his escape, he took up residence among the Seminole commanding his East Florida Rangers, who fought with them and some of the Lower Muskogee.

From St. Augustine, Stuart sent his deputy, Cameron, and his brother Henry to Mobile in West Florida to obtain short-term supplies with which the Cherokee could survive and fight if necessary.  Dragging Canoe took a party of eighty warriors to provide security for the pack-train, and met Henry Stuart and Cameron, his adopted brother, at Mobile on 1 March 1776. He asked how he could help the British against their rebel subjects, and for help with the illegal settlers, and they told him to take no action at the present but to wait for regular troops to arrive.

Whig black propaganda

(Note: At the time of the Revolution, the anti-imperial party called themselves Whigs.)

When they arrived at Chota, Henry sent out letters to the trespassers of the Washington District (Watauga and Nolichucky), Pendelton District (North-of-Holston), and Carter's Valley (in modern Hawkins County, Tennessee) reiterating the fact they were on Indian land illegally and giving them forty days to leave.

Those sympathetic to the Revolution then forged to indicate a large force of regular troops plus Chickasaw, Choctaw (Chahta), and Muscgoee was on the march from Pensacola and planning to pick up reinforcements from the Cherokee. The forgeries alarmed the countryside, and settlers began gathering together in closer settlements than their isolated farmsteads, building stations (small forts), and otherwise preparing for an attack.

First blood

The beginning of open hostilities between the Cherokee and the Americans, particularly those in the frontier settlements of the Overmountain region (Upper East Tennessee), the Cumberland Basin, and Kentucky.  The first phase, from the attacks and counter attacks in summer 1776 through the peace treaties a year later, is often called the Cherokee War of 1776 or the Second Cherokee War.

Battle of Sullivan's Island

In June 1776, the British launched an attempt to capture Charlestown Harbor by land and by sea.  On 28 June the land forces commanded by Henry Clinton attacked the harbor's chief defense, Fort Sullivan, commanded by William Moultrie.  An attempt by three of the British ships to maneuver in support failed due to hidden natural obstructions.  Meanwhile, Moultrie's guns inflicted heavy damage on several of the other ships in the fleet.  The land forces attack failed too.  

After withdrawing, the British abandoned the South for the next two-and-a-half years.  However, the British officials could not halt plans already in motion for supporting attacks by the Cherokee and Loyalists.

Visit from the northern tribes

In May 1776, partly at the behest of Henry Hamilton, the British lieutenant governor in Detroit, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk (Hokoleskwa) led a delegation from the northern tribes (Shawnee, Lenape, Iroquois, Ottawa [Wadaawewinini], others) arrived in Chota to meet with the southern tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw) about fighting with the British against their common enemy.  Cornstalk called for united action against those they called the “Long Knives”, the squatters who settled and remained in Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda-gi), or, as the settlers called it, Transylvania.  


At the close of his speech, Cornstalk offered his war belt, and Dragging Canoe accepted it, along with Abraham (Osiuta) of Chilhowee (Tsulawiyi).  Dragging Canoe also accepted belts from the Ottawa and the Iroquois, while Savanukah (Raven) of Chota, accepted the belt from the Lenape. The northern emissaries offered war belts to Stuart and Cameron, but they declined to accept.

The plan was for Middle, Out, and Valley Towns of what is now western North Carolina to attack South Carolina, the Lower Towns of western South Carolina and North Georgia (led personally by Alexander Cameron) to attack Georgia, and the Overhill Towns along the lower Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers to attack Virginia and North Carolina.

In the Overhill campaign, Dragging Canoe was to lead a force against the Pendelton District, Abraham another against the Washington District, and Savanukah one against Carter's Valley.

To demonstrate his determination, Dragging Canoe led a small war party into Kentucky and returned with four scalps to present to Cornstalk before the northern delegation departed.

Jemima Boone and the Calloway sisters

Shortly after the visit from the northern tribes, the Overhill Cherokee began small-party raiding into Kentucky, often in conjunction with the Shawnee.

In one of these raids on 14 July, a week before the Cherokee attacks on the settlements and colonies, a war party of five, two Shawnee and three Cherokee led by Hanging Maw (Skwala-guta) of Coyatee (Kaietiyi), captured three teenage girls in a canoe on the Kentucky River. The girls were Jemima Boone, daughter of Daniel Boone, and Elizabeth and Frances Callaway, daughters of Richard Callaway.


The war party hurried toward the Shawnee towns north of the Ohio River, but were overtaken by Boone and his rescue party after three days. After a brief firefight, the war party retreated and the girls were rescued, unharmed and having been treated reasonably well, according to Jemima Boone.

Besides the sheer courage of the feat itself, the incident is notable for providing inspiration for the chase scene in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans after the capture of Cora and Alice Munro, in which their father Lieutenant-Colonel George Munro, the book's protagonist Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo), his adopted Mohican elder brother Chingachgook, Chingachgook's son Uncas, and David Gamut follow and overtake the Huron (Wyandot) war party of Magua in order to rescue the sisters.

First Cherokee campaigns

In late June, war parties from the Lower Towns began attacking the frontier of South Carolina.

On 1 July, the Out, Middle, and Valley Towns sent out war parties raiding the frontier settlements of North Carolina east of the Blue Ridge, coming down the Catawba River.

Meanwhile, traders warned the Overmountain settlements of what was to become Upper East Tennessee of the impending Overhill Cherokee attacks.  They learned of the plans from the Beloved Woman (female equivalent of Beloved ManNancy Ward (Agigaue). Having thus been betrayed, the Cherokee offensive proved to be disastrous for the attackers.

Siege of McDowell's Station

On 3 July, a small war party of Cherokee besieged a small fort on the North Carolina frontier.  The garrison managed to keep from being overrun until a large body of militia under Griffith Rutherford arrived in the rear of besiegers, who then retreated.

Battle of Lindley's Station

A 190-strong war party of Cherokee and Loyalist partisans dressed as Cherokee attacked the large fort on the South Carolina frontier known as Lindley's Station.  Its 150-man Whig garrison had just finished building it the day before.  After repulsing the attack, the Whigs gave chase, killing two Loyalists and capturing ten, but inflicting no casualties on the Cherokee.

Battle of Island Flats

Finding Fort Lee on the Nolichucky deserted, the Cherokee force from the Overhill Towns burned it to the ground, then divided into three columns.

Dragging Canoe's force advanced up the Great Indian Warpath and had a small skirmish with a body of militia numbering twenty who quickly withdrew.  Pursuing them and intending to take Fort Lee at Long-Island-on-the-Holston, his force advanced toward the island. However, on 20 July, it encountered a larger force of militia six miles from their target, about half the size of his own but desperate, in a stronger position than the small group before.

During the “Battle of Island Flats” which followed, Dragging Canoe himself was wounded in his hip by a musket ball and his brother Little Owl (Uku-usdi) incredibly survived after being hit eleven times. His force then withdrew, raiding isolated cabins on the way and returned to the Overhill area with plunder and scalps, after raiding further north into southwestern Virginia.

Siege of Fort Caswell

On 21 July, Abraham of Chilhowee led his party in attempting to capture Fort Caswell on the Watauga, but his attack was driven off with heavy casualties. Instead of withdrawing, however, he put the garrison under siege, a tactic which had worked well the previous decade with Fort Loudon.  After two weeks, though, he and his warriors gave that up.

Savanukah's party raided from the outskirts of Carter's Valley far into the Clinch River Valley in Virginia, but those targets contained only small settlements and isolated farmsteads so he did no real military damage.

Colonial response

The affected colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia conferred and decided that swift and massive retaliation was the only way to preserve peace on the frontier.

In the Lower, Middle, Valley, and Out Towns

Response from the colonials in the aftermath was swift and overwhelming. North Carolina sent Rutherford with 2400 militia to scour the Oconaluftee and the Tuckasegee Rivers and the headwaters of the Little Tennessee and the Hiwassee, South Carolina sent 1800 men to the Savannah River, and Georgia sent 200 to the Chattahoochee and the Tugaloo.


Two days after leaving Fort McGahey on 23 July, Griffith Rutherford’s militia, who were accompanied by a large contingent of Catawba warriors, encountered an ambush by the Cherokee at the Battle of Cowee Gap in what is now western North Carolina. After defeating the attackers, he proceeded to a designated rendezvous with the South Carolina militia.

On 1 August, Cameron and the Cherokee ambushed Andrew Williamson and his South Carolina militia force near the Lower Cherokee town of Seneca (Isunigu) in the Battle of Twelve Mile Creek.  After retreating, he joined up with the militia force of Andrew Pickens.

The next day, 2 August, the joint militia force bivouacked, and Pickens led a party of twenty-five to forage for food and firewood.  In what is known as the Ring Fight, two hundred Cherokee surrounded and attacked the party, which withdrew into a ring and were able to hold their attackers at bay until reinforcements arrived.

Pickens and his militia defeated the Cherokee on the Tugaloo River in the Battle of Tugaloo, which they then burned, on 10 August.

On 12 August, Williamson and Pickens defeated the Cherokee at the Battle of Tamassee.  With this, they had completed their destruction of the Lower Towns, Keowee, Estatoe, Seneca, and the rest.  Afterwards, they proceeded north to meet up with the North Carolina militia of Griffith Rutherford.

Rutherford’s militia traversed Swannanoa Gap in the Blue Ridge on 1 September, and reached the outskirts of the Out, Valley, and Middle Towns on 14 September, at which they started burning towns and crops.

Williamson’s militia were attacked at the Battle of Black Hole near Franklin, North Carolina on 19 September, but were able to fend off the Cherokee and meet up with Rutherford to take part in the campaign of destruction.

In all, Williamson, Pickens, and Rutherford destroyed more than 50 towns, burned the houses and food stores, destroyed the orchards, slaughtered livestock, and killed hundreds of Cherokee. They sold captives into slavery, and these were often transported to the Caribbean.

In the Overhill Towns

In the meantime, the Continental Army sent Col. William Christian to the lower Little Tennessee Valley with a battalion of Continentals, five hundred Virginia militia, three hundred North Carolina militia, and three hundred rangers.  By this time, Dragging Canoe and his warriors had already returned to the Overhill Towns.

Oconostota advocated making peace with the colonists at any price. Dragging Canoe countered by calling for the women, children, and old to be sent below the Hiwassee and for the warriors to burn the towns, then ambush the Virginians at the French Broad River, but Oconostota, Attakullakulla, and the rest of the older chiefs decided against that path, Oconostota sending word to the approaching army offering to exchange Dragging Canoe and Cameron if the Overhill Towns were spared.

In Dragging Canoe's last appearance at the council of the Overhill Towns, he denounced the older leaders as rogues and “Virginians” for their willingness to cede away land for an ephemeral safety, ending, "As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands.” He then stalked out of the council.

Afterwards, he and other militant leaders, including Ostenaco, gathered like-minded Cherokee from the Overhill, Valley, and Hill towns, and migrated to what is now the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area, to which Cameron had already transferred.

Upon reaching the Little Tennessee in late October, Christian’s Virginia force found those towns from whence the militant attackers had spring—Great Island, Citico (Sitiku), Toqua, Tuskegee (Taskigi), Chilhowee, Great Tellico—not only deserted but burned to the ground by their own former inhabitants, along with all the food and stores that could not be carried away.

The Treaties of 1777

Preliminary negotiations between the Overhill Towns and Virginia were held as Fort Patrick Henry in April 1777.  Nathaniel Gist, later father of Sequoyah, led the talks for Virginia, while Attakullakulla, Oconostota, and Savanukah headed the delegation of Cherokee.  

The Cherokee in the Hill, Valley, Lower, and Overhill towns signed the Treaty of Dewitt's Corner with Georgia and South Carolina (Ostenaco was one of the Cherokee signatories) 20 May and the Treaty of Fort Henry with Virginia and North Carolina on 20 July.  They promised to stop warring, with those colonies promising in return to protect them from attack. 

In the former treaty, the Lower Towns ceded all their land in modern South Carolina except for a small strip in what is now Oconee County.  One provision of the latter treaty required that James Robertson and a small garrison be quartered at Chota on the Little Tennessee.

Neither treaty actually halted attacks by frontiersmen from the illegal colonies, nor did they stop encroachment onto Cherokee lands.   The peace treaties required the Cherokee give up their land of the Lower Towns in South Carolina and most of the area of the Out Towns.

American Indian Department

Around this time, the Continental Congress decided its government needed its own Department of Indian Affairs, which it divided into Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts.  Each state appointed its own superintendents.  For the Cherokee, North Carolina appointed James Robertson, Virginia appointed Joseph Martin, and South Carolina appointed Andrew Williamson.

Other Southeastern Indian nations

The paramount mico Emistisigua lead the Upper Creek in alliance with the British, and within a year had become the strongest native ally of Dragging Canoe and his faction of Cherokee.  After 1777, he was assisted by Alex McGillivray (Hoboi-Hili-Miko), mixed-blood son of a Scots-Irish trader and a Coushatta woman, mico of the Coushatta, former colonel in the British Army, and one of John Stuart's agents.

In the meantime, though the majority of the Lower Creek opted to remain neutral, Loyalist Capt. William McIntosh (Tustunnugee Hutkee), another of Stuart's agents and father of the later Creek leader William McIntosh (Taskanugi Hatke), recruited a sizable unit of Hitchiti warriors to fight on the British side.

The Seminole of East Florida, universally Loyalist in sympathy, provided hundreds of warriors for British campaigns in the Southeast, particularly against Georgia.  They often fought with the East Florida Rangers commanded by Thomas Brown.  Known to the whites as Cowkeeper, Ahaya, founder of the Seminole nation, was usually their leader.

The Choctaw and the Chickasaw in alliance with the British patrolled the Mississippi and western Tennessee rivers to prevent American incursion along those pathways. 

The Chickasaw formed part of the garrison of Fort Panmure on the Mississippi and later of Pensacola. 

Over a thousand Choctaw warriors helped guard the vital ports in West Florida of Pensacola (seat of the province) and Mobile against the Spanish. 

In contrast, a portion of Choctaw supported the Spanish, though never in direct opposition to other Choctaw, while the rest remained neutral.

Sandwiched in between the colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina, the Catawba had no real option to take the Loyalist side, but rather than simply remaining neutral joined the Whig cause as active allies.

Migration to the Chickamauga area

After the end of the opening campaigns, Alexander Cameron had suggested to Dragging Canoe and his dissenting Cherokee that they settle near the place where the Great Indian Warpath crossed the Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek). Since Dragging Canoe made that town his seat of operations, frontier Americans called his followers the “Chickamaugas”.  Other Cherokee refugees turned up in Pensacola and wintered there.

As mentioned above, John McDonald already had a trading post there on the west bank of the Chickamauga River, providing a link to Henry Stuart, brother of John, in the West Florida capital of Pensacola. Cameron, deputy Indian superintendent and blood brother to Dragging Canoe, accompanied him to Chickamauga. In fact, nearly all the whites legally resident among the Cherokee by their permission were part of the exodus.

In March 1777, Cameron sent the refugees to Chickamauga along with a sizable amount of goods.  The colonials learned of the material and planned to intercept it.  When Cameron informed him of the danger, Emistisigua, paramount chief of the Upper Creek, sent a force of three hundred fifty warriors to guard them as well as to assist in rebuilding and waging war.

Chickamauga Towns

In addition to  Old Chickamauga (Tsikamagi) Town, the headman of which was Big Fool, Dragging Canoe's band set up three other settlements on the Chickamauga River: 

Toqua (Dakwayi), at its mouth on the Tennessee River;
Opelika, a few kilometers upstream from Chickamauga; and
Buffalo Town (Yunsayi) at the headwaters of the river in northwest Georgia (in the vicinity of the later Ringgold, Georgia).

Other Chickamauga towns were:

Cayuga (Cayoka) on Hiwassee Island;
Black Fox (Inaliyi) at the current community of the same name in Bradley County, Tennessee;
Ooltewah (Ultiwa), under Ostenaco on Ooltewah (Wolftever) Creek;
Sawtee (Itsati), under Dragging Canoe's brother Little Owl on Laurel (North Chickamauga) Creek;
Citico (Sitiku), along the creek of the same name;
Chatanuga (Tsatanugi) at the foot of Lookout Mountain in what is now St. Elmo Historic District; and
Tuskegee (Taskigi) under Bloody Fellow (Yunwigiga) on Williams’ Island (which after the wars stretched across from the island southwest into Lookout Valley).

The land used by the Cherokee was once the traditional location of the Creek, who had withdrawn in the early 18th century to leave a buffer zone between themselves and the Cherokee. In the intervening years, the two tribes used the region as hunting grounds.

Other supporters

Many Cherokee resented the (largely Scots-Irish) settlers moving into Cherokee lands, and agreed with Dragging Canoe.  The Cherokee towns of Great Hiwasee (Ayuwasi), Tennessee (Tanasi), Chestowee (Tsistuyi), Ocoee (Ugwahi), and Amohee (Amoyee) in the vicinity of Hiwassee River were wholly in the camp of the rejectionists, as were the Lower Cherokee in the North Georgia towns of Coosawatie (Kusawatiyi), Etowah (Itawayi), Ellijay (Elatseyi), Ustanari (or Ustanali), etc., who had been evicted from their homes in South Carolina by the Treaty of Dewitts' Corner. 

The Yuchi in the vicinity of the new settlement, on the upper Chickamauga, Pinelog, and Conasauga Creeks, likewise supported Dragging Canoe's resistance.

Continuing the fight

In contempt of the peace proceedings at Fort Henry, Dragging Canoe led a war party that killed a settler named Frederick Calvitt and stole fifteen horses from James Robertson, then moved to Carter's Valley, killing the grandparents of later U.S. Congressman David Crockett along with several children near the modern Rogersville, and marauding across the valley.  In all the raiders took twelve scalps.

In summer 1777, Deputy Superintendents Cameron and Taitt led a large contingent of Cherokee and Creek warriors against the back country settlements of the Carolinas and Georgia.  An assassination attempt by pro-American warriors of the Lower Creek in September 1777 against the two of them and McIntosh forced the Cameron and Taitt to relocate to Pensacola.  Taitt returned to Little Tallassee in early 1778, but he was recalled to Pensacola shortly thereafter.

While they were thus engaged, the Shawnee repeatedly attacked the Kentucky settlements between the Cumberland River and Levisa Fork.

Besides continued small harassment raids against the back country of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the Cherokee established at camp at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers to prevent infiltration into the Mississippi in the spring of 1778.

Warriors of the Chickamauga Towns renewed their raiding after the Green Corn festival in August 1778.

Targets of the Cherokee

Based in their new homes, Dragging Canoe's main targets were settlers, whom he invariably referred to as “Virginians”, on the Holston, Doe, Watauga, and Nolichucky Rivers, on the Cumberland and Red Rivers, and the isolated stations in between.  They also ambushed parties travelling on the Tennessee River, and local sections of the many ancient trails that served as “highways”, such as the Great Indian Warpath (Mobile, to northeast Canada), the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail (St. Augustine to the French Salt Lick at Nashville), the Cumberland Trail (from the Upper Creek Path to the Great Lakes), and the Nickajack Trail (Nickajack to Augusta).

Later, these Cherokee stalked the Natchez Trace and such highways as were constructed by the uninvited settlers like the KentuckyCumberland, and Walton Roads.  Occasionally, the Cherokee attacked targets in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and the Ohio Country.

Willing's Raid

In February 1778, James Willing led a contingent of some 100 Whig marauders down the Mississippi River, where they ravaged Loyalist settlements of West Florida at Natchez, Walnut Hills (now Vicksburg, Mississippi), Baton Rouge, and smaller settlements and farmsteads along the river and the Gulf Coast.  In response, Stuart sent John McGillivray in command of 100 provincial troops to the Natchez District to coordinate Choctaw and Chickasaw war efforts on the Mississippi.

Revolutionary War phase: Southern strategy

In late 1778, British strategy shifted south.  As their attention went, so too did their efforts, their armies, and their supplies, including those slated for the Southern Indians.  The Southern theater had the added advantage of being home to more Loyalists than the North.  With all these new advantages, the Cherokee were able to greatly renew their territorial defense.  Both the Cherokee (all of them) and the Upper Creek signed on for active participation.

British victory in the North

On 17 December 1778, Henry Hamilton captured Fort Vincennes and used it as a base to plan a spring offensive against George Rogers Clark, whose forces had recently seized control of much of the Illinois Country.  His plans were to assemble five hundred warriors from various Indian nations, including the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Shawnee, and others, for a campaign to expel Clark's forces back east, then drive through Kentucky clearing American settlements.  McDonald's headquarters at Chickamauga was to be the staging ground and commissary for the Cherokee and the Creek.

British victories in the South

The British captured Savannah, Georgia on 29 December 1778 with help from Dragging Canoe, John McDonald, and the Cherokee, along with McGillivray's Upper Creekforce and McIntosh's band of Hitichiti warriors.

Just over a month later, 31 January 1779, they captured Augusta, Georgia, as well, though they quickly had to retreat.  After a couple of more handovers, the British were in control.

With these victories, the remaining neutral towns of the Lower Creek now threw in their lot with the British side.

First Cumberland settlement

In early 1779, Robertson and John Donelson traveled overland across country along the Kentucky Road and founded Fort Nashborough at the French Salt Lick (which got its name from having previously been the site of a French outpost called Fort Charleville) on the Cumberland River. It was the first of many such settlements in the Cumberland area, which subsequently became the focus of attacks by all the tribes in the surrounding region. Leaving a small group there, both returned east.

Loss in the North

Unfortunately for the grand scheme of Henry Hamilton, Clark recaptured the fort and him along with it on 25 February 1779.  The Cherokee turned their sights to the northeast.

Raids in the Overmountain region

Robertson heard warning from Chota that Dragging Canoe's warriors were going to attack the Holston area. In addition, he had received intelligence that McDonald's place was the staging area for the northern campaign that Hamilton had been planning to conduct, and that a stockpile of supplies equivalent to that of a hundred packhorses was stored there.  Small parties of Cherokee began repeated small raids on the Holston frontier shortly thereafter.

Death of John Stuart

On 21 March 1779, John Stuart, up to that point Indian Affairs Superintendent, died at Pensacola. George Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, split the Southern District into two.  Alexander Cameron in Pensacola was assigned to the Mississippi District to work with the Chickasaw and Choctaw.  In Savannah, Thomas Brown of the King’s Carolina Rangers (as his unit was renamed) was assigned to the Atlantic District to work with the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole.

Scott and Shelby expeditions

At the beginning of April 1779, a group of two hundred Cherokee and fifty Loyalist Rangers under Walter Scott left the Chickamauga Towns headed for a marauding campagin against the frontier settlements in Georgia and South Carolina

Hearing of their departure, Joseph Martin at Chota, Superintendent for Indian Affairs of Virginia, sent word to Governor Patrick Henry of their absence.

The state governments of Virginia and North Carolina made a joint decision to send an expedition against the Chickamauga Towns, who were thought to be responsible for the raids.  Most of those warriors, however, were in South Carolina with Cameron and Dragging Canoe.  A thousand Overmountain men under Evan Shelby (father of Isaac Shelby, first governor of the State of Kentucky) and a regiment of Continentals under John Montgomery disembarked on 10 April, boating down the Tennessee in a fleet of dugout canoes.

They arrived in the Chickamauga towns ten days later.  For the next two weeks, they destroyed the eleven towns in the immediate  area and most of the food supply, along with McDonald's home, store, and commissary.  Due to the absence of nearly all the warriors, there was no resistance and only four deaths among the inhabitants.  Whatever was not destroyed was confiscated and sold at the site where the trail back to the Holston crossed what has since been known as Sale Creek.

Return home of the warriors

Upon hearing of the devastation of their towns, Dragging Canoe, McDonald, and their men, including the Rangers, returned to Chickamauga and its vicinity.

The Shawnee sent envoys to Chickamauga to find out if the destruction had caused Dragging Canoe's people to lose the will to fight, along with a sizable detachment of warriors to assist them in the South.

In response to their inquiries, Dragging Canoe held up the war belts he'd accepted when the delegation visited Chota in 1776, and said, “We are not yet conquered”. To cement the alliance, the Cherokee responded to the Shawnee gesture with nearly a hundred of their warriors sent to the North.

The towns in the Chickamauga area were soon rebuilt and reoccupied by their former inhabitants.  Dragging Canoe responded to the Shelby expedition with punitive raids on the frontiers of both North Carolina and Virginia, and proved good on his word because British command communications in October show the Cherokee active on the frontier from Virginia to Georgia.

Cameron's expedition

In midsummer 1779, Cameron arrived at Chickamauga with a company of Loyalist Refugees and convinced the Cherokee in the towns there to join them on their march to South Carolina.  Three hundred took up arms and headed out to maraud the backcountry of Georgia and South Carolina.  Later in October, Andrew Williamson's South Carolina militia responded by attacking several towns on the eastern frontier of Cherokee territory and burning their foodstores.

Spain attacks

Spain officially entered the war as an ally of France, and therefore of the new United States of America, on 8 May 1779, but it was not until several months later that it took any military action.  On 7 September 1779, Bernardo de Galvez, governor of Luisiana out of New Orleans, led a force of around one thousand Spanish regulars, Cajun militia, free men of color, and ten Whig volunteers upriver to Fort Bute, 115 miles north of New Orleans on Bayou Manchac.  Defending the fort, built in 1766 and in disrepair, were one Captain von Haake and 20 Waldekian (from the German state of Waldeck) grenadiers.  The Spanish force took the fort with only one of the Waldekians killed.

Proceeding north, the Spanish force laid siege to newly-built Fort New Richmond outside the town of Baton Rouge on 21 September.  After three hours of bombardment, Lt. Col. Andrew Dickson surrendered both the fort and the town, as well as Fort Panmure and the town of Natchez next to it, and his force of 400 regulars, 120 Loyalist militia, and company of Waldekian grenadiers.  The Spanish took possession of the latter fort and town on 5 October.  The American-allied Spanish now controlled the entire Lower Mississippi River nearly to Chickasaw Bluffs.

Following this, the only pro-British force active in the area was that led by James Logan Colbert, a longtime trader among the Chickasaw, and his Loyalist militia and (mostly) Chickasaw warriors.

The conflict between Spain and Great Britain during this time (1779-1783) is sometimes referred to as the Anglo-Spanish War, given that most of the action was completely separate from the wider conflict to the east.

Concord between the Lenape and the Overhill Cherokee

In late 1779, Oconostota, Savanukah, and other non-belligerent Cherokee leaders travelled north to pay their respects after the death of the White Eyes, the Lenape leader who had been encouraging his people to give up their fighting against the Americans. He had also been negotiating, first with Lord Dunmore and second with the American government, for an Indian state with representatives seated in the Continental Congress, for which he finally won an agreement with that body, and addressed in person in 1776.

Upon the arrival of the Cherokee in the village of Goshocking, they were taken to the council house and began talks. The next day, the Cherokee present solemnly agreed with their “grandfathers” to take neither side in the ongoing conflict between the Americans and the British.

Part of the reasoning was that thus “protected”, neither tribe would find themselves subject to the vicissitudes of war. The rest of the world at conflict, however, remained heedless, and the provisions lasted as long as it took the ink to dry, as it were.

Loss of Mobile

On 14 March 1780, Spanish forces from New Orleanunder Bernardo de Galvez captured Mobile in the Battle of Fort Charlotte, along with Charles Stuart and David Taitt, leading contingents of Choctaw and Creek warriors in the defense, after a nearly two-week siege.

When they next moved against Pensacola the following month, McIntosh and McGillivray rallied 2000 Creek warriors to its defense, joining a large contingent of Choctaw and a smaller one of Chickasaw. A British fleet arrived before the Spanish could take the port.

Chickasaw-American war

The Chickasaw transformed from river sentries into attacking warriors in June 1780 when George Rogers Clark and a party of over five hundred, including some Kaskaskia of the Illinois Confederation, built Fort Jefferson and the surrounding settlement of Clarksville near the mouth of the Ohio, inside their hunting grounds.  The building had begun in April and just finished before the first attack on 7 June.

After learning of the trespass, the Chickasaw, led by James Colbert, destroyed the settlement, laid siege to the fort, and began attacking the Kentucky frontier. They continued attacking the Cumberland and into Kentucky through early the following year.  Their last raid was in conjunction with Dragging Canoe's Cherokee, upon Freeland’s Station on the Cumberland on 11 January 1781.

Robertson and Donelson parties

In autumn 1779, James Robertson and a group of fellow Wataugans had left the east down the Kentucky Road headed for Fort Nashborough. They arrived on Christmas Day 1779 without incident, unlike what the group led by his partner John Donelson was to face.

Donelson journeyed down the Tennessee with a party that included his family, intending to go across to the mouth of the Cumberland, then upriver to Ft. Nashborough. Their departed the Overmountain vicinity on 27 February 1780.  Eventually, the group did reach its destination, but only after being ambushed several times.


In the first encounter near Tuskegee Island on 7 March, the Cherokee warriors under Bloody Fellow focused their attention on the boat in the rear whose passengers had come down with smallpox. There was only one survivor, later ransomed. The victory, however, proved to be a Pyrrhic one for the Cherokee, as the ensuing epidemic wiped out several hundred in the vicinity.

Several miles downriver, beginning with the obstruction known as the Suck or the Kettle, the party was fired upon throughout their passage through the Tennessee River Gorge (aka Cash Canyon), the party losing one with several wounded. Several hundred kilometers downriver, the Donelson party ran up against the Muscle Shoals, where they were attacked at one end by the Creek and the other end by the Chickasaw. The final attack was by the Chickasaw in the vicinity of the modern Hardin County, Tennessee.

The Donelson party finally reached its destination on 24 April 1780.  The group included John's daughter Rachel, much later the wife of future U.S. Representative, Senator, and President Andrew Jackson, who fought a duel in her honor in 1806.

Shortly after his party's arrival at Fort Nashborough, Donelson along with Robertson and others formed the Cumberland Compact.

After the Revolution, Donelson moved to the Indiana country, where he and William Christian were captured while fighting in the Illinois Country in 1786 and were burned at the stake by their captors.

Capture of Charlestown

Charlestown was captured on 12 May 1780 after a siege that began 29 March.  Along with it, the British took prisoner some three thousand Whigs, including South Carolina militia leader Andrew Williamson.  Upon giving his parole that he would not again take up arms, Williamson became a double agent for the Whigs, according to testimony after the war by Whig General Nathanael Greene.

Defense of Augusta and Battle of King's Mountain

That summer, the new Indian superintendent for the Atlantic District, Thomas Brown, planned to have a joint conference between the Cherokee and Creek to plan ways to coordinate their attacks, but that was forestalled when Georgians led by Elijah Clarke made a concerted effort to retake Augusta in September, where he had his headquarters.  His King's Carolina Rangers and fifty Creek warriors, reinforced by fifty Cherokee warriors who made it thru just before the siege line closed, formed the entire garrison against Clarke's seven hundred fighters.


The arrival of a sizable war party from the Chickamauga and Overhill Towns and a force from Fort Ninety-Six in South Carolina prevented the capture of both, and the Cherokee and Brown's rangers chased Elijah Clarke's army into the arms of John Sevier, wreaking havoc on rebellious settlements along the way.

This set the stage for the Battle of King's Mountain on 7 October 1780, in which the Loyalist militia American Volunteers under Patrick Ferguson moved south trying to encircle Clarke and were defeated by a force of 900 frontiersmen under Sevier and William Campbell referred to as the Overmountain Men.

Cherokee Overmountain campaign of 1780

Alexander Cameron, aware of the absence from the settlements of nearly a thousand men, urged Dragging Canoe and other Cherokee leaders to strike while they had the opportunity. Under the influence of Savanukah, the Overhill Towns gave their full support to the new offensive. Both Cameron and the Cherokee had been expecting a quick victory for Ferguson and were stunned he suffered such a resounding defeat so soon, but the assault was already in motion.

Hearing word of the new invasion from Nancy Ward, her second known betrayal, Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition of seven hundred Virginians and North Carolinians against the Cherokee in December 1780, under the command of Sevier. It met a seventy-member Cherokee war party at the Battle of Boyd's Creek on 16 December and routed it.

After the battle, Sevier’s army joined forces under Arthur Campbell and Joseph Martin, and marched against the Overhill towns on the Little Tennessee and the Hiwassee and the Valley Towns, burning seventeen of them, including Chota, Chilhowee, the original Citico, Tellico, Great Hiwassee, and Chestowee, finishing up on 1 January 1781.

Afterwards, the Overhill leaders withdrew from further active conflict for the time being, though the Middle and Valley Towns continued to harass the frontier.

Cherokee Cumberland campaign, 1780-1781

In the Cumberland area, the new settlements lost around forty people in attacks by the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Lenape during 1780.  The Munsee-Lenape were the first to conduct what became repeated attacks, along with the Chickasaw, Shawnee, Wyandot, and Mingo, on the Cumberland settlements, as well as those in Kentucky. 

The Chickamauga Cherokee began their own attacks against the Cumberland settlements in November 1780, starting a campaign that lasted until the following April.

Battle of the Bluff

Three months after the first Chickasaw attack on the Cumberland, the Cherokee's largest attack of the wars against the settlements came on 2 April 1781, culminating in what became known as the Battle of the Bluff, led by Dragging Canoe in person. It lasted until the next day. 

Afterward, settlers began to abandon the settlements until only three stations were left, a condition which lasted until 1783.

First Cherokee Overmountain campaign of 1781

Not long after returning home from his destruction of the Overhill towns, Sevier had received word that the warriors from the Middle Towns were bent on revenge. 

At the beginning of March, he raised a force for a preemptive campaign against the Middle and Out Towns east of the mountains.  Beginning at Tuckasegee and ending at Cowee, they burned fifteen towns, killed twenty-nine Cherokee, and took nine prisoners.

Martin led another militia group to disperse or destroy a Cherokee war party encamped in the mountains at Cumberland Gap to harass travelers on the Wilderness Road which found signs of their quarry but none of them.

Loss of Pensacola

On 7 March 1781, the Spanish attacked Pensacola again, with an army twice the size of the garrison of British, Choctaw, and Creek defenders, and the city fell on 8 May after a hard siege that saw courageous fighting by the Choctaw and Creek.  Cameron and other Indian Department officials took refuge among the Creek, then transferred to Augusta to join Brown, who now had his own headquarters there.

Shawnee Overmountain campaign, 1781-1785

While Dragging Canoe and his warriors turned their attentions to the Cumberland, the Shawnee began raiding settlements in the Overmountain region and Southwest Virginia, the latter by now having become Washington County.  In particular they targeted those along the Clinch and Holston Rivers and in Powell's Valley.  These Shawnee came down from their homes on the Ohio River by way of the Warriors’ Path through the Cumberland Gap.

Their attacks continued, along with occasional forays by McGillivray's Upper Creek, even after sporadic raids by the Cherokee renewed, until they began to focus all their attention on the Northwest Indian War.

Loss of Augusta

Augusta was retaken by the Whigs on 6 June 1781 after a two-month siege when the Lower Muskogee relief force led by McIntosh coming to the rescue was unable to arrive in time.  Brown, Cameron, and the rest moved to Savannah.

Second Cherokee Overmountain campaign of 1781

In midsummer, a party of Middle Towns Cherokee came west over the mountains and began raiding the new settlements on the French Broad River.  Sevier raised a force of one hundred fifty and attacked their camp on Indian Creek.

On 26 July 1781, the Overhill Towns signed the second Treaty of Long-Island-on-the-Holston, this time directly with the Overmountain settlements.  It is notable in that, although affirming previous land cessions, it required none further.


Lenape refugees

While the Middle Towns warriors kept the Overmountain Men busy, the Chickamauga Towns welcomed a sizable party of Lenape warriors seeking refuge from the fighting in the Illinois and Ohio Countries.  These were not just warriors down south temporarily but permanent resettlers who brought their families.

Politics in the Overhill Towns

In the fall of 1781, the British engineered a coup d'état that put Savanukah as First Beloved Man in place of the more pacifist Oconostota, who had succeeded Attakullakulla.

For the next two years, the Overhill Cherokee openly, as they had been doing covertly, supported the efforts of Dragging Canoe and his militant Cherokee.

Cherokee Georgia campaign of 1781

In November 1781, the Cherokee invaded Georgia, ravaging Wilkes County, which was formed from 8100 km2 land ceded by the Cherokee and Creek in the 1773 Treaty of Augusta.  A combined force of South Carolinians and Georgians under Andrew Pickens  retaliated by burning all the Valley Towns up to the Valley River.

Death of Alexander Cameron

On 27 December 1781, Alexander Cameron, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Mississippi District, blood brother to Dragging Canoe, and friend to all Cherokee, died in Savannah.  He was replaced as Superintendent of the Mississippi District by John Graham, with Alexander Campbell as his Chief Deputy Superintendent.

Diplomatic mission to Ft. St. Louis

A party of Cherokee joined the Lenape, Shawnee, and Chickasaw in a diplomatic visit to the Spanish at Fort St. Louis in the Missouri country in March 1782 seeking a new avenue of obtaining arms and other assistance in the prosecution of their ongoing conflict with the Americans in the Ohio Valley. One group of Cherokee at this meeting led by Standing Turkey sought and received permission to settle in Spanish Louisiana, in the region of the White River in what became Arkansas.

Loss of Savannah

The British and Muskogee garrison at Savannah fell to the Whigs on 11 June 1782.  Brown, Graham, and the rest of the Southern Indian Department relocated yet again, this time to St. Augustine in Loyalist East Florida.

Paramount mico Emistisigua had been leading the Upper Creek attempt to relieve them and died in the attempt; McGillivray, by then his right hand man, succeeded him to become the leading mico of the Upper Towns.

Cherokee Overmountain campaign of 1782

In response to incursions by new settlers beyond the limits of the treaties, warriors from the Chickamauga Towns began harassing the Holston frontier in the spring and summer of 1782.

In September, an expedition under Sevier once again destroyed many of the towns in the Chickamauga vicinity, and those of the Cherokee of the former Lower Towns now in North Georgia, from Buffalo Town at the modern Ringgold, Georgia down to Ustanali (Ustanalahi) near modern Calhoun, Georgia, including what he called Vann's Town as well as Ellijay and Coosawattee.   Most of the towns were deserted because having advanced warning of the impending attack, Dragging Canoe and his fellow leaders chose relocation westward.

Meanwhile, Sevier’s army, guided by John Watts (Kunokeski), somehow never managed to cross paths with any parties of Cherokee.

Migration to the Lower Towns

Upon finishing their move, Dragging Canoe and his people established what whites called the Five Lower Towns downriver from the various natural obstructions in the twenty-six-mile Tennessee River Gorge, known locally as Cash Canyon. 

Cash Canyon

Starting with Tuskegee (aka Brown’s or Williams’) Island and the sandbars on either side of it, these obstructions included the Tumbling Shoals, the Holston Rock, the Kettle (or Suck), the Suck Shoals, the Deadman's Eddy, the Pot, the Skillet, the Pan, and, finally, the Narrows, ending with Hale’s Bar.



The whole twenty-six miles was sometimes called The Suck, and the stretch of river was notorious enough to merit mention even by Thomas Jefferson. These navigational hazards were so formidable, in fact, that the French agents attempting to travel upriver to reach Cherokee country during the French and Indian War, intending to establish an outpost at the spot later occupied by British agent McDonald, gave up after several attempts.

The Five Lower Towns

The Five Lower Towns included Running Water (Amogayunyi), at the current Whiteside in Marion County, Tennessee, where Dragging Canoe made his headquarters; Nickajack (Ani-Kusati-yi, “Koasati place”), eight kilometers down the Tennessee River in the same county; Long Island (Amoyeligunahita), on the Tennessee just above the Great Creek CrossingCrow Town (Kagunyi) on the Tennessee, at the mouth of Crow Creek; and Stecoyee (Utsutigwayi, aka “Lookout Mountain Town”), at the current Trenton, Georgia. Tuskegee Island Town was reoccupied as a lookout post by a small band of warriors to provide advance warning of invasions, and eventually many other settlements in the area were resettled as well.


Because this was a move into the outskirts of Creek territory, Dragging Canoe, knowing such a move might be necessary, had previously sent a delegation under Little Owl to meet with Alex McGillivray, the major Creek leader in the area, to gain their permission to do so. When the Cherokee moved their base, so too did John McDonald, now deputy to Thomas Brown, along with his own assistant Daniel Ross, making Running Water the base of operations.  Graham's deputy, Alexander Campbell, set up his own base at what became Turkeytown.

More Lower Towns

Cherokee continued to migrate westward to join Dragging Canoe's militant band.  Many in this influx were Cherokee from North Georgia, who fled the depredations of expeditions such as those of Sevier; a large majority of these were former inhabitants of the original Lower Towns. Cherokee from the Middle, or Hill, Towns also came, a group of whom established a town named Sawtee (Itsati) at the mouth of South Sauta Creek on the Tennessee.

Later major settlements included Willstown (Titsohili) near later Fort Payne, Alabama; Turkeytown (Gundigaduhunyi), at the head of the Cumberland Trail where the Upper Creek Path crossed the Coosa River near Centre, Alabama; Creek Path (Kusanunnahiyi), near at the intersection of the Great Indian Warpath with the Upper Creek Path at the modern Guntersville, Alabama; Turnip Town (Ulunyi), seven miles from the present-day Rome, Georgia; and Chatuga (Tsatugi), nearer the site of Rome.

Partly because of the large influx from North Georgia added to the fact that they were no longer occupying the Chickamauga area as their main center, Dragging Canoe's followers and others in the area began to be referred to as the Lower Cherokee.

More allies

The ranks of these “new” Lower Cherokee were further swelled by runaway slaves, white Tories, Creek, Yuchi, Natchez, and Shawnee, plus a few Spanish, French, Irish, and Germans.

Another town, Coosada (at the later Larkin's Landing below Scottsboro in Jackson County, Alabama), came into the coalition with its Coushatta and Kaskinampo inhabitants.

The band of Chickasaw living at what Chickasaw Old Fields at the later Ditto's Landing south of Huntsville, Alabama also joined the coalition.  The rest of the Chickasaw, however, were trying to play the Americans and the Spanish against each other with no interest in the British. 

Another visit from the North

In November 1782, twenty representatives from four northern tribes—Wyandot, Ojibwa (Anishnabeg), Ottawa, and Potowatami (Bodewadmi)—travelled south to consult with Dragging Canoe and his lieutenants at his new headquarters in Running Water Town, which was nestled far back up the hollow from the Tennessee River onto which it opened. Their mission was to gain the help of Dragging Canoe's Cherokee in attacking Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the American settlements in Kentucky and the Illinois country.

When the party returned north, Turtle-at-Home (Selukuki Woheli), another of Dragging Canoe's brothers, along with some seventy warriors, joined them to live and fight with the Shawnee.

Georgia Indian war of 1782

A short time after, the Cherokee invaded Georgia once again with a group of Creek, this time being met by South Carolina and Georgia troops under Pickens and Elijah Clarke at the Oconee River after much back country raiding.  Evading the American force, the Cherokee withdrew, adopting a scorched earth strategy to deny their foes supplies.  The force eventually retreated, opening the back country to further raids.

By the fall of 1782, Lt. Col. Thomas Waters of the Loyalist Rangers, formerly stationed at Fort Ninety-Six in South Carolina, had retreated to the frontier of Cherokee-Creek territory just outside Georgia.  From his base at the mouth of Long Swamp Creek on Etowah River, he and his remaining rangers, in conjunction with Cherokee and Creek warriors, ravaged backwoods homesteads and settlements.

The states of South Carolina and Georgia sent out a joint expedition led by Andrew Pickens and Elijah Clarke respectively to put a end to his insurgency.  Leaving 16 September, they invaded that section of the country, ranging at least as far as Ustanali, where they took prisoners.  In all they destroyed thirteen towns and villages in the Upper Towns area.  By 22 October, Waters and his men had escaped and the Cherokee sued for peace.

Cherokee in the Ohio region

At the beginning of 1783, there were at least three major communities of Cherokee in the region. One lived among the Chalahgawtha (Chillicothe) Shawnee. The second lived among the mixed Wyandot-Mingo towns on the upper Mad River near the later Zanesfield, Ohio. A third group is known to have lived among and fought with the Munsee-Lenape, the only portion of the Lenape nation at war with the Americans.

Though filled by different warriors shifted back and forth, these three bands remained in the Northwest until after the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

St. Augustine conference

In January 1783, Dragging Canoe and twelve hundred Cherokee travelled to St. Augustine, the capital of East Florida, for a summit meeting with a delegation of western tribes (Shawnee, Creek, Mohawk, Seneca, Lenape, Mingo, Tuscarora, and Choctaw) called for a federation of Indians to oppose the Americans and their frontier colonists.  Brown, the British Indian Superintendent, approved the concept.

Tuckabatchee council

At Tuckabatchee a few months after St. Augustine, a general council of the major southern tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole) plus representatives of smaller groups (Mobile, Catawba, Biloxi, Huoma, etc.) took place to follow up, but plans for the federation were ultimately cut short by the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Colbert's Raid

On 27 April 1783, Capt. James Colbert led a 82-strong force of his sons, Loyalists, Chickasaw, Natchez, a few free men of color, and one Frenchman in an attack against Fort Carlos III, which guarded the Spanish settlement at Arkansas Post at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers, bordering Quapaw territory and composed of more French than Spanish.  The garrison under Capt. Jacobo Dubreuil half that strength was composed of mostly Spanish soldiers, four Quapaw warriors, and three French militia.  After the battle had last over six hours, a counterattack by just fourteen from the fort, including all four Quapaw, surprised the Colbert force and scattered it into retreat.

Treaty of Long Swamp Creek (1783)

Signed 30 May 1783, the treaty confirmed the northern boundary between the State of Georgia and the Cherokee, with the Cherokee ceding large amounts of land between the Savannah and Chattachoochee Rivers.


More Overhill politics

In the fall of 1783, the older pacifist leaders replaced Savanukah with another of their number, Corntassel (Kaiyatsatahi, aka “Old Tassel”), and sent messages of peace along with complaints of settler encroachment to Virginia and North Carolina.

Opposition from pacifist leaders, however, never stopped war parties from traversing the territories of any of the town groups, largely because the average Cherokee supported their cause, nor did it stop small war parties of the Overhill Towns from raiding settlements in East Tennessee, mostly those on the Holston.

Treaty of Paris (1783)

Signed between Great Britain and the United States on 3 September 1783, this treaty formally ended the American Revolution.  The U.S. had already unilaterally declared hostilities over the previous April.  Brown received orders from London in June to cease and desist.

Dragging Canoe then turned to the Spanish (who still claimed all the territory south of the Cumberland and were now working against the Americans) for support, trading primarily through Pensacola and Mobile.  He also maintained relations with the British lieutenant governor at Detroit, Alexander McKee, who had long been Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Illinois Country, through regular diplomatic missions there under his brothers Little Owl and The Badger.

In consequence of their support of the British during the Revolution, the State of Georgia seized the lands of the Lower Chickasaw around Augusta, and they returned to their cousins in the west.

Cherokee Overmountain campaign of 1783

With the end of the Revolutionary War, new settlers began flooding into the Overmountain settlements. 

The reaction from the Cherokee was predictable, only it did not come from the towns on the lower Little Tennessee.  Instead, warriors from the Middle Towns east of the mountains on the upper Little Tennessee began retaliation against the settlements on the west side, targeting the newer ones on the Pigeon and French Broad Rivers.

In late 1783, Major Peter Fine raised a small militia and crossed the mountains to the east side and burned down the town of Cowee.

Treaty of Augusta (1783)

On 1 November 1783, the pro-American camp of the Lower Creek nation signed the Treaty of Augusta with Georgia, ceding their claims to territory which roughly comprises the modern counties of Oconee, Franklin, Banks, Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, Stephens, Washington, Greene, Hancock, Johnson, and Montgomery, plus parts of surrounding counties.  Georgians referred to this region as the Oconee Country, after the tribe .  This enraged McGillivray, who wanted to keep fighting; he burned the houses of the leaders responsible and sent warriors to raid Georgia settlements.

Treaty of French Lick

The Chickasaw signed the Treaty of French Lick with the new United States of America on 6 November 1783 and never again took up arms against it. The Lower Cherokee were also present at the conference and apparently made some sort of agreement to cease their attacks on the Cumberland for after this Americans settlements in the area began to grow again.

Post-Revolution phase: New directions (1783-1788)

The Spanish now held East Florida and West Florida in addition to Louisiana, Tejas, Nuevo Mexico, and Nueva California.  Partly to hold the Americans at bay and party to regain lost parts of La Florida, they armed and supplied the Southern Indians both to curry favor and to encourage them to turn their weapons on the frontier settlements.

Coldwater Town

The settlement of Coldwater was founded by a party of French traders who had come down for the Wabash to set up a trading center in 1783. It sat a few miles below the foot of the thirty-five mile long Muscle Shoals, near the mouth of Coldwater Creek and about three hundred yards back from the Tennessee River, close the site of the modern Tuscumbia, Alabama.

For the next couple of years, trade was all the French did, but then, in 1785, the business changed hands.  The new owners not only added firearms, powder, and shot to their wares, they recruited a garrison from the Cherokee of the Lower Towns and the Upper Creek.  They traded arms to both those nations as well and encouraged them to defend their territory.

Spanish Indian treaties

Largely due to the efforts of Alex McGillivray, the Spanish (in the persons of Arturo O’Neill, governor of  West Florida and Estevan Miro, governor of Louisiana) signed the Treaty of Pensacola for alliance and commerce with the Upper Creek and the Lower Cherokee on 30 May 1784.

On 22 June 1784, O’Neill and Miro signed the Treaty of Mobile, likewise for alliance and commerce, with the Choctaw and the Alabama.  The Chickasaw, also at this conference, refused to sign because of their treaty with the Americans.

With the signing of these two treaties, McDonald and Ross relocated to Turkeytown to consolidate their efforts and business with those of Campbell closer to their Spanish suppliers and to the British trading house of Panton, Lesley, and Company in Pensacola.

Unquiet Western frontier

With these assurances of support, the Cherokee of the Lower Towns renewed raiding the Overmountain settlements that summer.  These remained only sporadic until the fall, when an incident between one of the settlers, James Hubbard, and a noted Cherokee leader in the Overhill Towns, Noonday, brought the younger Overhill warriors into the fight and incited them all to more violence.  This could be considered the start of a Southwest Indian War, fought by the Cherokee and later the Creek too.

Towards an Indian alliance

Sponsored by the Spanish, Running Water Town hosted a grand council of western nations and tribes in the summer of 1785 to formulate a strategy for resisting encroachment by settlers from the new United States.  Beside the Lower Cherokee, the Upper Creek and Choctaw attended from the South, while the Shawnee, Lenape, Mingo, Miami, Illinois, Wyandot, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Odawa, Potawotami, Ojibwe, Wabash Confederacy, and, of course, the Iroquois League, plus a few others, came from the North.

The same parties met again under sponsorship of the British at Detroit in the fall of 1785.  The parties at these two councils agreed among themselves and with their sponsors to deal with the Americans as a unit rather than being picked off piece by piece.  This laid the groundwork for the confederacy formally established the next year.

Free Republic of Franklin

In May 1785, the settlements of the Overmountain region, then comprising four counties of western North Carolina, petitioned the Congress of the Confederation to be recognized as the “State of Franklin”.


Even though their petition failed to receive the two-thirds votes necessary to qualify, they proceeded to organize what amounted to a secessionist government, holding their first “state” assembly in December 1785. One of their chief motives was to retain the foothold they had recently gained in the Cumberland Basin.  The Cumberland settlements were included in the government, but being separated by a wide stretch of hostile Cherokee territory were almost completely autonomous.

Treaty of Dumplin Creek

One of the first acts of the new State of Franklin was to negotiate with the Overhill Towns the Treaty of Dumplin Creek signed on 10 June 1985, ceding the “territory south of the French Broad and Holston Rivers and west of the Big Pigeon River and east of the ridge dividing Little River from the Tennessee River” to the State of Franklin.

Northwest Indian War (1785-1795)

In the autumn of 1785, after a conference at Detroit, the Indians of the Northwest—Wyandot, Shawnee, Lenape, Ottawa, Mohawk, Miami, Wabash Confederacy—began frequent small raids against settlements west and north of the Ohio River and in Kentucky.  In the next year, these raids by small war parties had grown into invasions by small armies.

As allies of the Shawnee and later as full members of the Western Confederacy, Cherokee warriors of the three previously-mentioned bands in the Northwest took an active part, roughly proportional to the degree of activity by the Shawnee in their own area of operations.  They participated in nearly every war party and every major action.

Though most of the action took place in the Northwest, especially the Ohio County, a significant amount occurred in Kentucky, part of the Southwest.  From the mid-1780's till the end of the decade, for instance, raiders killed nearly fifteen hundred settlers.

Treaty of Galphinton

As if McGillivray and his people were not angered enough, on 12 November 1785, Georgia officials signed a new treaty with a few compliant Lower Creek micos (headmen) in which the latter ceded the land between the Altamaha and St. Mary's Rivers, and from the head of the latter to the Oconee River.  They called this wide stretch of land the Tallassee Country, after the tribe which lived there.

Treaty of Hopewell

The Cherokee in the Overhill, Middle, Hill, and Valley Towns signed a treaty with the new United States government, the 28 November 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, but in their case it was a treaty made under duress, the frontier colonials by this time having spread further along the Holston and onto the French Broad. Several leaders from the Lower Cherokee signed, including two from Chickamauga Town (which had been rebuilt) and one from Stecoyee.

Houston County, Georgia

After the Hopewell Treaty, the legislature of the State of Georgia, which claimed all of what became Mississippi Territory (everything between the 31st and 35th parallels from its own borders west to the Mississippi River) created Houston County, to take in the Great Bend of the Tennessee River.  The project was a joint venture between Georgia and Franklin.  To stake their claim, Valentine Sevier and ninety men went south to what is now South Pittsburg in Marion County, Tennessee, and built a stockaded settlement and blockhouse in early December 1785. 

The chosen location lay midway between Nickajack and Long Island towns of the Lower Cherokee.  By mid-January, the pioneers tired of the constant life-or-death fighting and ended the project.  The Houston County project collapsed, leaving the name open for the current Houston County, Georgia established in 1821.

In order to prevent a reoccurrence, the Cherokee established the town of Crowmocker on Battle Creek near the site of the Civil War-era Fort McCook.

Cherokee war of 1786

Conflict erupted largely because of dissatisfaction over the Treaty of Hopewell, the flames of which were fanned by Dragging Canoe.  In the east, it primarily involved warriors from the Overhill and Valley Towns against Franklin, which the Lower Towns to the west primarily raided the Cumberland.

In large part elated by their crushing defeat of the attempted Houston County, Cherokee warriors from the Lower Towns raided the Franklin settlements in small parties throughout the spring of 1786.

Due to a combination of resentment of Americans settling on the wrong side of the treaty line and pressure from the Creek,  warriors of the Overhill Towns picked up the tomahawk in early July, led by John Watts.  They were supported by Cherokee of the Valley Towns, and according to some accounts the army was as big as a thousand strong.  First attacking a homestead on Beaver Creek near the newly established White's Fort (at the modern Knoxville, Tennessee) on 20 July, they dispersed into small parties raiding the upper Holston and other parts of Franklin.

Throughout the summer of 1786, Dragging Canoe and his warriors along with a large contingent of Creek raided the Cumberland region, with several parties raiding well into Kentucky. One such occasion that summer was notable for the fact that the raiding party was led by none other than Hanging Maw of Coyatee, who was supposedly friendly at the time. 

After the rise of the "local" Cherokee, Sevier responded with a force under joint command of Alexander Outlaw and William Cocke, which drove off the raiders from the Holston before marching for Coyatee near the mouth of the Little Tennessee.  Once there, they burned the crops and the town's council house.  Meanwhile, he himself led another expedition across the mountains to attack the Valley Towns on the headwaters of the Hiwassee.

Treaty of Coyatee

The end result was the Treaty of Coyatee on 3 August 1786, in which the Free Republic of Franklin forced Corntassel, Hanging Maw, Watts, and the other Overhill leaders to cede the remaining land between the boundary set by the Dumplin treaty and the Little Tennessee River to Franklin.

The Franklinites could now shift military forces to Middle Tennessee in response to increasing frequency of attacks by both the Lower Cherokee and the Upper Creek.

The Spanish Conspiracy

Starting in 1786, the leaders of the State of Franklin and the Cumberland District began secret negotiations with Esteban Rodriguez Miro, governor of Spanish Louisiana, to deliver their regions to the jurisdiction of the Spanish Empire.

Those involved included James Robertson, Daniel Smith, and Anthony Bledsoe of the Cumberland District, John Sevier and Joseph Martin of the State of Franklin, James White, recently-appointed American Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs (replacing Thomas Brown), and James Wilkinson of Kentucky.


The irony lay in the fact that the Spanish backed the Cherokee and Creek harassing their territories. Their main counterpart on the Spanish side in New Orleans was Diego de Gardoqui.  Gardoqui’s negotiations with Wilkinson, initiated by the latter, to bring Kentucky into the Spanish orbit also were separate but simultaneous.

The “conspiracy” went as far as the Franklin and Cumberland officials promising to take the oath of loyalty to Spain and renounce allegiance to any other nation. Robertson even successfully petitioned the North Carolina assembly create the “Miro District” out of the three Cumberland counties (Davidson, Sumner, Tennessee). There was a convention held in the failing State of Franklin on the question, and those present voted in its favor.

A large part of their motivation, besides the desire to secede from North Carolina, was the hope that this course of action would bring relief from Indian attacks. The series of negotiations involved McGillivray, with Roberston and Bledsoe writing him of the Miro District's peaceful intentions toward the Creek and simultaneously sending White as emissary to Gardoqui to convey news of their overture.

Formation of the Western Confederacy

In addition to the small bands still operating with the Shawnee, Wyandot-Mingo, and Lenape in the Northwest, a large contingent of Cherokee led by The Glass (Tagwadihi) attended and took an active role in a grand council of western tribes (Six Nations Iroquois, Wyandot, Lenape, Shawnee, Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawotami, Twigtis, Wabash Confedracy, and, of course, the Cherokee themselves) lasting 28 November–18 December 1786 in the Wyandot town of Upper Sandusky just south of the British capital of Detroit.  British agents attended, and zealous warriors brought recently acquired scalps.

This meeting, initiated by Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), the Mohawk leader who was head chief of the Iroquois Six Nations and like Dragging Canoe fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution, led to the formation of the Western Confederacy to resist American incursions into the Old Northwest.

According to John Norton (Teyoninhokovrawen), Brant’s adopted son, it was here that The Glass formed a friendship with his adopted father that lasted well into the 19th century. He apparently served as Dragging Canoe's envoy to the Iroquois as the latter's brothers did to McKee and to the Shawnee.

The passage of the Northwest Ordinance by the Congress of the Confederation (subsequently affirmed by the United States Congress) in 1787, establishing the Northwest Territory and essentially giving away the land upon which they lived, only exacerbated the resentment of the tribes in the region.

Trouble with Franklin and Kentucky

In early 1787, encroachments by American settlers became so great that the Overhill Towns held a council on whether to completely abandon their homes on the Little Tennessee for more removed locations to the west.  They elected to stay, but the crisis provoked another rise in the small-scale raiding which never really ceased completely.  The situation of the Overhill Cherokee was so bad that refugees appeared in Creek towns, and the Chickasaw threatened to break the treaty of 1783 and go on the warpath if something were not done to alleviate the situation.

Though they provided auxiliary support against Franklin, the Cherokee of the Lower Towns, playing their role as members of the confederacy, had made Kentucky the target of most of their efforts.  A sally from the Kentucky militia led by John Logan mistakenly attacked a hunting party from the Overhill Towns and killed several of its members.  In their non-apology to Chota, the Kentuckians warned the Overhill Towns to control Dragging Canoe's warriors or there would be widespread indiscriminate revenge.

Coldwater war, 1785-1787

French traders from the Wabash and Illinois Rivers plied the Tennessee, trading goods to the Creek and the Cherokee, including arms, ammo, and powder.  They also promoted the idea of proactive territorial self-defense vis-a-vis the American frontier settlements.

Around 1785, some of these traders took over the post at Coldwater.  This new management began covertly gathering Cherokee and Creek warriors into the town, whom they then encouraged to attack the American settlements along the Cumberland and its environs. The fighting contingent eventually numbered approximately nine Frenchmen, thirty-five Cherokee, and ten Creek

Because the townsite was well-hidden and its presence unannounced, Robertson, commander of the militia in Davidson and Sumner Counties, at first accused the Lower Cherokee of the new offensives.  In 1787, he marched his men to their borders in a show of force, but without an actual attack, then sent an offer of peace to Running Water. 

In answer, Dragging Canoe sent a delegation of leaders led by Little Owl to Nashville under a flag of truce to explain that his Cherokee were not the responsible parties.  Meanwhile, the attacks continued.

At the time of the conference in Nashville, two Chickasaw out hunting game along the Tennessee in the vicinity of Muscle Shoals chanced upon Coldwater Town, where they were warmly received and spent the night. Upon returning home to Chickasaw Bluffs, now (Memphis, Tennessee), they immediately informed their head man, Piomingo, of their discovery. Piomingo then sent runners to Nashville.

Just after these runners had arrived in Nashville, a war party attacked one of its outlying settlements, killing Robertson’s brother Mark. In response, Robertson raised a group of one hundred fifty volunteers and proceeded south by a circuitous land route, guided by two Chickasaw, on 13 June.

Somehow catching the town off-guard despite the fact they knew Robertson’s force was approaching, they chased its would-be defenders to the river, killing about half of them and wounding many of the rest. They then gathered all the trade goods in the town to be shipped to Nashville by boat, burned the town, and departed.

After the wars, it became the site of Colbert’s Ferry, owned by Chickasaw leader George Colbert, the crossing place over the Tennessee River of the Natchez Trace.

Because of the perceived insult of the incursion against Coldwater so near to their territory, the Creek took up the hatchet against the Cumberland settlements afterwards.  They continued their attacks until 1789, but the Cherokee did not join them for this round due partly to internal matters but more because of trouble from the State of Franklin.

Post-Revolution phase: Peak of Cherokee influence (1788-1792)

Dragging Canoe’s last years, 1788–1792, were the peak of his influence and that of the rest of the Lower Cherokee, among the other Cherokee and among other Indian nations, both south and north, as well as with the Spanish of Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans, and the British in Detroit. He also sent regular diplomatic envoys to negotiations in Nashville, Jonesborough then Knoxville, and Philadelphia.

Chiksika's band of Shawnee

A band of thirteen Shawnee arrived in Running Water in early 1788 after spending several months hunting in the Missouri River country, led by Chiksika, a leader contemporary with the famous Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah). In the band was his brother, the later leader Tecumseh.

Their mother, a Creek, had left the north (her husband died at the Battle of Point Pleasant, the only major action of Dunmore's War, in 1774) and gone to live in her old town because without her husband she was homesick. The town was now near those of the Cherokee in the Five Lower Towns. Their mother had died, but Chiksika's Cherokee wife and his daughter were living at nearby Running Water Town, so they stayed.

They were warmly received by the Cherokee warriors, and, based out of Running Water, they participated in and conducted raids and other actions, in some of which Cherokee warriors participated (most notably Bob Benge). Chiksika was killed in one of the actions in which their band took part in February, resulting in Tecumseh becoming leader of the small Shawnee band, gaining his first experiences as a leader in warfare.

The band remained at Running Water until late 1790, then returned north.

Cherokee-Franklin war of 1788 (1788-1789)

This year the conflict between the Cherokee and the Americans broke out into its bloodiest and most widespread since 1776, beginning in late spring and lasting well into the beginning of the following year.  One important feature of this conflict was the introduction of large numbers of Creek warriors fighting in Cherokee war parties, which continued until the end of the Cherokee wars.

Massacre of the Kirk family

In May 1788, a party of Cherokee from Chilhowee came to the house of John Kirk’s family on Little River, while he and his oldest son, John Jr., were out. When Kirk and John Jr. returned, they found the other eleven members of their family dead and scalped.

Massacre of the Brown family

After a preliminary trip to the Cumberland at the end of which he left two of his sons to begin clearing the plot of land at the mouth of White's Creek, James Brown returned to North Carolina to fetch the rest of the family, with whom he departed Long-Island-on-the-Holston by boat in May 1788. When they passed by Tuskegee Island five days later, Bloody Fellow stopped them, looked around the boat, then let them proceed, meanwhile sending messengers ahead to Running Water.

Upon the family’s arrival at Nickajack, a party of forty under mixed-blood John Vann boarded the boat and killed Col. Brown, his two older sons on the boat, and five other young men travelling with the family.  Mrs. Brown, the two younger sons, and three daughters were taken prisoner and distributed to different families.


When he learned of the massacre the following day, The Breath (Unlita), Nickajack's headman, was seriously displeased. He later adopted into his own family the Browns’ son Joseph as a son, who had been originally given to Kitegisky (Tsiagatali), who had first adopted him as a brother, treating him well, and of whom Joseph had fond memories in later years.

Mrs. Brown and one of her daughters were given to the Creek and ended up in the personal household of Alex McGillivray. George, the elder of the surviving sons, also ended up with the Creek, but elsewhere. Another daughter went to a Cherokee nearby Nickajack and the third to a Cherokee in Crow Town.

Franklinite invasion of the Overhill Towns

 At the beginning of June 1788, John Sevier, now no longer governor of the State of Franklin, raised a hundred volunteers and set out for the Overhill Towns.  After a brief stop at the Little Tennessee, the group went to Great Hiwassee and burned it to the ground.  Then they returned to the Little Tennessee and burned down Tallasee.

Returning to Chota, Sevier send a detachment under James Hubbard to Chilhowee to punish those responsible for the Kirk massacre, John Kirk Jr. among them. Hubbard brought along Corntassel and Hanging Man from Chota.

At Chilhowee, Hubbard raised a flag of truce, took Corntassel and Hanging Man to the house of Abraham, still headman of Chilhowee, who was there with his son, also bringing along Long Fellow and Fool Warrior. Hubbard posted guards at the door and windows of the cabin, and gave John Kirk Jr. a tomahawk to get his revenge.

The murder of the pacifist Overhill chiefs under a flag of truce angered the entire Cherokee nation and resulted in those previously reluctant taking the warpath, an increase in hostility that lasted for several months. Doublehead (Taltsuska), Corntassel’s brother, was particularly incensed.  Not only did the Cherokee from the Overhill Towns join those from the Lower Towns on the warpath, so too did a large number of Creek warriors, outraged at the senseless murders.


Highlighting the seriousness of the matter, Dragging Canoe came in to address the general council of the Nation, now meeting at Ustanali on the Coosawattee River (one of the former Lower Towns on the Keowee River relocated to the vicinity of Calhoun, Georgia) to which the seat of the council had been moved.  The council there elected Little Turkey (Kanagita) as First Beloved Man. 

This election was contested by Hanging Maw of Coyatee, who had been elected traditional chief headman of the Overhill Towns. 

Both  men had been among those who originally followed Dragging Canoe into the southwest of the nation, with Hanging Maw known to have been on the warpath at least as late as 1786.

Siege of Houston's Station

In early August 1788, the commander of the garrison at Houston's Station (near the present Maryville, Tennessee) received word that a Cherokee force of nearly five hundred was planning to attack his position. He therefore sent a large reconnaissance patrol to the Overhill Towns.

Stopping in the town of Citico on the south side of the Little Tennessee, which they found deserted, the patrol scattered throughout the town's orchard and began gathering fruit. Six of them died in the first fusillade, another ten while attempting to escape across the river.

With the loss of those men, the garrison at Houston’s Station was seriously beleaguered. Only the arrival of a relief force under John Sevier saved the fort from being overrun and its inhabitants slaughtered.  With the garrison joining his force, Sevier marched to the Little Tennessee and burned Chilhowee.

Attempted invasion of the Lower Towns

In August 1788, Joseph Martin (who was married to Betsy, daughter of Nancy Ward, and living at Chota), with 500 men, marched to the Chickamauga area, intending to penetrate the edge of the Cumberland Mountains to get to the Five Lower Towns. He sent a detachment to secure the pass over the foot of Lookout Mountain (Atalidandaganu), which was ambushed and routed by a large party of Dragging Canoe's warriors, with the Cherokee in hot pursuit.


One of the participants later referred to the spot as “the place where we made the Virginians turn their backs”.  According to one of the participants on the other side, Dragging Canoe, John Watts, Bloody Fellow, Kitegisky, The Glass, Little Owl, and Dick Justice were all present at the encounter.

The army of Cherokee warriors Dragging Canoe raised in response reached three thousand in total, split into warbands hundreds strong each. One of these warbands was headed by John Watts (Kunnessee-i, aka “Young Tassel”) with Bloody Fellow, Kitegisky, and The Glass, and included a young warrior named or Pathkiller (Nunnehidihi), later known as The Ridge (Ganundalegi).

Battles of Gillespie’s Station and others

In October 1788, Watts’ band advanced across country toward White’s Fort. Along the way, they attacked Gillespie’s Station on the Holston River after capturing settlers who had left the enclosure to work in the fields, storming the stockade when the defender's ammunition ran out, killing the men and some of the women and taking twenty-eight women and children prisoner.

They then proceeded to attack White’s Fort and Houston’s Station only to be beaten back. Afterwards, the warband wintered at an encampment on the Flint River in present day Unicoi County, Tennessee as a base of operations.

An attack by another party against Sherrill’s Station on Nolichucky River was driven off by a force directly commanded by Sevier himself.

In response to the Cherokee incursions, punishment attacks by the settlers’ militia increased. Troops under Sevier destroyed many of the Middle and Valley Towns in North Carolina.

At Ustalli, on the Hiwassee, the population had been evacuated by Cherokee warriors led by Bob Benge, who left a rearguard to ensure their escape. After lighting the town, Sevier and his group pursued its fleeing inhabitants, but were ambushed at the mouth of the Valley River by Benge's party.

From there they went to the village of Coota-cloo-hee (Gadakaluyi) and proceeded to burn down its cornfields, but were chased off by 400 warriors led by John Watts.  Watts' army trailed Sevier's all the way from Coota-cloo-hee back to the Franklin settlements, attacking at random.

One result of the above destruction was that the Overhill Cherokee and the refugees from other parts of the nation among them all but completely abandoned the settlements on the Little Tennessee and dispersed south and west, with Chota being virtually the only Overhill town left with any inhabitants.

John Watts’ band on Flint Creek fell upon serious misfortune early the next year. In early January 1789, they were surrounded by a force under John Sevier that was equipped with grasshopper cannons. The gunfire from the Cherokee was so intense, however, that Sevier abandoned his heavy weapons and ordered a cavalry charge that led to savage hand-to-hand fighting. Watt's band lost nearly 150 warriors.

Cherokee attacks upon the Franklin communities in small parties continued well into the spring.

Blow to the Western Confederacy

In January 1789, Arthur St. Clair, American governor of the Northwest Territory, concluded two separate peace treaties with members of the Western Confederacy. The first was with the Iroquois, except for the Mohawk, and the other was with the Wyandot, Lenape, Ottawa, Potawotami, Sauk (Azakiwaki), and Ojibwa.

The Mohawk, the Shawnee, the Miami (Myaamiaki), and the tribes of the Wabash Confederacy, who had been doing most of the fighting, not only refused to go along but became more aggressive, especially the Wabash tribes.

Implosion of the Spanish Conspiracy

The scheme fell apart for two main reasons.  The first was the dithering of the Spanish government in Madrid. The second was the interception of a letter from Joseph Martin which fell into the hands of the Georgia legislature in January 1789.

In response, North Carolina, to which the western counties in question belonged under the laws of the United States, took the simple expedient of ceding the region to the federal government, which established the Southwest Territory in May 1790, with William Blount as governor as well as simultaneously Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs.  The counties in the Overmountain region were grouped together as the Washington District while the counties in the Cumberland region became the Miro District.


(Miro District was the area around Nashville.  Hamilton District, after 13 March 1793, was the green area around Knoxville.  Washington District was the area in Upper East Tennessee.)

Wilkinson remained a paid Spanish agent until his death in 1825, including his years as one of the top generals in the U.S. army, and was involved in the Aaron Burr conspiracy. Ironically, he became the first American governor of Louisiana Territory in 1803.

Council at Coweta

On 2 March 1789, the Lower Creek chief town of Coweta hosted a council between their division of the Creek Confederacy and the Cherokee.  As town headman, John Galphin, half-blood son of former Indian Commissioner for the United States George Galphin, presided.  Dragging Canoe and Hanging Maw led the Cherokee delegation.  The representative of the two nations present agreed they trusted neither the Americans nor the Spanish and drafted a letter to the government of Great Britain pledging their loyalty in return for the king's direct assistance.  They promised that if this happened, then the Mohawk, the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw would come over.  Nothing ever came of the petition, but the council is notable for this as well as for where it took place.

Prisoner exchange

Word of Watts’ defeat at Flint Creek did not reach Running Water until April 1789, when it arrived with an offer from Sevier for an exchange of prisoners which specifically mentioned the surviving members of the Brown family, including Joseph, who had been adopted first by Kitegisky and later by The Breath.  Among those captured at Flint Creek were Bloody Fellow and Little Turkey's daughter.

Joseph and his sister Polly were brought immediately to Running Water, but when runners were sent to Crow Town to retrieve Jane, their youngest sister, her owner refused to surrender her. Bob Benge, present in Running Water at the time, mounted his horse and hefted his famous axe, saying, “I will bring the girl, or the owner's head”. The next morning he returned with Jane. The three were handed over to Sevier at Coosawattee on 20 April.

McGillivray delivered Mrs. Brown and Elizabeth to her son William during a trip to Rock Landing, Georgia, in November. George, the other surviving son from the trip, remained with the Creek until 1798.

Treaty of Swannanoa

The next month, on 25 May 1789, the Cherokee were supposed to sign a peace treaty with the newly federated United States at the War Ford on the French Broad River, near Swannanoa, North Carolina.  The Americans chose the location because it was scene of a major Cherokee defeat in 1776.  The Cherokee leaders never showed, but when the Americans under Andrew Pickens ran across Cherokee on their way to Rock Landing on the Oconee River to meet with the Creek, they were assured hostilities were over

Doublehead’s war

The opposite end of Muscle Shoals from Coldwater Town, mentioned above, was occupied in 1790 by a roughly forty-strong party under the infamous Doublehead (Taltsuska), plus their families. He had gained permission to establish his town at the head of the Shoals, which was in Chickasaw territory, because the local headman, George Colbert, the mixed-blood leader who later owned Colbert's Ferry at the foot of Muscle Shoals, was his son-in-law.

Like that of the former Coldwater Town, Doublehead’s Town was mixed, with Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee, and a few Chickasaw, and quickly grew beyond the initial forty warriors, who carried out many small raids against the Cumberland and into Kentucky.

During one of the more notable of these forays in June 1792, his warriors ambushed a canoe carrying the three sons of Valentine Sevier (brother of John) and three others out on a scouting expedition searching for his party, killing the three Seviers and another of the expedition, with two escaping.

Doublehead conducted his operations largely independent of the Lower Cherokee, though he did take part in large operations with them on occasion, such as the invasion of the Cumberland in 1792 and that of the Holston in 1793.

Treaty of New York (1790)

Dragging Canoe’s long-time ally among the Creek, Alex McGillivray, led a delegation of twenty-seven Creek leaders north, where they signed the Treaty of New York in August 1790 with the United States government on behalf of the “Upper, Middle, and Lower Creek and Seminole composing the Creek nation of Indians”.  In it, McGillivray, who was made an America brigadier general, ceded in the name of the Confederacy the Oconee Country.  In return the federal government upheld Creek rights to all of the Tallassee Country.

Although intended to end the Oconee War, it angered the American settlers expelled from the Tallassee Country and Creek who wanted to keep the Oconee Country, so the war continued.  The treaty also marked the beginning of the decline of McGillivray's influence in the Creek Confederacy and the rise of that of William Augustus Bowles, a bitter rival dating back to the Spanish campaign against Pensacola.  By early 1791, Bowles wielded enough influence to send large war parties raiding the Cumberland once again despite the recent treaty.

Muscle Shoals settlement

In January 1791, a group of land speculators named the Tennessee Company from the Southwest Territory led by James Hubbard and Peter Bryant attempted to gain control of the Muscle Shoals and its vicinity by building a settlement and fort at the head of the Shoals. They did so against an executive order of President Washington forbidding it, as relayed to them by the governor of the Southwest Territory, William Blount.

The Glass came down from Running Water with sixty warriors and descended upon the defenders, captained by Valentine Sevier, brother of John, told them to leave immediately or be killed, then burned their blockhouse as they departed.

Bob Benge's war

Starting in 1791, Benge, and his brother The Tail (Utana; aka Martin Benge), based at Willstown, began leading attacks against settlers in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Kentucky, often in conjunction with Doublehead and his warriors from Coldwater. Eventually, he became one of the most feared warriors on the frontier.

Meanwhile, Creek scalping parties began raiding the Cumberland settlements again, though without mounting any major campaigns.

Treaty of Holston (1791)

The Treaty of Holston, signed in 2 July 1791, required from the Upper Towns more land in return for continued peace because the government proved unable to stop or roll back illegal settlements. However, it also seemed to guarantee Cherokee sovereignty and led the Upper Cherokee chiefs to believe they had the same status as states.

Several representatives of the Lower Cherokee tookpart in the negotiations and signed the treaty, including John Watts, Doublehead, Bloody Fellow, Black Fox (Dragging Canoe's nephew), The Badger (his brother), and Rising Fawn (Agiligina; aka George Lowery).

Battle of the Wabash

Later in the summer, a small delegation of Cherokee under Dragging Canoe's brother Little Owl traveled north to meet with the Indian leaders of the Western Confederacy, chief among them Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, Little Turtle (Mishikinakwa) of the Miami, and Buckongahelas of the Lenape. While they were there, word arrived that St. Clair was planning an invasion against the allied tribes in the north. Little Owl immediately sent word south to Running Water.

Dragging Canoe quickly sent a 30-strong war party north under his brother The Badger, where, along with the warriors of Little Owl and Turtle-at-Home they participated in the decisive encounter on 4 November 1791 known as the Battle of the Wabash, the worst defeat ever inflicted by Indians upon the American military, the body count of which far surpassed that at the more famous Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.  

Fighting on the other side were a company of militia from the Washington District of Southwest Territory and Chickasaw scouts.

After the battle, Little Owl, The Badger, and Turtle-at-Home returned south with most of the warriors who'd accompanied the first two. The warriors who'd come north years earlier, both with Turtle-at-Home and a few years before, remained in the Ohio region, but the returning warriors brought back a party of thirty Shawnee under the leadership of one known as Shawnee Warrior that frequently operated alongside warriors under Little Owl.

Death of the “Savage Napoleon”

Inspired by news of the northern victory, Dragging Canoe embarked on a mission to unite the native people of his area as had Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, visiting the other major tribes in the region. His embassies to the Lower Creek and the Choctaw were successful, but the Chickasaw in West Tennessee refused his overtures.


Upon his return, which coincided with that of The Glass and Dick Justice (Uwenahi Tsusti), and of Turtle-at-Home, from successful raids on settlements along the Cumberland (in the case of the former two) and in Kentucky (in the case of the latter), a huge all-night celebration was held at Stecoyee at which the Eagle Dance was performed in his honor.

By morning, 1 March 1792, Dragging Canoe was dead. A procession of honor carried his body to Running Water, where he was buried. By the time of his death, the resistance of the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee had led to grudging respect from the settlers, as well as the rest of the Cherokee nation. He was even memorialized at the general council of the Nation held in Ustanali in June by his nephew Black Fox (Inali):

“The Dragging Canoe has left this world. He was a man of consequence in his country. He was friend to both his own and the white people. His brother [Little Owl] is still in place, and I mention it now publicly that I intend presenting him with his deceased brother's medal; for he promises fair to possess sentiments similar to those of his brother, both with regard to the red and the white. It is mentioned here publicly that both red and white may know it, and pay attention to him”.

The minutes of the council list Little Turkey as “Great Beloved Man of the whole Nation”, Hanging Maw as “Beloved Man of the Northern Division” (Overhill Towns), and The Badger as “Beloved Man of the Southern Division” (Upper Towns in North Georgia).

Such was the respect for Draggin Canoe as a leader and patriot of his people that Gov. Blount, leader of his greatest enemies, remarked upon hearing of his death that, “Dragging Canoe stood second to none in the Nation”.

Post-Revolution phase: the Watts years (1792-1795)

With the death of the great war chief, the Cherokee needed new leaders to take over, and several stepped in to fill his shoes.  One, however, presided over them all.

John Watts

At his own previous request, the old warrior was succeeded as leader of the Lower Cherokee by John Watts, although The Bowl (Diwali) succeeded him as headman of Running Water, along with Bloody Fellow and Doublehead.  Together they continued Dragging Canoe's policy of Indian unity, securing an agreement with McGillivray of the Upper Creek to build joint blockhouses from which warriors of both tribes could operate at the confluence of the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers, at Running Water, and at Muscle Shoals.

Spanish sponsorship

Watts, Tahlonteeskee, and  Tsula (‘Red Fox’, aka ‘Young Dragging Canoe’) travelled to Pensacola in May at the invitation of Arturo O’Neill de Tyrone, Spanish governor of West Florida. They took with them letters of introduction from John McDonald. Once there, they forged a treaty with O’Neill for arms and supplies with which to carry on the war.  Upon returning north, Watts moved his base of operations to Willstown.

Some of the older chiefs, such as The Glass of Running Water, The Breath of Nickajack, and Dick Justice of Stecoyee, abstained from active warfare but did nothing to stop the warriors in their towns from taking part in raids and campaigns.


Southwest Territory Indian War, 1792-1795

The Trans-Appalachian communities formerly of North Carolina became the Southwest Territory of the United States in 1790.  For administrative purposes, the territorital government grouped the counties in the Overmountain region together as the Washington District while those in the Cumberland region became the Miro District, already the name for its judicial district since 1788.

Raiding season, spring and summer 1792

Emboldened by the American loss at the Wabash River, Cherokee and Creek warriors and their Shawnee guests began raiding both districts of the Southwest Territory.  The Miro District had it worse, suffering at least one a week, often more.

In April 1792, a Cherokee-Shawnee war party led by Bob Benge and Shawnee Warrior invaded the Holston region and began raiding the settlements.

Though they didn't stop, the raids slowed to a handful in the summer.  However, one of those raids served as one of the most notorious incidents of the period.

In the summer of 1792, a war party from Running Water led by Little Owl and Shawnee Warrior joined them in their raids.  On 26 June, the same day that Dragging Canoe was being memorialized at the national council in Ustanali, the combined group of Cherokee, Shawnee, and a few Creek destroyed Zeigler’s Station in Sumner County.  This action led the governor of Miro District, James Robertson, to call up a battalion of troops to spread throughout the region as guards.

Invasion of the Miro District

On 7 or 8 September, a council of Cherokee meeting at Running Water formally declared war against the United States, or at least against the Southwest Territory.

Watts orchestrated a large campaign intending to attack the Washington District (Overmountain region) with a large combined army in four bands of two hundred each. When the warriors were mustering at Stecoyee, however, he learned that their planned attack was expected and decided to aim for the Miro District (Cumberland region) instead.

The army Watts led into the Cumberland region was nearly a thousand strong, including a contingent of cavalry.

From their launch point, Doublehead’s brother Tahlonteeskee (Ataluntiski) and Bob Benge’s brother The Tail led a party to ambush the Kentucky Road.  Doublehead led another party to the Cumberland Road.  Middle Striker (Yaliunoyuka) of Willstown led another to do the same on the Walton Road.

Watts himself led the main force, made up of 280 Cherokee, Shawnee, and Creek warriors plus cavalry, intending to go against the fort at Nashville.  He sent out George Fields (Unegadihi; “Whitemankiller”) and John Walker, Jr. (Sikwaniyoha) as scouts ahead of the army, and they killed the two scouts sent out by James Robertson from Nashville.

Near their target on the evening of 30 September, Watts’ combined force came upon a small fort known as Buchanan’s StationTalotiskee, leader of the Creek, wanted to attack it immediately, while Watts argued in favor of saving it for the return south. After much bickering, Watts gave in around midnight.

The assault proved to be a disaster for Watts. He himself was wounded, and many of his warriors were killed, including Talotiskee and some of Watts’ best leaders; Shawnee Warrior, Kitegisky, and Dragging Canoe’s brother Little Owl were among those who died in the encounter.

Doublehead’s group of sixty ambushed a party of six and took one scalp then headed for toward Nashville. On their way, they were attacked by a militia force and lost thirteen men, and only heard of the disaster at Buchanan's Station afterwards.

Tahlonteeskee’s party, meanwhile, stayed out into early October, attacking Black’s Station on Crooked Creek, killing three, wounding more, and capturing several horses.

Middle Striker’s party was more successful, ambushing a large armed force coming to the Miro District down the Walton Road in November and routing it completely without losing a single man.

Small parties continued raiding into the winter.

In revenge for the deaths at Buchanan’s Station, Benge, Doublehead, and his brother Pumpkin Boy led a party of sixty into southwestern Kentucky in early 1793 during which their warriors, in an act initiated by Doublehead, cooked and ate the enemies they had just killed.

Afterwards, Doublehead’s party returned south and held scalp dances at Stecoyee, Turnip Town, and Willstown, since warriors from those towns had also participated in the raid in addition to his and Benge’s groups.

Northern concerns

In early 1793, Watts began rotating large war parties back and forth between the Lower Towns and the North at the behest of his allies in the Western Confederacy, which was beginning to lose the ground to the Legion of the United States that had been created in the aftermath of the Battle of the Wabash.

With the exception of the 1793 campaign against the Holston, his attention was more focused on the north than on the Southwest Territory and its environs during these next two years.

A party of Shawnee came down from the north in January to reinforce ties with the Cherokee and the Creek and to encourage them to punish the Chickasaw for joining St. Clair’s army in the north.  They stopped at Ustanali, then Running Water, before proceeding to the Creek town of Broken Arrow, home of their leader Talotiskee who had died at Buchanan's Station.

The Creek-Chickasaw War began with an attack by the Creek upon a Chickasaw hunting party on 13 February 1793, the Creek fighting as members of the Western Confederacy, the Chickasaw as allies of the United States.


Death of an ally

The leading chief of the  Creek Confederacy, Alex McGillivray, died in Pensacola on 17 February 1793 and was buried there.  The confederacy elected his son-in-law, Charles Weatherford, in his place.

Spring and summer campaigns, 1793

A party of Creek under a mixed-breed named Lesley invaded the Washington District and the recently established Hamilton District (carved out of the former) and began attacking isolated farmsteads.  Lesley’s party continued harassment of the eastern districts until the summer of 1794.

Lesley's group was not the only Creek party, nor were the Creek alone.  Warriors from the Upper Towns and some from the Overhill and Valley Towns, also raided the eastern districts in spring 1793.


In the Miro District, after the failed Cherokee attack on Buchanan's Station, the Creek increased their attacks on the Cumberland in both size and frequency.  Besides scalping raids, two parties attacked Bledsoe’s Station and Greenfield Station in April of 1793. Another party attacked Hays’ Station in June.

In August, the Coushatta from Coosada raided the country around Clarksville, Tennessee, attacking the homestead of the Baker family, killing all but two who escaped and one taken prisoner who was later ransomed at Coosada Town.  A war party of Tuskeegee from the Creek town of that name was also active in Miro District at this time.

Peace overtures

After the visit of the Shawnee, Watts sent envoys to Knoxville, then the capital of the Southwest Territory, to meet with Governor William Blount to discuss terms for peace in order to get him to drop his guard. 

Blount in turn passed the offer to Philadelphia, which invited the Lower Cherokee leaders to a meeting with President Washington. The party that was sent from the Lower Towns included Bob McLemore, Tahlonteeskee, Captain Charley of Running Water, and Doublehead, among several others.  They met at Henry's Station on 4 February 1793, and Blount invited the Lower Cherokee to send a delegation to the capital to meet with President Washington.

Attack on the diplomatic party

The meeting in Philadelphia with Washington was scheduled for June 1793.  On the way, the party from the Lower Towns stopped in Coyatee because Hanging Maw and other chiefs from the Upper Towns were going also and had gathered there along with several whites who had arrived earlier.

A large party of Lower Cherokee (Pathkiller aka The Ridge among them) had been raiding the Upper East, killed two men, and stolen twenty horses. On their way out, they passed through Coyatee, to which the pursuit party tracked them.

The militia violated their orders not to cross the Little Tennessee, then the border between the Cherokee nation and the Southwest Territory, and entered Coyatee shooting indiscriminately.

In the ensuing chaos, eleven leading men were killed, including Captain Charley, and several wounded, including Hanging Maw, his wife and daughter, Doublehead, and Tahlonteeskee; one of the white delegates was among the dead.

The Cherokee, even Watts’ hostile warriors, agreed to await the outcome of the subsequent trial, which proved to be a farce, in large part because John Beard, the man responsible, was a close friend of John Sevier.

Invasion of the Eastern Districts

Watts responded to Beard’s acquittal by invading the Holston area with one of the largest Indian forces ever seen in the region, over one thousand Cherokee and Creek, plus a few Shawnee, intending to attack Knoxville itself. The plan was to have four bodies of troops march toward Knoxville separately, converging at a previously agreed on rendezvous point along the way.

In August 1793, Watts attacked Henry’s Station with a force of two hundred, but fell back due to overwhelming gunfire coming from the fort, not wanting to risk another misfortune like that at Buchanan's Station the previous year.

The four columns converged a month later near the present Loudon, Tennessee, and proceeded toward their target. On the way, the Cherokee leaders were discussing among themselves whether to kill all the inhabitants of Knoxville, or just the men, James Vann advocating the latter while Doublehead argued for the former.


Further on the way, they encountered a small settlement called Cavett’s Station on 25 September. After they had surrounded the place, Benge negotiated with the inhabitants, agreeing that if they surrendered, their lives would be spared. However, after the settlers had walked out, Doublehead’s group and his Creek allies attacked and began killing them all over the pleas of Benge and the others. 

Vann managed to grab one small boy and pull him onto his saddle, only to have Doublehead smash the boy’s skull with an axe.  Watts intervened in time to save another young boy, handing him to Vann, who put the boy behind him on his horse and later handed him over to three of the Creek for safe-keeping; unfortunately, one of the Creek chiefs killed the boy and scalped him a few days later.

Because of this incident, Vann called Doublehead “Babykiller” (deliberately parodying the honorable title “Mankiller”) for the remainder of his life; and it also began a lengthy feud which defined the politics of the early 19th century Cherokee Nation and only ended in 1807 with Doublehead’s death at Vann's orders. 

By this time, tensions among the Cherokee broke out into such vehement arguments that the force broke up, with the main group retiring south.

Battle of Etowah

Sevier countered the invasion with an invasion and occupation of Ustanali, which had been deserted; there was no fighting there other than an indecisive skirmish with a Cherokee-Creek scouting party. He and his men then followed the Cherokee-Creek force south to the town of Etowah (Itawayi; near the site of present-day Cartersville, Georgia across the Etowah River from the Etowah Indian Mounds), leading to what Sevier called the “Battle of Hightower” on 17 October 1793.  Sevier’s force defeated the Cherokee soundly, then went on to destroy several Cherokee villages to the west before retiring to the Southwest Territory.

The Battle of Etowah was the last pitched battle of the wars between the Cherokee and the American frontier people.

Southwest Point Blockhouse

Built on direction of John Sevier in November 1793, this blockhouse at the confluence of the Clinch and Holston Rivers was garrisoned initially by Southwest Territory militia. Federalized and expanded into Fort Southwest Point in 1797, it then housed a small contingent of fifteen regular army troops that grew into six hundred forty-five before the agency transferred to Hiwassee Garrison at the modern Calhoun, Tennessee in 1807.

Tellico Blockhouse

In January 1794, Overhill Towns headman Hanging Maw requested and Governor Blount approved the building of a blockhouse in which to station a garrison of federal troops.  John McKee, newly-appointed federal agent to the Cherokee, was stationed there as well.

Another Spanish treaty

Using John McDonald, who had remained in communication with Alexander McKee in Canada, as their emissary, the four nations (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole; the Chickasaw were left out) negotiated a treaty of military protection with the Spanish government in New Orleans that was signed at Walnut Hills on 10 April 1794.

Spring and summer 1794

Between January and September 1794, there were more than forty raids by small war parties of both Cherokee and Creek on the Miro District.  On the part of the Cherokee, these were mostly carried out by Doublehead.  These raids precipitated the Nickajack Expedition in September which ended the Cherokee-American wars once and for all.

Meanwhile, his nephew Bob Benge attacked Holston region and Southwest Virginia, finally losing his life in the latter on 6 April 1794.  The militia sent his red-haired scalp to the governor, Henry Lee III, father of Robert E. Lee.

Benge was not alone in raiding the Overmountain settlements.  Fifty horse were stolen in the region that same month.  Twenty-five warriors attacked the Town Creek blockhouse.  An entire family save one was massacred south of the French Broad.

Frustrated with the governor's call for restraint, John Beard, leader of the chase group that attacked the diplomatic party, organized a party of one hundred fifty men in the Washington District and attacked the Hiwasee Towns, burning two, including Great Hiwassee, and killing several Cherokee.

Against orders, George Doherty of the Hamilton District militia mustered his men and attacked Great Tellico, burning it to the ground, then crossed the mountains into the Valley Towns, in which they burned at least two towns and several acres of crops.

On 9 June 1794, a party of Cherokee under Whitemankiller (George Fields) overtook a river party under one William Scott at Muscle Shoals, killing its white passengers, looting its goods, and taking the slaves captive.

Treaty of Philadelphia (1794)

The federal government signed the Treaty of Philadelphia, which essentially reaffirmed the land cessions of the 1785 Treaty of Hopwell and the 1791 Treaty of Holston, with the Cherokee on 26 June. Of note is that fact that it was signed by both Doublehead and Bloody Fellow.

End of Lesley’s war party

In July 1794, Hanging Maw sent his men along with the volunteers from the Holston settlements to pursue Lesley’s Creek war party, killing two and handing over a third to the whites for trial and execution on 4 August.

Two days later, a small war party of Creek crossed the Tennessee River at Chestua Creek in modern Bradley County.  Hanging Maw called up his warriors, fifty of whom, led by his son Willicoe and Middlestriker of Willstown, joined with federal troops in pursuit while the rest guarded Coyatee.  They caught up with the party they were pursuing on 12 August near Craig’s Station and defeated them in battle.

Different Creek war parties, however, escaped their pursuers and attacked the Holston frontier for the rest of the month.

Battle of Fallen Timbers

On 20 August 1794, the Indian army met the Legion of the United States in the Battle of Fallen Timbers on the Maumee River near modern Toledo, Ohio. 

The Indian force of fourteen hundred led by Bluejacket of the Shawnee, Little Turtle (Michikinikwa) of the Miami, and Buckongahela of the Lenape had warriors from those nations and included over a hundred Cherokee, plus Wyandot, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potowatomi, Mingo, and Creek warriors, and a company of Canadian militia under Alexander McKillop.

The short battle ended in a complete rout of the Indian force by the Legion more than twice its size and sounded the death knell of the Western Confederacy.

Aborted invasion of the Miro District

In August 1794, the Indian Agent to the Chickasaw for the United States sent word from Chickasaw territory to General Robertson of the Miro District, as the Cumberland region was then called, that the Cherokee and Creek were about to launch attacks all along the river.

A party of one hundred was going to take canoes down the Tennessee to the lower river while another of four hundred was going to attack overland after passing through the Five Lower Towns and picking up reinforcements.

The river party actually began on their way to make the attacks, but dissension in the larger mixed Creek-Cherokee overland party caused by the actions of Hanging Maw against the party of Lesley in the Holston region broke them up before they reached the area, and only three small parties made it to the Cumberland, operating into at least September.

Trans-Oconee Republic

In May 1794, Revolutionary War hero Elijah Clarke led a party of fellow Georgians across the Oconee River to settle the west side, annexation by occupation.  This came about after a French-backed scheme to invade East Florida fell through.  After Clarke and his followers ignored the governor's orders to leave, a combined force of federal troops and state militia destroyed their fort and homesteads in September.

Nickajack Expedition

Desiring to end the wars once and for all, Robertson sent a detachment of U.S. regular troops, Mero militia, and Kentucky volunteers to the Five Lower Towns under U.S. Army Major James Ore. Guided by those who knew the area, including former captive Joseph Brown, Ore's army travelled down the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail toward the Five Lower Towns.

On 13 September, the army attacked Nickajack without warning, slaughtering many of the inhabitants, including its pacifist chief The Breath, then after torching the houses proceeded upriver to burn Running Water, whose residents had long fled. Brown took an active part in the fighting but is known to have attempted to spare women and children.

The actual Cherokee casualties were much lighter than they might have been because the majority of both towns were in Willstown attending a major stickball game.

Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse (1794)

The destruction of the two towns combined with the death of Bob Benge in April and the recent defeat of the Western Confederacy by General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s army at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (at which over a hundred Cherokee warriors fought) in August, plus the fact that the Spanish could not support the Cherokee war due to problems they were having with Napoleon I of France in Europe, convinced Watts to end the fighting once and for all.


Two months later, 7 November 1794, the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse finally ended the series of conflicts, which was notable for not requiring any further cession of land other than requiring the Lower (or Chickamauga) Cherokee to recognize those of the Holston treaty, which led to a period of relative peace into the 19th century.

Creek continue the war

The Creek kept on fighting after the destruction of Nickajack and Running Water and the following peace between the Lower Cherokee and the United States.  In October 1794, they attacked Bledsoe's Station again. In November, they attacked Sevier’s Station and massacred fourteen of the inhabitants, Valentine Sevier being one of the few survivors.

In December 1794, a force of Cherokee warriors from the Upper Towns stopped a Creek campaign against the frontier settlements of the state of Georgia and warned them to cease attacking the Southwest Territory's Eastern Districts as well.

In early January 1795, the Chickasaw, who had sent warriors to take part in the Army of the Northwest, began killing Creek warriors found in Miro District as allies of the United States and taking their scalps.  Therefore, in March, the Creek began to turn their attentions away from the Cumberland to the Chickasaw, over the entreaties of the Cherokee and the Choctaw.

The Creek-Chickasaw War ended in a truce negotiated by the U.S. government at Tellico Blockhouse in October that year in a conference attended by the two belligerents and the Cherokee. 

Treaty of Greenville

The nations and tribes of the Western Confederacy, including the Cherokee, signed the Treaty of Greenville with the United States on 3 August 1795, ending the Northwest Indian War. The treaty required them to cede the territory that became the State of Ohio and part of what became the State of Indiana to the United States and to acknowledge the United States rather Great Britain as the predominant ruler of the Northwest.

None of the Cherokee in the North were present at the treaty. Later that month, Gen. Wayne sent a message to Long Hair (Gitlugunahita), leader of those who remained in the Ohio country, that they should come in and sue for peace. In response, Long Hair replied that all of them would return south as soon as they finished the harvest. However, they did not all do so; at least one, called Shoe Boots (Dasigiyagi), stayed in the area until 1803, so it's likely others did as well.

Treaty of San Lorenzo

Also known as Pinckney’s Treaty, Spain and the United signed this treaty on 27 October 1795 setting the boundary between American territory and Spanish West and East Florida at the 31st parallel.  Furthermore, Spain agreed to allow the U.S.A. unobstructed use of the Mississippi River and to dismantle Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas at Chickasaw Bluffs.  Both parties agreed to cease stirring up the Indian tribes against each other.


Treaty of Coleraine

At the trading post of Coleraine in what's now South Georgia, the Creek signed a peace treaty with the United States on 29 June 1796, effectively ending the Southwest Indian War.


Assessment

Counting the individual warriors raiding Kentucky in small parties with the Shawnee from 1775, the Cherokee-American wars lasted twenty years, one of the longest-running conflicts between Indians and the Americans, often overlooked for its length, its importance at the time, and its influence on later Native American leaders (or considering that Cherokee had been involved at least in small numbers in all the conflicts beginning in 1758, that number could be nearly forty years). 

Because of the continuing hostilities that followed the Revolution, one of two permanent garrisons in the territory of the new country was placed at Fort Southwest Point at the confluence of the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers, the other being Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. No less under-rated are Dragging Canoe's abilities as a war leader and diplomat, and even today he is scarcely mentioned in texts dealing with conflicts between “Americans” and “Indians”.

Aftermath

Following the peace treaty, leaders from the Lower Towns dominated national affairs.  Until then, the end of 1794, there were two rival claimants for the title of Principal Chief of the Cherokee:  Little Turkey at Ustanali and Hanging Maw at Coyatee, though the “seat” of the latter was at Chota, the “capital” of the Overhill Towns.

John McDonald, last remaining member of the former British Department of Southern Indian Affairs, returned to his old home on the Chickamauga River across from Chickamauga Town, and lived there until selling it in 1816 to the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. There the Board established Brainerd Mission. Brainerd served as both a church (named the Baptist Church of Christ at Chickamauga) and a school offering both academic and vocational training.

McDonald’s daughter Mollie and son-in-law Daniel Ross made a farm and trading post near the old village of Chatanuga from the early days of the wars.  Along with them came sons Lewis and Andrew, a number of daughters, and another son born at Turkey Town, later to become the most famous, named John.

Cherokee polity post-bella

Peace saw Little Turkey recognized by all as the sole Principal Chief of a new, rudimentary national government.  He and his two immediate successors in the office, Black Fox (1801-1811) and Pathkiller (1811–1827), had been warriors under Dragging Canoe.  The same was true for the first two Speakers of the new National Council, Doublehead and Turtle-at-Home.




The domination of Cherokee nation by the former warriors from the Lower Towns continued well into the 19th century. Even after the revolt of the young chiefs of the Upper Towns, the Lower Towns were a major voice, and the “young chiefs” of the Upper Towns who dominated that region had themselves previously been warriors with Dragging Canoe and Watts.

Local government

All the geographic regions had their own councils, which predominated in importance over the nominal nation council until the reorganization in 1810 after the council of the Lower Towns that year at Willstown.  These regional councils assumed more influence than previously when all government was by town, but they still had no coercive power.

The Lower Towns in Northeast Alabama, Southeast Tennessee, and Northwest Georgia retained Willstown as seat of their council, to which John Watts had moved it from Running Water upon his accession as Cherokee war leader.

The Chickamauga Towns had had their seat at Old Chickamauga Town, but soon found themselves absorbed into the Lower Towns.

The Upper Towns in North Georgia had their regional seat at Ustanali, which doubled as the seat of the National Council established in 1794.

The Hiwassee Towns in Bradley and Polk Counties of Tennessee had their seat at Great Hiwassee on the north bank of Hiwassee River at Savannah Ford.  They moved into the orbit of the Upper Towns.

The Overhill Towns remaining along the Little Tennessee remained more or less autonomous, with their seat, naturally, at Chota.  They gradually lost more influence and prestige until finally they were abandoned in the advance of white settlement.

The Valley Towns in southwestern North Carolina had their seat at Tuskquitee.

The Middle Towns on the upper Little Tennessee in western North Carolina kept their regional seat at Nikwasi.  After the treaty of 1819, the only area left to them was the Nantahala River.

The Hill Towns, now so called rather than Out Towns, in the highlands of western North Carolina, had their seat at Quallatown.  This area eventually formed the core of Eastern Band territory known as Qualla Boundary.

Cherokee politics in the immediate post-bella era

From the mid-1790’s until the reorganization which abolished regional councils in 1810, politics in the Cherokee Nation revolved around the rivalry between the Upper Towns and the Lower Towns.  Roughly speaking, the Lower Towns were south and southwest of the Hiwassee River along the Tennessee down to the north border of the Creek nation and west of the Conasauga and the Oostanala in Georgia.  The Upper Towns were north and east of the Hiwassee and between the Chattahoochee and the Conasauga. All of this was approximately the same area as the later Amohee, Chickamauga, and Chattooga Districts of the Cherokee Nation East.

While the Lower Towns, originating from Dragging Canoe’s secession, were home to most of the formerly militant Cherokee, the Upper Towns too were dominated by former warriors under Dragging Canoe.  Enmities going back into the war period provided much of the basis for the politics of this time, particularly between James Vann and Doublehead.

By the time of the visit to the area by John Norton, a Mohawk of Cherokee and Scottish ancestry, in 1809–1810, many of these formerly militant Cherokee were among the most acculturated members of the Cherokee Nation.

James Vann, for instance, was a plantation owner with over a hundred slaves and one of the wealthiest men east of the Mississippi. Norton became a personal friend of Turtle-at-Home as well as John Walker, Jr. and The Glass, all of whom were involved in business and commerce. At the time of Norton's visit, Turtle-at-Home himself owned a ferry on the Federal Road between Nashville and Athens, Georgia, where he lived at Nickajack, which had itself spread not only down the Tennessee but across it to the north as well, eclipsing Running Water.

The leaders of the Lower Towns proved to be the strongest advocates of voluntary westward emigration, even as they were most bitterly opposed by their fellow former warriors and their offspring who led the Upper Towns. 

The Lower Towns

The Lower Towns dominated the political affairs of the Nation for the next twenty years and were in many ways more conservative, adopting many facets of acculturation but keeping as many of the old ways as possible.  Their leadership was dominated by the triumvirate of John Watts, Bloody Fellow, and Doublehead.  

Other Lower Towns leaders were Black Fox, Pathkiller, Dick Justice, The Glass, Tahlonteeskee, John Jolly (Ahuludiski; adopted father of Sam Houston), John Brown (owner of Brown's Tavern, Landing, and Ferry), Tsula (“Young Dragging Canoe”), Turtle-at-Home, Degadoga, Richard Fields, George Guess (Tsiskwaya, or Sequoyah), Tatsi (aka Captain Dutch), and red-headed Will Weber (for whom Titsohili was called Willstown), among others.

Watts remained head of the Willstown council until his death in 1802, after which Doublehead, moved into that position.  He held it until his death in 1807 at the hands of The Ridge, Alexander Saunders (best friend to James Vann), and John Rogers, a white former trader who had first come west with Dragging Canoe in 1777 and was now considered a member of the nation, even sitting on the council. He was succeeded by The Glass, who was also assistant principal chief of the nation to Black Fox, and remained at the head of the Lower Towns council until the unification council in 1810.

When pressure began to be applied to the Cherokee Nation for its members to emigrate westward across the Mississippi, leaders of the Lower Towns, such as) spearheaded the way. These men established in Arkansas Territory what later became the Cherokee Nation West, which moved to Indian Territory after the treaty in Washington of 1828 between their nation and the federal government, becoming the “Old Settlers”.

The Upper Towns

The Upper Towns were the most progressive of all sections, favoring extensive acculturation, formal education, and modern methods of farming.  They had their own triumvirate, James Vann and his two protégés, The Ridge (formerly named Pathkiller) and Charles R. Hicks (whose Cherokee name was Pathkiller), though while he lived, The Badger remained “beloved man”.  Others Upper Town leaders were John Lowery, George Lowery, Bob McLemore, John Walker, Jr., George Fields, and others. 

Major Ridge (as The Ridge had been known since his military service during the Creek and First Seminole Wars), his son John Ridge, his nephews Elias Boudinot (aka Buck Watie) and Stand Watie, ultimately switched sides to join westward emigration advocates John Walker, Jr., David Vann, and Andrew Ross (brother of then Principal Chief John Ross) leading to the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 and Cherokee removal in 1838–1839.  They were known as the Treaty Party, as opposed to the National Party, the partisans of John Ross, Major Ridge’s former protégé, resisting removal.

The rest of the Nation

The Middle Towns on the edge of the Carolina Piedmont, the Hill Towns in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the lowland Valley Towns in southwestern North Carolina, with their seat now at Tuskquitee, were more traditional than the two dominant sections of the Nation.  This was also true for the fading Overhill Towns as well as the Upper Town of Etowah, notable for being inhabited mostly by full-bloods and for being the largest town in the Nation.

Tecumseh’s return and later events

Before beginning his great campaign, Tecumseh returned to the South in November 1811 hoping to gain the support of the southern tribes for his crusade to drive back the Americans and re-establish the old ways. He was accompanied by representatives from the Shawnee, CreekKickapoo, and Sioux.


Tecumseh's exhortations in the towns of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Lower Creek found no traction, the exception being the Upper Creek, and even then only among a sizable faction of the younger warriors, the Upper Creek headman, The Big Warrior, having repudiated Tecumseh before the assembly.

There was so much opposition from the Cherokee delegation under warrior The Ridge that visited his council at Tuckabatchee that Tecumseh cancelled plans to visit the Cherokee Nation (The Ridge told him if he showed his face in the Cherokee Nation he would kill him). However, throughout his time in the South, he was accompanied by an enthusiastic escort of 47 Cherokee and 19 Choctaw, who presumably went north when he left the area.

Creek War (1813-1814)

Tecumseh's mission did spark a religious revival which is referred to by James Mooney as the “Cherokee Ghost Dance” movement and was led by another former Chickamauga warrior, the prophet Tsali of Coosawatee, who later moved to the western North Carolina mountains where he was executed for violently resisting Removal in 1838. In Tsali’s meeting with the national council at Ustanali, many of the leaders were moved enough to support his cause, until The Ridge spoke even more eloquently in rebuttal, calling instead for support for the Americans in the coming war with the British and Tecumseh's alliance.

This ultimately resulted in over five hundred Cherokee warriors volunteering to serve under Andrew Jackson in helping put down their former Upper Creek allies in the Creek War, but only after the Lower Creek under William McIntosh, who opposed the war of the “Red Sticks”, asked for their help.

First Seminole War

A few years later, a troop of Cherokee cavalry under Major Ridge attached to the 1400-strong contingent of Lower Creek warriors under McIntosh accompanied the force of U.S. regulars, Georgia militia, and Tennessee volunteers into Florida for action in the First Seminole War against the Seminoles, refugee Red Sticks, and escaped slaves fighting against the United States.

Following that war, Cherokee warriors were not seen on the warpath in the Old Southwest  until the time of the American Civil War, when William Holland Thomas raised the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders to fight for the Confederacy, though warriors from the Cherokee Nation East did travel to the lands of the Old Settlers (or Cherokee Nation West) in Arkansas Territory to assist them in their wars against the Osage during the Cherokee-Osage War of 1817–1823.

Major Ridge’s South Georgia foray

With one notable exception: in 1830, the State of Georgia seized land in its south that had belonged to the Cherokee since the end of the Creek War, land separated from the rest of the Cherokee Nation by a large section of Georgia territory, and began to parcel it out to settlers. Major Ridge dusted off his weapons and led a party of thirty south, where they drove the settlers out of their homes on what the Cherokee considered their land, and burned all buildings to the ground, but harmed no one.

On the “Chickamauga” or “Lower Cherokee” as a separate tribe

In 1799, the Moravian Brethren sent a representative, Brother Steiner, to scout for a location for a mission and school they planned to build in the Nation, ultimately located at Spring Place on land donated by James Vann.  Upon arriving in the Nation, he met with former Lower Cherokee warrior Richard Fields whom he had hired to serve as his guide and interpreter at Tellico Blockhouse.  Br. Steiner had been sent south by the Brethren. On one occasion, Br. Steiner asked his guide, “What kind of people are the Chickamauga?”. Fields laughed, then replied, “They are Cherokee, and we know no difference.”

Turtle-at-Home gave much the same reply to his new friend John Norton in response to the same question when the latter first came south from the Six Nations.

In truth, the Chickamauga Towns and the later Lower Towns were no different vis-a-vis the rest of the Cherokee than were the Middle Towns, Out Towns, (original) Lower Towns, Valley Towns, or Overhill Towns into which the Cherokee were grouped when the Europeans first encountered them. The groupings did not constitute separate political entities as much as groupings for geographic convenience. The only real government among the Cherokee was by town and clan, and though there were regional councils, these had no binding powers. The Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee were no more a separate tribe from the rest of the Cherokee than were the Overhill Cherokee, the Valley Cherokee, etc.

The only “national” position which existed before 1788 was First Beloved Man, which was in reality nothing more than a chief negotiator from the boondocks towns of the Cherokee farthest from the reach of the intruders. Yes, after 1788 there was a national council of sorts, but it met irregularly and at the time had no prescriptive or proscriptive powers. Even after the peace of 1794, the Cherokee were broken up into five groups: the Upper Towns (formerly the Lower Towns of western Carolina and northeastern Georgia), the Overhill Towns, the Hill Towns, the Valley Towns, and the (new) Lower Towns, each with their own regional councils more important than the "national" council at Ustanali.

It should be apparent from the number of times which Dragging Canoe spoke to the National Council at Ustanali and the fact that he publicly acknowledged Little Turkey as the senior leader of all the Cherokee, along with the fact that he was memorialized at the council following his death in 1792, that the “Chickamauga” were exactly as Richard Fields said, Cherokee. If that is not enough, there is the constant communication between leaders of the “Chickamauga” with the Cherokee of other regions, the number of times warriors from the Overhill Towns and other groups participating in the warfare, and the number of “Chickamauga” who signed treaties with the federal government along with other leaders of the Cherokee as Cherokee.

Scots (and other Europeans) among the Cherokee

The traders and British government agents dealing with the Southern tribes in general and the Cherokee in particular were nearly all of Scottish extraction, especially from the Highlands, though a few were Scots-Irish, English, French, even German. Many of these married women from their host people and remained after the fighting had ended, some fathering children who would later become significant leaders.

Notable traders, agents, and refugee Tories among the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee included John Stuart, Henry Stuart, Alexander Cameron, John McDonald, Clement Vann, James Vann, John Joseph Vann, Daniel Ross (father of John), John Walker Sr., John McLemore (father of Bob), William Buchanan, John Elliot, John Watts (father of the chief), James Grant, John D. Chisholm, John Benge (father of Bob), Thomas Brown, Arthur Coody, John Fields, John Thompson, Richard Taylor, Alexander Campbell, John Graham, Edward Adair (Irish), John Rogers (Welsh), John Gunter (German), Peter Hildebrand (German), and William Thorp (English), among many others, several attaining the status of minor chiefs and/or members of significant delegations.


In contrast, a large portion of the settlers encroaching on their territories and against whom the Cherokee (and other Indians) took most of their actions were Scots-Irish, Irish from Ulster of Scottish descent, a group which also provided the backbone for the forces of the Revolution (a famous example of a Scots-Irishman doing the reverse is Simon Girty).

It is a historical irony that those from a group seen as rebels or “Whigs” back home in the Isles became Tories in the Americas while those from a group now considered one of the most “Tory” in regards to the United Kingdom became Whigs in the Americas.

Possible origins of the words “Chickamauga” and “Chattanooga”

According to Mooney, the word “Chickamauga”, pronounced Tsi-ka-ma-gi in Cherokee, was the name of at least two places: a headwater creek of the Chattahoochee River, and the above-mentioned region near Chattanooga, but the word is not Cherokee. He states that Chickamauga may be derived from Shawnee, and indeed there is/was a small town on the coast of North Carolina near Cape Hatteras (noted for a small battle that took place there early in the American Civil War) called Chicamacomico (meaning “dwelling place by the big water”), which is also the name of a river in Maryland. Both these areas were originally inhabited by tribes speaking variations of the Algonquian family of languages, of which Shawnee is one example.


The Shawnee connection to the area should not be taken lightly, as the crossing of the Hiwassee River near Hiwassee Old Town in Polk County, Tennessee, is known as Savannah Crossing, “Savannah” being a corruption of “Shawnee” as well as the name of the Shawnee village on the Savannah River from which the river, as well as the city of Savannah, Georgia, gets its name.

In addition to the Tennessee city of Chattanooga, which gets its name from a non-Cherokee word for Lookout Mountain, a community named Chattanooga Valley in Georgia lies just south of the Tennessee city.  There is a community of Chattanooga in Mercer County, Ohio, possibly a legacy of the Cherokee who lived there and fought alongside the Shawnee, but more likely a legacy of the Lenape or later Shawnee who lived much longer in that area.

True, there is also a town called Chattanooga in the former territory of the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma, brought to that state by a former resident of the Tennessee city, Nelson Sisson, and there was once a town called Chattanooga in Colorado, founded during the Silver Rush in 1883 with the hope of one day becoming as big as Cripple Creek only to burn to the ground and never rebuilt, which lies in the later territory of the Cheyenne confederacy of three Algonquin-speaking tribes.

A logical conclusion from all the above is that both place-names in Hamilton County, Tennessee—Chickamauga and Chattanooga—derive from the Algonquin language of the Shawnee.

On the ancestry of Tsiyugunsini

Dragging Canoe, the greatest military and diplomatic leader the Cherokee have ever known, would under the laws of all three of today's recognized tribes of Cherokee be ineligible for membership of any of them, and not just because he doesn't have ancestors on any of their rolls.  His father, Attakullakulla, was a Nippissing from the North taken captive during a raid and adopted, while his mother was Natchez, from the group who lived along Natchy Creek.  He did not have a single drop of Cherokee blood.


The three Cherokee tribes require the following blood quantums: United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, 1:4; Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, 1:16 (originally 1:32); and Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 1:2064.

These blood quantums would also deny former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band William Holland Thomas and former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation West John Rogers membership in the tribes of which they held the highest office.  They are also the means through which the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has disenfranchised Cherokee Freedmen from the time of Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller in the 1980's.

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2 comments:

mdfreels said...

Nice write-up....I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Chuck Hamilton said...

Thank you, mdfreels