The Period of Spanish Exploration—1540
The definite history of the Cherokee begins with the year 1540, at which date we find them already established, where they were always afterward known, in the mountains of Carolina and Georgia. The earliest Spanish adventurers failed to penetrate so far into the interior, and the first entry into their country was made by [Hernando] De Soto, advancing up the Savannah on his fruitless quest for gold, in May of that year.
While at Cofitachiqui, an important Indian town on the lower Savannah governed by a “queen,” the Spaniards had found hatchets and other objects of copper, some of which was of finer color and appeared to be mixed with gold, although they had no means of testing it. On inquiry they were told that the metal had come from an interior mountain province called Chisca, but the country was represented as thinly peopled and the way as impassable for horses. Some time before, while advancing through eastern Georgia, they had heard also of a rich and plentiful province called Coça, toward the northwest, and by the people of Cofitachiqui they were now told that Chiaha, the nearest town of Coça province, was twelve days inland. As both men and animals were already nearly exhausted from hunger and hard travel, and the Indians either could not or would not furnish sufficient provision for their needs, De Soto determined not to attempt the passage of the mountains then, but to push on at once to Coça, there to rest and recuperate before undertaking further exploration. In the meantime he hoped also to obtain more definite information concerning the mines. As the chief purpose of the expedition was the discovery of the mines, many of the officers regarded this change of plan as a mistake, and favored staying where they were until the new crop should be ripened, then to go directly into the mountains, but as the general was “a stern man and of few words,” none ventured to oppose his resolution. The province of Coça was the territory of the Creek Indians, called Ani′-Kusa by the Cherokee, from Kusa, or Coosa, their ancient capital, while Chiaha was identical with Chehaw, one of the principal Creek towns on Chattahoochee river. Cofitachiqui may have been the capital of the Uchee Indians.
The outrageous conduct of the Spaniards had so angered the Indian queen that she now refused to furnish guides and carriers, whereupon De Soto made her a prisoner, with the design of compelling her to act as guide herself, and at the same time to use her as a hostage to command the obedience of her subjects. Instead, however, of conducting the Spaniards by the direct trail toward the west, she led them far out of their course until she finally managed to make her escape, leaving them to find their way out of the mountains as best they could.
Departing from Cofitachiqui, they turned first toward the north, passing through several towns subject to the queen, to whom, although a prisoner, the Indians everywhere showed great respect and obedience, furnishing whatever assistance the Spaniards compelled her to demand for their own purposes. In a few days they came to “a province called Chalaque,” the territory of the Cherokee Indians, probably upon the waters of Keowee river, the eastern head-stream of the Savannah. It is described as the poorest country for corn that they had yet seen, the inhabitants subsisting on wild roots and herbs and on game which they killed with bows and arrows. They were naked, lean, and unwarlike. The country abounded in wild turkeys (“gallinas”), which the people gave very freely to the strangers, one town presenting them with seven hundred. A chief also gave De Soto two deerskins as a great present. Garcilaso, writing on the authority of an old soldier nearly fifty years afterward, says that the. “Chalaques” deserted their towns on the approach of the white men and fled to the mountains, leaving behind only old men and women and some who were nearly blind. Although it was too early for the new crop, the poverty of the people may have been more apparent than real, due to their unwillingness to give any part of their stored-up provision to the unwelcome strangers. As the Spaniards were greatly in need of corn for themselves and their horses, they made no stay, but hurried on. In a few days they arrived at Guaquili, which is mentioned only by Ranjel, who does not specify whether it was a town or a province—i. e., a tribal territory. It was probably a small town. Here they were welcomed in a friendly manner, the Indians giving them a little corn and many wild turkeys, together with some dogs of a peculiar small species, which were bred for eating purposes and did not bark. They were also supplied with men to help carry the baggage. The name Guaquili has a Cherokee sound and may be connected with wa′gulĭ′, “whippoorwill,” uwâ′giʻlĭ, “foam,” or giʻlĭ, “dog.”
Traveling still toward the north, they arrived a day or two later in the province of Xuala, in which we recognize the territory of the Suwali, Sara, or Cheraw Indians, in the piedmont region about the head of Broad river in North Carolina. Garcilaso, who did not see it, represents it as a rich country, while the Elvas narrative and Biedma agree that it was a rough, broken country, thinly inhabited and poor in provision. According to Garcilaso, it was under the rule of the queen of Cofitachiqui, although a distinct province in itself. The principal town was beside a small rapid stream, close under a mountain. The chief received them in friendly fashion, giving them corn, dogs of the small breed already mentioned, carrying baskets, and burden bearers. The country roundabout showed greater indications of gold mines than any they had yet seen.
Here De Soto turned to the west, crossing a very high mountain range, which appears to have been the Blue ridge, and descending on the other side to a stream flowing in the opposite direction, which was probably one of the upper tributaries of the French Broad. Although it was late in May, they found it very cold in the mountains. After several days of such travel they arrived, about the end of the month, at the town of Guasili, or Guaxule. The chief and principal men came out some distance to welcome them, dressed in fine robes of skins, with feather head-dresses, after the fashion of the country. Before reaching this point the queen had managed to make her escape, together with three slaves of the Spaniards, and the last that was heard of her was that she was on her way back to her own country with one of the runaways as her husband. What grieved De Soto most in the matter was that she took with her a small box of pearls, which he had intended to take from her before releasing her, but had left with her for the present in order “not to discontent her altogether.”
Guaxule is described as a very large town surrounded by a number of small mountain streams which united to form the large river down which the Spaniards proceeded after leaving the place. Here, as elsewhere, the Indians received the white men with kindness and hospitality—so much so that the name of Guaxule became to the army a synonym for good fortune. Among other things they gave the Spaniards 300 dogs for food, although, according to the Elvas narrative, the Indians themselves did not eat them. The principal officers of the expedition were lodged in the “chief’s house,” by which we are to understand the townhouse, which was upon a high hill with a roadway to the top. From a close study of the narrative it appears that this “hill” was no other than the great Nacoochee mound, in White county, Georgia, a few miles northwest of the present Clarkesville. It was within the Cherokee territory, and the town was probably a settlement of that tribe. From here De Soto sent runners ahead to notify the chief of Chiaha of his approach, in order that sufficient corn might be ready on his arrival.
Leaving Guaxule, they proceeded down the river, which we identify with the Chattahoochee, and in two days arrived at Canasoga, or Canasagua, a frontier town of the Cherokee. As they neared the town they were met by the Indians, bearing baskets of “mulberries,” more probably the delicious service-berry of the southern mountains, which ripens in early summer, while the mulberry matures later.
From here they continued down the river, which grew constantly larger, through an uninhabited country which formed the disputed territory between the Cherokee and the Creeks. About five days after leaving Canasagua they were met by messengers, who escorted them to Chiaha, the first town of the province of Coça. De Soto had crossed the state of Georgia, leaving the Cherokee country behind him, and was now among the Lower Creeks, in the neighborhood of the present Columbus, Georgia. With his subsequent wanderings after crossing the Chattahoochee into Alabama and beyond we need not concern ourselves.
While resting at Chiaha De Soto met with a chief who confirmed what the Spaniards had heard before concerning mines in the province of Chisca, saying that there was there “a melting of copper” and of another metal of about the same color, but softer, and therefore not so much used. The province was northward from Chiaha, somewhere in upper Georgia or the adjacent part of Alabama or Tennessee, through all of which mountain region native copper is found. The other mineral, which the Spaniards understood to be gold, may have been iron pyrites, although there is some evidence that the Indians occasionally found and shaped gold nuggets.
Accordingly two soldiers were sent on foot with Indian guides to find Chisca and learn the truth of the stories. They rejoined the army some time after the march had been resumed, and reported, according to the Elvas chronicler, that their guides had taken them through a country so poor in corn, so rough, and over so high mountains that it would be impossible for the army to follow, wherefore, as the way grew long and lingering, they had turned back after reaching a little poor town where they saw nothing that was of any profit. They brought back with them a dressed buffalo skin which the Indians there had given them, the first ever obtained by white men, and described in the quaint old chronicle as “an ox hide as thin as a calf’s skin, and the hair like a soft wool between the coarse and fine wool of sheep.”
Garcilaso’s glowing narrative gives a somewhat different impression. According to this author the scouts returned full of enthusiasm for the fertility of the country, and reported that the mines were of a fine species of copper, and had indications also of gold and silver, while their progress from one town to another had been a continual series of feastings and Indian hospitalities. However that may have been, De Soto made no further effort to reach the Cherokee mines, but continued his course westward through the Creek country, having spent altogether a month in the mountain region.
There is no record of any second attempt to penetrate the Cherokee country for twenty-six years . In 1561 the Spaniards took formal possession of the bay of Santa Elena, now Saint Helena, near Port Royal, on the coast of South Carolina. The next year the French made an unsuccessful attempt at settlement at the same place, and in 1566 Menendez made the Spanish occupancy sure by establishing there a fort which he called San Felipe. In November of that year Captain Juan Pardo was sent with a party from the fort to explore the interior. Accompanied by the chief of “Juada” (which from Vandera’s narrative we find should be “Joara,” i. e., the Sara Indians already mentioned in the De Soto chronicle), he proceeded as far as the territory of that tribe, where he built a fort, but on account of the snow in the mountains did not think it advisable to go farther, and returned, leaving a sergeant with thirty soldiers to garrison the post. Soon after his return he received a letter from the sergeant stating that the chief of Chisca—the rich mining country of which De Soto had heard—was very hostile to the Spaniards, and that in a recent battle the latter had killed a thousand of his Indians and burned fifty houses with almost no damage to themselves. Either the sergeant or his chronicler must have been an unconscionable liar, as it was asserted that all this was done with only fifteen men. Immediately afterward, according to the same story, the sergeant marched with twenty men about a day’s distance in the mountains against another hostile chief, whom he found in a strongly palisaded town, which, after a hard fight, he and his men stormed and burned, killing fifteen hundred Indians without losing a single man themselves. Under instructions from his superior officer, the sergeant with his small party then proceeded to explore what lay beyond, and, taking a road which they were told led to the territory of a great chief, after four days of hard marching they came to his town, called Chiaha (Chicha, by mistake in the manuscript translation), the same where De Soto had rested. It is described at this time as palisaded and strongly fortified, with a deep river on each side, and defended by over three thousand fighting men, there being no women or children among them. It is possible that in view of their former experience with the Spaniards, the Indians had sent their families away from the town, while at the same time they may have summoned warriors from the neighboring Creek towns in order to be prepared for any emergency. However, as before, they received the white men with the greatest kindness, and the Spaniards continued for twelve days through the territories of the same tribe until they arrived at the principal town (Kusa?), where, by the invitation of the chief, they built a small fort and awaited the coming of Pardo, who was expected to follow with a larger force from Santa Elena, as he did in the summer of 1567, being met on his arrival with every show of hospitality from the Creek chiefs. This second fort was said to be one hundred and forty leagues distant from that in the Sara country, which latter was called one hundred and twenty leagues from Santa Elena.
In the summer of 1567, according to previous agreement, Captain Pardo left the fort at Santa Elena with a small detachment of troops, and after a week’s travel, sleeping each night at a different Indian town, arrived at “Canos, which the Indians call Canosi, and by another name, Cofetaçque” (the Cofitachiqui of the De Soto chronicle), which is described as situated in a favorable location for a large city, fifty leagues from Santa Elena, to which the easiest road was by a river (the Savannah) which flowed by the town, or by another which they had passed ten leagues farther back. Proceeding, they passed Jagaya, Gueza, and Arauchi, and arrived at Otariyatiqui, or Otari, in which we have perhaps the Cherokee â′tărĭ or â′tălĭ, “mountain”. It may have been a frontier Cherokee settlement, and, according to the old chronicler, its chief and language ruled much good country. From here a trail went northward to Guatari, Sauxpa, and Usi, i. e., the Wateree, Waxhaw (or Sissipahaw?), and Ushery or Catawba.
Leaving Otariyatiqui, they went on to Quinahaqui, and then, turning to the left, to Issa, where they found mines of crystal (mica?). They came next to Aguaquiri (the Guaquili of the De Soto chronicle), and then to Joara, “near to the mountain, where Juan Pardo arrived with his sergeant on his first trip.” This, as has been noted, was the Xuala of the De Soto chronicle, the territory of the Sara Indians, in the foothills of the Blue ridge, southeast from the present Asheville, North Carolina. Vandera makes it one hundred leagues from Santa Elena, while Martinez, already quoted, makes the distance one hundred and twenty leagues. The difference is not important, as both statements were only estimates. From there they followed “along the mountains” to Tocax (Toxaway?), Cauchi (Nacoochee?), and Tanasqui—apparently Cherokee towns, although the forms can not be identified—and after resting three days at the last-named place went on “to Solameco, otherwise called Chiaha,” where the sergeant met them. The combined forces afterward went on, through Cossa (Kusa), Tasquiqui (Taskigi), and other Creek towns, as far as Tascaluza, in the Alabama country, and returned thence to Santa Elena, having apparently met with a friendly reception everywhere along the route. From Cofitachiqui to Tascaluza they went over about the same road traversed by De Soto in 1540.
We come now to a great gap of nearly a century. Shea has a notice of a Spanish mission founded among the Cherokee in 1643 and still flourishing when visited by an English traveler ten years later, but as his information is derived entirely from the fraudulent work of Davies, and as no such mission is mentioned by Barcia in any of these years, we may regard the story as spurious. The first mission work in the tribe appears to have been that of Priber, almost a hundred years later. Long before the end of the sixteenth century, however, the existence of mines of gold and other metals in the Cherokee country was a matter of common knowledge among the Spaniards at St. Augustine and Santa Elena, and more than one expedition had been fitted out to explore the interior. Numerous traces of ancient mining operations, with remains of old shafts and fortifications, evidently of European origin, show that these discoveries were followed up, although the policy of Spain concealed the fact from the outside world. How much permanent impression this early Spanish intercourse made on the Cherokee it is impossible to estimate, but it must have been considerable.
The Colonial and Revolutionary Period—1654–1784
It was not until 1654 that the English first came into contact with the Cherokee, called in the records of the period Rechahecrians, a corruption of Rickahockan, apparently the name by which they were known to the Powhatan tribes. In that year the Virginia colony, which had only recently concluded a long and exterminating war with the Powhatan, was thrown into alarm by the news that a great body of six or seven hundred Rechahecrian Indians—by which is probably meant that number of warriors—from the mountains had invaded the lower country and established themselves at the falls of James river, where now is the city of Richmond. The assembly at once passed resolutions “that these new come Indians be in no sort suffered to seat themselves there, or any place near us, it having cost so much blood to expel and extirpate those perfidious and treacherous Indians which were there formerly.” It was therefore ordered that a force of at least 100 white men be at once sent against them, to be joined by the warriors of all the neighboring subject tribes, according to treaty obligation. The Pamunkey chief, with a hundred of his men, responded to the summons, and the combined force marched against the invaders. The result was a bloody battle, with disastrous outcome to the Virginians, the Pamunkey chief with most of his men being killed, while the whites were forced to make such terms of peace with the Rechahecrians that the assembly cashiered the commander of the expedition and compelled him to pay the whole cost of the treaty from his own estate. Owing to the imperfection of the Virginia records we have no means of knowing the causes of the sudden invasion or how long the invaders retained their position at the falls. In all probability it was only the last of a long series of otherwise unrecorded irruptions by the mountaineers on the more peaceful dwellers in the lowlands. From a remark in Lederer it is probable that the Cherokee were assisted also by some of the piedmont tribes hostile to the Powhatan. The Peaks of Otter, near which the Cherokee claim to have once lived, as has been already noted, are only about one hundred miles in a straight line from Richmond, while the burial mound and town site near Charlottesville, mentioned by Jefferson, are but half that distance.
In 1655 a Virginia expedition sent out from the falls of James river (Richmond) crossed over the mountains to the large streams flowing into the Mississippi. No details are given and the route is uncertain, but whether or not they met Indians, they must have passed through Cherokee territory.
In 1670 the German traveler, John Lederer, went from the falls of James river to the Catawba country in South Carolina, following for most of the distance the path used by the Virginia traders, who already had regular dealings with the southern tribes, including probably the Cherokee. He speaks in several places of the Rickahockan, which seems to be a more correct form than Rechahecrian, and his narrative and the accompanying map put them in the mountains of North Carolina, back of the Catawba and the Sara and southward from the head of Roanoke river. They were apparently on hostile terms with the tribes to the eastward, and while the traveler was stopping at an Indian village on Dan river, about the present Clarksville, Virginia, a delegation of Rickahockan, which had come on tribal business, was barbarously murdered at a dance prepared on the night of their arrival by their treacherous hosts. On reaching the Catawba country he heard of white men to the southward, and incidentally mentions that the neighboring mountains were called the Suala mountains by the Spaniards. In the next year, 1671, a party from Virginia under Thomas Batts explored the northern branch of Roanoke river and crossed over the Blue ridge to the headwaters of New river, where they found traces of occupancy, but no Indians. By this time all the tribes of this section, east of the mountains, were in possession of firearms.
The first permanent English settlement in South Carolina was established in 1670. In 1690 James Moore, secretary of the colony, made an exploring expedition into the mountains and reached a point at which, according to his Indian guides, he was within twenty miles of where the Spaniards were engaged in mining and smelting with bellows and furnaces, but on account of some misunderstanding he returned without visiting the place, although he procured specimens of ores, which he sent to England for assay. It may have been in the neighborhood of the present Lincolnton, North Carolina, where a dam of cut stone and other remains of former civilized occupancy have recently been discovered. In this year, also, Cornelius Dougherty, an Irishman from Virginia, established himself as the first trader among the Cherokee, with whom he spent the rest of his life. Some of his descendants still occupy honored positions in the tribe.
Among the manuscript archives of South Carolina there was said to be, some fifty years ago, a treaty or agreement made with the government of that colony by the Cherokee in 1684, and signed with the hieroglyphics of eight chiefs of the lower towns, viz, Corani, the Raven (Kâ′lanû); Sinnawa, the Hawk (Tlă′nuwă); Nellawgitehi, Gorhaleke, and Owasta, all of Toxawa; and Canacaught, the great Conjuror, Gohoma, and Caunasaita, of Keowa. If still in existence, this is probably the oldest Cherokee treaty on record.
What seems to be the next mention of the Cherokee in the South Carolina records occurs in 1691, when we find an inquiry ordered in regard to a report that some of the colonists “have, without any proclamation of war, fallen upon and murdered” several of that tribe.
In 1693 some Cherokee chiefs went to Charleston with presents for the governor and offers of friendship, to ask the protection of South Carolina against their enemies, the Esaw (Catawba), Savanna (Shawano), and Congaree, all of that colony, who had made war upon them and sold a number of their tribesmen into slavery. They were told that their kinsmen could not now be recovered, but that the English desired friendship with their tribe, and that the Government would see that there would be no future ground for such complaint. The promise was apparently not kept, for in 1705 we find a bitter accusation brought against Governor Moore, of South Carolina, that he had granted commissions to a number of persons “to set upon, assault, kill, destroy, and take captive as many Indians as they possible [sic] could,” the prisoners being sold into slavery for his and their private profit. By this course, it was asserted, he had “already almost utterly ruined the trade for skins and furs, whereby we held our chief correspondence with England, and turned it into a trade of Indians or slave making, whereby the Indians to the south and west of us are already involved in blood and confusion.” The arraignment concludes with a warning that such conditions would in all probability draw down upon the colony an Indian war with all its dreadful consequences. In view of what happened a few years later this reads like a prophecy.
About the year 1700 the first guns were introduced among the Cherokee, the event being fixed traditionally as having occurred in the girlhood of an old woman of the tribe who died about 1775. In 1708 we find them described as a numerous people, living in the mountains northwest from the Charleston settlements and having sixty towns, but of small importance in the Indian trade, being “but ordinary hunters and less warriors.”
In the war with the Tuscarora in 1711–1713, which resulted in the expulsion of that tribe from North Carolina, more than a thousand southern Indians reenforced the South Carolina volunteers, among them being over two hundred Cherokee, hereditary enemies of the Tuscarora. Although these Indian allies did their work well in the actual encounters, their assistance was of doubtful advantage, as they helped themselves freely to whatever they wanted along the way, so that the settlers had reason to fear them almost as much as the hostile Tuscarora. After torturing a large number of their prisoners in the usual savage fashion, they returned with the remainder, whom they afterward sold as slaves to South Carolina.
Having wiped out old scores with the Tuscarora, the late allies of the English proceeded to discuss their own grievances, which, as we have seen, were sufficiently galling. The result was a combination against the whites, embracing all the tribes from Cape Fear to the Chattahoochee, including the Cherokee, who thus for the first time raised their hand against the English. The war opened with a terrible massacre by the Yamassee in April, 1715, followed by assaults along the whole frontier, until for a time it was seriously feared that the colony of South Carolina would be wiped out of existence. In a contest between savagery and civilization, however, the final result is inevitable. The settlers at last rallied their whole force under Governor Craven and administered such a crushing blow to the Yamassee that the remnant abandoned their country and took refuge with the Spaniards in Florida or among the Lower Creeks. The English then made short work with the smaller tribes along the coast, while those in the interior were soon glad to sue for peace.
A number of Cherokee chiefs having come down to Charleston in company with a trader to express their desire for peace, a force of several hundred white troops and a number of negroes under Colonel Maurice Moore went up the Savannah in the winter of 1715–16 and made headquarters among the Lower Cherokee, where they were met by the chiefs of the Lower and some of the western towns, who reaffirmed their desire for a lasting peace with the English, but refused to fight against the Yamassee, although willing to proceed against some other tribes. They laid the blame for most of the trouble upon the traders, who “had been very abuseful to them of late.” A detachment under Colonel George Chicken, sent to the Upper Cherokee, penetrated to “Quoneashee” (Tlanusi′yĭ, on Hiwassee, about the present Murphy) where they found the chiefs more defiant, resolved to continue the war against the Creeks, with whom the English were then trying to make peace, and demanding large supplies of guns and ammunition, saying that if they made a peace with the other tribes they would have no means of getting slaves with which to buy ammunition for themselves. At this time they claimed 2,370 warriors, of whom half were believed to have guns. As the strength of the whole Nation was much greater, this estimate may have been for the Upper and Middle Cherokee only. After “abundance of persuading” by the officers, they finally “told us they would trust us once again,” and an arrangement was made to furnish them two hundred guns with a supply of ammunition, together with fifty white soldiers, to assist them against the tribes with which the English were still at war. In March, 1716, this force was increased by one hundred men. The detachment under Colonel Chicken returned by way of the towns on the upper part of the Little Tennessee, thus penetrating the heart of the Cherokee country.
Steps were now taken to secure peace by inaugurating a satisfactory trade system, for which purpose a large quantity of suitable goods was purchased at the public expense of South Carolina, and a correspondingly large party was equipped for the initial trip. In 1721, in order still more to systematize Indian affairs, Governor Nicholson of South Carolina invited the chiefs of the Cherokee to a conference, at which thirty-seven towns were represented. A treaty was made by which trading methods were regulated, a boundary line between their territory and the English settlements was agreed upon, and an agent was appointed to superintend their affairs. At the governor’s suggestion, one chief, called Wrosetasatow(?) was formally commissioned as supreme head of the Nation, with authority to punish all offenses, including murder, and to represent all Cherokee claims to the colonial government. Thus were the Cherokee reduced from their former condition of a free people, ranging where their pleasure led, to that of dependent vassals with bounds fixed by a colonial governor. The negotiations were accompanied by a cession of land, the first in the history of the tribe. In little more than a century thereafter they had signed away their whole original territory.
The document of 1716 already quoted puts the strength of the Cherokee at that time at 2,370 warriors, but in this estimate the Lower Cherokee seem not to have been included. In 1715, according to a trade census compiled by Governor Johnson of South Carolina, the tribe had thirty towns, with 4,000 warriors and a total population of 11,210.59 Another census in 1721 gives them fifty-three towns with 3,510 warriors and a total of 10,379,60 while the report of the board of trade for the same year gives them 3,800 warriors, equivalent, by the same proportion, to nearly 12,000 total. Adair, a good authority on such matters, estimates, about the year 1735, when the country was better known, that they had “sixty-four towns and villages, populous and full of children,” with more than 6,000 fighting men, equivalent on the same basis of computation to between 16,000 and 17,000 souls. From what we know of them in later times, it is probable that this last estimate is very nearly correct.
By this time the colonial government had become alarmed at the advance of the French, who had made their first permanent establishment in the Gulf states at Biloxi bay, Mississippi, in 1699, and in 1714 had built Fort Toulouse, known to the English as “the fort at the Alabamas,” on Coosa river, a few miles above the present Montgomery, Alabama. From this central vantage point they had rapidly extended their influence among all the neighboring tribes until in 1721 it was estimated that 3,400 warriors who had formerly traded with Carolina had been “entirely debauched to the French interest,” while 2,000 more were wavering, and only the Cherokee could still be considered friendly to the English. From this time until the final withdrawal of the French in 1763 the explanation of our Indian wars is to be found in the struggle between the two nations for territorial and commercial supremacy, the Indian being simply the cat’s-paw of one or the other. For reasons of their own, the Chickasaw, whose territory lay within the recognized limits of Louisiana, soon became the uncompromising enemies of the French, and as their position enabled them in a measure to control the approach from the Mississippi, the Carolina government saw to it that they were kept well supplied with guns and ammunition. British traders were in all their towns, and on one occasion a French force, advancing against a Chickasaw palisaded village, found it garrisoned by Englishmen flying the British flag. The Cherokee, although nominally allies of the English, were strongly disposed to favor the French, and it required every effort of the Carolina government to hold them to their allegiance.
In 1730, to further fix the Cherokee in the English interest, Sir Alexander Cuming was dispatched on a secret mission to that tribe, which was again smarting under grievances and almost ready to join with the Creeks in an alliance with the French. Proceeding to the ancient town of Nequassee (Nĭkwăsĭ′, at the present Franklin, North Carolina), he so impressed the chiefs by his bold bearing that they conceded without question all his demands, submitting themselves and their people for the second time to the English dominion and designating Moytoy, of Tellico, to act as their “emperor” and to represent the Nation in all transactions with the whites. Seven chiefs were selected to visit England, where, in the palace at Whitehall, they solemnly renewed the treaty, acknowledging the sovereignty of England and binding themselves to have no trade or alliance with any other nation, not to allow any other white people to settle among them, and to deliver up any fugitive slaves who might seek refuge with them. To confirm their words they delivered a “crown”, five eagle-tails, and four scalps, which they had brought with them. In return they received the usual glittering promises of love and perpetual friendship, together with a substantial quantity of guns, ammunition, and red paint. The treaty being concluded in September, they took ship for Carolina, where they arrived, as we are told by the governor, “in good health and mightily well satisfied with His Majesty’s bounty to them.”
In the next year some action was taken to use the Cherokee and Catawba to subdue the refractory remnant of the Tuscarora in North Carolina, but when it was found that this was liable to bring down the wrath of the Iroquois upon the Carolina settlements, more peaceable methods were used instead.
In 1738 or 1739 the smallpox, brought to Carolina by slave ships, broke out among the Cherokee with such terrible effect that, according to Adair, nearly half the tribe was swept away within a year. The awful mortality was due largely to the fact that as it was a new and strange disease to the Indians they had no proper remedies against it, and therefore resorted to the universal Indian panacea for “strong” sickness of almost any kind, viz, cold plunge baths in the running stream, the worst treatment that could possibly be devised. As the pestilence spread unchecked from town to town, despair fell upon the nation. The priests, believing the visitation a penalty for violation of the ancient ordinances, threw away their sacred paraphernalia as things which had lost their protecting power. Hundreds of the warriors committed suicide on beholding their frightful disfigurement. “Some shot themselves, others cut their throats, some stabbed themselves with knives and others with sharp-pointed canes; many threw themselves with sullen madness into the fire and there slowly expired, as if they had been utterly divested of the native power of feeling pain.” Another authority estimates their loss at a thousand warriors, partly from smallpox and partly from rum brought in by the traders.
About the year 1740 a trading path for horsemen was marked out by the Cherokee from the new settlement of Augusta, in Georgia, to their towns on the headwaters of Savannah river and thence on to the west. This road, which went up the south side of the river, soon became much frequented. Previous to this time most, of the trading goods had been transported on the backs of Indians. In the same year a party of Cherokee under the war chief Kâ′lanû. “The Raven,” took part in Oglethorpe’s expedition against the Spaniards of Saint Augustine.
In 1736 Christian Priber, said to be a Jesuit acting in the French interest, had come among the Cherokee, and, by the facility with which he learned the language and adapted himself to the native dress and mode of life, had quickly acquired a leading influence among them. He drew up for their adoption a scheme of government modeled after the European plan, with the capital at Great Tellico, in Tennessee, the principal medicine man as emperor, and himself as the emperor’s secretary. Under this title he corresponded with the South Carolina government until it began to be feared that he would ultimately win over the whole tribe to the French side. A commissioner was sent to arrest him, but the Cherokee refused to give him up, and the deputy was obliged to return under safe-conduct of an escort furnished by Priber. Five years after the inauguration of his work, however, he was seized by some English traders while on his way to Fort Toulouse, and brought as a prisoner to Frederica, in Georgia, where he soon afterward died while under confinement. Although his enemies had represented him as a monster, inciting the Indians to the grossest immoralities, he proved to be a gentleman of polished address, extensive learning, and rare courage, as was shown later on the occasion of an explosion in the barracks magazine. Besides Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, and fluent English, he spoke also the Cherokee, and among his papers which were seized was found a manuscript dictionary of the language, which he had prepared for publication—the first, and even yet, perhaps, the most important study of the language ever made. Says Adair: “As he was learned and possessed of a very sagacious penetrating judgment, and had every qualification that was requisite for his bold and difficult enterprise, it was not to be doubted that, as he wrote a Cheerake dictionary, designed to be published at Paris, he likewise set down a great deal that would have been very acceptable to the curious and serviceable to the representatives of South Carolina and Georgia, which may be readily found in Frederica if the manuscripts have had the good fortune to escape the despoiling hands of military power.” He claimed to be a Jesuit, acting under orders of his superior, to introduce habits of steady industry, civilized arts, and a regular form of government among the southern tribes, with a view to the ultimate founding of an independent Indian state. From all that can be gathered of him, even though it comes from his enemies, there can be little doubt that he was a worthy member of that illustrious order whose name has been a synonym for scholarship, devotion, and courage from the days of Jogues and Marquette down to De Smet and Mengarini.
Up to this time no civilizing or mission work had been undertaken by either of the Carolina governments among any of the tribes within their borders. As one writer of the period quaintly puts it, “The gospel spirit is not yet so gloriously arisen as to seek them more than theirs,” while another in stronger terms affirms, “To the shame of the Christian name, no pains have ever been taken to convert them to Christianity; on the contrary, their morals are perverted and corrupted by the sad example they daily have of its depraved professors residing in their towns.” Readers of Lawson and other narratives of the period will feel the force of the rebuke.
Throughout the eighteenth century the Cherokee were engaged in chronic warfare with their Indian neighbors. As these quarrels concerned the whites but little, however momentous they may have been to the principals, we have but few details. The war with the Tuscarora continued until the outbreak of the latter tribe against Carolina in 1711 gave opportunity to the Cherokee to cooperate in striking the blow which drove the Tuscarora from their ancient homes to seek refuge in the north. The Cherokee then turned their attention to the Shawano on the Cumberland, and with the aid of the Chickasaw finally expelled them from that region about the year 1715. Inroads upon the Catawba were probably kept up until the latter had become so far reduced by war and disease as to be mere dependent pensioners upon the whites. The former friendship with the Chickasaw was at last broken through the overbearing conduct of the Cherokee, and a war followed of which we find incidental notice in 1757,73 and which terminated in a decisive victory for the Chickasaw about 1768. The bitter war with the Iroquois of the far north continued, in spite of all the efforts of the colonial governments, until a formal treaty of peace was brought about by the efforts of Sir William Johnson in the same year.
The hereditary war with the Creeks for possession of upper Georgia continued, with brief intervals of peace, or even alliance, until the United States finally interfered as mediator between the rival claimants. In 1718 we find notice of a large Cherokee war party moving against the Creek town of Coweta, on the lower Chattahoochee, but dispersing on learning of the presence there of some French and Spanish officers, as well as some English traders, all bent on arranging an alliance with the Creeks. The Creeks themselves had declared their willingness to be at peace with the English, while still determined to keep the bloody hatchet uplifted against the Cherokee. The most important incident of the struggle between the two tribes was probably the battle of Tali′wa about the year 1755.
By this time the weaker coast tribes had become practically extinct, and the more powerful tribes of the interior were beginning to take the alarm, as they saw the restless borderers pushing every year farther into the Indian country. As early as 1748 Dr Thomas Walker, with a company of hunters and woodsmen from Virginia, crossed the mountains to the southwest, discovering and naming the celebrated Cumberland gap and passing on to the headwaters of Cumberland river. Two years later he made a second exploration and penetrated to Kentucky river, but on account of the Indian troubles no permanent settlement was then attempted.76 This invasion of their territory awakened a natural resentment of the native owners, and we find proof also in the Virginia records that the irresponsible borderers seldom let pass an opportunity to kill and plunder any stray Indian found in their neighborhood.
In 1755 the Cherokee were officially reported to number 2,590 warriors, as against probably twice that number previous to the great smallpox epidemic sixteen years before. Their neighbors and ancient enemies, the Catawba, had dwindled to 240 men.
Although war was not formally declared by England until 1756, hostilities in the seven year’s struggle between France and England, commonly known in America as the “French and Indian war,” began in April, 1754, when the French seized a small post which the English had begun at the present site of Pittsburg, and which was afterward finished by the French under the name of Fort Du Quesne. Strenuous efforts were made by the English to secure the Cherokee to their interest against the French and their Indian allies, and treaties were negotiated by which they promised assistance. As these treaties, however, carried the usual cessions of territory, and stipulated for the building of several forts in the heart of the Cherokee country, it is to be feared that the Indians were not duly impressed by the disinterested character of the proceeding. Their preference for the French was but thinly veiled, and only immediate policy prevented them from throwing their whole force into the scale on that side. The reasons for this preference are given by Timberlake, the young Virginian officer who visited the tribe on an embassy of conciliation a few years later:
I found the nation much attached to the French, who have the prudence, by familiar politeness—which costs but little and often does a great deal—and conforming themselves to their ways and temper, to conciliate the inclinations of almost all the Indians they are acquainted with, while the pride of our officers often disgusts them. Nay, they did not scruple to own to me that it was the trade alone that induced them to make peace with us, and not any preference to the French, whom they loved a great deal better.... The English are now so nigh, and encroached daily so far upon them, that they not only felt the bad effects of it in their hunting grounds, which were spoiled, but had all the reason in the world to apprehend being swallowed up by so potent neighbors or driven from the country inhabited by their fathers, in which they were born and brought up, in fine, their native soil, for which all men have a particular tenderness and affection.
He adds that only dire necessity had induced them to make peace with the English in 1761.
In accordance with the treaty stipulations Fort Prince George was built in 1756 adjoining the important Cherokee town of Keowee, on the headwaters of the Savannah, and Fort Loudon near the junction of Tellico river with the Little Tennessee, in the center of the Cherokee towns beyond the mountains. By special arrangement with the influential chief, Ata-kullakulla (Ătă′-gûl′ʻkălû′),81 Fort Dobbs was also built in the same year about 20 miles west of the present Salisbury, North Carolina.
The Cherokee had agreed to furnish four hundred warriors to cooperate against the French in the north, but before Fort Loudon had been completed it was very evident that they had repented of their promise, as their great council at Echota ordered the work stopped and the garrison on the way to turn back, plainly telling the officer in charge that they did not want so many white people among them. Ata-kullakulla, hitherto supposed to be one of the stanchest friends of the English, was now one of the most determined in the opposition. It was in evidence also that they were in constant communication with the French. By much tact and argument their objections were at last overcome for a time, and they very unwillingly set about raising the promised force of warriors. Major Andrew Lewis, who superintended the building of the fort, became convinced that the Cherokee were really friendly to the French, and that all their professions of friendship and assistance were “only to put a gloss on their knavery.” The fort was finally completed, and, on his suggestion, was garrisoned with a strong force of two hundred men under Captain Demeré. There was strong ground for believing that some depredations committed about this time on the heads of Catawba and Broad rivers, in North Carolina, were the joint work of Cherokee and northern Indians. Notwithstanding all this, a considerable body of Cherokee joined the British forces on the Virginia frontier.
Fort Du Quesne was taken by the American provincials under Washington, November 25, 1758. Quebec was taken September 13, 1759, and by the final treaty of peace in 1763 the war ended with the transfer of Canada and the Ohio valley to the crown of England. Louisiana had already been ceded by France to Spain.
Although France was thus eliminated from the Indian problem, the Indians themselves were not ready to accept the settlement. In the north the confederated tribes under Pontiac continued to war on their own account until 1765. In the South the very Cherokee who had acted as allies of the British against Fort Du Quesne, and had voluntarily offered to guard the frontier south of the Potomac, returned to rouse their tribe to resistance.
The immediate exciting cause of the trouble was an unfortunate expedition undertaken against the hostile Shawano in February, 1756, by Major Andrew Lewis (the same who had built Fort Loudon) with some two hundred Virginia troops assisted by about one hundred Cherokee. After six weeks of fruitless tramping through the woods, with the ground covered with snow and the streams so swollen by rains that they lost their provisions and ammunition in crossing, they were obliged to return to the settlements in a starving condition, having killed their horses on the way. The Indian contingent had from the first been disgusted at the contempt and neglect experienced from those whom they had come to assist. The Tuscarora and others had already gone home, and the Cherokee now started to return on foot to their own country. Finding some horses running loose on the range, they appropriated them, on the theory that as they had lost their own animals, to say nothing of having risked their lives, in the service of the colonists, it was only a fair exchange. The frontiersmen took another view of the question however, attacked the returning Cherokee, and killed a number of them, variously stated at from twelve to forty, including several of their prominent men. According to Adair they also scalped and mutilated the bodies in the savage fashion to which they had become accustomed in the border wars, and brought the scalps into the settlements, where they were represented as those of French Indians and sold at the regular price then established by law. The young warriors at once prepared to take revenge, but were restrained by the chiefs until satisfaction could be demanded in the ordinary way, according to the treaties arranged with the colonial governments. Application was made in turn to Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, but without success. While the women were still wailing night and morning for their slain kindred, and the Creeks were taunting the warriors for their cowardice in thus quietly submitting to the injury, some lawless officers of Fort Prince George committed an unpardonable outrage at the neighboring Indian town while most of the men were away hunting.86 The warriors could no longer be restrained. Soon there was news of attacks upon the back settlements of Carolina, while on the other side of the mountains two soldiers of the Fort Loudon garrison were killed. War seemed at hand.
At this juncture, in November, 1758, a party of influential chiefs, having first ordered back a war party just about to set out from the western towns against the Carolina settlements, came down to Charleston and succeeded in arranging the difficulty upon a friendly basis. The assembly had officially declared peace with the Cherokee, when, in May of 1759, Governor Lyttleton unexpectedly came forward with a demand for the surrender for execution of every Indian who had killed a white man in the recent skirmishes, among these being the chiefs of Citico and Tellico. At the same time the commander at Fort Loudon, forgetful of the fact that he had but a small garrison in the midst of several thousands of restless savages, made a demand for twenty-four other chiefs whom he suspected of unfriendly action. To compel their surrender orders were given to stop all trading supplies intended for the upper Cherokee.
This roused the whole Nation, and a delegation representing every town came down to Charleston, protesting the desire of the Indians for peace and friendship, but declaring their inability to surrender their own chiefs. The governor replied by declaring war in November, 1759, at once calling out troops and sending messengers to secure the aid of all the surrounding tribes against the Cherokee. In the meantime a second delegation of thirty-two of the most prominent men, led by the young war chief Oconostota, (Âgăn-stâta) arrived to make a further effort for peace, but the governor, refusing to listen to them, seized the whole party and confined them as prisoners at Fort Prince George, in a room large enough for only six soldiers, while at the same time he set fourteen hundred troops in motion to invade the Cherokee country. On further representation by Ata-kullakulla (Ătă′-gûl′ʻkălû′), the civil chief of the Nation and well known as a friend of the English, the governor released Oconostota and two others after compelling some half dozen of the delegation to sign a paper by which they pretended to agree for their tribe to kill or seize any Frenchmen entering their country, and consented to the imprisonment of the party until all the warriors demanded had been surrendered for execution or otherwise. At this stage of affairs the smallpox broke out in the Cherokee towns, rendering a further stay in their neighborhood unsafe, and thinking the whole matter now settled on his own basis, Lyttleton returned to Charleston.
The event soon proved how little he knew of Indian temper. Oconostota at once laid siege to Fort Prince George, completely cutting off communication at a time when, as it was now winter, no help could well be expected from below. In February, 1760, after having kept the fort thus closely invested for some weeks, he sent word one day by an Indian woman that he wished to speak to the commander, Lieutenant Coytmore. As the lieutenant stepped out from the stockade to see what was wanted, Oconostota, standing on the opposite side of the river, swung a bridle above his head as a signal to his warriors concealed in the bushes, and the officer was at once shot down. The soldiers immediately broke into the room where the hostages were confined, every one being a chief of prominence in the tribe and butchered them to the last man.
It was now war to the end. Led by Oconostota, the Cherokee descended upon the frontier settlements of Carolina, while the warriors across the mountains laid close siege to Fort Loudon. In June, 1760, a strong force of over 1,600 men, under Colonel Montgomery, started to reduce the Cherokee towns and relieve the beleaguered garrison. Crossing the Indian frontier, Montgomery quickly drove the enemy from about Fort Prince George and then, rapidly advancing, surprised Little Keowee, killing every man of the defenders, and destroyed in succession every one of the Lower Cherokee towns, burning them to the ground, cutting down the cornfields and orchards, killing and taking more than a hundred of their men, and driving the whole population into the mountains before him. His own loss was very slight. He then sent messengers to the Middle and Upper towns, summoning them to surrender on penalty of the like fate, but, receiving no reply, he led his men across the divide to the waters of the Little Tennessee and continued down that stream without opposition until he came in the vicinity of Echoee (Itse′yĭ), a few miles above the sacred town of Nĭkwăsĭ′, the present Franklin, North Carolina. Here the Cherokee had collected their full force to resist his progress, and the result was a desperate engagement on June 27, 1760, by which Montgomery was compelled to retire to Fort Prince George, after losing nearly one hundred men in killed and wounded. The Indian loss is unknown.
His retreat sealed the fate of Fort Loudon. The garrison, though hard pressed and reduced to the necessity of eating horses and dogs, had been enabled to hold out through the kindness of the Indian women, many of whom, having found sweethearts among the soldiers, brought them supplies of food daily. When threatened by the chiefs the women boldly replied that the soldiers were their husbands and it was their duty to help them, and that if any harm came to themselves for their devotion their English relatives would avenge them. The end was only delayed, however, and on August 8, 1760, the garrison of about two hundred men, under Captain Demeré, surrendered to Oconostota on promise that they should be allowed to retire unmolested with their arms and sufficient ammunition for the march, on condition of delivering up all the remaining warlike stores.
The troops marched out and proceeded far enough to camp for the night, while the Indians swarmed into the fort to see what plunder they might find. “By accident a discovery was made of ten bags of powder and a large quantity of ball that had been secretly buried in the fort, to prevent their falling into the enemy’s hands” (Hewat). It is said also that cannon, small arms, and ammunition had been thrown into the river with the same intention (Haywood). Enraged at this breach of the capitulation the Cherokee attacked the soldiers next morning at daylight, killing Demeré and twenty-nine others at the first fire. The rest were taken and held as prisoners until ransomed some time after. The second officer, Captain Stuart, for whom the Indians had a high regard, was claimed by Ata-kullakulla, who soon after took him into the woods, ostensibly on a hunting excursion, and conducted him for nine days through the wilderness until he delivered him safely into the hands of friends in Virginia. The chief’s kindness was well rewarded, and it was largely through his influence that peace was finally brought about.
It was now too late, and the settlements were too much exhausted, for another expedition, so the fall and winter were employed by the English in preparations for an active campaign the next year in force to crush out all resistance. In June 1761, Colonel Grant with an army of 2,600 men, including a number of Chickasaw and almost every remaining warrior of the Catawba, set out from Fort Prince George. Refusing a request from Ata-kullakulla for a friendly accommodation, he crossed Rabun gap and advanced rapidly down the Little Tennessee along the same trail taken by the expedition of the previous year. On June 10, when within two miles of Montgomery’s battlefield, he encountered the Cherokee, whom he defeated, although with considerable loss to himself, after a stubborn engagement lasting several hours. Having repulsed the Indians, he proceeded on his way, sending out detachments to the outlying settlements, until in the course of a month he had destroyed every one of the Middle towns, 15 in all, with all their granaries and cornfields, driven the inhabitants into the mountains, and “pushed the frontier seventy miles farther to the west.”
The Cherokee were now reduced to the greatest extremity. With some of their best towns in ashes, their fields and orchards wasted for two successive years, their ammunition nearly exhausted, many of their bravest warriors dead, their people fugitives in the mountains, hiding in caves and living like beasts upon roots or killing their horses for food, with the terrible scourge of smallpox adding to the miseries of starvation, and withal torn by factional differences which had existed from the very beginning of the war—it was impossible for even brave men to resist longer. In September Ata-kullakulla who had all along done everything in his power to stay the disaffection, came down to Charleston, a treaty of peace was made, and the war was ended. From an estimated population of at least 5,000 warriors some years before, the Cherokee had now been reduced to about 2,300 men.
In the meantime a force of Virginians under Colonel Stephen had advanced as far as the Great island of the Holston—now Kingsport, Tennessee—where they were met by a large delegation of Cherokee, who sued for peace, which was concluded with them by Colonel Stephen on November 19, 1761, independently of what was being done in South Carolina. On the urgent request of the chief that an officer might visit their people for a short time to cement the new friendship, Lieutenant Henry Timberlake, a young Virginian who had already distinguished himself in active service, volunteered to return with them to their towns, where he spent several months. He afterward conducted a delegation of chiefs to England, where, as they had come without authority from the Government, they met such an unpleasant reception that they returned disgusted.
On the conclusion of peace between England and France in 1763, by which the whole western territory was ceded to England, a great council was held at Augusta, which was attended by the chiefs and principal men of all the southern Indians, at which Captain John Stuart, superintendent for the southern tribes, together with the colonial governors of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, explained fully to the Indians the new condition of affairs, and a treaty of mutual peace and friendship was concluded on November 10 of that year.
Under several leaders, as Walker, Wallen, Smith, and Boon, the tide of emigration now surged across the mountains in spite of every effort to restrain it, and the period between the end of the Cherokee war and the opening of the Revolution is principally notable for a number of treaty cessions by the Indians, each in fruitless endeavor to fix a permanent barrier between themselves and the advancing wave of white settlement. Chief among these was the famous Henderson purchase in 1775, which included the whole tract between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers, embracing the greater part of the present state of Kentucky. By these treaties the Cherokee were shorn of practically all their ancient territorial claims north of the present Tennessee line and east of the Blue ridge and the Savannah, including much of their best hunting range; their home settlements were, however, left still in their possession.
As one consequence of the late Cherokee war, a royal proclamation had been issued in 1763, with a view of checking future encroachments by the whites, which prohibited any private land purchases from the Indians, or any granting of warrants for lands west of the sources of the streams flowing into the Atlantic. In 1768, on the appeal of the Indians themselves, the British superintendent for the southern tribes, Captain John Stuart, had negotiated a treaty at Hard Labor in South Carolina by which Kanawha and New rivers, along their whole course downward from the North Carolina line, were fixed as the boundary between the Cherokee and the whites in that direction. In two years, however, so many borderers had crossed into the Indian country, where they were evidently determined to remain, that it was found necessary to substitute another treaty, by which the line was made to run due south from the mouth of the Kanawha to the Holston, thus cutting off from the Cherokee almost the whole of their hunting grounds in Virginia and West Virginia. Two years later, in 1772, the Virginians demanded a further cession, by which everything east of Kentucky river was surrendered; and finally, on March 17, 1775, the great Henderson purchase was consummated, including the whole tract between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers. By this last cession the Cherokee were at last cut off from Ohio river and all their rich Kentucky hunting grounds.
While these transactions were called treaties, they were really forced upon the native proprietors, who resisted each in turn and finally signed only under protest and on most solemn assurances that no further demands would be made. Even before the purchases were made, intruders in large numbers had settled upon each of the tracts in question, and they refused to withdraw across the boundaries now established, but remained on one pretext or another to await a new adjustment. This was particularly the case on Watauga and upper Holston rivers in northeastern Tennessee, where the settlers, finding themselves still within the Indian boundary and being resolved to remain, effected a temporary lease from the Cherokee in 1772. As was expected and intended, the lease became a permanent occupancy, the nucleus settlement of the future State of Tennessee.
Just before the outbreak of the Revolution, the botanist, William Bartram, made an extended tour of the Cherokee country, and has left us a pleasant account of the hospitable character and friendly disposition of the Indians at that time. He gives a list of forty-three towns then inhabited by the tribe.
The opening of the great Revolutionary struggle in 1776 found the Indian tribes almost to a man ranged on the British side against the Americans. There was good reason for this. Since the fall of the French power the British government had stood to them as the sole representative of authority, and the guardian and protector of their rights against constant encroachments by the American borderers. Licensed British traders were resident in every tribe and many had intermarried and raised families among them, while the border man looked upon the Indian only as a cumberer of the earth. The British superintendents, Sir William Johnson in the north and Captain John Stuart in the south, they knew as generous friends, while hardly a warrior of them all was without some old cause of resentment against their backwoods neighbors. They felt that the only barrier between themselves and national extinction was in the strength of the British government, and when the final severence came they threw their whole power into the British scale. They were encouraged in this resolution by presents of clothing and other goods, with promises of plunder from the settlements and hopes of recovering a portion of their lost territories. The British government having determined, as early as June, 1775, to call in the Indians against the Americans, supplies of hatchets, guns, and ammunition were issued to the warriors of all the tribes from the lakes to the gulf, and bounties were offered for American scalps brought in to the commanding officer at Detroit or Oswego. Even the Six Nations, who had agreed in solemn treaty to remain neutral, were won over by these persuasions. In August, 1775, an Indian “talk” was intercepted in which the Cherokee assured Cameron, the resident agent, that their warriors, enlisted in the service of the king, were ready at a signal to fall upon the back settlements of Carolina and Georgia.100 Circular letters were sent out to all those persons in the back country supposed to be of royalist sympathies, directing them to repair to Cameron’s headquarters in the Cherokee country to join the Indians in the invasion of the settlements.
In June, 1776, a British fleet under command of Sir Peter Parker, with a large naval and military force, attacked Charleston, South Carolina, both by land and sea, and simultaneously a body of Cherokee, led by Tories in Indian disguise, came down from the mountains and ravaged the exposed frontier of South Carolina, killing and burning as they went. After a gallant defense by the garrison at Charleston the British were repulsed, whereupon their Indian and Tory allies withdrew.
About the same time the warning came from Nancy Ward, a noted friendly Indian woman of great authority in the Cherokee Nation, that seven hundred Cherokee warriors were advancing in two divisions against the Watauga and Holston settlements, with the design of destroying everything as far up as New river. The Holston men from both sides of the Virginia line hastily collected under Captain Thompson and marched against the Indians, whom they met and defeated with signal loss after a hard-fought battle near the Long island in the Holston (Kingsport, Tennessee), on August 20. The next day the second division of the Cherokee attacked the fort at Watauga, garrisoned by only forty men under Captain James Robertson, but was repulsed without loss to the defenders, the Indians withdrawing on news of the result at the Long island. A Mrs. Bean and a boy named Moore were captured on this occasion and carried to one of the Cherokee towns in the neighborhood of Tellico, where the boy was burned, but the woman, after she had been condemned to death and everything was in readiness for the tragedy, was rescued by the interposition of Nancy Ward. Two other Cherokee detachments moved against the upper settlements at the same time. One of these, finding all the inhabitants securely shut up in forts, returned without doing much damage. The other ravaged the country on Clinch river almost to its head, and killed a man and wounded others at Black’s station, now Abingdon, Virginia.
At the same time that one part of the Cherokee were raiding the Tennessee settlements others came down upon the frontiers of Carolina and Georgia. On the upper Catawba they killed many people, but the whites took refuge in the stockade stations, where they defended themselves until General Rutherford came to their relief. In Georgia an attempt had been made by a small party of Americans to seize Cameron, who lived in one of the Cherokee towns with his Indian wife, but, as was to have been expected, the Indians interfered, killing several of the party and capturing others, who were afterward tortured to death. The Cherokee of the Upper and Middle towns, with some Creeks and Tories of the vicinity, led by Cameron himself, at once began ravaging the South Carolina border, burning houses, driving off cattle, and killing men, women, and children without distinction, until the whole country was in a wild panic, the people abandoning their farms to seek safety in the garrisoned forts. On one occasion an attack by two hundred of the enemy, half of them being Tories, stripped and painted like Indians, was repulsed by the timely arrival of a body of Americans, who succeeded in capturing thirteen of the Tories. The invasion extended into Georgia, where also property was destroyed and the inhabitants were driven from their homes.
Realizing their common danger, the border states determined to strike such a concerted blow at the Cherokee as should render them passive while the struggle with England continued. In accord with this plan of cooperation the frontier forces were quickly mobilized and in the summer of 1776 four expeditions were equipped from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, to enter the Cherokee territory simultaneously from as many different directions.
In August of that year the army of North Carolina, 2,400 strong, under General Griffith Rutherford, crossed the Blue ridge at Swannanoa gap, and following the main trail almost along the present line of the railroad, struck the first Indian town, Stikâ′yĭ, or Stecoee, on the Tuckasegee, near the present Whittier. The inhabitants having fled, the soldiers burned the town, together with an unfinished townhouse ready for the roof, cut down the standing corn, killed one or two straggling Indians, and then proceeded on their mission of destruction. Every town upon Oconaluftee, Tuckasegee, and the upper part of Little Tennessee, and on Hiwassee to below the junction of Valley river—thirty-six towns in all—was destroyed in turn, the corn cut down or trampled under the hoofs of the stock driven into the fields for that purpose, and the stock itself killed or carried off. Before such an overwhelming force, supplemented as it was by three others simultaneously advancing from other directions, the Cherokee made but poor resistance, and fled with their women and children into the fastnesses of the Great Smoky mountains, leaving their desolated fields and smoking towns behind them. As was usual in Indian wars, the actual number killed or taken was small, but the destruction of property was beyond calculation. At Sugartown (Kûlsetsi′yĭ, east of the present Franklin) one detachment, sent to destroy it, was surprised, and escaped only through the aid of another force sent to its rescue. Rutherford himself, while proceeding to the destruction of the Hiwassee towns, encountered the Indians drawn up to oppose his progress in the Waya gap of the Nantahala mountains, and one of the hardest fights of the campaign resulted, the soldiers losing over forty killed and wounded, although the Cherokee were finally repulsed. One of the Indians killed on this occasion was afterward discovered to be a woman, painted and armed like a warrior.
On September 26 the South Carolina army, 1,860 strong, under Colonel Andrew Williamson, and including a number of Catawba Indians, effected a junction with Rutherford’s forces on Hiwassee river, near the present Murphy, North Carolina. It had been expected that Williamson would join the northern army at Cowee, on the Little Tennessee, when they would proceed together against the western towns, but he had been delayed, and the work of destruction in that direction was already completed, so that after a short rest each army returned home along the route by which it had come.
The South Carolina men had centered by different detachments in the lower Cherokee towns about the head of Savannah river, burning one town after another, cutting down the peach trees and ripened corn, and having an occasional brush with the Cherokee, who hung constantly upon their flanks. At the town of Seneca, near which they encountered Cameron with his Indians and Tories, they had destroyed six thousand bushels of corn, besides other food stores, after burning all the houses, the Indians having retreated after a stout resistance. The most serious encounter had taken place at Tomassee, where several whites and sixteen Cherokee were killed, the latter being all scalped afterward. Having completed the ruin of the Lower towns, Williamson had crossed over Rabun gap and descended into the valley of the Little Tennessee to cooperate with Rutherford in the destruction of the Middle and Valley towns. As the army advanced every house in every settlement met was burned—ninety houses in one settlement alone—and detachments were sent into the fields to destroy the corn, of which the smallest town was estimated to have two hundred acres, besides potatoes, beans, and orchards of peach trees. The stores of dressed deerskins and other valuables were carried off. Everything was swept clean, and the Indians who were not killed or taken were driven, homeless refugees, into the dark recesses of Nantahala or painfully made their way across to the Overhill towns in Tennessee, which were already menaced by another invasion from the north.
In July, while Williamson was engaged on the the upper Savannah, a force of two hundred Georgians, under Colonel Samuel Jack, had marched in the same direction and succeeded in burning two towns on the heads of Chattahoochee and Tugaloo rivers, destroying the corn and driving off the cattle, without the loss of a man, the Cherokee having apparently fallen back to concentrate for resistance in the mountains.
The Virginia army, about two thousand strong, under Colonel William Christian, rendezvoused in August at the Long island of the Holston, the regular gathering place on the Tennessee side of the mountains. Among them were several hundred men from North Carolina, with all who could be spared from the garrisons on the Tennessee side. Paying but little attention to small bodies of Indians, who tried to divert attention or to delay progress by flank attacks, they advanced steadily, but cautiously, along the great Indian warpath toward the crossing of the French Broad, where a strong force of Cherokee was reported to be in waiting to dispute their passage. Just before reaching the river the Indians sent a Tory trader with a flag of truce to discuss terms. Knowing that his own strength was overwhelming, Christian allowed the envoy to go through the whole camp and then sent him back with the message that there could be no terms until the Cherokee towns had been destroyed. Arriving at the ford, he kindled fires and made all preparations as if intending to camp there for several days. As soon as night fell, however, he secretly drew off half his force and crossed the river lower down, to come upon the Indians in their rear. This was a work of great difficulty; as the water was so deep that it came up almost to the shoulders of the men, while the current was so rapid that they were obliged to support each other four abreast to prevent being swept off their feet. However, they kept their guns and powder dry. On reaching the other side they were surprised to find no enemy. Disheartened at the strength of the invasion, the Indians had fled without even a show of resistance. It is probable that nearly all their men and resources had been drawn off to oppose the Carolina forces on their eastern border, and the few who remained felt themselves unequal to the contest.
Advancing without opposition, Christian reached the towns on Little Tennessee early in November, and, finding them deserted, proceeded to destroy them, one after another, with their outlying fields. The few lingering warriors discovered were all killed. In the meantime messages had been sent out to the farther towns, in response to which several of their head men came into Christian’s camp to treat for peace. On their agreement to surrender all the prisoners and captured stock in their hands and to cede to the whites all the disputed territory occupied by the Tennessee settlements, as soon as representatives of the whole tribe could be assembled in the spring, Christian consented to suspend hostilities and retire without doing further injury. An exception was made against Tuskegee and another town, which had been concerned in the burning of the boy taken from Watauga, already noted, and these two were reduced to ashes. The sacred “peace town,” Echota, had not been molested. Most of the troops were disbanded on their return to the Long island, but a part remained and built Fort Patrick Henry, where they went into winter quarters.
From incidental notices in narratives written by some of the participants, we obtain interesting side-lights on the merciless character of this old border warfare. In addition to the ordinary destruction of war—the burning of towns, the wasting of fruitful fields, and the killing of the defenders—we find that every Indian warrior killed was scalped, when opportunity permitted; women, as well as men, were shot down and afterward “helped to their end”; and prisoners taken were put up at auction as slaves when not killed on the spot. Near Tomassee a small party of Indians was surrounded and entirely cut off. “Sixteen were found dead in the valley when the battle ended. These our men scalped.” In a personal encounter “a stout Indian engaged a sturdy young white man, who was a good bruiser and expert at gouging. After breaking their guns on each other they laid hold of one another, when the cracker had his thumbs instantly in the fellow’s eyes, who roared and cried ‘canaly’—enough, in English. ‘Damn you,’ says the white man, ‘you can never have enough while you are alive.’ He then threw him down, set his foot upon his head, and scalped him alive; then took up one of the broken guns and knocked out his brains. It would have been fun if he had let the latter action alone and sent him home without his nightcap, to tell his countrymen how he had been treated.” Later on some of the same detachment (Williamson’s) seeing a woman ahead, fired on her and brought her down with two serious wounds, but yet able to speak. After getting what information she could give them, through a half-breed interpreter, “the informer being unable to travel, some of our men favored her so far that they killed her there, to put her out of pain.” A few days later “a party of Colonel Thomas’s regiment, being on a hunt of plunder, or some such thing, found an Indian squaw and took her prisoner, she being lame, was unable to go with her friends. She was so sullen that she would, as an old saying is, neither lead nor drive, and by their account she died in their hands; but I suppose they helped her to her end.” At this place—on the Hiwassee—they found a large town, having “upwards of ninety houses, and large quantities of corn,” and “we encamped among the corn, where we had a great plenty of corn, peas, beans, potatoes, and hogs,” and on the next day “we were ordered to assemble in companies to spread through the town to destroy, cut down, and burn all the vegetables belonging to our heathen enemies, which was no small undertaking, they being so plentifully supplied.” Continuing to another town, “we engaged in our former labor, that is, cutting and destroying all things that might be of advantage to our enemies. Finding here curious buildings, great apple trees, and white-man-like improvements, these we destroyed.”
While crossing over the mountains Rutherford’s men approached a house belonging to a trader, when one of his negro slaves ran out and “was shot by the Reverend James Hall, the chaplain, as he ran, mistaking him for an Indian.” Soon after they captured two women and a boy. It was proposed to auction them off at once to the highest bidder, and when one of the officers protested that the matter should be left to the disposition of Congress, “the greater part swore bloodily that if they were not sold for slaves upon the spot they would kill and scalp them immediately.” The prisoners were accordingly sold for about twelve hundred dollars.
At the Wolf Hills settlement, now Abingdon, Virginia, a party sent out from the fort returned with the scalps of eleven warriors. Having recovered the books which their minister had left behind in his cabin, they held a service of prayer for their success, after which the fresh scalps were hung upon a pole above the gate of the fort. The barbarous custom of scalping to which the border men had become habituated in the earlier wars was practiced upon every occasion when opportunity presented, at least upon the bodies of warriors, and the South Carolina legislature offered a bounty of seventy-five pounds for every warrior’s scalp, a higher reward, however, being offered for prisoners. In spite of all the bitterness which the war aroused there seems to be no record of any scalping of Tories or other whites by the Americans.
The effect upon the Cherokee of this irruption of more than six thousand armed enemies into their territory was well nigh paralyzing. More than fifty of their towns had been burned, their orchards cut down, their fields wasted, their cattle and horses killed or driven off, their stores of buckskin and other personal property plundered. Hundreds of their people had been killed or had died of starvation and exposure, others were prisoners in the hands of the Americans, and some had been sold into slavery. Those who had escaped were fugitives in the mountains, living upon acorns, chestnuts, and wild game, or were refugees with the British. From the Virginia line to the Chattahoochee the chain of destruction was complete. For the present at least any further resistance was hopeless, and they were compelled to sue for peace.
By a treaty concluded at DeWitts Corners in South Carolina on May 20, 1777, the first ever made with the new states, the Lower Cherokee surrendered to the conqueror all of their remaining territory in South Carolina, excepting a narrow strip along the western boundary. Just two months later, on July 20, by treaty at the Long island, as had been arranged by Christian in the preceding fall, the Middle and Upper Cherokee ceded everything east of the Blue ridge, together with all the disputed territory on the Watauga, Nolichucky, upper Holston, and New rivers. By this second treaty also Captain James Robertson was appointed agent for the Cherokee, to reside at Echota, to watch their movements, recover any captured property, and prevent their correspondence with persons unfriendly to the American cause. As the Federal government was not yet in perfect operation these treaties were negotiated by commissioners from the four states adjoining the Cherokee country, the territory thus acquired being parceled out to South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
While the Cherokee Nation had thus been compelled to a treaty of peace, a very considerable portion of the tribe was irreconcilably hostile to the Americans and refused to be a party to the late cessions, especially on the Tennessee side. Although Ata-kullakulla sent word that he was ready with five hundred young warriors to fight for the Americans against the English or Indian enemy whenever called upon, Dragging-canoe (Tsiyu-gûnsi′nĭ), who had led the opposition against the Watauga settlements, declared that he would hold fast to Cameron’s talk and continue to make war upon those who had taken his hunting grounds. Under his leadership some hundreds of the most warlike and implacable warriors of the tribe, with their families, drew out from the Upper and Middle towns and moved far down upon Tennessee river, where they established new settlements on Chickamauga creek, in the neighborhood of the present Chattanooga. The locality appears to have been already a rendezvous for a sort of Indian banditti, who sometimes plundered boats disabled in the rapids at this point while descending the river. Under the name “Chickamaugas” they soon became noted for their uncompromising and never-ceasing hostility. In 1782, in consequence of the destruction of their towns by Sevier and Campbell, they abandoned this location and moved farther down the river, where they built, what were afterwards known as the “five lower towns,” viz, Running Water, Nickajack, Long Island, Crow town, and Lookout Mountain town. These were all on the extreme western Cherokee frontier, near where Tennessee river crosses the state line, the first three being within the present limits of Tennessee, while Lookout Mountain town and Crow town were respectively in the adjacent corners of Georgia and Alabama. Their population was recruited from Creeks, Shawano, and white Tories, until they were estimated at a thousand warriors. Here they remained, a constant thorn in the side of Tennessee, until their towns were destroyed in 1794.
The expatriated Lower Cherokee also removed to the farthest western border of their tribal territory, where they might hope to be secure from encroachment for a time at least, and built new towns for themselves on the upper waters of the Coosa. Twenty years afterward Hawkins found the population of Willstown, in extreme western Georgia, entirely made up of refugees from the Savannah, and the children so familiar from their parents with stories of Williamson’s invasion that they ran screaming from the face of a white man.
In April, 1777, the legislature of North Carolina, of which Tennessee was still a part, authorized bounties of land in the new territory to all able-bodied men who should volunteer against the remaining hostile Cherokee. Under this act companies of rangers were kept along the exposed border to cut off raiding parties of Indians and to protect the steady advance of the pioneers, with the result that the Tennessee settlements enjoyed a brief respite and were even able to send some assistance to their brethren in Kentucky, who were sorely pressed by the Shawano and other northern tribes.
The war between England and the colonies still continued, however, and the British government was unremitting in its effort to secure the active assistance of the Indians. With the Creeks raiding the Georgia and South Carolina frontier, and with a British agent, Colonel Brown, and a number of Tory refugees regularly domiciled at Chickamauga, it was impossible for the Cherokee long to remain quiet. In the spring of 1779 the warning came from Robertson, stationed at Echota, that three hundred warriors from Chickamauga had started against the back-settlements of North Carolina. Without a day’s delay the states of North Carolina (including Tennessee) and Virginia united to send a strong force of volunteers against them under command of Colonels Shelby and Montgomery. Descending the Holston in April in a fleet of canoes built for the occasion, they took the Chickamauga towns so completely by surprise that the few warriors remaining fled to the mountains without attempting to give battle. Several were killed, Chickamauga and the outlying villages were burned, twenty thousand bushels of corn were destroyed and large numbers of horses and cattle captured, together with a great quantity of goods sent by the British Governor Hamilton at Detroit for distribution to the Indians. The success of this expedition frustrated the execution of a project by Hamilton for uniting all the northern and southern Indians, to be assisted by British regulars, in a concerted attack along the whole American frontier. On learning, through runners, of the blow that had befallen them, the Chickamauga warriors gave up all idea of invading the settlements, and returned to their wasted villages. They, as well as the Creeks, however, kept in constant communication with the British commander in Savannah. In this year also a delegation of Cherokee visited the Ohio towns to offer condolences on the death of the noted Delaware chief, White-eyes.
In the early spring of 1780 a large company of emigrants under Colonel John Donelson descended the Holston and the Tennessee to the Ohio, whence they ascended the Cumberland, effected a junction with another party under Captain James Robertson, which had just arrived by a toilsome overland route, and made the first settlement on the present site of Nashville. In passing the Chickamauga towns they had run the gauntlet of the hostile Cherokee, who pursued them for a considerable distance beyond the whirlpool known as the Suck, where the river breaks through the mountain. The family of a man named Stuart being infected with the smallpox, his boat dropped behind, and all on board, twenty-eight in number, were killed or taken by the Indians, their cries being distinctly heard by their friends ahead who were unable to help them. Another boat having run upon the rocks, the three women in it, one of whom had become a mother the night before, threw the cargo into the river, and then, jumping into the water, succeeded in pushing the boat into the current while the husband of one of them kept the Indians at bay with his rifle. The infant was killed in the confusion. Three cowards attempted to escape, without thought of their companions. One was drowned in the river; the other two were captured and carried to Chickamauga, where one was burned and the other was ransomed by a trader. The rest went on their way to found the capital of a new commonwealth. As if in retributive justice, the smallpox broke out in the Chickamauga band in consequence of the capture of Stuart’s family, causing the death of a great number.
The British having reconquered Georgia and South Carolina and destroyed all resistance in the south, early in 1780 Cornwallis, with his subordinates, Ferguson and the merciless Tarleton, prepared to invade North Carolina and sweep the country northward to Virginia. The Creeks under McGillivray, and a number of the Cherokee under various local chiefs, together with the Tories, at once joined his standard.
While the Tennessee backwoodsmen were gathered at a barbecue to contest for a shooting prize, a paroled prisoner brought a demand from Ferguson for their submission; with the threat, if they refused, that he would cross the mountains, hang their leaders, kill every man found in arms and burn every settlement. Up to this time the mountain men had confined their effort to holding in check the Indian enemy, but now, with the fate of the Revolution at stake, they felt that the time for wider action had come. They resolved not to await the attack, but to anticipate it. Without order or authority from Congress, without tents, commissary, or supplies, the Indian fighters of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee quickly assembled at the Sycamore shoals of the Watauga to the number of about one thousand men under Campbell of Virginia, Sevier and Shelby of Tennessee, and McDowell of North Carolina. Crossing the mountains, they met Ferguson at Kings mountain in South Carolina on October 7, 1780, and gained the decisive victory that turned the tide of the Revolution in the South.
It is in place here to quote a description of these men in buckskin, white by blood and tradition, but half Indian in habit and instinct, who, in half a century of continuous conflict, drove back Creeks, Cherokee, and Shawano, and with one hand on the plow and the other on the rifle redeemed a wilderness and carried civilization and free government to the banks of the Mississippi.
“They were led by leaders they trusted, they were wonted to Indian warfare, they were skilled as horsemen and marksmen, they knew how to face every kind of danger, hardship, and privation. Their fringed and tasseled hunting shirts were girded by bead-worked belts, and the trappings of their horses were stained red and yellow. On their heads they wore caps of coon skin or mink skin, with the tails hanging down, or else felt hats, in each of which was thrust a buck tail or a sprig of evergreen. Every man carried a small-bore rifle, a tomahawk, and a scalping knife. A very few of the officers had swords, and there was not a bayonet nor a tent in the army.”
To strike the blow at Kings mountain the border men had been forced to leave their own homes unprotected. Even before they could cross the mountains on their return the news came that the Cherokee were again out in force for the destruction of the upper settlements, and their numerous small bands were killing, burning, and plundering in the usual Indian fashion. Without loss of time the Holston settlements of Virginia and Tennessee at once raised seven hundred mounted riflemen to march against the enemy, the command being assigned to Colonel Arthur Campbell of Virginia and Colonel John Sevier of Tennessee.
Sevier started first with nearly three hundred men, going south along the great Indian war trail and driving small parties of the Cherokee before him, until he crossed the French Broad and came upon seventy of them on Boyds creek, not far from the present Sevierville, on December 16, 1780. Ordering his men to spread out into a half circle, he sent ahead some scouts, who, by an attack and feigned retreat, managed to draw the Indians into the trap thus prepared, with the result that they left thirteen dead and all their plunder, while not one of the whites was even wounded.
A few days later Sevier was joined by Campbell with the remainder of the force. Advancing to the Little Tennessee with but slight resistance, they crossed three miles below Echota while the Indians were watching for them at the ford above. Then dividing into two bodies, they proceeded to destroy the towns along the river. The chiefs sent peace talks through Nancy Ward, the Cherokee woman who had so befriended the whites in 1776, but to these overtures Campbell returned an evasive answer until he could first destroy the towns on lower Hiwassee, whose warriors had been particularly hostile. Continuing southward, the troops destroyed these towns, Hiwassee and Chestuee, with all their stores of provisions, finishing the work on the last day of the year. The Indians had fled before them, keeping spies out to watch their movements. One of these, while giving signals from a ridge by beating a drum, was shot by the whites. The soldiers lost only one man, who was buried in an Indian cabin which was then burned down to conceal the trace of the interment. The return march was begun on New Year’s day. Ten principal towns, including Echota, the capital, had been destroyed, besides several smaller villages, containing in the aggregate over one thousand houses, and not less than fifty thousand bushels of corn and large stores of other provision. Everything not needed on the return march was committed to the flames or otherwise wasted. Of all the towns west of the mountains only Talassee, and one or two about Chickamauga or on the headwaters of the Coosa, escaped. The whites had lost only one man killed and two wounded. Before the return a proclamation was sent to the Cherokee chiefs, warning them to make peace on penalty of a worse visitation.
Some Cherokee who met them at Echota, on the return march, to talk of peace, brought in and surrendered several white prisoners. One reason for the slight resistance made by the Indians was probably the fact that at the very time of the invasion many of their warriors were away, raiding on the Upper Holston and in the neighborhood of Cumberland gap.
Although the Upper or Overhill Cherokee were thus humbled, those of the middle towns, on the head waters of Little Tennessee, still continued to send out parties against the back settlements. Sevier determined to make a sudden stroke upon them, and early in March of the same year, 1781, with 150 picked horsemen, he started to cross the Great Smoky mountains over trails never before attempted by white men, and so rough in places that it was hardly possible to lead horses. Falling unexpectedly upon Tuckasegee, near the present Webster, North Carolina, he took the town completely by surprise, killing several warriors and capturing a number of women and children. Two other principal towns and three smaller settlements were taken in the same way, with a quantity of provision and about 200 horses, the Indians being entirely off their guard and unprepared to make any effective resistance. Having spread destruction through the middle towns, with the loss to himself of only one man killed and another wounded, he was off again as suddenly as he had come, moving so rapidly that he was well on his homeward way before the Cherokee could gather for pursuit. At the same time a smaller Tennessee expedition went out to disperse the Indians who had been making headquarters in the mountains about Cumberland gap and harassing travelers along the road to Kentucky. Numerous indications of Indians were found, but none were met, although the country was scoured for a considerable distance. In summer the Cherokee made another incursion, this time upon the new settlements on the French Broad, near the present Newport, Tennessee. With a hundred horsemen Sevier fell suddenly upon their camp on Indian creek, killed a dozen warriors, and scattered the rest. By these successive blows the Cherokee were so worn out and dispirited that they were forced to sue for peace, and in midsummer of 1781 a treaty of peace—doubtful though it might be—was negotiated at the Long island of the Holston. The respite came just in time to allow the Tennesseeans to send a detachment against Cornwallis.
Although there was truce in Tennessee, there was none in the South. In November of this year the Cherokee made a sudden inroad upon the Georgia settlements, destroying everything in their way. In retaliation a force under General Pickens marched into their country, destroying their towns as far as Valley river. Finding further progress blocked by heavy snows and learning through a prisoner that the Indians, who had retired before him, were collecting to oppose him in the mountains, he withdrew, as he says, “through absolute necessity,” having accomplished very little of the result expected. Shortly afterward the Cherokee, together with some Creeks, again invaded Georgia, but were met on Oconee river and driven back by a detachment of American troops.
The Overhill Cherokee, on lower Little Tennessee, seem to have been trying in good faith to hold to the peace established at the Long island. Early in 1781 the government land office had been closed to further entries, not to be opened again until peace had been declared with England, but the borderers paid little attention to the law in such matters, and the rage for speculation in Tennessee lands grew stronger daily. In the fall of 1782 the chief, Old Tassel of Echota, on behalf of all the friendly chiefs and towns, sent a pathetic talk to the governors of Virginia and North Carolina, complaining that in spite of all their efforts to remain quiet the settlers were constantly encroaching upon them, and had built houses within a day’s walk of the Cherokee towns. They asked that all those whites who had settled beyond the boundary last established should be removed. As was to have been expected, this was never done.
The Chickamauga band, however, and those farther to the south, were still bent on war, being actively encouraged in that disposition by the British agents and refugee loyalists living among them. They continued to raid both north and south, and in September, 1782, Sevier, with 200 mounted men, again made a descent upon their towns, destroying several of their settlements about Chickamauga creek, and penetrating as far as the important town of Ustana′li, on the headwaters of Coosa river, near the present Calhoun, Georgia. This also he destroyed. Every warrior found was killed, together with a white man found in one of the towns, whose papers showed that he had been active in inciting the Indians to war. On the return the expedition halted at Echota, where new assurances were received from the friendly element. In the meantime a Georgia expedition of over 400 men, under General Pickens, had been ravaging the Cherokee towns in the same quarter, with such effect that the Cherokee were forced to purchase peace by a further surrender of territory on the head of Broad river in Georgia. This cession was concluded at a treaty of peace held with the Georgia commissioners at Augusta in the next year, and was confirmed later by the Creeks, who claimed an interest in the same lands, but was never accepted by either as the voluntary act of their tribe as a whole.
By the preliminary treaty of Paris, November 30, 1782, the long Revolutionary struggle for independence was brought to a close, and the Cherokee, as well as the other tribes, seeing the hopelessness of continuing the contest alone, began to sue for peace. By seven years of constant warfare they had been reduced to the lowest depth of misery, almost indeed to the verge of extinction. Over and over again their towns had been laid in ashes and their fields wasted. Their best warriors had been killed and their women and children had sickened and starved in the mountains. Their great war chief, Oconostota, who had led them to victory in 1780, was now a broken old man, and in this year, at Echota, formally resigned his office in favor of his son, The Terrapin. To complete their brimming cup of misery the smallpox again broke out among them in 1783. Deprived of the assistance of their former white allies they were left to their own cruel fate, the last feeble resistance of the mountain warriors to the advancing tide of settlement came to an end with the burning of Cowee town, and the way was left open to an arrangement. In the same year the North Carolina legislature appointed an agent for the Cherokee and made regulations for the government of traders among them.
Source: James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, Extract from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the American Bureau of Ethnology.
Language Group: Cherokee (Tsalagi Gawonihisdi) is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. It is the only Southern Iroquoian language and differs significantly from the other Iroquoian languages.