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The Cherokee–American wars were a series of back-and-forth raids, campaigns, ambushes, minor skirmishes, and several full-scale frontier battles in the Old Southwest[1] from 1776 to 1794 between the Cherokee (Ani-Yunwiya, Tsalagi) and the Americans on the frontier. Most of the events took place in the Upper South. While their fight stretched across the entire period, there were times, sometimes ranging over several months, of little or no action.

"The Cherokees are Coming," an illustration depicting a scout warning the residents of Knoxville, Tennessee, of the approach of a large Cherokee force in September 1793

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

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

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

In the first phase, lasting 1776-1783, they also fought as allies of the Kingdom of Great Britain against its rebellious colonies. This first part of this phase, from summer 1776 to summer of 1777, involved the all sections of the entire Cherokee nation, and is often referred to as the “Cherokee War of 1776”. At the end of 1776, the only militant Cherokee were those who migrated with Dragging Canoe to the Chickamauga towns.

In the second phase, lasting 1783-1794, they served as also proxies of the Viceroyalty of New Spain against the new United States of America,. In 1786, the militant Cherokee with Dragging Canoe became founding members of the Native Americans' Western Confederacy organized by the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, and took an active part in the Northwest Indian War.

The series of conflicts ended in November 1794 with the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse.



The French and Indian War (1754–1763) and the related European theater conflict known as the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) laid many of the foundations for the conflict between the Cherokee and the American settlers on the frontier. These tensions on the frontier broke out into open hostilities with the advent of the American Revolution.

Aftermath of the French and Indian War

The action of the French and Indian War in North America included the Anglo-Cherokee War, lasting 1758-1761. British forces under general James Grant destroyed a number of major Cherokee towns, which were never reoccupied. Kituwa was abandoned, and its former residents migrated west; they took up residence at Mialoquo, called Great Island Town, on the Little Tennessee River among the Overhill Cherokee.[2]

At the end of this conflict within a conflict, the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Long-Island-on-the-Holston with the Colony of Virginia (1761) and the Treaty of Charlestown with the Province of South Carolina (1762). Standing Turkey, the First Beloved Man during the conflict, was replaced by Attakullakulla, who was pro-British.

A commander of Fort Patrick Henry sent Henry Timberlake as a token of friendship after the Anglo-Cherokee War. Timberlake later took three Cherokee to London, 1763

In the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, France in defeat ceded that part of the Louisiana Territory east of the Mississippi and Canada to the British. Spain took control of Louisiana west of the Mississippi. In exchange it ceded Florida to Great Britain, which created the jurisdictions of East Florida and West Florida.

Valuing the support of Native Americans, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This prohibited colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, in an effort to preserve territory for the native tribes. Many colonials resented the interference with their drive to the vast western lands. The proclamation was a major irritant to the colonists, contributing to their support for the American Revolution and ending interference by the Crown.

For example, the British had previously announced that a colony, to be called Charlotina, was planned for the lands of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions, which under the French had been part of Upper Louisiana; it was also known as the Illinois Country. The Proclamation of 1763 ended those plans of another Anglo-American colony. In 1774 the Crown attached the lands in question to the Province of Quebec. After achieving independence in 1783, the United States identified the area north of the Ohio River as the Northwest Territory.

John Stuart, the only officer to escape the Fort Loudoun massacre that took place during the Anglo-Cherokee War, was appointed as the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District, based in Charlestown. His deputy to the Cherokee, Alexander Cameron, lived among them, first at Keowee, then at Toqua on the Little Tennessee River. Cameron's assistant, John McDonald, set up a base 100 miles to the southwest on the west side of the Chickamauga River, where it was crossed by the Great Indian Warpath. To the Muscogee, Stuart sent David Taitt as deputy. The deputy to the Choctaw was his brother Charles Stuart. Among the Chickasaw, Farquhar Bethune served as Stuart’s deputy. John’s brother Henry Stuart served as chief deputy superintendent.[3]

Treaty of Fort Stanwix

After Pontiac's War (1763–1764), the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) ceded to the British government its claims to the hunting grounds between the Ohio and Cumberland rivers, known to them and other Indians as Kain-tuck-ee (Kentucky), in the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. It had controlled this area by right of conquest after pushing Siouan tribes out to the west during the Beaver Wars of the 17th century.

Watauga Association

The earliest colonial settlement in the vicinity of what became Upper East Tennessee was Sapling Grove (Bristol). The first of the North-of-Holston settlements, it was founded by Evan Shelby, who "purchased" the land in 1768 from John Buchanan. Jacob Brown began another settlement on the Nolichucky River, and John Carter another in what became known as Carter's Valley (between Clinch River and Beech Creek), both in 1771. Following the Battle of Alamance in 1771, James Robertson led a group of some twelve or thirteen Regulator families from North Carolina to the Watauga River.

Each of the groups thought they were within the territorial limits of the colony of Virginia. After a survey proved their mistake, Alexander Cameron, Deputy Superintendent for Indian Affairs, ordered them to leave. Attakullakulla, now First Beloved Man (Principal Chief) of the Cherokee, interceded on their behalf. The settlers were allowed to remain, provided no additional people joined them.

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap, George Caleb Bingham, oil on canvas, 1851–52

On 8 May 1772, the settlers on the Watauga and on the Nolichucky signed the Watauga Compact to form the Watauga Association. Although the two other settlements were not parties to it, all of them are sometimes referred to as "Wataugans".

Dunmore’s War

The next year, Daniel Boone led a group to establish a permanent settlement inside the hunting grounds of Kentucky. In retaliation the Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Mingo, and some Cherokee attacked a scouting and forage party, which included Boone's son James. The Indians ritually tortured to death their captives James Boone and Henry Russell. The colonists responded with the beginning of Dunmore's War (1773–1774).

Henderson Purchase

One year later, on 17 March 1775, a group of North Carolina speculators led by Richard Henderson negotiated the Treaty of Watauga at Sycamore Shoals with the older Overhill Cherokee leaders; Oconostota and Attakullakulla (now First Beloved Man), the most prominent, ceded the claim of the Cherokee to the Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda-giga'i) lands. The Transylvania Land Company believed it was gaining ownership of the land, not realizing that other tribes, such as the Lenape, Shawnee, and Chickasaw, also claimed these lands for hunting.

The Wilderness Road and the Transylvania purchase.

Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunsini), headman of Great Island Town (Amoyeliegwayi) and son of Attakullakulla, refused to go along with the deal. He told the North Carolina men, "You have bought a fair land, but there is a cloud hanging over it; you will find its settlement dark and bloody".[4] The governors of Virginia and North Carolina repudiated the Watauga treaty, and Henderson fled to avoid arrest. George Washington also spoke out against it. The Cherokee appealed to John Stuart, the Indian Affairs Superintendent, for help, which he had provided on previous such occasions, but the outbreak of the American Revolution intervened.

Opening engagements (1776)

Henderson and frontiersmen thought the outbreak of the Revolution superseded the judgments of the royal governors. The Transylvania Company began recruiting settlers for the region they had "purchased".

As tensions rose, the Loyalist John Stuart, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was besieged by a mob at his house in Charleston and had to flee for his life. His first stop was St. Augustine in East Florida.[5] He sent his deputy, Alexander Cameron, and his brother Henry to Mobile to obtain short-term supplies and arms for the Cherokee. Dragging Canoe took a party of 80 warriors to provide security for the pack train. He met Henry Stuart and Cameron (whom he had adopted as a brother) at Mobile on 1 March 1776. He asked how he could help the British against their rebel subjects, and for help with the illegal settlers. The two men told him to wait for regular troops to arrive before taking any action.

When the two arrived at Chota, Henry Stuart sent out letters to the frontier settlers of the Washington District (Watauga and Nolichucky), Pendelton District (North-of-Holston), and Carter's Valley (in modern Hawkins County). He informed them that they were illegally on Cherokee land and gave them 40 days to leave. People sympathetic to the Revolution forged a letter to indicate a large force of regular troops, plus Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Muscgoee, was on the march from Pensacola and planning to pick up reinforcements from the Cherokee. The forged letters alarmed the settlers, who began gathering together in closer, fortified groups, building stations (small forts), and otherwise preparing for an attack.[6]

The British colonies in North America at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1775, including the locations of the proposed colonies of Charlotiana, Transylvania, and Vandalia

Visit from the northern tribes

In May 1776, partly at the behest of Henry Hamilton, the British governor in Detroit,[7] the Shawnee chief Cornstalk (Hokoleskwa)[7][8] led a delegation from the northern tribes (Shawnee, Lenape, Iroquois, Ottawa, others) to the southern tribes. He traveled to Chota to meet with the southern tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw) about fighting with the British against their common enemy. Cornstalk called for united action against those they called the "Long Knives", the squatters who settled and remained in Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda-gi), or, as the settlers called it, Transylvania. At the close of his speech, Cornstalk offered his war belt, and Dragging Canoe accepted it, along with Abraham (Osiuta) of Chilhowee (Tsulawiyi). Dragging Canoe also accepted belts from the Ottawa and the Iroquois. Savanukah, the Raven of Chota, accepted the war belt from the Lenape. The northern emissaries offered war belts to Stuart and Cameron, but they declined to accept.[7][8][9]

The plan was for the Cherokee of the Middle, Out, and Valley Towns, of what is now western North Carolina, to attack South Carolina. Cameron would lead warriors of the Lower Towns against Georgia. Warriors of the Overhill Towns, along the lower Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers, were to attack Virginia and North Carolina. In the Overhill campaign, Dragging Canoe was to lead a force against the Pendleton District, Abraham one against the Washington District, and Savanukah one against Carter's Valley.

To prepare themselves for the coming campaign, the Cherokee began raiding into Kentucky, often with the Shawnee. Before the northern delegation had left, Dragging Canoe led a small war party into Kentucky and returned with four scalps to present to Cornstalk before they departed.[10][11] In another raid, a war party led by Hanging Maw (Skwala-guta) of Coyatee (Kaietiyi), captured three teenage settler girls, Jemima Boone and Elizabeth and Frances Callaway, on 14 July, but lost them three days later to a rescue party led by Daniel Boone, father of Jemima, and Richard Callaway, father of Elizabeth and Frances.

The Abduction of Daniel Boone's Daughter by the Indians by Charles Ferdinand Wimar (1853)

The attacks

In late June, war parties from the Lower Towns began attacking the frontier of South Carolina, and after the beginning July, the Out, Middle, and Valley Towns sent out war parties raiding the frontiers settlements of North Carolina east of the Blue Ridge.[12]

Traders warned the squatters in Upper East Tennessee of the impending Cherokee attacks. They had come from Chota bearing word from Nancy Ward (Agigaue), the Beloved Woman (leader or Elder). The Cherokee offensive proved to be disastrous for the attackers, particularly those going up against the Holston settlements.

Finding Eaton's Station deserted, Dragging Canoe took his force up the Great Indian Warpath, where he had a small skirmish with 20 militia. Pursuing them and intending to take Fort Lee at Long-Island-on-the-Holston, his force advanced. They encountered a larger force of militia six miles from Fort Lee. It was about half the size of his own but desperate and in a stronger position. During the "Battle of Island Flats" on 20 July, Dragging Canoe was wounded in his hip by a musket ball, and his brother Little Owl (Uku-usdi) was hit eleven times, but survived. His force withdrew, raiding isolated cabins on the way. After raiding further north into southwestern Virginia, his party returned to the Overhill area with plunder and scalps.

The next day, 21 July, Abraham of Chilhowee was unsuccessful in trying to take Fort Caswell on the Watauga, and his warriors suffered heavy casualties. Instead of withdrawing, he put the garrison under siege. After two weeks, he gave it up. Savanukah raided from the outskirts of Carter's Valley deep into Virginia, but those targets contained only small settlements and isolated farmsteads, so he did no real military damage.

Despite his wounds, Dragging Canoe led his warriors to South Carolina to join Alexander Cameron and the Cherokee from the Lower Towns.

Colonial response

The colonials quickly gathered militia who retaliated against the Cherokee. North Carolina sent General Griffith Rutherford with 2400 militia to scour the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee river valleys, and the headwaters of the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee. South Carolina sent 1800 men to the Savannah, and Georgia sent 200 to attack Cherokee settlements along the Chattahoochee and Tugaloo rivers. In all, they destroyed more than 50 towns, burned the houses and food stores, destroyed the orchards, slaughtered livestock, and killed hundreds of Cherokee. They sold captives into slavery, and these were often transported to the Caribbean.

Not long after leaving Fort McGahey on 23 July, Griffith Rutherford’s militia encountered an ambush by the Cherokee at Cowee Gap in what is now western North Carolina.[13] After defeating the attackers, he proceeded to a designated rendezvous with the South Carolina militia.

On 1 August, Cameron and the Cherokee ambushed Andrew Williamson and his South Carolina militia force near the Lower Cherokee town of Isunigu known to whites as Seneca, in the “Battle of Twelve Mile Creek”. After retreating, he joined up with the militia force of Andrew Pickens.[14]

The next day, 2 August, the joint militia force bivouacked, and Pickens led a party of twenty-five to forage for food and firewood. In what is known as the “Ring Fight”, two hundred Cherokee surrounded and attacked the party, which withdrew into a ring and were able to hold their attackers at bay until reinforcements arrived.[14]

Pickens and his militia defeated the Cherokee on the Tugaloo River near the Cherokee town of the same name, which they then burned, on 10 August.

On 12 August, Williamson and Pickens defeated the Cherokee at the town of Tamassee. With this, they had completed their destruction of the Lower Towns, Keowee, Estatoe, Seneca, and the rest. Afterwards, they proceeded north to meet up with the North Carolina militia of Griffith Rutherford.[14][15]

Rutherford’s militia traversed Swannanoa Gap in the Blue Ridge on 1 September, and reached the outskirts of the Out, Valley, and Middle Towns on 14 September, at which they started burning towns and crops.[16]

Williamson’s militia were attacked at Black Hole near Franklin, North Carolina on 19 September, but were able to fend off the Cherokee and meet up with Rutherford to take part in the campaign of destruction.[14]

Map of the Cherokee invasion of the Washington District, Pendleton District, and Carter's Valley

In the meantime, the Continental Army sent Col. William Christian to the lower Little Tennessee Valley with a battalion of Continentals, five hundred Virginia militia, three hundred North Carolina militia, and three hundred rangers. By this time, Dragging Canoe and his warriors had already returned to the Overhill Towns.[17]

Oconostota supported making peace with the colonists at any price. Dragging Canoe called for the women, children, and old to be sent below the Hiwassee and for the warriors to burn the towns, then ambush the Virginians at the French Broad River. Oconostota, Attakullakulla, and the older chiefs decided against that plan. Oconostota sent word to the approaching colonial army offering to exchange Dragging Canoe and Cameron if the Overhill Towns were spared.

Dragging Canoe spoke to the council of the Overhill Towns, denouncing the older leaders as rogues and "Virginians" for their willingness to cede land for an ephemeral safety. He concluded, "As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands." [18][19] He stalked out of the council. Afterward, he and other militant leaders, including Ostenaco, gathered like-minded Cherokee from the Overhill, Valley, and Hill towns, and migrated to what is now the Chattanooga, Tennessee area. Cameron had already transferred there.

Upon reaching the Little Tennessee in late October, Christian's Virginia force found Great Island, Citico (Sitiku), Toqua (Dakwayi), Tuskegee (Taskigi), Chilhowee, and Great Tellico virtually deserted. Only the older leaders remained. Christian limited the destruction in the Overhill Towns to the burning of the deserted towns.


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

Although the majority of the Lower Muscogee chose to remain neutral, the Loyalist Capt. William McIntosh, another of Stuart's agents and father of later Muscogee leader William McIntosh, recruited a sizable unit of Hitchiti warriors to fight on the British side.[20]

Meanwhile, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw in alliance with the British patrolled the Mississippi and western Tennessee rivers to prevent American incursion along those pathways.[21]

The Seminole of East Florida, universally Loyalist in sympathy, provided hundreds of warriors for British campaigns in the Southeast. They often fought with Loyalist Rangers commanded by Thomas Brown, formerly of Charlestown. Known to the whites as Cowkeeper, Ahaya, founder of the Seminole nation, was usually their leader.[22]

First migration, to the Chickamauga area

In the meantime, Alexander Cameron had suggested to Dragging Canoe and his dissenting Cherokee that they settle at the place where the Great Indian Warpath crossed the Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek). With Big Fool as headman, it was known as Chickamauga (Tsikamagi) Town. Since Dragging Canoe made that town his seat of operations, frontier Americans called his faction the "Chickamaugas".

As mentioned above, John McDonald already had a trading post across the Chickamauga River. This provided a link to Henry Stuart, brother of John, in the West Florida capital of Pensacola. Cameron, the British deputy Indian superintendent, accompanied Dragging Canoe to Chickamauga. Nearly all the whites legally resident among the Cherokee were part of the related exodus.[23]

The eleven towns in the Chickamauga area, along with the Hiwassee towns and the towns on the Tellico

Dragging Canoe's band set up three other settlements on the Chickamauga River: "Toqua" (Dakwayi), at its mouth on the Tennessee River, "Opelika", a few kilometers upstream from Chickamauga Town; and "Buffalo Town" (Yunsayi; John Sevier called it "Bull Town") at the headwaters of the river in northwest Georgia (in the vicinity of the later Ringgold, Georgia). Other towns established were Cayoka, on Hiwassee Island; "Black Fox" (or Inaliyi) at the current community of the same name in Bradley County, Tennessee; "Ooltewah" (Ultiwa), under Ostenaco on Ooltewah (Wolftever) Creek; "Sawtee" (Itsati), under Dragging Canoe's brother Little Owl on Laurel (North Chickamauga) Creek; "Citico" (Sitiku), along the creek of the same name; "Chatanuga" (Tsatanugi) at the foot of Lookout Mountain in what is now St. Elmo; and "Tuskegee" (Taskigi) under Bloody Fellow (Yunwigiga) on Williams' Island.[24]

The Cherokee towns of Great Hiwassee (Ayuwasi), Tennessee (Tanasi), Chestowee (Tsistuyi), Ocoee (Ugwahi), and Amohee (Amoyee) in the vicinity of Hiwassee River supported those who fought against the settlers moving into their lands, as did the Lower Cherokee in the North Georgia towns of Coosawatie (Kusawatiyi), Etowah (Itawayi), Ellijay (Elatseyi), Ustanari (or Ustanali), etc., who had been evicted from their homes in South Carolina by the Treaty of Dewitts' Corner. The Yuchi in the vicinity of the new settlement, on the upper Chickamauga, Pinelog, and Conasauga creeks, likewise supported Dragging Canoe's policies.[citation needed]

From their new bases, the Cherokee conducted raids against settlers on the Holston, Doe, Watauga, and Nolichucky rivers, on the Cumberland and Red rivers, and those in the isolated frontier stations in between. Dragging Canoe called them all "Virginians". The Cherokee ambushed parties traveling on the Tennessee River, and on local sections of the many ancient trails that served as "highways", such as the Great Indian Warpath (Mobile to northeast Canada), the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail (St. Augustine to the French Salt Lick at Nashville), the Cumberland Trail (from the Upper Creek Path to the Great Lakes), and the Nickajack Trail (Nickajack to Augusta). Later, the Cherokee stalked the Natchez Trace and roads improved by the uninvited settlers, such as the Kentucky, Cumberland, and Walton roads. Occasionally, the Cherokee attacked targets in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and the Ohio country.[25]

Treaties of 1777

Preliminary negotiations between the Overhill Towns and Virginia were held as Fort Patrick Henry in April 1777. Nathaniel Gist, later father of Sequoyah, led the talks for Virginia, while Attakullakulla, Oconostota, and Savanukah headed the delegation of Cherokee. In contempt of the proceedings, Dragging Canoe led a war party that killed a settler named Frederick Calvitt and stole fifteen horses from James Robertson, then moved to Carter's Valley, killing the grandparents of later U.S. Congressman David Crockett along with several children near the modern Rogersville, and marauding across the valley. In all the raiders took twelve scalps.[26]

The Cherokee in the Hill, Valley, Lower, and Overhill towns signed the Treaty of Dewitt's Corner with Georgia and South Carolina (Ostenaco was one of the Cherokee signatories) 20 May and the Treaty of Fort Henry with Virginia and North Carolina on 20 July. They promised to stop warring, with those colonies promising in return to protect them from attack. One provision of the latter treaty required that James Robertson and a small garrison be quartered at Chota on the Little Tennessee. He had been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for North Carolina, while Joseph Martin had been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Virginia.[27][28]

British victories in the South

The British captured Savannah, Georgia (see: Capture of Savannah) on 29 December 1778 with help from Dragging Canoe, John McDonald, and the Cherokee, along with McGillivray's Upper Muscogee force and McIntosh's band of Hitichiti warriors.

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

With these victories, the remaining neutral towns of the Lower Muscogee now threw in their lot with the British side, at least nominally.[29]

Cumberland Settlements

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

Death of John Stuart

On 21 March 1779, John Stuart, up to that point Indian Affairs Superintendent, died at Pensacola. George Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, split the Southern Department into two districts. Alexander Cameron in Pensacola was assigned to the Mississippi district to work with the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Thomas Brown of the King's Carolina Rangers, in Savannah at the time, was assigned to the Atlantic District to work with the Cherokee, Muscogee, and Seminole.[30]

First invasion of the Chickamauga Towns

In January 1779, James Robertson of Virginia received warning from Chota that Dragging Canoe's warriors were going to attack the Holston area. In addition, he had received intelligence that John McDonald's place was the staging area for a conference of Indians which British Governor Hamilton was planning to hold at Detroit. McDonald's place held a stockpile of supplies equivalent to what a hundred pack horses could carry.[31]

In response, Robertson ordered a preemptive assault led by Evan Shelby (father of Isaac Shelby, first governor of the State of Kentucky) and John Montgomery. Boating down the Tennessee in a fleet of dugout canoes, they disembarked 10 April 1779 and arrived in the Chickamauga towns ten days later. For the next two weeks, they destroyed the eleven towns in the immediate Chickamauga area and most of the food supply, along with McDonald's home, store, and commissary. Whatever was not destroyed was confiscated and sold at the site where the trail back to the Holston crossed what has since been known as Sale Creek.[32]

In the meantime, Dragging Canoe and John McDonald were leading the Cherokee and fifty Loyalist Rangers in attacks on Georgia and South Carolina. The Cherokee towns' residents put up no resistance, and the raids killed only four persons. Upon hearing of the devastation of the towns and loss of all their stores, Dragging Canoe, McDonald, and their men, including the Rangers, returned to Chickamauga and its vicinity.[33]

Timberlake's "Draught of the Cherokee Country", showing the location of the Overhill towns on the Little Tennessee River (labeled Tennessee River on the map)

The Shawnee sent envoys to Chickamauga to find out if the destruction had caused Dragging Canoe's people to lose the will to fight, along with a sizable detachment of warriors to assist them in the South. In response to their inquiries, Dragging Canoe held up the war belts he'd accepted when the delegation visited Chota in 1776, and said, "We are not yet conquered".[34] To cement the alliance, the Cherokee responded to the Shawnee gesture with nearly a hundred of their warriors sent to the North.

The towns in the Chickamauga area were soon rebuilt and reoccupied by their former inhabitants. Dragging Canoe responded to the Shelby expedition with punitive raids on the frontiers of both North Carolina and Virginia.

Concord between the Lenape and the Cherokee

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

Upon the arrival of the Cherokee in the village of Goshocking, they were taken to the council house and began talks. The next day, the Cherokee present solemnly agreed with their "grandfathers" to take neither side in the ongoing conflict between the Americans and the British. Part of the reasoning was that thus "protected", neither tribe would find themselves subject to the vicissitudes of war. The rest of the world at conflict, however, remained heedless, and the provisions lasted as long as it took the ink to dry, as it were.[35][36]

Robertson party

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

Loss of Mobile

On 10 February 1780, Spanish forces from New Orleans under Bernardo de Galvez, allied to the Americans but acting in the interests of Spain, captured Mobile in the Battle of Fort Charlotte, along with Charles Stuart and David Taitt. When they next moved against Pensacola the following month, McIntosh and McGillivray rallied 2000 Muscogee warriors to its defense. A British fleet arrived before the Spanish could take the port.[37]

The Chickasaw

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

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

Donelson party

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

In the first encounter near Tuskegee Island on 7 March, the Cherokee warriors under Bloody Fellow attacked the boat in the rear. Its passengers had come down with smallpox. They took as captive the one survivor, who was later ransomed by American colonists. The victory proved to be a Pyrrhic one for the Cherokee, a smallpox epidemic spread among its people, killing several hundred in the vicinity.

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

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

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

Donelson eventually moved to the Indiana country after the Revolution. He and William Christian were captured while fighting in the Illinois country in 1786 during the Northwest Indian Wars. They were burned at the stake as warriors by their captors.[38]

Capture of Charlestown

Charlestown was captured on 12 May 1780 after a siege that began 29 March. Along with it, the British took prisoner some three thousand Patriots, including South Carolina militia leader Andrew Williamson. Upon giving his parole that he would not again take up arms, Williamson became a double agent for the Patriots, according to testimony after the war by Patriot General Nathanael Greene.[39]

Defense of Augusta and Battle of Kings Mountain

Lieutenant Colonel John Sevier

In the summer of 1780, the new Indian superintendent Thomas Brown planned to have a joint conference between the Cherokee and Muscogee to plan ways to coordinate their attacks. He had to postpone because the Americans made a concerted effort to retake Augusta, where he had his headquarters. The arrival of a war party from the Chickamauga Towns, joined by a sizable number of warriors from the Overhill Towns, prevented the capture of Augusta. They and Brown's King's Carolina Rangers chased Elijah Clarke's army into the arms of John Sevier, wreaking havoc on rebellious settlements along the way. This set the stage for the Battle of Kings Mountain 7 October 1780, in which Loyalist militia under Patrick Ferguson moved south trying to encircle Clarke; they were defeated by a force of 900 frontiersmen under Sevier and William Campbell, who were referred to as the Overmountain Men.[34]

Overhill campaign of 1780

Alexander Cameron, aware that nearly 1,000 men were away from the American settlements with the militias, urged Dragging Canoe and other Cherokee leaders to strike while they had the opportunity. Under the influence of Savanukah, the Overhill Towns gave their full support to the new offensive. Both Cameron and the Cherokee had been expecting a quick victory by Patrick Ferguson and were stunned that he suffered such a resounding defeat so soon. But, their planned assault on the settlements was in motion. Learning of the new invasion from Nancy Ward (her second documented betrayal of Dragging Canoe), Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition of 700 Virginians and North Carolinians against the Cherokee in December 1780, under the command of Sevier. It met a Cherokee war party at Boyd's Creek.[40]

After that battle, it was joined by forces under Arthur Campbell and Joseph Martin. The combined force marched against the Overhill towns on the Little Tennessee and the Hiwassee, burning seventeen of them, including Chota, Chilhowee, the original Citico, Tellico, Great Hiwassee, and Chestowee, finishing up on 1 January 1781. Then the militia forces plowed through the Chickamauga towns, sowing similar destruction. Afterwards, the Overhill leaders withdrew from further active conflict for a time, though warriors from the Hill and Valley Towns continued to harass colonists on the frontier.[41]

Status of the Cumberland settlements

By the end of 1780, attacks by the Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Lenape in the Cumberland area resulted in a total of around 40 deaths among the new settlements.[42]

By 1781, Dragging Canoe was working with the Cherokee from western South Carolina who relocated their towns along the headwaters of the Coosa River, and with the Muscogee, particularly the Upper Muscogee. The Munsee-Lenape were the first to conduct what became repeated attacks, along with the Chickasaw, Shawnee, Huron (Wyandot), and Mingo, of the Cumberland settlements, as well as those in Kentucky.

Loss of Pensacola

On 7 March 1781, the Spanish attacked Pensacola again, with an army twice the size of the garrison of British, Choctaw, and Muscogee defenders, and the city fell on 8 May after a hard siege that saw courageous fighting by the Choctaw and Muscogee.[43]

Battle of the Bluff

Three months after the first Chickasaw attack on the Cumberland, on 2 April 1781 the Cherokee launched their largest attack of the wars against those settlements. This culminated in what became known as the Battle of the Bluff, led by Dragging Canoe in person. It lasted through to the next day. Afterward, settlers began to abandon these frontier settlements until only three stations were left, a condition which lasted until 1785.[44]

Shawnee in Upper East Tennessee

While Dragging Canoe and his warriors turned their attentions to the Cumberland, the Shawnee took over raiding settlements in Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the latter by now having become Washington County. In particular they targeted those along the Clinch and Holston Rivers and in Powell's Valley. Their attacks continued, along with occasional forays by McGillivray's Upper Muscogee, even after sporadic raids by the Cherokee renewed, until they began to focus all their attention on the Northwest Indian War.[45]

Loss of Augusta

Augusta, under the command of Thomas Brown, was also retaken by the Patriots on 6 June after a two-month siege when the Lower Muskogee relief force led by McIntosh coming to the rescue was unable to arrive in time.[46]

Politics in the Overhill Towns

In the fall of 1781, the British engineered a coup d'état of sorts that put Savanukah as First Beloved Man in place of the more pacifist Oconostota, who succeeded Attakullakulla. For the next two years, the Overhill Cherokee openly, as they had been doing covertly, supported the efforts of Dragging Canoe and his militant Cherokee.

Dilpomatic mission to Ft. St. Louis

A party of Cherokee joined the Lenape, Shawnee, and Chickasaw in a diplomatic visit to the Spanish at Fort St. Louis in the Missouri country in March 1782 seeking a new avenue of obtaining arms and other assistance in the prosecution of their ongoing conflict with the Americans in the Ohio Valley. One group of Cherokee at this meeting led by Standing Turkey sought and received permission to settle in Spanish Louisiana, in the region of the White River.[47]

Loss of Savannah

In June 1782 the Patriots took back the British and Muskogee garrison at Savannah. Emistisquo was leading the Upper Muscogee effort to relieve them and died in the attempt.[48] McGillivray, by then his right-hand man, succeeded him to become the leading mico of the Upper Towns by 1783.[49]

Second invasion of the Chickamauga Towns

In September 1782, an expedition under Sevier once again destroyed the towns in the Chickamauga vicinity, though going no further west than the Chickamauga River, and those of the Lower Cherokee down to Ustanali (Ustanalahi), including what he called Vann's Town. The towns were deserted because having advanced warning of the impending attack, Dragging Canoe and his fellow leaders chose relocation westward. Meanwhile, Sevier's army, guided by John Watts (Kunokeski), somehow never managed to cross paths with any parties of Cherokee.

Second migration, to the Lower Towns

Dragging Canoe and his people established what whites called the Five Lower Towns downriver from the various natural obstructions in the twenty-six-mile Tennessee River Gorge. Starting with Tuskegee (aka Brown's or Williams') Island and the sandbars on either side of it, these obstructions included the Tumbling Shoals, the Holston Rock, the Kettle (or Suck), the Suck Shoals, the Deadman's Eddy, the Pot, the Skillet, the Pan, and, finally, the Narrows, ending with Hale's Bar. The whole twenty-six miles was sometimes called The Suck, and the stretch of river was notorious enough to merit mention even by Thomas Jefferson.[50] These navigational hazards were so formidable, in fact, that the French agents attempting to travel upriver to reach Cherokee country during the French and Indian War, intending to establish an outpost at the spot later occupied by British agent McDonald, gave up after several attempts.

The Five Lower Towns

The Five Lower Towns included Running Water (Amogayunyi), at the current Whiteside in Marion County, Tennessee, where Dragging Canoe made his headquarters; Nickajack (Ani-Kusati-yi, or Koasati place), eight kilometers down the Tennessee River in the same county; Long Island (Amoyeligunahita), on the Tennessee just above the Great Creek Crossing; Crow Town (Kagunyi) on the Tennessee, at the mouth of Crow Creek; and Stecoyee (Utsutigwayi, aka Lookout Mountain Town), at the current site of Trenton, Georgia. Tuskegee Island Town was reoccupied as a lookout post by a small band of warriors to provide advance warning of invasions, and eventually many other settlements in the area were resettled as well.[51]

Because this was a move into the outskirts of Muscogee territory, Dragging Canoe, knowing such a move might be necessary, had previously sent a delegation under Little Owl to meet with Alexander McGillivray, the major Muscogee leader in the area, to gain their permission to do so. When he and his followers moved their base, so too did the British representatives Cameron and McDonald, making Running Water the center of their efforts throughout the Southeast. Cherokee continued to migrate westward to join Dragging Canoe's followers, whose ranks were further swelled by runaway slaves, white Tories, Muscogee, Koasati, Kaskinampo, Yuchi, Natchez, and Shawnee, as well as a band of Chickasaw living at what was later known as Chickasaw Old Fields across from Guntersville, plus a few Spanish, French, Irish, and Germans.

The Chickasaw were in the meantime trying to play off the Americans and the Spanish against each other with little interest in the British. Turtle-at-Home (Selukuki Woheli), another of Dragging Canoe's brothers, along with some seventy warriors, headed north to live and fight with the Shawnee.

More Lower Towns, and allies

Later major settlements of the Lower Cherokee (as were they called after the move) included Willstown (Titsohiliyi) near the later Fort Payne; Turkeytown (Gundigaduhunyi), at the head of the Cumberland Trail where the Upper Creek Path crossed the Coosa River near Centre, Alabama; Creek Path (Kusanunnahiyi), near at the intersection of the Great Indian Warpath with the Upper Creek Path at the modern Guntersville, Alabama; Turnip Town (Ulunyi), seven miles from the present-day Rome, Georgia; and Chatuga (Tsatugi), nearer the site of Rome.[51]

This expansion came about largely because of the influx of Cherokee from North Georgia, who fled the depredations of expeditions such as those of Sevier; a large majority of these were former inhabitants of the Lower Towns in northeast Georgia and western South Carolina. Cherokee from the Middle, or Hill, Towns also came, a group of whom established a town named Sawtee (Itsati) at the mouth of South Sauta Creek on the Tennessee. Another town, Coosada, was added to the coalition when its Koasati and Kaskinampo inhabitants joined Dragging Canoe's confederation. Partly because of the large influx from North Georgia added to the fact that they were no longer occupying the Chickamauga area as their main center, Dragging Canoe's followers and others in the area began to be referred to as the Lower Cherokee, with he and his lieutenants remaining in the leadership.

Another visit from the North

In November 1782, twenty representatives from four northern tribes—Wyandot, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potowatami—travelled south to consult with Dragging Canoe and his lieutenants at his new headquarters in Running Water Town, which was nestled far back up the hollow from the Tennessee River onto which it opened. Their mission was to gain the help of Dragging Canoe's Cherokee in attacking Pittsburgh and the American settlements in Kentucky and the Illinois country.[47]

Cherokee in the Ohio region

By 1783, there were at least three major communities of Cherokee in the region. One lived among the Chalahgawtha (Chillicothe) Shawnee. The second Cherokee community lived among the mixed Wyandot-Mingo towns on the upper Mad River near the later Zanesfield, Ohio.[52] A third group of Cherokee is known to have lived among and fought with the Munsee-Lenape, the only portion of the Lenape nation at war with the Americans.[53]

Treaty of Long Swamp Creek

In the fall of 1783, a successful campaign by Brigadier General Andrew Pickens against the Cherokee resulted in the Treaty of Long Swamp Creek, by which the Cherokee were forced to cede land between the Savannah and Chattachooche rivers to the State of Georgia.[54]

More Overhill politics

In the fall of 1782, however, the older pacifist leaders replaced him with another of their number, Corntassel (Kaiyatsatahi, known to history as "Old Tassel"), and sent messages of peace along with complaints of settler encroachment to Virginia and North Carolina.[55] Opposition from pacifist leaders, however, never stopped war parties from traversing the territories of any of the town groups, largely because the average Cherokee supported their cause, nor did it stop small war parties of the Overhill Towns from raiding settlements in East Tennessee, mostly those on the Holston.

After the revolution

Eventually, Dragging Canoe realized the only solution for the various Indian nations to maintain their independence was to unite in an alliance against the Americans. In addition to increasing his ties to McGillivray and the Upper Muscogee, with whom he worked most often and in greatest numbers, he continued to send his warriors to fighting alongside the Shawnee, Choctaw, and Lenape.

St. Augustine conference

In January 1783, Dragging Canoe and twelve hundred Cherokee traveled to St. Augustine, the capital of East Florida, for a summit meeting with a delegation of western tribes (Shawnee, Muscogee, Mohawk, Seneca, Lenape, Mingo, Tuscarora, and Choctaw) called for a federation of Indians to oppose the Americans and their frontier colonists. Brown, the British Indian Superintendent, approved the concept.[56]

Tuckabatchee council

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

Treaty of Paris (1783)

Signed between Great Britain and the United States on 3 September 1783, this treaty formally ended the American Revolution. The U.S. had already unilaterally declared hostilities over the previous April. Brown had already received orders from London in June to cease and desist.[54]

Following that treaty, Dragging Canoe turned to the Spanish (who still claimed all the territory south of the Cumberland and were now working against the Americans) for support, trading primarily through Pensacola and Mobile. Dragging Canoe also maintained relations with the British governor at Detroit, Alexander McKee, through regular diplomatic missions there under his brothers Little Owl and The Badger (Ukuna).

Post-Revolution in East Tennessee

With the end of the war, new settlers began flooding into the Overmountain settlements. The reaction from the Cherokee was predictable, only it did not come from the towns on the lower Little Tennessee. Instead, warriors from the Valley Town of Cowee east of the mountains on the upper Little Tennessee began retaliation against the settlements on the west side.

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

Chickasaw and Muscogee treaties

The Chickasaw signed the Treaty of French Lick with the new United States of America on 6 November 1783 and never again took up arms against it. The Lower Cherokee were also present at the conference and apparently made some sort of agreement to cease their attacks on the Cumberland, for after this Americans settlements in the area began to grow again.[50] That same month, the pro-American camp in the Muscogee nation signed the Treaty of Augusta with the State of Georgia, enraging McGillivray, who wanted to keep fighting; he burned the houses of the leaders responsible and sent warriors to raid Georgia settlements.[57]

Spanish Indian treaties

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

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

State of Franklin

State of Franklin

In May 1785, the settlements of Upper East Tennessee, then comprising four counties of western North Carolina, petitioned the Congress of the Confederation to be recognized as the "State of Franklin". Even though their petition failed to receive the two-thirds votes necessary to qualify, they proceeded to organize what amounted to a secessionist government, holding their first "state" assembly in December 1785. One of their chief motives was to retain the foothold they had recently gained in the Cumberland Basin.

Treaty of Dumplin

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

Treaty of Hopewell

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

The Spanish Conspiracy

Starting in 1786, the leaders of the State of Franklin and the Cumberland District began secret negotiations with Esteban Rodríguez Miró, governor of Spanish Louisiana, to deliver their regions to the jurisdiction of the Spanish Empire. Those involved included James Robertson, Daniel Smith, and Anthony Bledsoe (1739-1788) of the Cumberland District, John Sevier and Joseph Martin of the State of Franklin, James White, recently appointed American Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs (replacing Thomas Brown), and James Wilkinson, governor of Kentucky.[58][59]

Coat of arms of the House of Bourbon in Spain

The irony lay in the fact that the Spanish backed the Cherokee and Muscogee harassing their territories. Their main counterpart on the Spanish side in New Orleans was Don Diego de Gardoqui. Gardoqui's negotiations with Wilkinson, initiated by the latter, to bring Kentucky (then a territory) into the Spanish orbit also were separate but simultaneous.[58][59]

The "conspiracy" went as far as the Franklin and Cumberland officials promising to take the oath of loyalty to Spain and renounce allegiance to any other nation. Robertson even successfully petitioned the North Carolina assembly create the "Mero Judicial District" for the three Cumberland counties (Davidson, Sumner, Tennessee). There was a convention held in the failing State of Franklin on the question, and those present voted in its favor.[58][59]

A large part of their motivation, besides the desire to secede from North Carolina, was the hope that this course of action would bring relief from Indian attacks. The series of negotiations involved Alexander McGillivray, with Roberston and Bledsoe writing him of the Mero District's peaceful intentions toward the Muscogee and simultaneously sending White as emissary to Gardoqui to convey news of their overture.[60]

Treaty of Coyatee

Nor did any of them take part in the Treaty of Coyatee on 20 July 1786, which new State of Franklin forced Corntassel and the other Overhill leaders to sign at gunpoint, ceding the remainder between the boundary set by the Dumplin treaty and the Little Tennessee River.[61][62][63]

The colonials could now shift military forces to Middle Tennessee in response to increasing frequency of attacks by both Chickamauga Cherokee (by now usually called Lower Cherokee) and Upper Muscogee.

Renewed attacks on the Cumberland

In the summer of 1786, Dragging Canoe and his warriors along with a large contingent of Muscogee raided the Cumberland region, with several parties raiding well into Kentucky. One such occasion that summer was notable for the fact that the raiding party was led by Hanging Maw of Coyatee, who was supposedly friendly at the time.

John Sevier responded with a punitive raid on the Overhill Towns.

Formation of the Western Confederacy

In addition to the small bands still operating with the Shawnee, Wyandot-Mingo, and Lenape in the Northwest, a large contingent of Cherokee led by The Glass attended and took an active role in a grand council of northern tribes (plus some Muscogee and Choctaw in addition to the Cherokee contingent) resisting the American advance into the western frontier which took place in November–December 1786 in the Wyandot town of Upper Sandusky just south of the British capital of Detroit.[47]

This meeting, initiated by Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), the Mohawk leader who was head chief of the Iroquois Six Nations and like Dragging Canoe fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution, led to the formation of the Western Confederacy to resist American incursions into the Old Northwest. Dragging Canoe and his Cherokee were full members of the Confederacy. The purpose of the Confederacy was to coordinate attacks and defense in the Northwest Indian War of 1785–1795.

According to John Norton (Teyoninhokovrawen), Brant's adopted son, it was here in the north that The Glass formed a friendship with his adopted father that lasted well into the 19th century.[64] He apparently served as Dragging Canoe's envoy to the Iroquois as the latter's brothers did to McKee and to the Shawnee.

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

Muscogee council at Tuckabatchee

In 1786, McGillivray had convened a council of war at the dominant Upper Muscogee town of Tuckabatchee about recent incursions of Americans into their territory. The council decided to go on the warpath against the trespassers, starting with the recent settlements along the Oconee River. McGillivray had already secured support from the Spanish in New Orleans.[65]

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

Coldwater Town

The settlement of Coldwater was founded by a party of French traders who had come down for the Wabash to set up a trading center in 1783. It sat a few miles below the foot of the thirty-five-mile-long Muscle Shoals, near the mouth of Coldwater Creek and about three hundred yards back from the Tennessee River, near the site of present-day Tuscumbia, Alabama. For the next couple of years, trade was all the French did, but then the business changed hands. Around 1785, the new management began covertly gathering Cherokee and Muscogee warriors into the town, whom they then encouraged to attack the American settlements along the Cumberland and its environs. The fighting contingent eventually numbered approximately nine Frenchmen, thirty-five Cherokee, and ten Muscogee.

Cumberland River watershed

Because the townsite was well-hidden and its presence unannounced, James Robertson, commander of the militia in the Cumberland's Davidson and Sumner Counties, at first accused the Lower Cherokee of the new offensives. In 1787, he marched his men to their borders in a show of force, but without an actual attack, then sent an offer of peace to Running Water. In answer, Dragging Canoe sent a delegation of leaders led by Little Owl to Nashville under a flag of truce to explain that his Cherokee were not the responsible parties.

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

Just after these runners had arrived in Nashville, a war party attacked one of its outlying settlements, killing Robertson's brother Mark. In response, Robertson raised a group of one hundred fifty volunteers and proceeded south by a circuitous land route, guided by two Chickasaw. Somehow catching the town off guard despite the fact they knew Robertson's force was approaching, they chased its would-be defenders to the river, killing about half of them and wounding many of the rest. They then gathered all the trade goods in the town to be shipped to Nashville by boat, burned the town, and departed.[66]

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

Peak of Lower Cherokee power and influence

Dragging Canoe's last years, 1788–1792, were the peak of his influence and that of the rest of the Lower Cherokee, among the other Cherokee and among other Indian nations, both south and north, as well as with the Spanish of Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans, and the British in Detroit. He also sent regular diplomatic envoys to negotiations in Nashville, Jonesborough then Knoxville, and Philadelphia.[67]

Massacre of the Kirk family

In May 1788, a party of Cherokee from Chilhowee came to the house of John Kirk's family on Little River, while he and his oldest son, John Jr., were out. When Kirk and John Jr. returned, they found the other eleven members of their family dead and scalped.[68]

Massacre of the Brown family

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

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

The various hazards of the Tennessee River Gorge, also known as Cash Canyon or The Suck

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

Mrs. Brown and one of her daughters were given to the Muscogee and ended up in the personal household of Alexander McGillivray. George, the elder of the surviving sons, also ended up with the Muscogee, but elsewhere. Another daughter went to a Cherokee nearby Nickajack and the third to a Cherokee in Crow Town.[69]

Murders of the Overhill chiefs

At the beginning of June 1788, John Sevier, no longer governor of the State of Franklin, raised a hundred volunteers and set out for the Overhill Towns. After a brief stop at the Little Tennessee, the group went to Great Hiwassee and burned it to the ground. Returning to Chota, Sevier sent a detachment led by James Hubbard to Chilhowee to punish those responsible for the Kirk massacre. Hubbard's force included John Kirk Jr. Hubbard brought along Corntassel and Hanging Man from Chota.

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

The murder of the pacifist Overhill chiefs under a flag of truce angered the entire Cherokee nation. Men who had been reluctant to participate took to the warpath. The increase in hostility lasted for several months. Doublehead, Corntassel's brother, was particularly incensed.

Highlighting the seriousness of the matter, Dragging Canoe came in to address the general council of the Nation, now meeting at Ustanali on the Coosawattee River (one of the former Lower Towns on the Keowee River relocated to the vicinity of Calhoun, Georgia) to which the seat of the council had been moved. Little Turkey (Kanagita) was elected as First Beloved Man to succeed the murdered chief. The election was contested by Hanging Maw of Coyatee; he had been elected chief headman of the traditional Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee River). Both men had been among those who originally followed Dragging Canoe into the southwest of the nation.

Dragging Canoe's presence at the Ustanali council and the council's meetings now held in what was then the area of the Lower Towns (but to which Upper Cherokee from the Overhill towns were migrating in vast numbers), as well as his acceptance of the election of his former co-belligerent Little Turkey as principal leader over all the Cherokee nation, are graphic proof that he and his followers remained Cherokee and were not a separate tribe as some, following Brown, allege.

Houston's Station

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

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

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

Invasion and counter-invasion

Later in August, Joseph Martin (who was married to Betsy, daughter of Nancy Ward, and living at Chota), with 500 men, marched to the Chickamauga area, intending to penetrate the edge of the Cumberland Mountains to get to the Five Lower Towns. He sent a detachment to secure the pass over the foot of Lookout Mountain (Atalidandaganu), which was ambushed and routed by a large party of Dragging Canoe's warriors, with the Cherokee in hot pursuit.[70] One of the participants later referred to the spot as "the place where we made the Virginians turn their backs".[71] According to one of the participants on the other side, Dragging Canoe, John Watts, Bloody Fellow, Kitegisky, The Glass, Little Owl, and Dick Justice were all present at the encounter.[72][73]

Lookout Mountain from Moccasin Bend

Dragging Canoe raised an army of 3,000 Cherokee warriors, which he split into more flexible warbands of hundreds of warriors each. One band was headed by John Watts (Kunnessee-i, also known as 'Young Tassel'), with Bloody Fellow, Kitegisky (Tsiagatali), and The Glass. It included a young warrior named Pathkiller (Nunnehidihi), who later became known as The Ridge (Ganundalegi).

Gillespie's Station

In October of that year, the band advanced across country toward White's Fort. Along the way, they attacked Gillespie's Station on the Holston River after capturing settlers who had left the enclosure to work in the fields, storming the stockade when the defender's ammunition ran out, killing the men and some of the women and taking 28 women and children prisoner. They then proceeded to attack White's Fort and Houston's Station, only to be beaten back.[74][75] Afterward, the warband wintered at an encampment on the Flint River in present-day Unicoi County, Tennessee as a base of operations.[76]

Valley Towns invasion

In respone to the Cherokee incursions, the settlers increased their retaliatory attacks. Troops under Sevier destroyed the Valley Towns in North Carolina. Bob Benge, with a group of Cherokee warriors, evacuated the general population from Ustalli, on the Hiwassee; they left a rearguard to ensure their escape. After firing the town, Sevier and his group pursued the fleeing inhabitants, and were ambushed at the mouth of the Valley River by Benge's party. The US soldiers went to the village of Coota-cloo-hee (Gadakaluyi) and burned down its cornfields, but they were chased off by 400 warriors led by Watts (Young Tassel).[77][78]

One result of the above destruction was that the Overhill Cherokee and refugees from the Lower and Valley towns virtually abandoned the settlements on the Little Tennessee and dispersed south and west. Chota was the only Overhill town left with many inhabitants.

The Flint Creek band

John Watts' band on Flint Creek fell upon serious misfortune early the next year. In early January 1789, they were surrounded by a force under John Sevier that was equipped with grasshopper cannons. The gunfire from the Cherokee was so intense, however, that Sevier abandoned his heavy weapons and ordered a cavalry charge that led to savage hand-to-hand fighting. Watt's band lost nearly 150 warriors.[79]

Blow to the Western Confederacy

In January 1789, Arthur St. Clair, American governor of the Northwest Territory, concluded two separate peace treaties with members of the Western Confederacy. The first was with the Iroquois, except for the Mohawk, and the other was with the Wyandot, Lenape, Ottawa, Potawotami, Sac, and Ojibway. The Mohawk, the Shawnee, the Miami, and the tribes of the Wabash Confederacy, who had been doing most of the fighting, not only refused to go along but became more aggressive, especially the Wabash tribes.[80]

Chiksika's band of Shawnee

In early 1789, a band of thirteen Shawnee arrived in Running Water after spending several months hunting in the Missouri River country, led by Chiksika, a leader contemporary with the famous Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah). In the band was his brother, the later leader Tecumseh.

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

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

The band remained at Running Water until late 1790, then returned north, having been long gone.[81][82]

Implosion of the Spanish Conspiracy

The scheme fell apart for two main reasons. The first was the dithering of the Spanish government in Madrid. The second was the interception of a letter from Joseph Martin which fell into the hands of the Georgia legislature in January 1789.[58][59]

North Carolina, to which the western counties in question belonged under the laws of the United States, took the simple expedient of ceding the region to the federal government, which established the Southwest Territory in May 1790, with William Blount as governor as well as simultaneously Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs. Of note is the fact that under the new regime the Mero District kept its name.[58][59]

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

Prisoner exchange

Word of their defeat did not reach Running Water until April, when it arrived with an offer from Sevier for an exchange of prisoners which specifically mentioned the surviving members of the Brown family, including Joseph, who had been adopted first by Kitegisky and later by The Breath.[83] Among those captured at Flint Creek were Bloody Fellow and Little Turkey's daughter.[84]

Joseph and his sister Polly were brought immediately to Running Water, but when runners were sent to Crow Town to retrieve Jane, their youngest sister, her owner refused to surrender her. Bob Benge, present in Running Water at the time, mounted his horse and hefted his famous axe, saying, "I will bring the girl, or the owner's head". The next morning he returned with Jane.[77] The three were handed over to Sevier at Coosawattee.

McGillivray delivered Mrs. Brown and Elizabeth to her son William during a trip to Rock Landing, Georgia, in November. George, the other surviving son from the trip, remained with the Muscogee until 1798.[85]


The opposite end of Muscle Shoals from Coldwater Town, mentioned above, was occupied in 1790 by a roughly 40-strong warrior party under Doublehead (Taltsuska), plus their families. He had gained permission to establish his town at the head of the Shoals, which was in Chickasaw territory, because the local headman, George Colbert, the mixed-blood leader who later owned Colbert's Ferry at the foot of Muscle Shoals, was his son-in-law.

Like the former Coldwater Town, Doublehead's Town was diverse, with Cherokee, Muscogee, Shawnee, and a few Chickasaw. It quickly grew beyond the initial 40 warriors, who carried out many small raids against settlers on the Cumberland and into Kentucky. During one foray in June 1792, his warriors ambushed a canoe carrying the three sons of Valentine Sevier (brother of John) and three others on a scouting expedition searching for his party. They killed the three Seviers and another man; two escaped.

Doublehead conducted his operations largely independently of the Lower Cherokee, though he did take part in large operations with them on occasion, such as the invasion of the Cumberland in 1792 and that of the Holston in 1793.[86]

Treaty of New York

Dragging Canoe's long-time ally among the Muscogee, Alexander McGillivray, led a delegation of twenty-seven leaders north, where they signed the Treaty of New York in August 1790 with the United States government on behalf of the "Upper, Middle, and Lower Creek and Seminole composing the Creek nation of Indians". However, though the treaty signified the end of the involvement of McGillivray (who was made an America brigadier general) in the wars, the signers did not represent even half the Muscogee Confederacy, and there was much resistance to the treaty from the peace faction he had attacked after the Treaty of Augusta as well as the faction of the Confederacy who wished to continue the war and did so.[65][87]

Muscle Shoals

In January 1791, a group of land speculators named the Tennessee Company from the Southwest Territory led by James Hubbard and Peter Bryant attempted to gain control of the Muscle Shoals and its vicinity by building a settlement and fort at the head of the Shoals. They did so against an executive order of President Washington forbidding it, as relayed to them by the governor of the Southwest Territory, William Blount. The Glass came down from Running Water with sixty warriors and descended upon the defenders, captained by Valentine Sevier, brother of John, told them to leave immediately or be killed, then burned their blockhouse as they departed.[88]

The primary areas of operations during the Chickamauga Wars

Bob Benge

Starting in 1791, Benge and his brother The Tail (Utana; aka Martin Benge), based at Willstown, began leading attacks against settlers in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Kentucky, often in conjunction with Doublehead and his warriors from Coldwater. Eventually, he became one of the most feared warriors on the frontier.[89]

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

Treaty of Holston

The Treaty of Holston, signed in July 1791, required the Upper Towns to cede more land in return for continued peace because the US government proved unable to stop or roll back illegal settlements. As it appeared to guarantee Cherokee sovereignty, the chiefs of the Upper Cherokee believed they had the same status as states. Several representatives of the Lower Cherokee participated in the negotiations and signed the treaty, including John Watts, Doublehead, Bloody Fellow, Black Fox (Dragging Canoe's nephew), The Badger (his brother), and Rising Fawn (Agiligina; aka George Lowery).

Battle of the Wabash

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

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

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

Death of the "Savage Napoleon"[90][91][92]

Inspired by news of the northern victory, Dragging Canoe embarked on a mission to unite the native people of his area as had Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, visiting the other major tribes in the region. His embassies to the Lower Muscogee and the Choctaw were successful, but the Chickasaw living to the west refused his overtures. Upon his return, which coincided with that of The Glass and Dick Justice (Uwenahi Tsusti), and of Turtle-at-Home, from successful raids on settlements along the Cumberland (in the case of the former two) and in Kentucky (in the case of the latter), a huge all-night celebration was held at Stecoyee at which the Eagle Dance was performed in his honor.

By morning, March 1, 1792, Dragging Canoe was dead. A procession of honor carried his body to Running Water, where he was buried. By the time of his death, the resistance of the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee had led to grudging respect from the settlers, as well as the rest of the Cherokee nation. He was even memorialized at the general council of the Nation held in Ustanali in 28 June 1792 by his nephew Black Fox (Inali):

The Dragging Canoe has left this world. He was a man of consequence in his country. He was friend to both his own and the white people. His brother [Little Owl] is still in place, and I mention it now publicly that I intend presenting him with his deceased brother's medal; for he promises fair to possess sentiments similar to those of his brother, both with regard to the red and the white. It is mentioned here publicly that both red and white may know it, and pay attention to him.[93]

The final years

The last years of the Cherokee–American wars saw John Watts, who had spent much of the wars affecting friendship and pacifism towards his American counterparts while living most of the time among the Overhill Cherokee, drop his facade as he took over from his mentor.[94]

John Watts

At his own previous request, the old warrior was succeeded as leader of the Lower Cherokee by John Watts (Kunokeski), although The Bowl (Diwali) succeeded him as headman of Running Water,[95] along with Bloody Fellow and Doublehead, who continued Dragging Canoe's policy of Indian unity, including an agreement with McGillivray of the Upper Muscogee to build joint blockhouses from which warriors of both tribes could operate at the junction of the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers, at Running Water, and at Muscle Shoals.

Watts, Tahlonteeskee, and 'Young Dragging Canoe' (whose actual name was Tsula, or "Red Fox") travelled to Pensacola in May at the invitation of Arturo O'Neill de Tyrone, Spanish governor of West Florida. They took with them letters of introduction from John McDonald. Once there, they forged a treaty with O'Neill for arms and supplies with which to carry on the war.[96] Upon returning north, Watts moved his base of operations to Willstown in order to be closer to his Muscogee allies and his Spanish supply line.[97]

Tennessee River Gorge from Snooper's Rock

Watts at the time of Dragging Canoe's death had been serving as an interpreter during negotiations in Chota between the American government and the Overhill Cherokee. Throughout the wars, up until the time he became principal chief of the Lower Cherokee, he continued to live in the Overhill Towns as much as in the Chickamauga and Lower Towns, and many whites mistook him for a non-belligerent, most notably John Sevier when he mistakenly contracted Watts to guide him to Dragging Canoe's headquarters in September 1782.

Meanwhile John McDonald, now British Indian Affairs Superintendent, moved to Turkeytown with his assistant Daniel Ross and their families. Some of the older chiefs, such as The Glass of Running Water, The Breath of Nickajack, and Dick Justice of Stecoyee, abstained from active warfare but did nothing to stop the warriors in their towns from taking part in raids and campaigns.

Zeigler’s Station

The Muscogee resumed their attacks on the Cumberland settlements in 1791. In the summer of 1792, a war party from Running Water led by Little Owl and the Shawnee Warrior joined them in their raids. On 26 June, the combined group of Cherokee, Shawnee, and Muscogee destroyed Zeigler’s Station in Sumner County. This action led the governor of Mero District, James Robertson, to call up a battalion of troops to spread throughout the region as guards.[98]

Buchanan's Station

In September 1792, Watts orchestrated a large campaign intending to attack the Holston region with a large combined army in four bands of two hundred each. When the warriors were mustering at Stecoyee, however, he learned that their planned attack was expected and decided to aim for Nashville instead.

The army Watts led into the Cumberland region was nearly a thousand strong, including a contingent of cavalry. It was to be a four-pronged attack in which Tahlonteeskee (Ataluntiski; Doublehead's brother) and Bob Benge's brother The Tail led a party to ambush the Kentucky Road, Doublehead with another to the Cumberland Road, and Middle Striker (Yaliunoyuka) led another to do the same on the Walton Road, while Watts himself led the main force, made up of 280 Cherokee, Shawnee, and Muscogee warriors plus cavalry, intending to go against the fort at Nashville.

He sent out George Fields (Unegadihi; "Whitemankiller") and John Walker, Jr. (Sikwaniyoha) as scouts ahead of the army, and they killed the two scouts sent out by James Robertson from Nashville.

Near their target on the evening of 30 September, Watts's combined force came upon a small fort known as Buchanan's Station. Talotiskee, leader of the Muscogee, wanted to attack it immediately, while Watts argued in favor of saving it for the return south. After much bickering, Watts gave in around midnight. The assault proved to be a disaster for Watts. He himself was wounded, and many of his warriors were killed, including Talotiskee and some of Watts' best leaders; Shawnee Warrior, Kitegisky, and Dragging Canoe's brother Little Owl were among those who died in the encounter.

Doublehead's group of sixty ambushed a party of six and took one scalp then headed toward Nashville. On their way, they were attacked by a militia force and lost thirteen men, and only heard of the disaster at Buchanan's Station afterwards. Tahlonteeskee's party, meanwhile, stayed out into early October, attacking Black's Station on Crooked Creek, killing three, wounding more, and capturing several horses. Middle Striker's party was more successful, ambushing a large armed force coming to the Mero District down the Walton Road in November and routing it completely without losing a single man.[99][100]

In revenge for the deaths at Buchanan's Station, Benge, Doublehead, and his brother Pumpkin Boy led a party of sixty into southwestern Kentucky in early 1793 during which their warriors, in an act initiated by Doublehead, cooked and ate the enemies they had just killed. Afterwards, Doublehead's party returned south and held scalp dances at Stecoyee, Turnip Town, and Willstown, since warriors from those towns had also participated in the raid in addition to his and Benge's groups.[101]

Joseph, of the Brown family discussed above, was a member of the station's garrison but had been at his mother's house three miles away at the time of the battle. When he learned of the death of his friend Kitegisky, he is reported to have mourned greatly.

Muscogee attack the Holston and the Cumberland

Meanwhile, a party of Muscogee under a mixed-race warrior named Lesley invaded the Holston region and began attacking isolated farmsteads. Lesley's party continued harassment of the Holston settlements until the summer of 1794, when Hanging Maw sent his men along with the volunteers from the Holston settlements to pursue them, killing two and handing over a third to the whites for trial and execution.[102]

After the failed Cherokee attack on Buchanan's Station, the Muscogee increased their attacks on the Cumberland in both size and frequency. Besides scalping raids, two parties attacked Bledsoe's Station and Greenfield Station in April 1793. Another party attacked Hays' Station in June. In August, the Coushatta from Coosada raided the country around Clarksville, Tennessee, attacking the homestead of the Baker family, killing all but two who escaped and one taken prisoner who was later ransomed at Coosada Town. A war party of Tuskeegee from the Muscogee town of that name was also active in Middle Tennessee at this time.[103]

Attack on a Cherokee diplomatic party

In early 1793, Watts began rotating large war parties back and forth between the Lower Towns and the North at the behest of his allies in the Western Confederacy, which was beginning to lose the ground to the Legion of the United States that had been created in the aftermath of the Battle of the Wabash. With the exception of the 1793 campaign against the Holston, his attention was more focused on the north than on the Southwest Territory and its environs during these next two years.

Upper East Tennessee

Shortly after a delegation of Shawnee stopped in Ustanali in that spring on their way to call on the Muscogee and Choctaw to punish the Chickasaw for joining St. Clair's army in the north, Watts sent envoys to Knoxville, then the capital of the Southwest Territory, to meet with Governor William Blount to discuss terms for peace. Blount in turn passed the offer to Philadelphia, which invited the Lower Cherokee leaders to a meeting with President Washington. The party that was sent from the Lower Towns that May included Bob McLemore, Tahlonteeskee, Captain Charley of Running Water, and Doublehead, among several others.

The party from the Lower Towns stopped in Coyatee because Hanging Maw and other chiefs from the Upper Towns were going also and had gathered there along with several whites who had arrived earlier. A large party of Lower Cherokee (Pathkiller aka The Ridge among them) had been raiding the Upper East, killed two men, and stolen twenty horses. On their way out, they passed through Coyatee, to which the pursuit party tracked them.

The militia violated their orders not to cross the Little Tennessee, then the border between the Cherokee nation and the Southwest Territory, and entered the town shooting indiscriminantly. In the ensuing chaos, eleven leading men were killed, including Captain Charley, and several wounded, including Hanging Maw, his wife and daughter, Doublehead, and Tahlonteeskee; one of the white delegates was among the dead. The Cherokee, even Watts' hostile warriors, agreed to await the outcome of the subsequent trial, which proved to be a farce, in large part because John Beard, the man responsible, was a close friend of John Sevier.[104][105]

Invasion and Cavett's Station

Watts responded to Beard's acquittal by invading the Holston area with one of the largest Indian forces ever seen in the region, over one thousand Cherokee and Muscogee, plus a few Shawnee, intending to attack Knoxville itself. The plan was to have four bodies of troops march toward Knoxville esparately, converging at a previously agreed on rendezvous point along the way.[106]

In August, Watts attacked Henry's Station with a force of two hundred, but fell back due to overwhelming gunfire coming from the fort, not wanting to risk another misfortune like that at Buchanan's Station the previous year.[106]

The four columns converged a month later near the present Loudon, Tennessee, and proceeded toward their target. On the way, the Cherokee leaders were discussing among themselves whether to kill all the inhabitants of Knoxville, or just the men, James Vann advocating the latter while Doublehead argued for the former.[107]

Further on the way, they encountered a small settlement called Cavett's Station on 25 September. After they had surrounded the place, Benge negotiated with the inhabitants, agreeing that if they surrendered, their lives would be spared.[108] However, after the settlers had walked out, Doublehead's group and his Muscogee allies attacked and began killing them all over the pleas of Benge and the others. Vann managed to grab one small boy and pull him onto his saddle, only to have Doublehead smash the boy's skull with an axe. Watts intervened in time to save another young boy, handing him to Vann, who put the boy behind him on his horse and later handed him over to three of the Muscogee for safe-keeping; unfortunately, one of the Muscogee chiefs killed the boy and scalped him a few days later.[109][110][111][112][113]

Because of this incident, Vann called Doublehead "Babykiller" (deliberately parodying the honorable title "Mankiller") for the remainder of his life; and it also began a lengthy feud which defined the politics of the early 19th century Cherokee Nation and only ended in 1807 with Doublehead's death at Vann's orders.[114] By this time, tensions among the Cherokee broke out into such vehement arguments that the force broke up, with the main group retiring south.[115]

Battle of Etowah

Sevier countered the invasion with an invasion and occupation of Ustanali, which had been deserted; there was no fighting there other than an indecisive skirmish with a Cherokee-Muscogee scouting party. He and his men then followed the Cherokee-Muscogee force south to the town of Etowah (Itawayi; near the site of present-day Cartersville, Georgia across the Etowah River from the Etowah Indian Mounds), leading to what Sevier called the "Battle of Hightower" on 17 October 1793. His force defeated their opponents soundly, then went on to destroy several Cherokee villages to the west before retiring to the Southwest Territory.[116]

End of the Cherokee-American wars

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

Muscle Shoals massacre

Later in the summer, a party of Cherokee under Whitemankiller (Unegadihi; aka George Fields) overtook a river party under William Scott at Muscle Shoals. They killed its white passengers, looted the goods, and took the African-American slaves as captives.[117]

Treaty of Philadelphia

The federal government signed the Treaty of Philadelphia, which essentially reaffirmed the land cessions of the 1785 Treaty of Hopwell and the 1791 Treaty of Holston, with the Cherokee on 26 June. Both the chiefs Doublehead and Bloody Fellow signed it.[118][119]

Final engagements

In August of that year, the US Indian Agent to the Chickasaw) sent word from Chickasaw territory to General Robertson of the Miro District, as the Cumberland region was then called, that the Cherokee and Muscogee were going to attack settlements all along the river. Brown reported that a war party of 100 was going to take canoes down the Tennessee to the lower river, while another of 400 was going to attack overland after passing through the Five Lower Towns and picking up reinforcements.

The river party began the journey toward the targets, but there was much dissension in the larger mixed Muscogee-Cherokee overland party. They had divided over the actions of Hanging Maw, who had attacked the Lesley party in the Holston region. They divided their forces before reaching the settlements; only three small parties made it to the Cumberland area and they operated into at least September.[120]

The Nickajack Expedition

Desiring to end the wars once and for all, Robertson sent a detachment of U.S. regular troops, Miro District militia, and Kentucky volunteers to the Five Lower Towns under U.S. Army Major James Ore. Guided by knowledgeable locals, including former captive Joseph Brown, Ore's army traveled down the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail toward the Five Lower Towns.[121][122]

On 13 September, the army attacked Nickajack without warning, slaughtering many of the inhabitants, including its pacifist chief The Breath. After torching the houses, the soldiers went upriver and burned Running Water, whose residents had long fled. Joseph Brown fought alongside the soldiers, but tried to spare women and children. The Cherokee casualties were relatively light, as the majority of the population of both towns were in Willstown attending a major stickball (similar to lacrosse) game.[123][124]

Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse

The Tellico Blockhouse site, with posts and stone fill showing the original layout

Watts finally decided to call for peace: he was discouraged by the destruction of the two towns, the death of Robert Benge in April, and the recent defeat of the Western Confederacy by General "Mad Anthony" Wayne's army at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. More than 100 Cherokee had fought there.

The loss of support from the Spanish, who had their own problems with Napoleon I of France in Europe, convinced Watts to end the fighting. Two months later, on 7 November 1794, he made the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse. It was notable for not requiring any more land cessions by the Cherokee, other than finally ended the series of conflicts, which was notable for not requiring any further cession of land other than requiring the Lower (or Chickamauga) Cherokee to recognize the cessions of the Holston treaty. This led to a period of relative peace into the 19th century.[125]


Following the peace treaty, leaders from the Lower Cherokee were dominant in national affairs. When the national government of all the Cherokee was organized, the first three persons to hold the office of Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation – Little Turkey (1788–1801), Black Fox (1801–1811), and Pathkiller (Nunnehidihi; 1811–1827) – had previously served as warriors under Dragging Canoe, as had the first two Speakers of the Cherokee National Council, established in 1794, Doublehead and Turtle-at-Home.

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

Muscogee-Chickasaw War

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

In early January 1795, however, the Chickasaw, who had sent warriors to take part in the Army of the Northwest, began killing Muscogee warriors found in Middle Tennessee as allies of the United States and taking their scalps, so in March, the Muscogee began to turn their attentions away from the Cumberland to the Chickasaw, over the entreaties of the Cherokee and the Choctaw. The Muscogee-Chickasaw War, also begun partly at the behest of the Shawnee to punish the Chickasaw for joining the Army of the Northwest at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, ended in a truce negotiated by the U.S. government at Tellico Blockhouse in October that year in a conference attended by the two belligerents and the Cherokee. The Muscogee signed their own peace treaty with the United States in June 1796.[126]

Treaty of Greenville

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

None of the Cherokee in the North were present at the treaty. Later that month, Gen. Wayne sent a message to Long Hair (Gitlugunahita), leader of those who remained in the Ohio country, that they should come in and sue for peace. In response, Long Hair replied that all of them would return south as soon as they finished the harvest.[127] However, they did not all do so; at least one, called Shoe Boots (Dasigiyagi), stayed in the area until 1803, so it's likely others did as well.


Counting the previous two years of all the Cherokee fighting openly as British allies, the Cherokee–American wars lasted nearly twenty years, one of the longest-running conflicts between Indians and the Americans. It has been often overlooked for its length, its importance at the time, and its influence on later Native American leaders (or considering that Cherokee had been involved at least in small numbers in all the conflicts beginning in 1758, that number could be nearly forty years). Because of the continuing hostilities that followed the Revolution, the United States placed one of the two permanent garrisons of the new country at Fort Southwest Point at the confluence of the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers; the other was at Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. Because the conflict has been overlooked, many historians have failed to include Dragging Canoe as one of the notable Native American war chiefs and diplomats. Some texts dealing with conflicts between "Americans" and "Indians" often barely mention him.

See also

  • Timeline of Cherokee removal
  • Historic treaties of the Cherokee
  • Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  • United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  • Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
  • Principal Chiefs of the Cherokee


  1. Flora, MacKethan, and Taylor, p. 607 | "Historians use the term Old Southwest to describe the frontier region that was bounded by the Tennessee River to the north, the Gulf of Mexico to the South, the Mississippi River to the west, and the Ocmulgee River to the east"
  2. Klink and Talman, p. 62
  3. O'Donnell,p. 18
  4. Evans (1977), "Dragging Canoe," p. 179
  5. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 138
  6. Evans (1977), "Dragging Canoe", pp. 180–182
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Murphy, p. 523
  8. 8.0 8.1 Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 141-146
  9. Calloway, pp.194-197
  10. Hoig, p. 59
  11. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 148-149
  12. O'Donnell, p. 40
  13. Hunter, p. 176
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Mays, p. 65
  15. O'Donnell, p. 47
  16. O'Donnell, p. 47
  17. O'Donnell, p. 46
  18. Alderman, p. 38
  19. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 161
  20. Gilmore, pp.118-119
  21. O'Donnell,pp. 69-79
  22. Calloway, pp.261-264
  23. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 161, 163
  24. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 163-164
  25. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 161-172
  26. Brown, pp. 162-163
  27. Moore and Foster, p. 168
  28. O'Donnell, pp. 57-59
  29. O'Donnell, pp. 95-108
  30. O'Donnell, p. 89
  31. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp.172-173
  32. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 173
  33. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 174
  34. 34.0 34.1 Evans, "Dragging Canoe", p. 184
  35. Tanner, p. 98
  36. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 205–207
  37. O'Donnell, pp. 96-97
  38. Hoig, p. 68
  39. Toulmin
  40. Mooney, pp. 57-58
  41. O'Donnell, p. 107
  42. Moore, p. 175
  43. O'Donnell, pp. 113-114
  44. Moore, pp. 180–182
  45. Summers, pp. 361-443
  46. O'Donnell, p. 114-115
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 Tanner, p. 99
  48. O'Donnell,p.123
  49. O'Donnell,p.135
  50. 50.0 50.1 Moore, p. 182
  51. 51.0 51.1 Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 175
  52. Tanner, pp.101
  53. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 204–205
  54. 54.0 54.1 Evans, "Dragging Canoe", p. 185
  55. Mooney, Myths and Sacred Formulas, p.60
  56. Calloway, p. 264
  57. Braund, p. 171
  58. 58.0 58.1 58.2 58.3 58.4 Green, pp. 120-138
  59. 59.0 59.1 59.2 59.3 59.4 Ramsey, pp. 523-540
  60. Henderson, Chap. XX
  61. Faulkner, pp. 23, 107
  62. Goodpasture, pp. 140-141
  63. Williams, History of the Lost State of Franklin, p. 103
  64. Klink and Talman, p. 49
  65. 65.0 65.1 Frank
  66. Moore, pp. 182–187
  67. Heard, p. 138
  68. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 272
  69. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 272–275
  70. Evans, "Last Battle", 30–40
  71. Klink and Talman, p.48
  72. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 284
  73. Draper Mss. 16: DD-59
  74. Moore, p. 204
  75. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 293-295
  76. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 297
  77. 77.0 77.1 Evans, "Bob Benge", p. 100
  78. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 286–290
  79. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 297–299
  80. Wilson, pp. 47–48
  81. Drake, Chapt. II
  82. Eckert, pp.379–387
  83. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 275
  84. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 299
  85. Moore, p. 201
  86. Moore, pp. 233
  87. Appleton
  88. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 318–319
  89. Evans, "Bob Benge", p.100
  90. Goodpasture, p. 27
  91. Phelan, p. 43
  92. Alderman, p. 37
  93. American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 271
  94. Goodpasture,p. 186
  95. Starr, p. 35
  96. Starr, p. 36
  97. American State Papers, p. 278
  98. Moore, pp. 205–211
  99. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 344–366
  100. Hoig, p. 83
  101. Evans, "Bob Benge", p. 101-102
  102. Moore, p. 225-231
  103. Moore, p. 215-220
  104. Moore, pp. 220–225
  105. Evans, "Bob Benge", pp. 103–104
  106. 106.0 106.1 Brown, Old Frontiers, p.389
  107. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 389-390
  108. Faulkner, p. 63
  109. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 390-391
  110. Wilkins,pp. 25-26
  111. Faulkner, pp. 76-80
  112. Ramsey, p. 581
  113. Ehle, pp 44-46
  114. Miles, p. 36
  115. Wilkins, p. 26
  116. Wilkins,p.26
  117. Mooney,p. 77
  118. Hays
  119. Evarts, pp.30-31
  120. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp. 421-422
  121. Mooney,p. 78
  122. Brown, Old Frontiers, p. 422
  123. Mooney,pp.78-79
  124. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp.421-431
  125. Brown, Old Frontiers, pp.433-436
  126. Moore, pp. 244–250
  127. Royce, p. 36, note 1


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