TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE
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The First Americans
Early in prehistoric times wandering tribes of aborigines - the remote ancestors of the historic Indians - entered the territory that is now Tennessee. Successive waves of migration followed, and many diverse groups came into contact with one another. Some were cave dwellers who subsisted by hunting and fishing, and some were agricultural tribes who made excellent pottery and lived in large fortified towns.
Probably the cave dwellers were the first comers. They settled along the water courses where fish and game were plentiful and where caves and overhanging cliffs afforded natural dwellings. With their crude weapons they may have hunted the last of the mastodons. The sites of their homes are marked by fire-cracked stones, flint chips, and arrowheads, by ash beds and refuse pits, fragments of pottery and implements of stone and bone. Caves showing signs of occupancy are especially numerous at the headwaters of the Cumberland River and its tributaries; others are found in the Tennessee and Duck River valleys.
In the cliffs along Obed and Wolf Rivers there are rock shelters similar to the Pueblo communal ruins in the Southwest. That the caves housed hunters rather than farmers is evident from the quantities of animal bones found on the sites. In some instances burned human bones are present.
The prehistoric Indians also used caves for burial purposes. Indicative of a higher type of Stone Age culture are the partially mummified human remains, interred in a sitting position in baskets of cane, that have been found in widely separated areas. The bodies were wrapped in bark matting, tanned deer-skin, and cloaks or mats of woven feathers. The workmanship of these articles shows considerable mechanical skill.
In pre-Columbian America, maize or corn was a basic food, and the fertile valleys of Tennessee, then as now, produced good crops. The tribes that cultivated maize left behind them remarkable earthworks which show their advanced skill and industry. These people are generally referred to as the Mound Builders. Unquestionably they were Indians, possibly the ancestors of the Muskhogean linguistic stock - the group that includes the Creek, Chocktaw, and Chickasaw. In the mounds, the levels of occupation overlap: the prehistoric merges into the historic. In the lower strata are found only pre-Columbian artifacts; in the upper strata articles of European manufacture are present.
The Tennessee phases of the Mound Builder culture include stone fortifications and palisaded villages, earthworks that served as foundations for ceremonial buildings, cemeteries, and reservoirs. Dome-shaped burial mounds are numerous, and in scattered places about the State are a few earthworks that appear to be effigy mounds, fashioned to represent birds or animals.
The most prominent of the earthen remains are the pyramidal mounds often elaborately terraced, with level tops. Notable examples are the huge Pinson Mounds in Madison County, the largest of which is some seventy feet high, and the Great Mound Group in Cheatham County. Pyramidal mounds, always associated with important sites, all show indications of having once supported ceremonial buildings of some kind, probably temples or town houses. The resemblance of these terraced ceremonial house mounds to the pyramids of ancient Mexico is striking. This and other evidence suggest a cultural link between the Mound Builders of Tennessee and the civilized Mayan people of Central America and Mexico.
Excavations have revealed post molds where the logs that formed the walls of the ceremonial buildings once stood, and also wattle-work and hard-packed smooth floors. Altars or fire basins, composed of clay and sand, are usually found in these structures. Both square and round types of altars have been uncovered, the different shapes apparently representing two different cultures. When the mounds were high, an inclined ramp led up to the buildings. These ramps were constructed of clay into which were set cedar logs to provide a foothold.
One peculiarity of the prehistoric Tennessee burials is the striking development of stone graves, usually made from flat pieces of limestone or from slaty sandstone. The builders evidently believed in an after life, for shell spoons and artistic pottery vessels, many of which represent bird, animal, and human figures, are found with the bodies. The vessels apparently contained food and drink so that the deceased might not go hungry on the long journey to the Spirit Land. Other implements or ornaments buried with the bodies include copper breastplates, soapstone and clay tobacco pipes, strings of fresh water pearls, sea shells, bone awls, round gamma stones, and pottery disks. The presence of sea shell and copper indicates well-established trade routes.
Although the stone grave form of burial is widespread over the State, it is most frequent in the valleys of the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers. The typical Cumberland graves are rectangular coffins, in which the body is extended full length on its back. In the Tennessee Valley, stone-slab graves have been discovered in which the skeletons lie in a doubled-up position. Remains of another group or tribe, who buried their dead in hexagonal or almost circular stone-slab graves, with the bodies closely flexed, have been found. The skeletal remains are of both longheaded and round-headed types of people. It is believed that the builders of the numerous mounds also built the stone graves, which occur both in mounds and in cemeteries.
Collections of prehistoric Indian relics from mounds and graves are on exhibit at Vanderbilt University and at the Memorial Building Museum at Nashville. The Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts in Memphis also has an exhibition of Mound Builder relics.
The depicting of human and animal figures in terra cotta and stone is one of the chief phases of prehistoric culture in Tennessee. Specimens found in the area show the high level to which the art of pottery making was carried, and the perfection with which the difficult art of chipping flint was practiced. There are huge ceremonial swords, scepters, maces, and monolithic axes with handle and blade made from a single piece of polished stone. The art of painting as practiced by these ancient Indians is shown in their pottery decorations and in picture writing upon the smooth faces of rock walls overhanging the rivers.
Engravings upon copper and sea shell ornaments are traced with remarkable skill. Ornaments worn suspended from the neck, known as gorgets, are beautifully engraved with intricate designs depicting human, animal, and mythical figures, many of them quite conventionalized. A common motif is the rattlesnake, which is sometimes both winged and plumed as in Mexico. Gorgets cut from conch shells were usually circular in shape and concave from the curve of the shell. In size they range from a few inches to nearly a foot in diameter. Large marine shells were also utilized for bowls and cups.
Both shell and grit tempered pottery have been found in large quantities. Pottery types include corded, paddle-stamped, stippled, smooth, polychrome, and painted ware. Vessels with smooth rims are found; other types are curved-rim and loop-handled ware. Many bowls and water bottles are modeled to represent human and animal figures. Effigy ware is frequently found with burials.
On the Little Tennessee River many of the graves contain the remains of historic Indians, but there are some burials which appear to represent an older and different culture, perhaps that of the Uchees (Yuchis). In East Tennessee many of the skeletons are found in flexed positions in pits that were lined with bark and covered with lids of bark supported by wooden cleats. The dead, in many cases, were buried under the floors of the dwellings.
Artifacts, pottery, and skeletal remains from East Tennessee are housed at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Many of these relics were found during recent excavations conducted jointly by the Works Progress Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the University of Tennessee.
The Mound Builders, if not the ancestors of Indians living within the State in historic times, certainly exerted cultural influence upon all the later groups that entered the area. Historic tribes in Tennessee were reported by early explorers to have used mounds as foundations for town houses. A number of eighteenth-century village sites contain Mound Builder remains in their lower levels. Either the later tribes were builders of mounds themselves, or they moved in and occupied the sites of the earlier peoples.
The first Indians encountered by Europeans in Tennessee belonged to two great linguistic groups - the Muskhogean and the Iroquoian. The Koasati, a tribe identified with the Creeks, were in the southeastern region through which Hernando De Soto's Spaniards pushed on their futile search for treasure in 1541. The Cherokee, a detached Iroquoian tribe, lived on the upper reaches of the Tennessee River, claiming all the central and eastern portions of the present State as their hunting ground. Some authorities contend that De Soto passed through the southernmost towns of the Cherokee during his march to the Mississippi.
The Muskhogean still occupied the Tennessee Valley in the seventeenth century, but they later migrated south and joined the main Creek Nation. Early French maps gave the name of "Cusatee" or "Kasquinombo" to the Tennessee River and located the Cusatee or Kasquinompa Indians near the present site of Chattanooga and the Cherokee on the headwaters of the river.
West Tennessee was the domain of the Chickasaw - another Muskhogean tribe - whose main villages were in northern Mississippi. It was doubtless to this tribe that De Soto's aide referred when he stated that "they presented the Governor (De Soto) 150 conies (rabbits), with the clothing of the country, such as shawls and skins." The Chisca, also mentioned in the De Soto narratives, were a small Algonkian tribe living on the Cumberland Plateau.
A century and a half after De Soto's explorations the English, entering Tennessee from the east, and the French, coming down the Mississippi, found the Chickasaw and Cherokee occupying substantially the same sites where the first explorers had found them. The Shawnee, late comers, lived along the lower Cumberland Valley, in an area claimed not only by the Chickasaw and the Cherokee, but also by the powerful Iroquois Confederacy of New York.
Land trails and waterways formed the Indians' system of communication and transportation. The dugout canoe, hollowed and shaped from a single tree by means of fire and stone adzes, was the craft used by all the tribes of Tennessee. Bark canoes were rare, although a few were occasionally obtained through trade with the northern tribes. Besides numerous footpaths of their own making, the Indians incorporated into their system the wide, hard-packed trails trodden by the wood bison, leading to every corner of the wilderness. Beginning in the Creek country of Alabama and Georgia, the Great Indian Warpath entered Tennessee near Chattanooga and followed the Great Valley of East Tennessee northward. Over this well-worn trail, on missions of peace and war, came the Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw from the south and the Iroquois and Algonkians from the north. Another famous Indian trail was the Natchez Trace, running from near the vicinity of present Nashville to the towns in Mississippi.
The Chickasaw and the Cherokee were typical southeastern village tribes. They raised large crops of vegetables and tobacco in small gardens and in village farms that were owned in common. Indian corn or maize was the leading crop, and the Green Corn Dance or "Busk" was a yearly festival. In April and May strawberries were gathered in the open prairies along the stream banks, and in summer great quantities of blackberries on the hillsides. When autumn came stores of hickory nuts, walnuts, and pecans were laid by for winter use, one family often having more than a hundred bushels of hickory nuts. Huckleberries, wild plums, persimmons, wild grapes, and muscadines were gathered and preserved; many wild plants and roots were also utilized for food. The forest supplied the Indians with meat of many varieties - turkey, deer, bear, buffalo, and small game. The streams abounded in fish and mussels.
Before the arrival of the whites, the Indians had no domestic animals except the dog. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, the Cherokee and Chickasaw had obtained horses, swine, and chickens from the English settlers and were raising livestock in considerable numbers. The most common type of Indian house was circular or rectangular; it was built of thick posts set upright in the ground with smaller posts between, all bound together with split cane or switches and plastered with clay. Strips of bark and thatched grass were used to cover the roof; hardpacked ground or clay formed the floor. A raised hearth in the center contained the cooking fire, and above it, in the roof, was the smoke hole. "Hot houses" for winter were made of heavy timbers, plastered with clay. Every village had its town house, in which the priests performed sacred ceremonies and the chiefs held their councils. Here the braves gathered to drink a tea of herbs called the "black drink" before taking the war trail. The town house was big enough to hold several hundred persons, and the whole village often met there for entertainments and dances. Early explorers, describing the Cherokee council houses, spoke of them as resembling sugar loaves - circular in shape with rounded tops.
From stone, wood, shell, and bone the Indians skillfully contrived the necessary household utensils and the implements used in war, hunting and fishing. Beautifully ornamented pottery, wooden bowls, and spoons and saucers made from shell have been found on various sites. The fisherman was provided with basketry traps, weirs, nets, spears, bone hooks and harpoon-like arrows; the hunter, with long flat bows, arrows of both wood and cane - some with fire-hardened tips and others with points of stone, bone, or antler - and blow-guns of cane or of grooved pieces of wood bound together. Stone axes and knives and scimitar-shaped hardwood clubs were the weapons of the warrior.
After the advent of white traders in the latter half of the seventeenth century, many of these implements and utensils were replaced in whole or in part with European trade goods. As early as 1673 many of the Indians had guns, axes, hoes, knives, metal arrow points, glass beads, and double glass bottles in which they kept their powder.
Widespread among the tribes was the game of "ball play", from which lacrosse is derived. Another game enjoyed in some form by all the southern Indians was "chungke," played with round stones (called "chunky" stones) and smooth sticks.
In summer the Indian men wore only deerskin breechcloths and moccasins, but in cold weather they added shirts made of skin, robes of fur, and fringed leather leggings that reached from thigh to ankle. More decorative garments were the feather robes and the mantles woven from various fibers and from the hair of buffalo and opossum. The women wore short deerskin skirts and covered their shoulders with fur shawls in winter.
Various dyes were used, but black and vermilion were the favorite colors for clothing and blankets.
John Wesley recorded an interview with a young Chickasaw chief in which the Indian told him that his people believed in four beloved things above: the clouds, the sun, the clear sky, and He that lives in the clear sky. The Great Spirit, the creator of all things, was called by the Chickasaw "The Beloved One Who Dwelleth in the Blue Sky," and by the Cherokee "The Great Man Above." Each warrior had his own guardian spirit or totem. The sun, the thunder, and the four winds were powerful gods of the upper air, and certain animals were thought to possess magical powers. Medicine men or priests combined sorcery with healing practices. Tobacco was used in religious ceremonies, and the spirit of the corn was honored by special religious rites. To a great extent the Indians were fatalists, accepting death as a matter of course and submitting to events without complaint; sometimes, it is recorded, they sang at the approach of death by torture.
The Chickasaw were the foremost warriors of the South. Compared to neighboring nations they were small in numbers, but so warlike and so well organized that no tribe or combination of tribes was able to withstand their attacks. With the Chickasaw, as with most American Indian tribes, descent was in the female line. Within the nation were subdivisions or phratries, which in turn were composed of clans or gentes. No marriage took place between individuals of the same clan. The tribe was governed by chiefs or headmen, whose personal endowments entitled them to leadership.
Quite distinct from the Chickasaw racially and yet similar in many ways were the Cherokee, one of the largest of the southern tribes. Their legends tell of migration southward from the region of Lake Erie, but they had dug themselves deeply into their historic sites when first encountered by white men. In colonial times the Cherokee territory was divided into three parts or settlements: Towns in the northwestern corner of South Carolina and the neighboring portions of Georgia; the Middle Towns in the southwestern North Carolina; and the Upper Towns (known as the Overhill Towns because they were across the mountains from the Carolina Colonies) along the Little Tennessee and Tellico Rivers. This area contained important villages, among them the capital of the Cherokee Nation, Chota (Echota), some thirty miles south of the present Knoxville. Chota was a "white" or peace town where bloodshed was forbidden.
Cherokee government was democratic, with a leading man acting as head chief or "emperor" of the whole nation. Honorary titles could be earned by warriors who were brave in battle and wise in council. Men too old to fight and women who were very wise were given the name of "Beloved." Among the Cherokee the women had their own council, composed of the leading women of each clan, with the Beloved Woman of the Nation at its head.
Ensign Henry Timberlake, a young British officer who went among the Cherokee on a good will mission in 1761, described the Cherokee as "of middle stature, of an olive color, tho' generally painted, and their skins stained with gunpowder, pricked into very pretty figures. The hair of their head is shaved, tho' many of the old people have it plucked out by the roots, except a patch on the hinder part of the head, about twice the bigness of a crownpiece, which is ornamented with beads, feathers, wampum, stained deer's hair, and such like baubles."
Entirely different from the Cherokee and Chickasaw were the Shawnee of the Cumberland Valley. A wandering tribe of the far-flung Algonkian stock, these people seem to have migrated into the Cumberland Valley just prior to the beginning of the eighteenth century. In customs and language they were typically Algonkian, although they had evidently acquired some of the cultural traits of their southern neighbors.
The presence of the Shawnee in the Cumberland Valley was resented by both the Cherokee and the Chickasaw, who desired to keep the region as their hunting preserve. Repeated raids by these tribes and by the Iroquois finally drove the Shawnee from their villages on the Cumberland in about 1714. They moved northward and settled in the Ohio Valley, from which location they frequently sent war parties against the southern tribes and against the white settlers in Tennessee.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century English traders were well established in Tennessee territory. They lived in the Indian towns, taking part in the life of the village, many of them marrying Indian women. James Adair, best known of these adventurous Englishmen, entered the Indian trade about 1735. To him is due the credit for much of our knowledge of the culture of the Tennessee Indians. An educated thoughtful man and a keen observer, Adair spent forty years among the southern tribes, and recorded his observations in his book, History of the American Indians.
In the colonial period the rates of exchange in the fur trade were agreed upon by a board of commissioners and influential chiefs. The Indian country was divided into hunting districts, one district being allotted to a trader. The rates varied from time to time but, for the most part, were well regulated until independent traders flocked into the Indian country. Beaver fur and deer skins were the principal articles received from theIndians.
A trader's pack train seldom consisted of fewer than fifteen or twenty horses, and pack trains of more than a hundred horses were not uncommon on the "Great Trading Path" from Charleston to the Cherokee country. Established in the Indian town, the trader lived in backwoods luxury, a person of importance in the village. When he won the confidence and admiration of the tribesmen, he was usually chosen by some warrior as "particular friend." The pact, symbolized by a complete exchange of clothing and even names, was lasting, and many a white man owed his life to his particular friend.
The English outnumbered the French in the Cherokee country, but a few French traders came to the Overhill Towns and attempted to gain a foothold there. In 1730, a bold stroke of diplomacy on the part of Sir Alexander Cuming (Cumin) won for the English the friendship of the Cherokee. Going into the Cherokee country on his own initiative, Cuming completely overawed the tribesmen and talked them into signing a treaty. He designated Chief Moytoy of Great Tellico as Emperor of the Cherokee, but reserved allegiance through himself to the British King. The Indians were greatly impressed and agreed to become subjects of King George II. Cuming then took to England a group of Indians, including the young Overhill warrior who later became the famous Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter). The King received the chiefs with great ceremony, presented them with gifts and assured them of his love and protection. In return the Indians pledged the King their loyalty and support.
The Chickasaw were the only tribe on the lower Mississippi friendly to the English and hostile to the French. When the French destroyed the Natchez, the Chickasaw received the remnant of that tribe into their nation. Free passage of the Mississippi was an important step in the French plan to keep the English settlements hemmed in along the Atlantic seaboard, and because Chickasaw warriors captured French supply boats on the Mississippi, destruction of the tribe became a fixed policy of the French.
In the spring of 1736, Sieur de Bienville moved northward from New Orleans with his troops and warriors of the Choctaw Nation, hereditary enemies of the Chickasaw. Major d'Artaguette, with another army of white soldiers and Indian braves, came down from the Illinois district, of which he was then governor. The two armies were to meet in the Chickasaw country and exterminate the tribe. English traders rushed to the Chickasaw villages from Charleston to aid their allies. D'Artaguette landed at Prudhomme Bluff and followed the Chickasaw War Trail southward to the nearest village, where he was decisively defeated by the Chickasaw and the British traders. Six days later Bienville was forced to retreat.
In 1740 the French built Fort Assumption on the Lower Chickasaw Bluff (site of Memphis) as a base of operations against the Chickasaw. A temporary peace was patched up, but the Indians continued to ambush French convoys on the Mississippi. In 1752 Marquis de Vaudreuil led an expedition of 700 soldiers and a large force of Choctaw into the Chickasaw country, but was forced to retreat. The Chickasaw remained the masters of West Tennessee.
Christian Priber, a German Utopian reformer and an agent for the French, appeared among the Overhill Cherokee in 1736. He crowned Moytoy of Great Tellico, then head chief of the Cherokee Nation, "Emperor" of his Utopia, which he called "Paradice." Ludovick Grant, a well-known trader and liaison officer among the Cherokee for Governor Glen of South Carolina, attempted to arrest Priber but the Cherokee would not allow it. Officers sent from South Carolina also failed, and barely escaped with their lives. Priber was finally taken (1743) by Creek traders on his way to the French Fort at Mobile. He was turned over to the English colonial authorities, who sent him to prison in Georgia, where he spent his remaining days. His Utopian plans collapsed, but his influence continued for a long time in Great Tellico.
Regulations to curb whisky trading, which by this time had become an abuse, were drafted by the English in 1751. They provided "that no trader shall carry rum into the nation, unless it be a few bottles for his own use, but that a quantity be lodged in the fort sufficient to supply each district with two keggs in the year, and that it be given to them gratis at two different times; to wit, one Kegg at the Green Corn Dance and one Kegg when they return from their Winter Hunt."
Actual hostilities between the French and the English began in 1754. After long-drawn bickering between South Carolina and Virginia, the latter colony, in answer to Cherokee requests, built a fort near Chota in 1756. The colonial governments still could not reach an agreement and the fort was never named or garrisoned. The following year South Carolina completed and garrisoned Fort Loudoun, five miles west of Chota on the south bank of the Little Tennessee River. At the time Fort Loudoun was completed (1757) the Cherokee, who had been wavering toward an alliance with the French, turned to the English.
In the spring of 1759 reports of negotiations between the Cherokee of Great Tellico and the French came from the Overhill country. To the Overhill town of Settico came Great Mortar, a Creek chief friendly to the French, who made an alliance with Chief Moytoy. War parties left Settico and fell upon the North Carolina settlements in the Yadkin and Catawba Valleys.
Old Hop, the emperor or principal chief, and Attakullakulla tried to prevent a war with the English, but the French and their Creek allies kept up their intrigues with the Overhills. These "bad talks" continued until Governor Lyttelton of South Carolina, fearing war with the whole Cherokee Nation, authorized the stoppage of their ammunition supplies. Oconostota, the Great Warrior of Chota, and thirty-one chiefs, returning from Charleston where they had gone for "peace talks", were made prisoners and taken under military guard to Fort Prince George. Attakullakulla went to Charleston and finally secured the release of Oconostota and two chiefs.
In January 1760 the Overhills, led by Oconostota, made an unsuccessful attack on Fort Prince George, where their tribesmen were imprisoned. Runners, painted red, carried war messages throughout the nation. In March, Old Hop, the friendly leader, died and Standing Turkey was elected head chief. The whole Cherokee Nation now took the warpath. Attakullakulla, alone of all the headmen, remained loyal to the English. The warring tribesmen attacked Fort Loudoun, cut off communications, and after months of siege forced the starved garrison to surrender. On the trail back to the settlements the soldiers were ambushed by the Cherokee; some twenty of the garrison, including the commandant, Captain Paul Demore, were killed on the spot and the rest were made prisoners. Following the Indian custom of "special friendship" for a white brother, Attakullakulla rescued his friend Captain John Stuart, second in command of the garrison, and helped him to escape to Virginia. British troops and colonial militia finally conquered the Cherokee, and by a treaty made November 9, 1761, the Indians surrendered Fort Loudoun.
It was in this year that Timberlake and Sergeant Thomas Sumter visited the Cherokee. Their host on the journey was Ostenaco, or "Judd's Friend," a war chief of the Overhill Cherokee. When the expedition returned to Virginia, Governor Fauquier sent Ostenaco with two of his warriors and an interpreter to England with Timberlake and Sumter. In London the young Virginians and their Cherokee friends were entertained at fashionable resorts, visited by the nobility, and received at court by King George III. Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Ostenaco's portrait, and the three Indians posed for him in a group. After a two-month stay in England, the Cherokee were brought back to America by Sumter. Timberlake remained in England and two years later published his memoirs, which present an accurate picture of Indian life in that period. The visit of Ostenaco, like that of Attakullakulla in 1730, greatly strengthened British influence among the Cherokee.
The British King's proclamation of 1763 guaranteed the Cherokee their territory west of the Appalachians, but the land-hungry settlers paid little heed to their government's treaty boundaries and steadily encroached on Indian land. By the treaty of Fort Stanwix in New York on November 6, 1762, the Iroquois conveyed to the English their claim to the hunting grounds bounded by the Ohio and the Tennessee Rivers. By the Treaty of Hard Labour, made in the same year between the English and Cherokee the southernmost limit of the boundary line between the Virginia and the Cherokee lands was declared to be a point thirty-six miles east of the Long Island of the Holston River in East Tennessee. In 1770, by the Treaty of Lockabar, a thirty-mile strip of Cherokee land was purchased by Virginia. When a survey made in 1771 showed definitely that the white settlements were not in Virginia but on Cherokee land, the settlers, rather than move, leased all the land along the Watauga for about $5,000 in merchandise. Similar leases were made of lands along the Nolichucky and in Carter's Valley.
In 1774 Lord Dunmore's War broke out in Virginia, and the Cherokee, roused by war embassies of northern Indians, grew restless. As a nation they did not take the warpath, but there were frequent brushes between young braves and bands of settlers. The Transylvania Land Company of North Carolina purchased from the Cherokee in 1775 their claim to the lands lying between the Kentucky River and the Cumberland for $50,000 in merchandise. But the Cherokee, as a tribe, were by no means unanimous in their acceptance of this agreement, and many of them bitterly resented the transaction. The American Revolution, which began one month after the land purchase, gave the disgruntled faction a chance to regain the lands taken from them and to prevent any further settlements south of the boundary line. Led by Dragging Canoe, they "lifted the war axe."
After two years of fighting the Cherokee met the commissioners of Virginia and North Carolina on the Long Island of the Holston - their sacred treaty ground - and made peace with the white invaders. In a formal treaty made at the Long Island in July 1777, the Cherokee ceded a large area to North Carolina and Virginia and agreed to remain neutral during the Colonies' war with England.
Dragging Canoe's followers, refusing to accept as final the loss of lands in East Tennessee, moved westward to Chickamauga Creek and there established villages. These hostile Cherokee, who became known as the Chickamauga, were joined by Shawnee warriors from the Ohio, by Creeks from Alabama and Georgia, and by white outlaws. Their war parties struck at the outlying settlements continually, ranging far and wide over the frontier. Colonel Evan Shelby led an expedition against them in 1779 burned their towns, and captured horses and supplies. Later the Indians left Chickamauga Creek and established the Five Lower Towns, west of Lookout Mountain, with Nickajack Cave as their stronghold.
After peace was made between England and America, all Indian attacks ceased for a time. Boundaries were established by the Hopewell treaties with the Cherokee in 1785 and the Chickasaw in 1786, and Indian titles to land in Tennessee were recognized by the United States.
In 1791, William Blount, Territorial Governor, called the Cherokee to a conference at White's Fort, the present Knoxville. The new boundary line between the Cherokee lands and those of the whites in Tennessee was agreed upon. In addition to surrendering land, the Indians granted to the whites the use of the Tennessee River and the road through their lands on the Cumberland Plateau. In return the United States Government gave a certain amount of goods and agreed to pay an annuity of $1,500.
In 1792 a group of Cherokee leaders met representatives of the United States at Chota in a peace council; but while the council was in session militiamen attacked the Indians, killed several, and wounded Hanging Maw, the head chief, and his wife. Peace negotiations were broken off; the Cherokee as a nation joined the Chickamauga and the Creek in war against the whites.
The Chickamauga continued to raid the frontier until Major James Ore led the Nickajack Expedition into their country in 1794 and completely broke their power. They came back into the Cherokee Nation and ceased to exist as a separate tribe. The defeat of the northern tribes by American troops, and the surrender of Spanish territorial claims, placed the Indians under the sole jurisdiction of the United States.
During the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Cherokee were as civilized as the border whites. They had large farms and orchards, owned Negro slaves, and raised cattle, sheep, and horses. They used progressive farming methods in growing cotton, tobacco, corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, and indigo. Most of the cotton their women made into cloth for their own use, the surplus was shipped to New Orleans. They sold the garrisons in the Indian country fresh milk, butter, eggs, and apples. Their territory had good horse paths and wagon roads.
In 1804 the Reverend Gideon Blackburn opened a Presbyterian school for the Cherokee near the village of Sale Creek. In 1817 a school known as the Brainerd Mission, near the present site of Chattanooga, was established by the Reverend Cyrus Kingsbury, a Congregational missionary.
From 1805 to 1819 various treaties were made with the Cherokee and the Chickasaw. In 1818 the Chickasaw ceded all the West Tennessee territory to the United States except a tract four miles square on Sandy River and a few individually owned tracts. In return, the United States agreed to pay $20,000 annually for fifteen consecutive years. In 1823 the reserved lands were also transferred to the United States and the Chickasaw left the territory. It was the proud boast of their tribe that they had never lifted up the war axe against people of the English-speaking race.
In 1825 more than 13,000 Cherokee still occupied their ancestral lands. Some 6,000, however, lived west of the Mississippi River in Texas and Arkansas, having migrated from Tennessee because of dissatisfaction over the treaties made with the whites. Oolooteka, from Hiwassee Island - leading chief of this western band - had adopted young Sam Houston as his foster son, calling him the Raven. After resigning the governorship of Tennessee, Houston became a leader of the western Cherokee and was given full citizenship in the Nation. Going to Washington as the ambassador of the Cherokee, he preferred charges against dishonest Government agents, succeeded in having them removed, and then returned to take an honored seat in the National Council of the Cherokee.
To George Gist or Guess, better known as Sequoyah, belongs the credit for making the Cherokee into a literate people. Sequoyah, a half-breed Cherokee, was a skillful silversmith as well as a hunter and trader. In 1818 he began to devise an alphabet for his people. Using letters and figures from an old speller, without relation to their meaning in English, and inventing other symbols, he built up a syllabary of 85 characters capable of expressing all the sounds in the Cherokee language. In 1821 the tribal leaders adopted Sequoyah's alphabet and within a few months both the eastern and western bands of the tribe were learning to read. In 1828 the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper in Cherokee and English, was published. In commemoration of Sequoyah's invention, the giant Sequoyah (Sequoia) trees of California were named in his honor.
In 1827 the Cherokee adopted a written constitution modeled after that of the United States. It was the intention of this civilized tribe to continue to be a self-governing nation within the territorial limits of Tennessee and the three adjacent States, where they still owned some 10 million acres of land. But the whites wanted this land, and they began to take it, sometimes by force. Treaties were ignored and the Indians were subjected to many persecutions. Georgia declared Cherokee laws to be void within her territory and all Indians therein subject to her authority. In 1832 the United States Supreme Court denied Georgia's right to do this, but the court's authority was defied. Andrew Jackson, then President, took no action to compel obedience to the supreme judicial authority of the United States and to the treaties that the Government had made with the Cherokee.
Congress authorized the President to offer western lands in exchange for the Cherokee territory east of the Mississippi. Led by John Ross, their principal chief, the tribe as a whole refused to accept the proposed removal. Repeatedly delegations went to Washington to plead their cause, but the President refused to aid them, and Congress turned a deaf ear to their petitions. Despairing of successful opposition to the United States, a faction of the tribe under the leadership of John Ridge decided to accept the removal. A preliminary treaty was made in March 1835, but the Cherokee Council, influenced by Ross, rejected it. On December 29, 1835, however, a minority of the tribe signed the Treaty of New Echota, and the United States Senate quickly ratified it.
By this treaty of removal all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi was ceded to the United States for $5,000,000. In addition the Government was to give the Cherokee 15,000,000 acres of land in the Indian territory. In March 1836 a supplementary treaty was made whereby the United States agreed to pay the Indians an additional $1,000,000, and the Cherokee were to leave Tennessee within two years.
The John Ross party vigorously protested, contending that the treaty did not represent the will of the majority, but the Government was determined that they should accept it. Troops were sent into the Cherokee country to make them vacate. Forts were built and the Indians were herded into them until final preparations were completed for their forced removal.
In the summer of 1838 a number of Indians were sent by boat to their new home; others went by wagon train. But many deaths, from disease and the heat, delayed the removal until autumn. In October the Indians were assembled at Rattlesnake Springs, near the present site of Charleston. After a tribal council - the last one held in Tennessee - they were divided into thirteen detachments, each in charge of two Cherokee officers, and the great removal began. The suffering endured by the evicted Cherokee on their long forced march gave to their route the name of the Trail of Tears.
Not all the Cherokee submitted, however. Homesick for their native hills, more than 1,000 escaped from the forts and fled into the remote mountain regions. Their descendants now occupy the reservation in North Carolina.
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TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE