DRAGGING CANOE & THE CHICKAMAUGA CHEROKEES
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
Dragging Canoe, often called
the Tecumseh of the South, was one the Cherokee tribe's most devoted
chiefs. He angrily opposed the terms of the deal in which the Cherokee
Nation signed away some of their valuable land to the whites and received
very little in return. He broke away from the Cherokees in 1776, forming
an aggressive wing of the tribe known as the Chickamauga Cherokees.
Dragging Canoe strongly recommended that the patriotic Cherokees to
join in parting of the tribe. After this episode, they settled at various
places along the main stream south known as the Chickamauga Creek. It
was therefore appropriate to call themselves Chickamaugans.
Dragging Canoe was the son of the famous
narrator, Chief Attakullakulla. Dragging Canoe chose for his headquarters
the site of an ancient Creek village on the Chickamauga, near present
day northeast Chattanooga, Tennessee. Many well-known chiefs joined
him, Chief Ostenaco among them. This old Indian had fought side by side
with George Washington on the Virginia frontiers and knew intimately.
He knew not only our first president but also the likes of Thomas Jefferson
and Patrick Henry.
Dragging Canoe's brother, Chief Little
Owl also traveled with him and settled on the Chickamauga less than
two miles upstream.
The first celebration of Independence
Day, July 4, 1776, took place at Fort Patrick Henry where Kingsport,
Tennessee, now stands. Sometime previous to that date the whites invited
the Cherokees to a meeting of the two forces. The white man's main object
was to win the Indians from the side of the British. Totally ignoring
the meeting call, Dragging Canoe, on that first Fourth of July, remained
at home in the Chickamauga town puffing on his trusty pipe.
The American representatives had invited
the Cherokees who were present and who were still allies of the British,
to join in this celebration. The Cherokees were totally ignorant concerning
the American's "Declaration of Independence," and had no idea
what the celebration was all about. During the readings of the manuscript
the tribe listened and joined in with the whites, not knowing what was
going on, dancing merrily with them. However, in just a few days they
again returned to the British and resumed their mutual warfare against
A few years before Dragging Canoe chose
Chickamauga as his headquarters, a Scotch trader by the name of John
McDonald was appointed assistant superintendent of the British concerns
in the South. McDonald's place of residence soon became a prominent
meeting place for Tories and Cherokees. Henry Hamilton, of Detroit,
Michigan, then Governor of the Northwest Territory, had supplied McDonald's
site with thousands of dollars worth of supplies for the Indians' use
in their warfare against the whites. Most of these supplies had been
brought by horseback from Pensacola, Florida.
Everything seemed satisfactory with McDonald
and Dragging Canoe until one spring morning in April 1779, when a multitude
of soldiers, numbering about 600 men in command of Col. Evan Shelby
and John Montgomery, floated down the Tennessee River form Fort Patrick
Henry. Upon reaching the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, this party captured
a fisherman and made him lead the whites to Dragging Canoe's center
of operations, some seven miles upstream.
The party of 600 whites caught the Indians
by surprise and burnt their village to the ground. At the time, Dragging
Canoe was away from home, so the whites had little difficulty in defeating
the remaining Cherokees.
A detailed report of the combat was made
by Thomas Jefferson and sent directly to General Washington. The report
stated that Shelby's men captured 20,000 bushels of grain, also goods
to the value of 25,000 pounds (about $75,000 in today's money). McDonald
took a serious monetary loss along with 100 head of cattle and 150 horses.
The whites sank their pirogues (a type of canoe). The American officers
bought the stolen horses and rode back to their homes. Shelby's men
moved on up the Chickamauga and destroyed Little Owl's village. Dragging
Canoe and his trusted followers were not discouraged at the destruction
of the towns. The villages were rebuilt.
In 1782, three years later,
John Sevier entered with his mounted troops and destroyed Chicakamauga
Town and other Chickamauga villages along with Little Owl's village.
Fourteen years later John Sevier was elected the first governor of Tennessee.
After the devastation of his villages,
Dragging Canoe moved south of the present Chattanooga where he formed
what later became known as the Five Lower Towns of the Cherokee.
Dragging Canoe was struggling to regain
some of the valuable land the Cherokees had lost. Joining his band was
many persons of mixed blood, some cutthroats, robbers, and murderers,
all of which took advantage of the situation and joined the Chickamaugans.
For many years afterward these thieves attacked and robbed the early
immigrants as they descended the Tennessee in flatboats, looking for
home sites and approving situations in other parts of the Country.
History states that the headquarters for the most energetic groups of
these misfits was at Nickajack, a few miles down the river from Chattanooga.
The atrocities of these villains were basically blamed on Dragging Canoe
for which he was not responsible.
Dragging Canoe died in March 1792 at Running
Water where he was buried. This village was near the present Hale's
Bar below Chattanooga Running Water, the mountain stream, which continues
to bear its old name.
Chief Black Fox said "The dragging
Canoe has left the world. He was a man of great consequence to his country.
He was friend both to his own and the white people." Dragging Canoe
was a first cousin of Nancy Ward, the beloved Cherokee woman who was
highly respected by the whites.
After the Cherokees had struggled courageously
to hold their lands and homes in the South, the greedy whites succeeded
at last in ousting them. Their doom was sealed in 1838 when the last
of the 14,000 Cherokees were removed West. A few thousand of them took
off by boats from Chattanooga; others went in wagons and on foot across
the land. Four thousand died on the long journey.
A few hundred Cherokees managed to escape
to the mountains of western North Carolina, preferring death by starvation
rather than be forced to abandon their own lands they loved so well.
Today we have within a few hours drive of Chattanooga the Cherokee Indian
Reservation of Western North Carolina, as a result of those Indians
The Cherokees are now citizens of the United States, and they furnished
many a brave soldier in both World Wars.
According to John P. Long, Chattanooga's
first postmaster who lived among the Cherokees, the word Chickamauga
means sluggish water. John P. Brown, author of Old Frontiers, however,
says it means, dwelling place of the war chief.