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Indian Land Cessions
In Tennessee

How the Cherokee Lost the Elk River
Pittance for a Kingdom

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On 29 Mar 1808 the Clerk reported to the U.S. Senate (in session) that The following written message was received from the President of the United States, by Mr. Coles, his Secretary;

To the Senate of the United States:
When the convention of the 7th of January, 1806, was entered into with the Cherokees, for the purchase of certain lands, it was believed by both parties that the eastern limit, when run in the direction therein prescribed, would have included all the waters of Elk river: on proceeding to run that line, however, it was found to omit a considerable extent of those waters, on which were already settled about two hundred families. The Cherokees readily consented, for a moderate compensation, that the line should be so run as to include all the waters of that river; our Commissioners accordingly entered into an explanatory convention for that purpose, which I now lay before the Senate for consideration, whether they will advise and consent to its ratification. A letter from one of the Commissioners, now also enclosed, will more fully explain the circumstances which led to it . . .
March 29th 1808.

The message and papers were read.
Ordered, That they lie for consideration.
Senate Exec. Journal--Tuesday, March 29, 1808. [Unfortunately, the Senate Journal did not print the Commissioners’ letter, rather it printed a wrong letter, but the story does not end here. We have another letter for you, (which may be the missing letter). Please read on.]
On 7 January 1806, a treaty between the Cherokee nation of Indians and the United States was completed, wherein the Cherokee ceded land; the eastern bounds of that cession is so described: “ from the upper part of the Chickasaw Old Fields, at the upper point of an island, called Chickasaw island, on said river, to the most easterly head waters of that branch of said Tennessee river called Duck river ” Some time before 1st of April 1807 and before the 1806 the treaty went into effect, (it was ratified 22 May 1807) the United States government realized that they erred since the desired upper part of the Elk River basin was not included in the calls of the treaty.
Tennessee had already dispatched surveyors and during the spring of 1807, the section and range lines of the Second Surveyors’ District had been marked off, along with a faulty southern state line for that district. The settlers poured into the upper Elk River area. Those settlers became Intruders! They could be forcibly removed by federal troops. Yet, it was federal government that made the original 1806 treaty error. Can you imagine the reaction of the Tennesseans if, after having been forced to wait twenty-two years (1784-1806) for their own lands (so far as they were concerned), the United States government sent in troops to remove them due the government’s own gross error. Certainly something needed to be done.
Return Jonathan Meigs to the rescue. He was the United States Agent to the Cherokee Nation, and he had been a United States Commissioner on the 1806 treaty. Double Head (Doublehead), a Cherokee Headman, had also been at the treaty signing in the city of Washington. In an effort to obtain the upper Elk lands, Meigs turned to Double Head for help. Before Double Head could help though, he was murdered by Major Ridge and other Cherokee during August 1807 at Hiwasee Town, on the Tennessee River. Some claim that one of the reasons for the murder of Double Head was that he had received too many favors in trade for Cherokee land.
Not to be undone by Double Head’s demise, Meigs turned to other Chiefs for help and he made a public (and private) deal. On 11 September 1807, an “Elucidation” was reached and the upper Elk River watershed became United States property and just a memory for the Cherokee.

Return J. Meigs and His “Silent Consideration”
Hiwasee, September 28,1807.
Some time before Double-head’s decease, I stated to him your request as expressed in your letter of the 1st of April last, that the convention line should be so extended as to comprehend all the waters of Elk river. He readily said, he would go with me, and selected three others on whom he could depend, and assured me, that the line should be so extended; but, on his being killed, I expected to meet with difficulty in effecting that business. A few days before I set out on that business, I communicated your request to a large council of chiefs, who were here, receiving their money on account of that convention, and part of their annuity for the present year; from some, through ignorance, and others, from views of taking advantage to raise the compensation, I only received an evasive answer. I then invited the Black Fox, and some others, in whom I could confide, to go with me to the place of commencing the line; and on the 7th instant, met General Robertson and Mr. Freeman, at the Chickasaw Old Fields. When on the ground, we soon agreed that the line should be so run as to comprehend all the waters of Elk river, as will appear by the enclosed agreement; we then run such courses as the nature of the ground would admit of, until we intersected the first waters that fall into the Elk, then a direct line to the Cumberland mountain, and fixed a point on the side of the mountain, from which the rocky face of the mountain is the boundary to lands before ceded. With respect to compensation and presents, as you left it to our discretion, we did the best we could. There is upwards of two hundred families on the land, and all that part of it lying above the Tennessee line, surveyed into sections, and covered by land warrants. The Cherokees being in debt to the United States $1,823, I offered to cancel that debt as a compensation to the nation, for the alteration of the line; they requested to have it made up to $2,000, and $1,000 and two rifles, as presents to the chiefs transacting the business. General Robertson was fully in opinion with me, that we ought not to hesitate as to these terms, and they were agreed to. I will state some of the reasons that induced us to these terms:
1st. Although they had not the right, they had the power to refuse to extend the line.
2dly. It would have required at least thirty days to have run the traverse, and the true line, at an expense of at least thirty dollars per day, so that near $1,000 is saved on that account.
3dly. To have marched a detachment to remove the inhabitants, would have caused considerable expense; it would have brought distress on the citizens, many of whom went on the land without any design to infract the laws.
These people now feel sentiments of gratitude towards the executive department, and the jurisdiction of the State will now be extended over them; it is really an acquisition to the State of Tennessee. With respect to the chiefs who have transacted the business with us, they will have their hands full to satisfy the ignorant, the obstinate, and the cunning of some of their own people, for which they well deserve this silent consideration. At the time the convention was made, every body supposed that the waters of Duck river had their source more east than the waters of Elk river, and that the convention line would cover all the land which was in dispute between the Chickasaws and Cherokees. It is a handsome country, and is now settled cheap enough in all conscience. I am authorized by General Robertson to make this report in his absence.
I am, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
Return J. Meigs

Source : American State Papers, Class 11, Indian Affairs, Washington, 1832, Volume IV, 754.

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