DRAGGING CANOE & THE CHICKAMAUGA CHEROKEES
By 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 the Americans.
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.
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 who escaped.
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.