Episode #24 Where do You Go When You Can’t Go Home?

The first Cherokee-European treaty of which I am aware was in 1721 with England. The Governor of South Carolina invited delegates from 37 Cherokee towns, and after smoking a peace pipe and trading gifts, they agreed on defined borders. An agent was appointed to represent the affairs of the Cherokees. Very civilized. Although the Cherokees were already trading amicably with the French with no rules, the British were pushier, a more experienced nation builder who wanted to ink the deal. And they wore fancy costumes and carried fire weapons. It seems there was some jealousy between the two old countries who often feuded on the other side of the pond. Trouble was predictable.


Then in 1730, the Cherokee in North Carolina negotiated their own treaty. They agreed to submit to the English king; they agreed to trade only with England; they agreed only the English could build forts or plant corn; they agreed to be the police force tracking runaway slaves, and also to surrender any Indian killing an Englishman. In return, a delegation of six warriors got a round trip ticket to London to present King George with “the crown of the nation (consisting of five eagle tails and four scalps)” and recognize his sovereignty over them. The Cherokees must have loved the attention, but I don’t see where they received any benefits. (Although the identification of the scalps was not printed!) After a few years of abusive treatment, it seems they came to the same conclusion.

The information for the previous paragraphs came from a website you can peruse: http://www.nanations.com/cherokee/tribe/treaty1721.htm  This same website mentions these back and forth treaties which soon included the Cherokee loss of massive chunks of land.

In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, France got out of the American colonial business and ceded their territory to England which generated a big meeting that included the four governors of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. As the mediator for the southern Indian tribes, John Stuart tried to explain the situation to the chiefs gathered. He could read; most of them could not. “A boundary line running close to the Appalachian ridge from Canada to Florida indicated a clear separation between the Europeans and the Native Americans who understandably resented the encroachment of foreigners on their land.” (Other Side of the River by Anne Landis Swann, Morris Publishing, Kearney, NE page 45) And the Cherokee were definitely not agreeable to moving to a foreign country, which was anywhere their roots were not planted, including the western frontier of America.

Our last post intentionally stranded you in suspense regarding the fate of Samuel Davidson, builder of a stockade near the head of the Catawba River. There seemed to be much discussion about the origin of this fort based on conflicting reports of pensioner accounts which Ms Swann handles adroitly in her Other Side of the River, pages 147-149.

Davidson’s Fort was at the confluence of Mill Creek with the Catawba River. This was treasured land for the Indian, and the intersection of many of their paths: “the Old Cherokee Trading Path to Virginia which branched from the Great Indian War Path at Saltville, VA, …an offshoot segment of Boone’s Trail (The Wilderness Road)” …and a number of other trails referenced by Swann on page 136, quoting William Edwin Myer from his Indian Trails of the Southeast, Blue and Gray Press, Nashville, TN, my old stomping ground for fifty years. (BTW…I recall hearing Ms. Swann say that the Cherokee had particular respect for any place two bodies of water crossed, so it seems possible to me that the location of this particular fort was especially vexing, like profanity against their religion.) How much aggro can people take and play nice?

According to Abraham Forney, pension applicant quoted on Swann’s page 344, “In the year 1782, there was a call for the militia to go against the Cherokee Indians…we commenced our march and joined the troops of Wilkes and Burke near the head of the Catawba River. My company was attached to Colonel Joseph McDowell’s regiment. From this we marched across the Blue Ridge and met with the Rutherford County troops…We took up our line of march into the nation nearly on the trail of General Rutherford in the year 1776 and marched some further than where the main army halted in that year–meeting with no Indian forces of any strength. We destroyed their towns, cut down their corn fields and with the prisoners we commenced our march home and were dismissed sometime in October, 1782.”

Back then they would commence, not begin. Declared authority. Intentional path of action. Did not look to the left nor to the right…but straight ahead. (BTW…that part is Biblical) They evidently thought they were on the side of justice; historians preserve conflicting positions. It seems history shows that the Native Americans had better trade relations with the Dutch and the French, but perhaps those countries weren’t so interested in the land as were the English colonists. Or the gold, as were the Spanish explorers before them. Seems like England had better communication with the Home Office: Heads up…this new country is phenomenal, worth a fight.

Rutherford’s scorched earth methods were successful in a show of power, but most of the Cherokees had been anxious to live peaceably, exemplified in their willingness to sign treaties which they could not read from men they wanted to trust. In The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains, pioneer Horace Kephart writes “Long before their discovery by Europeans, the Cherokees had developed for themselves the rudiments of civilization. They were not roving hunters but dwelt in villages of log huts and cultivated the soil. They raised corn, beans, potatoes (probably some variety of sweet potato), squashes and fruits; also practiced various simple industries. Their tribal organization, though looser than the confederacy of the Iroquois, was yet coherent enough for the whites to recognize as the ‘Cherokee Nation’.” (page 3 of this collection of Kephart’s notes in 1936, put together by Laura Mack Kephart and made available by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.) His opinion is not lightweight; in 1931, the 6,217′ Mount Kephart was named in his honor.

Pioneer Cabin Model
at Old Fort Gateway Museum

In 1784, Samuel Davidson decided to take advantage of relatively peaceful conditions and move to land he had previously claimed. This time he took his wife, infant daughter and an African slave to a choice setting near the Swannanoa River where they built a comfy cabin in the wilderness. The daunting task of carving out a homestead amid the cane and briars and rhododendron would have discouraged a more timid man. Samuel let his horse roam at will to feed on the abundant wild grass; a bell around the beast’s neck made him easy to find when necessary. Surely thoughts of his brother’s death at Crooked Creek must have been foremost in Samuel’s mind, but he risked all he had for his family’s future. (See last post)

One morning he hustled out to “commence” unending chores, locating his equine helper by following the sound of a bell. It is possible he never heard the Indians who shot him. But his wife heard the shots and picked up the baby and ran for their lives. She and her helper crossed the mountain as fast as they could, no doubt scurrying, terrified for all sixteen miles, until they were safely inside Davidson’s Fort, now the location of Old Fort Gateway Museum. Family members and friends started out as soon as possible to save Samuel’s life or recover his body. After they buried his scalped corpse, they set out to avenge their loss, shooting at the first group of Indian hunters they saw, and no doubt others died.

Whoever shot Samuel did not deter more European Americans from trekking over the mountain. Some of those in the Davidson posse fell in love with the land they saw and later returned  permanently. Samuel’s twin brother, Major William Davidson, was one who came back to settle, along with their sister Rachel and her husband, in company of other friends and relatives. The lesson to the Native Americans seemed to be that their land was indeed a desirable gift of bountiful beauty, and the newcomers wanted to possess it…and were not intimidated by hard work or death.

Telling this story without finding fault is fruitless because there were so many involved over so many years. And men polish a variety of mindsets and backgrounds and characters. Suffice it to acknowledge that friendships between individuals of both sides kept the possibility of justice alive, but when greed is rampant, reasonable men are hard to find.

Approximately 20,000 strong at this time, the “Cherokee Nation was in possession of a region as large as Ohio, about half of it being within the present limits of TN, and the rest in GA, AL, and the southwest corner of NC.” (pages 7-8 of Kephart’s The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains) “It had been guaranteed to the Indians in perpetuity by the government,” and President Jefferson supported the Cherokee. With encouragement from him, they formed a government modeled after the United States, and seven years later formed a constitution.

According to Kephart on page 5 of his notes, the first treaty with the new American government of 1785 surrendered “Cherokee lands east of the Blue Ridge and much of the northern boundary” but nothing really prevented settlers from crossing borders except bloody conflicts which provoked a war and the necessity of another treaty in 1798 which as usual promised the Cherokee had possession of their country forever.

Perhaps a sticking point lay within State Rights, Kephart wrote on page 10: “President Monroe approved the suggestion of the Indian agent that the Cherokee lands be allotted, the surplus sold for their benefit, and the Indians invested with full rights of citizenship in the States where they resided. But Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia refused to allow any Indians to live within their boundaries.”

The younger Cherokees were pushed into a position of defense; the loss of their birthright, even identity, was happening on their watch as defenders of the tribe’s history. Therefore, they signed a treaty without the agreement of their elders, ie sold the farm and headed west, no doubt hoping to keep as much of their heritage as possible in a new land, to become the Western Tribe. Those left behind as the “eastern tribe” were not pleased.

One of the young men who left the war zone in the Appalachians was the stuff of national legends. Sequoyah’s background is still debated, some saying he was full-blooded, some saying not, according to http://www.org/wiki/Sequoyah

Born somewhere between 1760 and 1776 to Whut-teh, or Wurteh, who was related to Cherokee Chief Tassel, Sequoyah was possibly the son of a Colonel Nathanial Gist, a US Army negotiator, or another Gist, a German trader who came to the reservation in 1768. Or of Scottish descent. All say that Sequoyah had no siblings, was crippled in a hunting accident and was illiterate. He never went to school, and never learned English. Exhibiting natural intelligence, he excelled at making his own tools, and at his silversmith trade, selling exceptional spurs and bridle bits at his mother’s trading post. It was probably here that he took notice of how English speakers corresponded with each other by markings on paper, and he started working on a Cherokee written-communication system in 1809. Now we herald him as a polymath, a person whose expertise spans a significant body of complex subjects, in the company of Vincent van Gogh. And Richard Buckminster Fuller who produced many inventions, notably the dome prototype unveiled at Black Mountain College where he was a summer instructor. (See BMC #2 Who Needs a Supine Dome?)

From Tennessee, Sequoya moved to Alabama where he became a participant in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend of 1814. He continued his efforts to construct a Cherokee syllabus, even when his wife burned his first efforts which she suspected were influenced by witchcraft. Evidently Sequoyah persevered at his calling for years. I see similarities in his mindset and that of pioneer Samuel Davidson, and the motto of the US Post Office…”neither snow, nor rain nor hail nor heat nor gloom of night stops these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” When I researched this, I was hoping to find a connection to the Pony Express Riders who operated only one year, 1860-1861. They seemed to have the dedication to their tasks that Sequoyah and Davidson had. Alas, although this motto is inscribed on the US Post Office in New York, the origin was Herodotus writing about Persians who had the original pony express in the Persian Wars against the Greeks in 500-449 BC. They might win a prize for the longest war, but the Achievement Award goes to the guy who owned the American Pony Express franchise. He grossed $90,000 but lost $200,000!!! Wait…he sold it to Wells Fargo for $1.5 million after the Civil War. Pony up! Like I said earlier…mankind is diversified. (Google Pony Express and/or https://about.usps.com for more info; I must move on)

And then it got worse. In 1828 gold was discovered in Dysartsville, North Carolina, my neighborhood, and the possibility of gold running westward into the Cherokee Nation was too tempting to ignore.

The most abuse was in Georgia when gold was found inside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. In an exercise of eminent domain, the Georgia legislature quickly annexed that part into her chartered limits. And new President Jackson quickly went along with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Most of the mineral veins were proven to be barren, but the land was forever lost…stolen. “In 1832 the Supreme Court … decided that the Cherokees formed a distinct community in which the laws of Georgia had no force,” Kephart wrote on page 16. Although Chief Justice John Marshall declared Georgia’s land seizure to be superseded by possession rights of the original occupants, Jackson downplayed it. Which is ironic, since he was backed by the Cherokee Nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Without their help, Jackson would not have ended the war with the Creeks in Alabama who opposed white expansion into their territory. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Battle-of-Horseshoe-Bend

On page 26 of Kephart’s book, the author quoted Chief Junaluska, “If I had known that Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at Horseshoe Bend.” And it is likely Davy Crockett would have applauded since he often expressed disdain for Jackson’s leadership. At the Indian village of Tohopeka, the final casualty list was US Army 150 dead or wounded, Indian allies of US 69 dead or wounded, and Creeks almost 1000 dead of wounded.

And now the landowners would be evicted, even though the Cherokee Nation had been at peace for twenty years, wanting only to remain in their ancient villages and cultivated fields, similar to the Scottish highlanders who had left their homeland to reside farther north in the higher altitudes they loved. But the Scots were newcomers without the trade connections to export cotton to New Orleans, or the boats to get it there as did the Cherokee. Ironically at this time, the Chief of the Cherokee was John Ross, the son of a Scottish trader. John’s mother was a Cherokee and since that tribe is matrilineal,  membership is traced through the mother. Although his father provided his children with a European education, John was reared in the customs of the Cherokee. He put his heart and soul into representing them for forty years but was not able to protect them from evil.  http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1540

Enough for one read. Next post: Trail of Tears


Copyright @ May 2019  Georgia Wilson


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