Last week we talked about the early life and career of the legendary Cherokee War Leader Dragging Canoe. We left off about the time of the death of his wife and the effect that may have had on his later career.
It is important to remember that the character of the man was informed to great extent by the events of the time. The state of South Carolina was offering a bounty of 75 pounds sterling for Indian scalps during that period, and the Cherokee Nation faced raids and banditry of every sort from settlers, land speculators and common thieves, who would probably have been jailed in the white towns they came from; but as long as they were killing Indians they were “pioneers” and “frontiersmen.” This then is the environment that leads us to the famous speech at the Long Island treaty council.
“The remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, the Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host.”
It has been said by some that Dragging Canoe was a gifted conjurer, and could see the future. Whether that is true or not, we know with the perfection of hindsight, he was certainly seeing the future when he made that statement. Not being a man willing to give up without a fight, he goes on to say, “There being no further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi, the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed.”
He goes on to make the statement that would define him until his dying day, “Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old or too weak to fight, but as for me, I have my young men about me, we will hold our land.” Also during the same council he was said to have told the commissioners, “You have bought a fair land, you will find its settlement dark and bloody.”
In the aftermath of the Treaty of Long Island, Attakullakulla, and the Cherokee council stripped Dragging Canoe of his citizenship and declared him an outlaw. Not wishing to fight his own people, Dragging Canoe gathered his warriors and all others who would follow and headed for what was then the wilderness around Chickamauga Creek.
In the area around present-day Chattanooga, he gathered around him a rather diverse collection of people: warriors of different tribes, disaffected whites and a substantial contingent of mixed-blood Cherokees. These came to be known as the “Chickamauga Cherokees.”
Over the next several years, Dragging Canoe and “The Chickamoggies” would strike terror among the people encroaching on Cherokee lands all across the southern mountains, eventually earning the sobriquet, “Cherokee Dragon.” The white militias continued to attack all Cherokee towns indiscriminately, notwithstanding the fact that Dragging Canoe and his followers had been banished from the Cherokee Nation, and declared to be outlaws.
While the colonials would never consent to be held responsible to the actions of the criminals in their midst, they had no issues exacting the life’s blood of even the youngest Cherokee child in revenge for the actions of someone over whom they clearly had no control. But then, such is the doctrine of genocide.
At any rate, Dragging Canoe and the Chickamauga secured their place in the history and imagination of both the Cherokee and the South in general.
According to legend, Dragging Canoe, along with his Lieutenants John Watts, Bushyhead, Little Owl, Turtle-at-Home, Badger, Doublehead, Pathkiller, Black Fox, Little Turkey and others, some of whom are only known to their descendants, rode tirelessly on the “Red Path” for close to two decades.
Dragging Canoe took his journey to the ancestors early in 1792, they say after dancing all night in celebration of a victorious return from a war party, but the legacy and the spirit he left behind is still alive and vibrant even today. Next week we will examine that legacy.