This week’s column completes the story of Kingfisher’s end.
On Oct. 9, 1793, by which point John Sevier’s initial force had been augmented by 250 to 300 troops from the Washington and Hamilton Districts of frontier Tennessee, Sevier began a journal to keep track of his day officers as well as the movement of troops under his command. The journal, printed by The Tennessee Historical Magazine in October 1919, provides few details, but can be used to follow Sevier’s path to what is now Rome.
Sevier marched from Knoxville south to the confluence of the Hightower (Etowah) and Coosa Rivers in less than a month. The pursued first opened fire on Sevier’s army on Oct. 14, 1793, at Estanaula (called “Easternoly” in Sevier’s journal), where a man named Gaut or Gant was wounded.
It was on Oct. 17, 1793, that Sevier would finally engage the Cherokees. James Gettys McGready Ramsey’s “Annals of Tennessee to the End of the 18th Century” mentions that the Indian town Etowah was at the confluence of the Hightower (Etowah) and Coosa Rivers. As Sevier approached the town, he heard gunfire, halted his men and sent a forward detachment to reconnoiter. The scouts erroneously led Sevier’s army to a spot in the river too deep to be forded. A portion of the army swam the Hightower, another split off for more shallow waters.
Cherokee warriors had prepared by digging entrenchments in the bank big enough to lay prone with their rifles aimed at the Tennesseans. When Sevier’s cavalry began to cross the Hightower River at multiple points, however, the Cherokees were forced to abandon the entrenchments and rush to defend the town. The fight was on.
The Cherokees and Muscogees were quickly routed despite their superior numbers, “ ... seen to carry off others, both on foot and horseback, and trails of blood from the wounded were observed in every direction,” as accounted in John Haywood’s “The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee.”
During the height of battle the Cherokee leader Kingfisher rushed to attack Hugh Lawson White (who would go on to become a Tennessee Supreme Court justice and president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate). White and a few others raised their rifles and, as Ramsey describes it, “this formidable champion fell, and his warriors fled immediately.”
Three years after Hightower, Sevier would be elected as the first governor of the new state of Tennessee, holding the office for three consecutive terms as limited by the state constitution. He would return two years later for another three terms before serving in the Tennessee Senate for Knox County and as the U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s second district. His political career was marked by an ongoing rivalry with then-future President Andrew Jackson, the animosity between the two nearly culminating in a duel. (If you visit downtown Nashville today, two office buildings face off near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fifth Avenue North, one named for Sevier, the other for Jackson. Interpret as you will.) Sevier died in office as a U.S. Representative in 1815 during a surveying trip of Muscogee lands in Alabama.
Little is known about the Cherokee warrior Kingfisher who was at Hightower outside the accounts in the Tennessee state histories mentioned above. A trail in downtown Rome bears his name, its northern terminus just downhill from the corner monument.