For more than a century, the large area of Hamilton County which goes by the name of East Brainerd (as opposed to the smaller area formerly called Concord) went by the name of Chickamauga. Even after this part of the county began dividing into smaller communities, as a whole it was called Chickamauga well into the 20th century. The name Chickamauga dates from the Cherokee occupation of the area, though the word itself is not Cherokee.
Though many others have speculated that the word “Chickamauga” (along with “Chattanooga”) is derived from one of the Muscogean languages, James Mooney stated in one of his reports to the Bureau of Ethnology that it is Shawnee.
After all, it was a delegation of Shawnee to the Cherokee who recommended the location to the militant Cherokee during the American Revolution in the first place. That location is in the Brainerd Heights-Wrinkletown-Shepherd area from South Chickamauga Creek to the airport.
The former community of Chicamacomico in North Carolina and Chicamacomico Creek in Maryland were in areas inhabited by Indians speaking languages from the Algonquian family, to which Shawnee belongs. There is another Chickamauga Creek on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in northeast Georgia. In nearby Polk County, Tennessee, is a ford over the Hiwassee River called Savannah Ford, one of the names of the Shawnee.
Even though most people are more familiar with Cherokee occupation of the Hamilton County region because it continued well into written historical times, their residence was comparatively short and arrival very late. For centuries, even millennia, the area was occupied by speakers of what became Muscogean (Creek) languages.
The first humans in East Brainerd proper of which there were any remains lived during the Woodland period (1000 BCE to 1000 CE). Unlike the later Mississippian period, mound complexes during the Woodland period served strictly ceremonial purposes and were almost never inhabited. Instead they were central to groups of hamlets and villages. Hunting, gathering, and small-scale horticulture fed inhabitants.
In the East Brainerd-Graysville area, there was a ceremonial complex in the area where Council Fire was built with at least four sizable burial mounds, each at least twelve feet high, three on the former Blackwell farm and one on the adjacent former Julian farm. The mounds, by the way, had been destroyed long before the subdivision and golf course were built.
Downstream, near the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek, was another Woodland period ceremonial complex, of which one remains, the Roxbury Mound. A larger and much more significant Woodland mound complex lies on West Chickamauga Creek near the Crystal Springs in Chickamauga, Georgia.
When archaeologist C.B. Moore published his study of Southeast archaeology in 1913, he counted over 300 such mounds in Hamilton County. Only a handful remain. Of the Woodland mound complex at the foot of Moccasin Bend, only the base of Pine Breeze Mound remains.
The Late Woodland period (500-1000) in Hamilton County not only because that was its most populous phase, but because it developed itws own cultural complex which spread to other regions in the Southeast.
A handful of sites in the eastern U.S. document the in-situ transition between the Woodland period and Mississippian periods. The land where Heritage Landing now lies was one such site before construction of the townhouses there now. Its former inhabitants most likely crossed the river and became the founders of the substantial site at Citico.
During the Mississippian period (900-1600 CE), the population grew exponentially largely due to advances in agriculture and introduction of maize. Social structures became more complex and stratified. Villages became towns which were palisaded.
Burial mounds still existed but were less important, and were included inside towns. The newer, larger platform mounds replaced them in importance and dominated each of the towns. These were used for religious ceremonies with burials inside them only occasionally. They within the palisade at the head of the town plaza. Generally, there was one large platform mound per town, but some few had more than one, as was the case in the Chattanooga region at Hiwassee, Citico, and Long Island.
These towns with platform mounds were the dominant political entities of the Mississippian world. Usually smaller villages and hamlets were subordinate to them, and they were governed by a highly-stratified upper class. Chiefdoms were hereditary. Groups of chiefdoms were in turn dominated by paramount chiefdoms, of which there were only a handful. The middle phase in particular also saw the rise of the priestly class, with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex spreading across the region from the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico.
These features were true for the Early (900-1200) and Middle (1200-1400) phases of the Mississippian period.
Important area towns in the Early and Middle Mississippian periods were at the Hiwassee Island, Sale Creek, Davis (half mile upstream from Harrison), Hixson (Chester Frost Park), Yarnell (later town of Harrison), Citico, Talimico (Williams Island), Sequatchie, and Long Island sites. There may have also been a Middle Mississippian town at the David Davis site where the Vulcan Recreational Center and FedEx shipping center are now, which also contained evidence of extensive Woodland period occupation.
Of these, the Citico on the Tennessee-American Water Company property was by far the most important and longest lasting, physical and historical evidence demonstrating continued occupation at least thru the contact period. There is no question among archaeologists that is was the dominant town politically and culturally in the region, maybe in East Tennessee.
The Hiwassee Island, Yarnell, and Talimico sites also show some evidence of continuing Late Mississippian habitation.
The Davis, Hixon, and Yarnell (or Dallas) sites demonstrate sequential occupation, meaning the same group established Davis, moved across river to Hixon (coinciding with the rise of the paramount chiefdom at Etowah), then returned to the south side of the river to the Yarnell, or Dallas, site.
Hiwassee Island shows continuous occupation from the earliest Woodland years to historic times. Talimico on Williams Island was occupied during the Early and Middle Mississippian periods, the population then shifted largely to Hampton Place on Moccasin Bend, though a small contingent remained.
During the Middle Mississippian phase, the towns of North Georgia, Southeast and East Tennessee, and Northeast Alabama were dominated by the paramount chiefdom at the Etowah Mounds site. De Soto’s chroniclers called the abandoned town of Talimachusi, its inhabitants, the Itawa, being much reduced and relocated several miles downriver.
With the collapse of Itawa, the town of Coosa rose up in its place to dominate the towns it formerly dominated. Coosa was located at the Little Egypt site which the Cherokee had called Coosawattee, or Old Coosa Place. It is now under Carter’s Lake. In historical times, the Coosa, relocated to North Alabama, merged with the Abhika town of the Muscogee Confederacy.
In the Late Mississippian period (1400-1600), towns grew smaller, there was less to differentiate social classes, and platform mounds vanished entirely unless their original sites were still in use.
During this final phase of the Mississippian period, a sizable town occupied the west bank area of what is now Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary at Audobon Acres. The other two town-sites in the area known to have been occupied at the time of contact were the then much-reduced Citico townsite and at the Hampton Place site on Moccasin Bend. From the chroniclers of the journeys into the interior of Tristan de Luna from Ochuse (Pensacola) in 1559 and of Juan Pardo from Santa Elena (Parris Island) in 1567, we know which towns they were.
In De Luna’s expedition, the Spanish journeyed into the Hamilton County area as allies of the town of Coosa, the paramount chiefdom of Northwest Georgia-Southeast Tennessee-Northeast Alabama. They and their Coosa allies came to put down a rebellion by the “Napochis”, who stopped paying tribute.
When they came upon the town at the Audobon site, it had just been abandoned, so they burned it. The two groups chased the refugees to the town at Citico, where they and the inhabitants fled across the “big water” (Tennessee River) above Maclellan Island. Once across, those in flight joined confederates from the Hampton Place town on the north bank. In the end, the rebellious “Napochis” agreed to resume paying tribute and the conflict ended.
The Late Mississippian site at Hampton Place has produced more 16th century Spanish artifacts than the entire rest of the United States east of the Mississippi combined.
In Juan Pardo’s second expedition, while stopping on his way to Coosa from Satapo (on the Little Tennessee River), he is told that two days away is the town of Tasqui and beyond that Tasquiqui, and a town called Olitifar that had been burned.
“Olitifar” can only be the Audobon site, making it likely that Tasqui referred to the Citico site at Chattanooga and Tasquiqui meant the Hampton Place site. When the militant Cherokee arrived in 1777, they called Williams Island Tuskegee Island.
Olitifar could easily be a Spanish corruption of the Muscogee name Opelika, which was the post office in the vicinity of the later Graysville, Georgia, after the Cherokee Removal until 1849. As in the case of Running Water, Tennessee (now Whiteside), Opelika was taken from what the Cherokee called their dispersed settlement in the East Brainerd-Graysville area.
De Luna’s expedition with the Coosa ended Late Mississippian occupation of Audobon and the later Chickamauga. When Pardo’s expedition passed thru East Tennessee on its way to Coosa, Opelika clearly had not been reinhabited. Large scale habitation in the did not reoccur in the Chickamauga-East Brainerd area until the American Revolution.
Early historical period
At the beginning of the 1700’s, the immediate region around Chattanooga-Hamilton County was largely deserted, except for its periphery.
To the northeast, the Cherokee who had previously inhabited only the towns of Great Tellico and Chatuga in the late 17th century had moved into the Little Tennessee Valley and along the middle Hiwassee River. Nearly all the towns of the Late Mississippian period such as Coosa at Carter’s Lake in Murray County, Georgia, had been abandoned for a century as those peoples moved west and became the founder of the Muscogee Confederacy.
The Yuchi (Chisca to the Spanish conquistadors and Tahogale to the French via the Shawnee) occupied several towns in the vicinity of the lower Hiwassee River: Chestowee at the mouth of Mouse Creek, Euchee Old Fields in Rhea County, Ledford Island in the Hiwassee and mostly importantly Hiwassee Island at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee.
Those Tuskegee (Tasquiqui) who had not migrated northeast to join the Cherokee of the Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee River lived on the island which later bore their name and later became Williams Island.
The Tali lived on Burns Island and were probably ultimately absorbed by the Coushatta, or Koasati later in the century.
At some time between the journeys of Pardo and the 18th century, the Coushatta lived along the Tennessee River at Nickajack, which derives the Cherokee Ani-Kusati-yi, or Old Coushatta Place. Several witnesses from the early 1700’s place them at the head of Long Island, at the site of the former large town of the Middle phase of the Mississippian period.
When first encountered by Europeans (De Soto’s expedition), the Casqui dwelt in the lower Missouri Valley and were in constant warfare with the Pacaha. By the French explorations of the Mississippi Valley in the late 1600’s, the Casqui had crossed the bigger river to live at the mouth of the Tennessee River. In the early 1700’s, known then by the name Kaskinampo, they lived at the foot of Long Island and later merged with the Coushatta.
Driven south by the chaos of the Beaver Wars, the Chillicothe and Kispoko bands of Shawnee lived in the Cumberland Basin from the mid-1600’s. However, a new influx of Shawnee from the Hathawekela band formerly on the Savannah River into the region in the late 17th-early 18th centuries threatened the balance of power. The Chickasaw and Cherokee therefore joined forces to drive them out and had done so by 1729.
By agreement with the Cherokee, a group of Shawnee from the Pekowi band moved to the Cumberland Basin in 1746, but the Chickasaw drove them out by 1756. This helped precipitate the Cherokee-Chickasaw War (1758-1769), which began during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which in turn included the Anglo-Cherokee War ( 1758-1761). The Cherokee-Muscogee War (1753-1755) took place around the same time.
As a result of all these wars, the peoples living along the Tennessee River below Chattanooga fled to other parts. The Tuskegee and the Tali joined the Muscogee Confederacy and became part of the Upper Towns. The Coushatta, who had by then absorbed their Kaskinampo neighbors, split, one part joining the Muscogee, another living in an independent town called Coosada at the later Larkin’s Landing south of Scottsboro, Alabama.
During the French and Indian War, a party of Muscogee under Big Mortar had reoccupied the old town-site at Coosawattee in support of the pro-French among the Cherokee, but after the latter’s defeat in the Anglo-Cherokee War had abandoned it again.
Regarding the Yuchi in the lower Hiwassee Valley, they deserted their towns in 1714 after a war party of Cherokee from Great Hiwassee destroyed Chestowee. The Cherokee did so at the instigation of two English traders named Long and Wiggan. After intervention by South Carolina authorities, peace was almost immediately restored, but the Yuchi moved south to live along the upper Chickamauga, Conasauga, and Pinelog Creeks.
In the meantime, the French were intent on pressing their claims to La Louisane against those of the Spanish to the northern regions of La Florida and the English to Carolana (as opposed to Carolina), the territory between the Carolinas and New Spain. At the Great Salt Lick on the Cumberland River, they founded Fort Charleville in 1715, with a forward post on Long Island between the Coushatta and Kaskinampo. These were abandoned at the end of the French and Indian War.
The Chickamauga Wars, 1776-1794
In 1776, a delegation of northern Indians led by Cornstalk of the Shawnee (who by now had all gathered in the Ohio country) visited with the Cherokee in the Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee River, convincing at least a part of them, mostly the younger warriors, to join the fight against the colonials. The headman of Great Island Town, Dragging Canoe, led the warriors who answered their call.
Dragging Canoe and his warriors fought as allies of Great Britain as well as members of what later came to be the Western Confederacy. The British war effort was aimed at keeping control of their colonies. The nations of the Western Confederacy fought against encroachment by settlers extending or leaving the colonies. The Cherokee’s foremost Indian allies were the Upper Muscogee and the Shawnee.
In their plan of attack, warriors from the Middle, Valley, and Out Towns of western North Carolina targeted the Carolinas and warriors from the Lower Towns in northwest South Carolina-northeast Georgia targeted those two colonies. The chief targets of the warriors from the Overhill Towns were the settlements in the Districts of Washington (on the Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers) and Pendelton (North-of-Holston River) and in Carter’s Valley (modern Hawkins County).
Because their plans were betrayed to the settlers by Nancy Ward, the attacks proved disastrous for the Cherokee.
In the aftermath of the debacle, the militant warriors and their families, not only from the Overhills but also from the Middle, Valley, Out, and Lower Towns made the decision to relocate. The Lower Towns were evacuated entirely, their former inhabitants shifting west to North Georgia, where they founded new towns such as Conasauga, Ustanali, and Etowah.
The region to which Dragging Canoe’s band relocated was chosen at the suggestion of their Shawnee allies. In all there were eleven “Chickamauga towns” established in 1777. John McDonald, assistant to Alexander Cameron, Britain’s Deputy Superintendent for Indian Affairs (Spuerintendent at the time was John Stuart), had already transferred to the area, where he ran a trading post and supply depot on the grounds that later became Brainerd Mission. The post served as a relay station between the British West Florida capital at Pensacola and the interior. Cameron came with the Cherokee.
Four of the new towns lay along South Chickamauga Creek, including the town of Chickamauga in the area of Brainerd Heights-Wrinkletown across the stream from McDonald’s commissary where a branch of the Great Indian Warpath crossed it. Another was Opelika in the East Brainerd-Graysville area, then Buffalo Town in the vicinity of Ringgold, Georgia, and Toqua at its mouth on the Tennessee River.
The Great Indian Warpath was the chief north-south route travelled by Eastern Indians for centuries, from Mobile to Newfoundland. Not a single trail but rather a network of trails, it entered the Chattanooga region from the west over the lap of Lookout Mountain. Once in Chattanooga Valley, it continued to the Mississippian period (900-1600) site at the mouth of Citico Creek, where it split, the northern branch along what became Chattanooga-Cleveland Pike (later Bonny Oaks Drive) heading toward Dead Man’s Gap past Ooltewah.
The southern branch headed across the valley, ascending the west side of Missionary Ridge, where it forked again. One fork went to the Shallow Ford (at Lakewood Memorial Gardens East), rejoining the first northern route about where Jersey Pike intersects with Bonny Oaks Drive. The other fork followed the later Bird’s Mill/Brainerd Road until fording South Chickamauga Creek where Bird had his Mill. Once across the South Chickamauga, it kept to the route now followed by Chickamauga and Airport Roads until intersecting with the trail from the Shallow Ford.
The Cherokee also occupied the prehistoric sites at the mouth of Citico Creek and on Tuskegee (Williams) Island, Black Fox (in Bradley County), Ooltewah, Sawtee (on North Chickamauga, or Laurel, Creek), Chatanuga (St. Elmo), and Cayuga (on Hiwassee Island).
Along with Great Tellico and Chatuga, the towns along the Hiwassee unanimously supported the war effort. Some of the Hiwassee people occupied the Coosawattee town-site as a base along with other Cherokee.
Later referred to as Old Chickamauga Town, the chief town’s headman was Big Fool, though Dragging Canoe made his headquarters there. Because of this, the entire surrounding region became known as Chickamauga, and the militant Cherokee often referred to as Chickamaugas, though they were never at any time a separate tribe. The Chickamauga Towns were nothing more than another group of Cherokee towns like the Overhills, Middle, and Valley Towns.
In 1779, while Dragging Canoe and McDonald were leading the Cherokee and 50 Loyalist Rangers in attacks on South Carolina and Georgia, militia from the Upper East Tennessee settlements led by Evan Shelby and John Montgomery attacked the area. They burned all eleven towns and McDonald’s depot, destroyed much of their food stores, and confiscated what they could carry.
After they were finished, they crossed the Tennessee River and marched north until the trail crossed a large creek. Here, they camped to divide the goods, putting the most prized up for auction. And that’s how Sale Creek got its name.
The returning warriors and their families quickly rebuilt their towns and they exchanged with their Shawnee allies contingents of 100 warriors each as a sign of faith.
In 1782, an expedition of frontiersmen under John Sevier destroyed all the Chickamauga towns east of South Chickamauga Creek south to Ustanali. However, all the towns were completely deserted because the militant Cherokee had already transferred to new homes. The area remained devoid of permanent habitation until the end of the wars.
It’s important to note that the expedition never crossed South Chickamauga Creek and that there was no “Last Battle of the Revolution” on the slopes of Lookout Mountain. That idea was ridiculed at the time it first surfaced by no less than President Theodore Roosevelt and came out of a real estate development scheme. Such a skirmish did, in fact, take place, but later in 1788 rather than 1782, and it was the frontiersmen who were routed rather than the Cherokee.
The area to which the Cherokee transferred soon became known as the Five Lower Towns, because initially there were five, though later there were many more. The initial five included Running Water (at the modern Whiteside), Nickajack, Stecoyee (at Trenton, Georgia), Long Island, and Crow Town, at the mouth of Crow Creek on the Tennessee.
Some of the later Lower Towns were Willstown (near Ft. Payne, Alabama), Turkeytown (near Centre, Alabama), Creek Path (near Guntersville, Alabama), Turnip Town (7 miles from Rome, Georgia), and Chatuga (at the site of Rome).
As his headquarters, Dragging Canoe chose Running Water. Its headman was Bloody Fellow, who was later succeeded by Turtle-at-Home, Dragging Canoe’s brother. Cameron and McDonald, now Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent, also made Running Water their base of operations. Not long after their move, their frontier antagonists began referring to them as the Lower Cherokee rather than as Chickamaugas.
After the Treaty of Paris in 1783, McDonald, by then Superintendent, relocated his own base of operations to Turkeytown to be closer to his newly-acquired Spanish supply lines to Pensacola. Spain still had ambitions on inland La Florida.
Dragging Canoe died in 1792, and John Watts succeeded him as leader of the Lower Cherokee, moving his base to Willstown. The Nickajack Expedition in September 1794, led by James Robertson and composed of U.S. Army regulars, Mero District (Middle Tennessee) militia, and Kentucky volunteers, became a massacre which forced an end to the Chickamauga Wars with the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse in November.
(Chuck Hamilton was born and raised in Chattanooga and has lived in East Brainerd since 1967. HeI went to school at East Brainerd Elementary for six years, Tyner Junior for three, Ooltewah High for one, and finished his last two years at Tyner High, graduating in 1981. He went to UTC for four years, getting his B.S. in political science with minors in psychology and history in 1985. Following graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and did one tour, including two years at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. After getting out, he returned to the Philippines for two more years to work with the U.S. Refugee Program in Morong, Bataan. Upon returning to the area at the end of 1991, heI became involved with Indian rights, which led him back into renewed interest in local history. He is fluent in Spanish and Vietnamese, and speaks a little French. The past year he has spent several months in Paris, and the past three years has been heavily involved in supporting the movement for secular democracy and human rights in Iran.
He has been passionately interested in history all his life - local, Tennessee, U.S., world, ancient, etc. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org )