First migration, to the Chickamauga area
In the meantime, Alexander Cameron had suggested to Dragging Canoe and his dissenting Cherokee that they settle at the place where the Great Indian Warpath crossed the the Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek), later known as Chickamauga (Tsikamagi) Town under Big Fool. Since Dragging Canoe made that town his seat of operations, frontier Americans called his faction the "Chickamaugas".
As mentioned above, John McDonald already had a trading post there across the Chickamauga River, providing a link to Henry Stuart, brother of John, in the West Florida capital of Pensacola. Cameron, deputy Indian superintendent and blood brother to Dragging Canoe, accompanied him to Chickamauga. In fact, nearly all the whites legally resident among the Cherokee by their permission were part of the exodus.
In addition to Chickamauga, Dragging Canoe's band set up three other settlements on the Chickamauga River: Toqua (Dakwayi), at its mouth on the Tennessee River, Opelika, a few kilometers upstream from Chickamauga, and Buffalo Town (Yunsayi) at the headwaters of the river in northwest Georgia (in the vicinity of the later Ringgold, Georgia).
Other towns were Cayuga (Cayoka) on Hiwassee Island; Black Fox (Inaliyi) at the current community of the same name in Bradley County, Tennessee; Ooltewah (Ultiwa), under Ostenaco on Ooltewah (Wolftever) Creek; Sawtee (Itsati), under Dragging Canoe's brother Little Owl on Laurel (North Chickamauga) Creek; Citico (Sitiku), along the creek of the same name; Chatanuga (Tsatanugi) at the foot of Lookout Mountain in what is now St. Elmo Historic District; and Tuskegee (Taskigi) under Bloody Fellow (Yunwigiga) on Williams' Island (which after the wars stretched across from the island southwest into Lookout Valley). The Coosawattee townsite (Kuswatiyi, for “Old Coosa Place”), reoccupied briefly by Big Mortar's Muscogee as mentioned above, was among the sites settled by the new influx of people.
The land used by the Cherokee was once the traditional location of the Muscogee, who had withdrawn in the early 18th century to leave a buffer zone between themselves and the Cherokee. In the intervening years, the two tribes used the region as hunting grounds.
Many Cherokee resented the (largely Scots-Irish) settlers moving into Cherokee lands, and agreed with Dragging Canoe. The Cherokee towns of Great Hiwasee (Ayuwasi), Tennessee (Tanasi), Chestowee (Tsistuyi), Ocoee (Ugwahi), and Amohee (Amoyee) in the vicinity of Hiwassee River were wholly in the camp of the rejectionists, as were the Lower Cherokee in the North Georgia towns of Coosawatie (Kusawatiyi), Etowah (Itawayi), Ellijay (Elatseyi), Ustanari (or Ustanali), etc., who had been evicted from their homes in South Carolina by the Treaty of Dewitts' Corner. The Yuchi in the vicinity of the new settlement, on the upper Chickamauga, Pinelog, and Conasauga Creeks, likewise supported Dragging Canoe's policies.
The attacks in July 1776 proved to be Dragging Canoe's Methven; he had tried fighting in regular armies like whites, only to find guerrilla warfare more suitable. Based in their new homes, his main targets were settlers, whom he invariably referred to as “Virginians”, on the Holston, Doe, Watauga, and Nolichucky Rivers, on the Cumberland and Red Rivers, and the isolated stations in between.
They also ambushed parties travelling on the Tennessee River, and local sections of the many ancient trails that served as "highways", such as the Great Indian Warpath (Mobile, to northeast Canada), the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail (St. Augustine to the French Salt Lick at Nashville), the Cumberland Trail (from the Upper Creek Path to the Great Lakes), and the Nickajack Trail (Nickajack to Augusta).
Later, these Cherokee stalked the Natchez Trace and such highways as were constructed by the uninvited settlers like the Kentucky, Cumberland, and Walton Roads.
Occasionally, the Cherokee attacked targets in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and the Ohio country.
In 1778–1779, Savannah and Augusta, Georgia, were captured by the British with help from Dragging Canoe, John McDonald, and the Cherokee, along with McGillivray's Upper Muscogee force and McIntosh's band of Hitichiti warriors, who were being supplied with guns and ammunition through Pensacola and Mobile, and together they were able to gain control of parts of interior South Carolina and Georgia. In addition, the remaining neutral towns of the Lower Muscogee now threw in their lot with the British side, at least nominally.
First invasion of the Chickamauga Towns
In early 1779, James Robertson of Virginia received warning from Chota that Dragging Canoe's warriors were going to attack the Holston area. In addition, he had received intelligence that John McDonald's place was the staging area for a conference of Indians Governor Hamilton was planning to hold at Detroit, and that a stockpile of supplies equivalent to that of a hundred packhorses was stored there.
In response, he ordered a preemptive assault under Evan Shelby (father of Isaac Shelby, first governor of the State of Kentucky) and John Montgomery. Boating down the Tennessee in a fleet of dugout canoes, they disembarked and destroyed the eleven towns in the immediate Chickamauga area and most of their food supply, along with McDonald's home and store. Whatever was not destroyed was confiscated and sold at the point where the trail back to the Holston crossed what has since been known as Sale Creek.
In the meantime, Dragging Canoe and John McDonald were leading the Cherokee and fifty Loyalist Rangers in attacks on Georgia and South Carolina, so there was no resistance and only four deaths among the towns' inhabitants. Upon hearing of the devastation of the towns, Dragging Canoe, McDonald, and their men, including the Rangers, returned to Chickamauga and its vicinity.
The Shawnee sent envoys to Chickamauga to find out if the destruction had caused Dragging Canoe's people to lose the will to fight, along with a sizable detachment of warriors to assist them in the South.
In response to their inquiries, Dragging Canoe held up the war belts he'd accepted when the delegation visited Chota in 1776, and said, “We are not yet conquered”. To cement the alliance, the Cherokee responded to the Shawnee gesture with nearly a hundred of their warriors sent to the North.
The towns in the Chickamauga area were soon rebuilt and reoccupied by their former inhabitants. Dragging Canoe responded to the Shelby expedition with punitive raids on the frontiers of both North Carolina and Virginia.
Concord between the Lenape and the Cherokee
In spring 1779, Oconostota, Savanukah, and other non-belligerent Cherokee leaders travelled north to pay their respects after the death of the White Eyes, the Lenape leader who had been encouraging his people to give up their fighting against the Americans. He had also been negotiating, first with Lord Dunmore and second with the American government, for an Indian state with representatives seated in the Continental Congress, for which he finally won an agreement with that body, and addressed in person in 1776.
Upon the arrival of the Cherokee in the village of Goshocking, they were taken to the council house and began talks. The next day, the Cherokee present solemnly agreed with their “grandfathers” to take neither side in the ongoing conflict between the Americans and the British.
Part of the reasoning was that thus “protected”, neither tribe would find themselves subject to the vicissitudes of war. The rest of the world at conflict, however, remained heedless, and the provisions lasted as long as it took the ink to dry, as it were.
Death of John Stuart
About this same time, John Stuart, up to that point Indian Affairs Superintendent, died at Pensacola. His deputy, Alexander Cameron, was assigned to the work with the Chickasaw and Choctaw and his replacement, Thomas Browne, assigned to the Cherokee, Muscogee, and Catawba. However, Cameron never went west and he and Browne worked together until the latter departed for St. Augustine.
The Chickasaw came into the war on the side of the British and their Indian allies in 1779 when George Rogers Clark and a party of over two hundred built Fort Jefferson and a surrounding settlement near the mouth of the Ohio, inside their hunting grounds.
After learning of the trespass, the Chickasaw destroyed the settlement, laid siege to the fort, and began attacking the Kentucky frontier. They continued attacking the Cumberland and into Kentucky through the following year, their last raid in conjunction with Dragging Canoe's Cherokee, old animosities left over from the Cherokee-Chickasaw war of 1758–1769 forgotten in the face of the common enemy.
Later that year, Robertson and John Donelson traveled overland across country along the Kentucky Road and founded Fort Nashborough at the French Salt Lick (which got its name from having previously been the site of a French outpost called Fort Charleville) on the Cumberland River. It was the first of many such settlements in the Cumberland area, which subsequently became the focus of attacks by all the tribes in the surrounding region. Leaving a small group there, both returned east.
Early in 1780, Robertson and a group of fellow Wataugans left the east down the Kentucky Road headed for Fort Nashborough. Meanwhile, Donelson journeyed down the Tennessee with a party that included his family, intending to go across to the mouth of the Cumberland, then upriver to Ft. Nashborough. Eventually, the group did reach its destination, but only after being ambushed several times.
In the first encounter near Tuskegee Island, the Cherokee warriors under Bloody Fellow focused their attention on the boat in the rear whose passengers had come down with smallpox. There was only one survivor, later ransomed. The victory, however, proved to be a Pyrrhic one for the Cherokee, as the ensuing epidemic wiped out several hundred in the vicinity.
Several miles downriver, beginning with the obstruction known as the Suck or the Kettle, the party was fired upon throughout their passage through the Tennessee River Gorge (aka Cash Canyon), the party losing one with several wounded. Several hundred kilometers downriver, the Donelson party ran up against the Muscle Shoals, where they were attacked at one end by the Muscogee and the other end by the Chickasaw. The final attack was by the Chickasaw in the vicinity of the modern Hardin County, Tennessee.
Shortly after the party's arrival at Fort Nashborough, Donelson, Robertson and others formed the Cumberland Compact.
John Donelson eventually moved to the Indiana country after the Revolution, where he and William Christian were captured while fighting in the Illinois Country in 1786 and were burned at the stake by their captors.
Augusta and King's Mountain
That summer, the new Indian superintendent, Thomas Browne, planned to have a joint conference between the Cherokee and Muscogee to plan ways to coordinate their attacks, but those plans were forestalled when the Americans made a concerted effort to retake Augusta, where he had his headquarters. The arrival of a war party from the Chickamauga Towns, joined by a sizable number or warriors from the Overhill Towns, prevented the capture of both, and they and Brown's East Florida Rangers chased Elijah Clarke's army into the arms of John Sevier, wreaking havoc on rebellious settlements along the way.
This set the stage for the Battle of King's Mountain, in which loyalist militia under Patrick Ferguson moved south trying to encircle Clarke and were defeated by a force of 900 frontiersmen under Sevier and William Campbell referred to as the Overmountain Men.
Alexander Cameron, aware of the absence from the settlements of nearly a thousand men, urged Dragging Canoe and other Cherokee leaders to strike while they had the opportunity. With Savanukah as their First Beloved Man, the Overhill Towns gave their full support to the new offensive. Both Cameron and the Cherokee had been expecting a quick victory for Ferguson and were stunned he suffered such a resounding defeat so soon, but the assault was already in motion.
Hearing word of the new invasion from Nancy Ward, her second known betrayal, Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition of seven hundred Virginians and North Carolinians against the Cherokee in December 1780, under the command of Sevier. It met a Cherokee war party at Boyd's Creek, and after the battle, joined by forces under Arthur Campbell and Joseph Martin, marched against the Overhill towns on the Little Tennessee and the Hiwassee, burning seventeen of them, including Chota, Chilhowee, the original Citico, Tellico, Great Hiwassee, and Chestowee.
Afterwards, the Overhill leaders withdrew from further active conflict for the time being, though the Hill and Valley Towns continued to harass the frontier.
In the Cumberland area, the new settlements lost around forty people in attacks by the Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Lenape.