After the Revolution
Eventually, Dragging Canoe realized the only solution for the various Indian nations to maintain their independence was to unite in an alliance against the Americans. In addition to increasing his ties to McGillivray and the Upper Muscogee, with whom he worked most often and in greatest numbers, he continued to send his warriors to fighting alongside the Shawnee, Choctaw, and Lenape.
In January 1783, Dragging Canoe travelled to St. Augustine, the capital of East Florida, for a summit meeting with a delegation of northern tribes, and called for a federation of Indians to oppose the Americans and their frontier colonists. Browne, the British Indian Superintendent, approved the concept.
At Tuckabatchee a few months later, a general council of the major southern tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole) plus representatives of smaller groups (Mobile, Catawba, Biloxi, Huoma, etc.) took place to follow up, but plans for the federation were cut short by the signing of the Treaty of Paris. In June, Browne received orders from London to cease and desist.
Following that treaty, Dragging Canoe turned to the Spanish (who still claimed all the territory south of the Cumberland and were now working against the Americans) for support, trading primarily through Pensacola and Mobile. What made this possible was that fact that the Spanish governor of Louisiana Territory in New Orleans had taken advantage of the British setback to seize those ports.
Dragging Canoe maintained relations with the British governor at Detroit, Alexander McKee, through regular diplomatic missions there under his brothers Little Owl and The Badger.
Chickasaw and Muscogee treaties
In November, the Chickasaw signed the Treaty of French Lick with the new United States of America that year and never again took up arms against it. The Lower Cherokee were also present at the conference and apparently made some sort of agreement to cease their attacks on the Cumberland for after this Americans settlements in the area began to grow again.
That same month, the pro-American camp in the Muscogee nation signed the Treaty of Augusta with the State of Georgia, enraging McGillivray, who wanted to keep fighting; he burned the houses of the leaders responsible and sent warriors to raid Georgia settlements.
Treaties of Hopewell and Coyatee
The Cherokee in the Overhill, Hill, and Valley Towns also signed a treaty with the new United States government, the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, but in their case it was a treaty made under duress, the frontier colonials by this time having spread further along the Holston and onto the French Broad. Several leaders from the Lower Cherokee signed, including two from Chickamauga Town (which had been rebuilt) and one from Stecoyee.
None of the Lower Cherokee, however, had any part in the Treaty of Coyatee, which new State of Franklin forced Corntassel and the other Overhill leaders to sign at gunpoint, ceding the remainder of the lands north of the Little Tennessee. Nor did they have any part in the Treaty of Dumplin Creek, which ceded the remaining land within the claimed boundaries of Sevier County.
The colonials could now shift military forces to Middle Tennessee in response to increasing frequency of attacks by both Chickamauga Cherokee (by now usually called Lower Cherokee) and Upper Muscogee.
State of Franklin
In May 1785, the settlements of Upper East Tennessee, then comprising four counties of western North Carolina, petitioned the Congress of the Confederation to be recognized as the “State of Franklin”. Even though their petition failed to receive the two-thirds votes necessary to qualify, they proceeded to organize what amounted to a secessionist government, holding their first “state” assembly in December 1785. One of their chief motives was to retain the foothold they had recently gained in the Cumberland Basin.
Attacks on the Cumberland
In the summer of 1786, Dragging Canoe and his warriors along with a large contingent of Muscogee raided the Cumberland region, with several parties raiding well into Kentucky. John Sevier responded with a punitive raid on the Overhill Towns. One such occasion that summer was notable for the fact that the raiding party was led by none other than Hanging Maw of Coyatee, who was supposedly friendly at the time.
Formation of the Western Confederacy
In addition to the small bands still operating with the Shawnee, Wyandot-Mingo, and Lenape in the Northwest, a large contingent of Cherokee led by The Glass (Tagwadihi) attended and took an active role in a grand council of northern tribes (plus some Muscogee and Choctaw in addition to the Cherokee contingent) resisting the American advance into the western frontier which took place in November–December 1786 in the Wyandot town of Upper Sandusky just south of the British capital of Detroit.
This meeting, initiated by Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), the Mohawk leader who was head chief of the Iroquois Six Nations and like Dragging Canoe fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution, led to the formation of the Western Confederacy to resist American incursions into the Old Northwest.
Dragging Canoe and his Cherokee were full members of the Confederacy. The purpose of the Confederacy was to coordinate attacks and defense in the Northwest Indian War of 1785–1795.
According to John Norton (Teyoninhokovrawen), Brant’s adopted son, it was here that The Glass formed a friendship with his adopted father that lasted well into the 19th century. He apparently served as Dragging Canoe's envoy to the Iroquois as the latter's brothers did to McKee and to the Shawnee.
The passage of the Northwest Ordinance by the Congress of the Confederation (subsequently affirmed by the United States Congress) in 1787, establishing the Northwest Territory and essentially giving away the land upon which they lived, only exacerbated the resentment of the tribes in the region.
The settlement of Coldwater was founded by a party of French traders who had come down for the Wabash to set up a trading center in 1783. It sat a few miles below the foot of the thirty-five mile long Muscle Shoals, near the mouth of Coldwater Creek and about three hundred yards back from the Tennessee River, close the site of the modern Tuscumbia, Alabama.
For the next couple of years, trade was all the French did, but then the business changed hands. Around 1785, the new management began covertly gathering Cherokee and Muscogee warriors into the town, whom they then encouraged to attack the American settlements along the Cumberland and its environs. The fighting contingent eventually numbered approximately nine Frenchmen, thirty-five Cherokee, and ten Muscogee.
Because the townsite was well-hidden and its presence unannounced, James Robertson, commander of the militia in the Cumberland's Davidson and Sumner Counties, at first accused the Lower Cherokee of the new offensives.
In 1787, Robertson marched his men to their borders in a show of force, but without an actual attack, then sent an offer of peace to Running Water. In answer, Dragging Canoe sent a delegation of leaders led by Little Owl to Nashville under a flag of truce to explain that his Cherokee were not the responsible parties.
Meanwhile, the attacks continued.
At the time of the conference in Nashville, two Chickasaw out hunting game along the Tennessee in the vicinity of Muscle Shoals chanced upon Coldwater Town, where they were warmly received and spent the night. Upon returning home to Chickasaw Bluffs, now (Memphis, Tennessee), they immediately informed their head man, Piomingo, of their discovery. Piomingo then sent runners to Nashville.
Just after these runners had arrived in Nashville, a war party attacked one of its outlying settlements, killing Robertson’s brother Mark. In response, Robertson raised a group of one hundred fifty volunteers and proceeded south by a circuitous land route, guided by two Chickasaw.
Somehow catching the town off-guard despite the fact they knew Robertson’s force was approaching, they chased its would-be defenders to the river, killing about half of them and wounding many of the rest. They then gathered all the trade goods in the town to be shipped to Nashville by boat, burned the town, and departed.
After the wars, it became the site of Colbert’s Ferry, owned by Chickasaw leader George Colbert, the crossing place over the Tennessee River of the Natchez Trace.
Muscogee council at Tuckabatchee
In 1786, McGillivray had convened a council of war at the dominant Upper Muscogee town of Tuckabatchee about recent incursions of Americans into their territory. The council decided to go on the warpath against the trespassers, starting with the recent settlements along the Oconee River.
McGillivray had already secured support from the Spanish in New Orleans.
The following year, because of the perceived insult of the incursion Cumberland against Coldwater so near to their territory, the Muscogee also took up the hatchet against the Cumberland settlements. They continued their attacks until 1789, but the Cherokee did not join them for this round due partly to internal matters but more because of trouble from the State of Franklin.
Peak of Lower Cherokee power and influence
Dragging Canoe’s last years, 1788–1792, were the peak of his influence and that of the rest of the Lower Cherokee, among the other Cherokee and among other Indian nations, both south and north, as well as with the Spanish of Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans, and the British in Detroit. He also sent regular diplomatic envoys to negotiations in Nashville, Jonesborough then Knoxville, and Philadelphia.
Massacre of the Kirk family
In May 1788, a party of Cherokee from Chilhowee came to the house of John Kirk’s family on Little River, while he and his oldest son, John Jr., were out. When Kirk and John Jr. returned, they found the other eleven members of their family dead and scalped.
Massacre of the Brown family
After a preliminary trip to the Cumberland at the end of which he left two of his sons to begin clearing the plot of land at the mouth of White's Creek, James Brown returned to North Carolina to fetch the rest of the family, with whom he departed Long-Island-on-the-Holston by boat in May 1788. When they passed by Tuskegee Island five days later, Bloody Fellow stopped them, looked around the boat, then let them proceed, meanwhile sending messengers ahead to Running Water.
Upon the family’s arrival at Nickajack, a party of forty under mixed-blood John Vann boarded the boat and killed Col. Brown, his two older sons on the boat, and five other young men travelling with the family. Mrs. Brown, the two younger sons, and three daughters were taken prisoner and distributed to different families.
When he learned of the massacre the following day, The Breath (Unlita), Nickajack's headman, was seriously displeased. He later adopted into his own family the Browns’ son Joseph as a son, who had been originally given to Kitegisky (Tsiagatali), who had first adopted him as a brother, treating him well, and of whom Joseph had fond memories in later years.
Mrs. Brown and one of her daughters were given to the Muscogee and ended up in the personal household of Alexander McGillivray. George, the elder of the surviving sons, also ended up with the Muscogee, but elsewhere. Another daughter went to a Cherokee nearby Nickajack and the third to a Cherokee in Crow Town.
Murders of the Overhill chiefs
At the beginning of June 1788, John Sevier, now no longer governor of the State of Franklin, raised a hundred volunteers in June of that year and set out for the Overhill Towns. After a brief stop at the Little Tennessee, the group went to Great Hiwassee and burned it to the ground.
Returning to Chota, Sevier send a detachment under James Hubbard to Chilhowee to punish those responsible for the Kirk massacre, John Kirk Jr. among them. Hubbard brought along Corntassel and Hanging Man from Chota.
At Chilhowee, Hubbard raised a flag of truce, took Corntassel and Hanging Man to the house of Abraham, still headman of Chilhowee, who was there with his son, also bringing along Long Fellow and Fool Warrior. Hubbard posted guards at the door and windows of the cabin, and gave John Kirk Jr. a tomahawk to get his revenge.
The murder of the pacifist Overhill chiefs under a flag of truce angered the entire Cherokee nation and resulted in those previously reluctant taking the warpath, an increase in hostility that lasted for several months. Doublehead (Taltsuska), Corntassel’s brother, was particularly incensed.
Highlighting the seriousness of the matter, Dragging Canoe came in to address the general council of the Nation, now meeting at Ustanali on the Coosawattee River (one of the former Lower Towns on the Keowee River relocated to the vicinity of Calhoun, Georgia) to which the seat of the council had been moved, along with the election of Little Turkey (Kanagita) as First Beloved Man, an election contested by Hanging Maw of Coyatee (who had been elected chief headman of the traditional Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee), to succeed the murdered chief.
Interestingly, both men had been among those who originally followed Dragging Canoe into the southwest of the nation, with Hanging Maw known to have been on the warpath at least as late as 1786.
Dragging Canoe's presence at the Ustanali council and the council's meetings now held in what was then the area of the Lower Towns (but to which Upper Cherokee from the Overhill towns were migrating in vast numbers), as well as his acceptance of the election of his former co-belligerent Little Turkey as principal leader over all the Cherokee nation, are graphic proof that he and his followers remained Cherokee and were not a separate tribe as some, following Brown, allege.
In early August, the commander of the garrison at Houston's Station (near the present Maryville, Tennessee) received word that a Cherokee force of nearly five hundred was planning to attack his position. He therefore sent a large reconnaissance patrol to the Overhill Towns.
Stopping in the town of Citico on the south side of the Little Tennessee, which they found deserted, the patrol scattered throughout the town's orchard and began gathering fruit. Six of them died in the first fusillade, another ten while attempting to escape across the river.
With the loss of those men, the garrison at Houston’s Station was seriously beleaguered. Only the arrival of a relief force under John Sevier saved the fort from being overrun and its inhabitants slaughtered. With the garrison joining his force, Sevier marched to the Little Tennessee and burned Chilhowee.