Chickamauga Cherokee Wars (1776-1794) - part 7 of 9

  • Friday, August 31, 2012
  • Chuck Hamilton


The final years

The last years of the Chickamauga Wars saw John Watts, who had spent much of the wars affecting friendship and pacifism towards his American counterparts while living most of the time among the Overhill Cherokee, drop his facade as he took over from his mentor, though deception and artifice still formed part of his diplomatic repertoire.

John Watts

At his own previous request, the old warrior was succeeded as leader of the Lower Cherokee by John Watts, although The Bowl (Diwali) succeeded him as headman of Running Water, along with Bloody Fellow and Doublehead, who together continued Dragging Canoe's policy of Indian unity, including an agreement with McGillivray of the Upper Muscogee to build joint blockhouses from which warriors of both tribes could operate at the junction of the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers, at Running Water, and at Muscle Shoals.

Watts, Tahlonteeskee, and Red Fox (Tsula, aka “Young Dragging Canoe”) travelled to Pensacola in May at the invitation of Arturo O’Neill de Tyrone, Spanish governor of West Florida. They took with them letters of introduction from John McDonald. Once there, they forged a treaty with O’Neill for arms and supplies with which to carry on the war. Upon returning north, Watts moved his base of operations to Willstown in order to be closer to his Muscogee allies and his Spanish supply line.

Watts at the time of Dragging Canoe’s death had been serving as an interpreter during negotiations in Chota between the American government and the Overhill Cherokee. Throughout the wars, up until the time he became principal chief of the Lower Cherokee, he continued to live in the Overhill Towns as much as much as in the Chickamauga and Lower Towns, and many whites mistook him for a non-belligerent, most notably John Sevier when he mistakenly contracted Watts to guide him to Dragging Canoe's headquarters in September 1782.

Meanwhile, John McDonald, now British Indian Affairs Superintendent, moved to Turkeytown with his assistant Daniel Ross and their families. Some of the older chiefs, such as The Glass of Running Water, The Breath of Nickajack, and Dick Justice of Stecoyee, abstained from active warfare but did nothing to stop the warriors in their towns from taking part in raids and campaigns.

That summer, the band of Shawnee Warrior and the party of Little Owl began joining the raids of the Muscogee on the Mero District. In late June, they attacked a small fortified settlement called Ziegler’s Station, swarming it, killing the men and taking the women and children prisoner.

Buchanan’s Station

In September 1792, Watts orchestrated a large campaign intending to attack the Holston region with a large combined army in four bands of two hundred each. When the warriors were mustering at Stecoyee, however, he learned that their planned attack was expected and decided to aim for Nashville instead.

The army Watts led into the Cumberland region was nearly a thousand strong, including a contingent of cavalry.  It was to be a four-pronged attack in which Doublehead’s brother Tahlonteeskee (Ataluntiski) and Bob Benge’s brother The Tail led a party to ambush the Kentucky Road, Doublehead with another to the Cumberland Road, and Middle Striker (Yaliunoyuka) led another to do the same on the Walton Road.

Watts himself led the main force, made up of 280 Cherokee, Shawnee, and Muscogee warriors plus cavalry and including one of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers, intending to go against the fort at Nashville.  He sent out George Fields (Unegadihi; “Whitemankiller”) and John Walker, Jr. (Sikwaniyoha) as scouts ahead of the army, and they killed the two scouts sent out by James Robertson from Nashville.

Near their target on the evening of 30 September, Watts’ combined force came upon a small fort known as Buchanan’s Station, that was built by and housed the family of the same John Buchanan who sold Sapling Grove to Evan Shelby 1768.  Buchanan also happens to be another of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers.

Talotiskee, leader of the Muscogee, wanted to attack it immediately, while Watts argued in favor of saving it for the return south.  After much bickering, Watts gave in around midnight.

The assault proved to be a disaster for Watts. He himself was wounded, and many of his warriors were killed, including Talotiskee and some of Watts’ best leaders; Shawnee Warrior, Kitegisky, and Dragging Canoe’s brother Little Owl were among those who died.

Doublehead’s group of sixty ambushed a party of six and took one scalp then headed for toward Nashville. On their way, they were attacked by a militia force and lost thirteen men, and only heard of the disaster at Buchanan's Station afterwards.

Tahlonteeskee’s party, meanwhile, stayed out into early October, attacking Black’s Station on Crooked Creek, killing three, wounding more, and capturing several horses.

Middle Striker’s party was more successful, ambushing a large armed force coming to the Mero District down the Walton Road in November and routing it completely without losing a single man.

In revenge for the deaths at Buchanan’s Station, Benge, Doublehead, and his brother Pumpkin Boy led a party of sixty into southwestern Kentucky in early 1793 during which their warriors, in an act initiated by Doublehead, cooked and ate the enemies they had just killed.

Afterwards, Doublehead’s party returned south and held scalp dances at Stecoyee, Turnip Town, and Willstown, since warriors from those towns had also participated in the raid in addition to his and Benge’s groups.

Joseph, of the Brown family discussed above, was a member of the station’s garrison but had been at his mother's house three miles away at the time of the battle. When he learned of the death of his friend Kitegisky, he is reported to have mourned greatly.

Muscogee attack the Holston and the Cumberland

Meanwhile, a party of Muscogee under a mixed-breed named Lesley invaded the Holston region and began attacking isolated farmsteads.  Lesley’s party continued harassment of the Holston settlements until the summer of 1794, when Hanging Maw sent his men along with the volunteers from the Holston settlements to pursue them, killing two and handing over a third to the whites for trial and execution.

After the failed Cherokee attack on Buchanan's Station, the Muscogee increased their attacks on the Cumberland in both size and frequency. Besides scalping raids, two parties attacked Bledsoe’s Station and Greenfield Station in April of 1793. Another party attacked Hays’ Station in June.

In August, the Coushatta from Coosada raided the country around Clarksville, Tennessee, attacking the homestead of the Baker family, killing all but two who escaped and one taken prisoner who was later ransomed at Coosada Town.

A war party of Tuskeegee from the Muscogee town of that name was also active in Middle Tennessee at this time.

Attack on a Cherokee diplomatic party

In early 1793, Watts began rotating large war parties back and forth between the Lower Towns and the North at the behest of his allies in the Western Confederacy, which was beginning to lose the ground to the Legion of the United States that had been created in the aftermath of the Battle of the Wabash. With the exception of the 1793 campaign against the Holston, his attention was more focused on the north than on the Southwest Territory and its environs during these next two years.

Shortly after a delegation of Shawnee stopped in Ustanali in that spring on their way to call on the Muscogee and Choctaw to punish the Chickasaw for joining St. Clair’s army in the north, Watts sent envoys to Knoxville, then the capital of the Southwest Territory, to meet with Governor William Blount to discuss terms for peace.

Blount in turn passed the offer to Philadelphia, which invited the Lower Cherokee leaders to a meeting with President Washington. The party that was sent from the Lower Towns that May included Bob McLemore, Tahlonteeskee, Captain Charley of Running Water, and Doublehead, among several others.

The party from the Lower Towns stopped in Coyatee because Hanging Maw and other chiefs from the Upper Towns were going also and had gathered there along with several whites who had arrived earlier. A large party of Lower Cherokee (Pathkiller aka The Ridge among them) had been raiding the Upper East, killed two men, and stolen twenty horses. On their way out, they passed through Coyatee, to which the pursuit party tracked them.

The militia violated their orders not to cross the Little Tennessee, then the border between the Cherokee nation and the Southwest Territory, and entered the town shooting indiscriminately. In the ensuing chaos, eleven leading men were killed, including Captain Charley, and several wounded, including Hanging Maw, his wife and daughter, Doublehead, and Tahlonteeskee; one of the white delegates was among the dead.

The Cherokee, even Watts’ hostile warriors, agreed to await the outcome of the subsequent trial, which proved to be a farce, in large part because John Beard, the man responsible, was a close friend of John Sevier.

Invasion and Cavett’s Station

Watts responded to Beard’s acquittal by invading the Holston area with one of the largest Indian forces ever seen in the region, over one thousand Cherokee and Muscogee, plus a few Shawnee, intending to attack Knoxville itself. The plan was to have four bodies of troops march toward Knoxville separately, converging at a previously agreed on rendezvous point along the way.

In August, Watts attacked Henry’s Station with a force of two hundred, but fell back due to overwhelming gunfire coming from the fort, not wanting to risk another misfortune like that at Buchanan's Station the previous year.

The four columns converged a month later near the present Loudon, Tennessee, and proceeded toward their target. On the way, the Cherokee leaders were discussing among themselves whether to kill all the inhabitants of Knoxville, or just the men, James Vann advocating the latter while Doublehead argued for the former.

Further on the way, they encountered a small settlement called Cavett’s Station. After they had surrounded the place, Benge negotiated with the inhabitants, agreeing that if they surrendered, their lives would be spared. However, after the settlers had walked out, Doublehead’s group and his Muscogee allies attacked and began killing them all over the pleas of Benge and the others. 

Vann managed to grab one small boy and pull him onto his saddle, only to have Doublehead smash the boy’s skull with an axe.  Watts intervened in time to save another young boy, handing him to Vann, who put the boy behind him on his horse and later handed him over to three of the Muscogee for safe-keeping; unfortunately, one of the Muscogee chiefs killed the boy and scalped him a few days later.

Because of this incident, Vann called Doublehead “Babykiller” (deliberately parodying the honorable title “Mankiller”) for the remainder of his life; and it also began a lengthy feud which defined the politics of the early 19th century Cherokee Nation and only ended in 1807 with Doublehead’s death at Vann's orders. 

By this time, tensions among the Cherokee broke out into such vehement arguments that the force broke up, with the main group retiring south.

Battle of Etowah

Sevier countered the invasion with an invasion and occupation of Ustanali, which had been deserted; there was no fighting there other than an indecisive skirmish with a Cherokee-Muscogee scouting party. He and his men then followed the Cherokee-Muscogee force south to the town of Etowah (Itawayi; near the site of present-day Cartersville, Georgia across the Etowah River from the Etowah Indian Mounds), leading to what Sevier called the “Battle of Hightower”.

Sevier’s force defeated the Cherokee soundly, then went on to destroy several Cherokee villages to the west before retiring to the Southwest Territory. This was the last pitched battle of the Chickamauga Wars.

Chuck Hamilton



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