Monday, September 11, 2017

Stories from Sandtown

One of my favorite cemeteries is behind a little church, off the beaten path, in the Cartoogechaye section of Macon County, NC.  The church itself has an interesting history, and if not for Rufus Morgan, that church would have been long gone.  Rufus Morgan could be the subject of MANY posts on this blog.  I had no idea a song had been written about him, but here it is from Chelle Rose:

One monument in the cemetery is the most memorable of all, marking the graves of Chief Chuttasotee and his wife, Cunstagih. 

I’ve known just a little about Chuttasotee and the Sandtown Cherokees for years, but learned a lot more with the discovery just now of an article that appeared in The Franklin Press, March 1, 1934. I’m posting the newspaper article here in its entirety. 


BETWEEN Muskrat Gap and-the Winding Stair nestles a small valley, protected on the East, North and West by sheltering mountains, and open only to the warm winds from the South. Rushing down from the mountain to the North, Muskrat brook curves around one side of the valley.

On the other side ripple the. clear waters of Cartoogechaye creek. Situated in this ideal spot was a Cherokee settlement, the last in Macon county, known to the white people as Sandtown, because, it is thought, the clay soil in that vicinity contained a portion of sand. This sheltered little valley must have been the home of old Chief Santeetla, whose threats failed to deter those young bloods, Siler and Britton, from settling on the banks of Cartoogechaye creek a few miles East.

The brave pioneer, Jacob Siler, remained to make fast friendship with the Cherokee tribes that peopled the region. Returning later to his home near what is now Asheville, he persuaded his brothers, William, Jesse and John, to come over the mountains with him and settle in this virgin country lavishly endowed by nature with beauty, food and noble trees from which to build homes. 

The brothers erected dwellings within a mile or so of each other, William Siler choosing for his site a sheltered nook near the point where Wayah creek joins Cartoogechaye creek. For many, years he was the closest white neighbor of the Sandtown Indians It was here that Albert Siler, my father-in-law, grew up.

The first conversation I had with Albert Siler about his old neighbors made me realize how deeply he was attached to them. He said they were like trustful children and were always loyal to their friends. 

The Cherokees, "Father" Siler told me, were easily moved, although they did not always show it. He related how as a young man he would visit Sandtown on Sunday afternoons and read lhe Bible to the Indians. Frequently, he said, when he raised his eyes he saw that the faces of his listeners were streaming with tears, although some of them could not understand a word he was reading to them. 

Especially was this true in the cabin of Jim and Sallee Peckerwood, as they were known to their white friends. Their Cherokee names were Cha-cha Chuta-sotee and Cun-stay-gee Chuta-sottee. When the federal government rounded up the Cherokee and was marching them to the far West the Indians were beset with a scourge in Tennessee.

One night Cha-cha and Cun-stay-gee and some of the other Sandtown Indians escaped and fled back to their old homes. From time to time they were joined by others of their tribe, ragged, hungry and footsore after their escape from the caravan being prodded Westward across the Mississippi. William Siler was so moved by the plight of his old neighbors that he deeded back to them some of the land which they had been forced to leave under heart-breaking circumstances, that they might continue to live in the mountains they loved so well. The Indians were deeply grateful.

Chief Chuta-sottee loved William Siler with the devotion of an ardent Indian nature. When the latter died the bereaved Cherokee was his self-appointed chief mourner, following directly behind the hack which carried the body from the home on Cartoogechaye to the cemetery in Franklin. This was; a journey of eight miles and Chuta-sottee plodded through the mud, step by step, with his head solemnly bowed.

I was surprised when "Father" Siler told me there were class distinctions among the Indians. He said Cha-cha Chuta-sottee was an aristocrat and his wife, Sallee, or Cun-stay-gee, was a plebeian. Despite this difference in rank, however, they were a devoted couple. Sallee had strength for the long, weary trek back from Tennessee. Perhaps the hardships of that fearful journey helped to knit their hearts together more strongly. Who knows?

We can but conjecture concerning the courtship of the brave young couple, but their beautiful life was a thing of positive knowledge to many. After the dignified and courageous young Chuta-sottee led his straggling band back home they made him their chief. But although they were now living on their own land, deeded to them by William Siler, the threat of ejectment was not yet over.

In 1843 Major James Robinson (father of the James Robinson who became Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina) was appointed by the authorities in Washington to persuade the Cherokees still remaining East of the Mississippi to join their fellow-tribesmen in the West. On the day appointed Chief Chuta-sottee gathered his band together.

They listened respectfully while Major Robinson painted in glowing colors a picture of the Happy Hunting Grounds to which he wanted to take them. He made a forceful argument for emigration of the Cherokees; but when he had finished speaking Chief Chuta-sottee rose with the dignity of a king and, lifting his right hand majestically, replied with simple but convincing solemnity: "In sight of that mountain I have lived. In sight, of it I expect to die. My talk is ended."

Major Robinson knew well enough that the old Cherokee chief’s decision was absolutely final. No one ever again suggested that this loyal Cherokee leave his native home. His wish was granted that he might die in sight of the sloping, almost level-topped mountain between Muskrat Gap and the Winding Stair. His door, facing the West, caught the last rays of the golden sun as it slipped behind the mountain.

Here he lived his remaining days. “Father” Siler visited Chuta-sottee often during his last sickness and one day after reading him the Bible, the old chief said gently as he watched the last rays of the August sun light his doorway: "Al'ert, Jim going soon. Bury Jim like white man." Mr. Siler at once promised to bury him in the Siler family cemetery in the yard of little St. John's Episcopal chapel; at the foot of the same mountain where the chief lived.

The late Rev. J. A. Deal, who lived in Franklin forty-odd years, was the rector of St. John's and often made pastoral visits to Jim and Sallee Peckerwood. Jim told Mr. Deal of the request he had made of "Al'ert" Siler and Mr. Deal assured him the service would be all he could desire. A few days after this "Father" Siler again called on Jim, late one, afternoon.

As the sun sank behind the mountain the old chief, who was about 80 and who had witnessed so many heart-rending changes wrought by the white man in his paradise, said in a quiet voice: "That the last time Jim see the sun set over his mountain, Al'ert."

Early next morning one of Jim Peckerwood's sons, named Will Siler after my father-in-law's father, came and called "Al'ert" from his bed. Jim Peckerwood had died in the night (about 4 a.m. August 15, 1879.) He was buried the next morning in the little church yard of St. John's chapel with all the care and reverence that could be given the best citizen in the community, for Jim Peckerwood was held in high esteem by both white people and Cherokees for miles around. The little church yard was filled with his friends of both colors.

"Father" Siler said Jim and Sallee had lived together for more than 50 years and he felt so sorry for the Indian woman in her bereavement that he visited her late in the afternoon after the funeral. She was seated in the doorway, her head resting against the side and her face turned to the west. Her sad eyes, "Father" Siler said, seemed to pierce the setting sun and see beyond. He sat down beside her and said all the comforting things he could think of, but she only looked into the sun, seeming not to hear him.

Finally, she came out of her reverie and said gently: "Jim calling Sallee, Al'ert. Sallee go to Jim before another sun set." Very early the next morning Will Siler Peckerwood went to Albert Siler and told him, "Sallee gone to Jim." So, two days after Jim was laid away the same friends laid Sallee beside him and she, too, was buried with the Christian ritual of the white man.

“Father" Siler's daughter, Nettie, had the marble top of a dresser broken in two and placed at the heads of the graves of the faithful couple in the shadow of their loved mountains. But today a nobler monument rises above the graves of the last chief of the Sandtown Indians and his wife. There were four little girls at the funerals of these devoted old lovers who are living today. Now they are Mrs. Maggie Gillespie Slagle, Mrs. Laura Siler Slagle, Mrs. Maggie Stalcup Cunningham and Mrs. Andy Setser.

In 1932 this group of ladies, with the aid of The Franklin Press and Highlands Maconian, revived interest in the love story of Chah-chah and Cun-stay-gee and started a movement for the erection of a permanent marker above their graves. On July 30, 1932, a beautiful monument, hewn from the strong, gray-blue granite of Macon county, was unveiled with appropriate exercises.

Among those taking part in the exercises was Chief Bly from the Cherokee reservation in Swain county. After he had heard other speakers tell of Chief Chuta-sottee, he remarked with typical Indian brevity: "They say all good Indians are dead. This must have been a good Indian.”

Sandtown Protest 

James Peckerwood of Sandtown has a place in the history books that deserves mention at this point.  In July 1868 a treaty was ratified between the United States and the Cherokees residing west of the Mississippi River.  The Congressional Record for January 1869 includes a “Memorial of Headmen and People of the North Carolina or Eastern Cherokees” protesting against the ratification of that treaty.  

Essentially, those “Eastern” Cherokees objected to the treaty because they would not receive any payments from the government as had the members of the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma).  The signers of that petition were from various communities in Western North Carolina.  

While many of them were from “Qualla,” others (like Jim Peckerwood) were from Sand Town.  Others communities where small remnants of Cherokees remained in the late 1860s, were identified as Buffalo Town, Hewassee Town, Cheoah Town and Hangdog Town:

JOHN WAYNENA, chief, Buffalo Town
LONG BEAR, Sand Town
TRAMPER, Bufi'alo Town.
 WM. MCLEMORE, Hewassee Town.
 JOHN AXE, Hangdog Town.
 SOWANOOKAH, Buffalo Town.
 JAMES BLYTHE, Buffalo Town.
 SKEEGEE, Bufi'alo Town.
 JOHN ELIJAH, Qulla Town.
 WILLSON AXE, Sand Town.
 MINK, Bufi’alo Town.
LITTLE JOHN, Qulla Town.
OO-SOWEH, Qulla Town.

Lanman Meets Hog-Bite

Charles Lanman met many a hermit on his travels through America in the 19th century.  When Lanman visited Macon County in May 1848, he crossed paths with a Sandtown Cherokee named Hog-Bite:

The most interesting character whom I have seen about Franklin is an old Cherokee Indian, His name is Sa-taw-ha, or Hog-Bite, and he is upwards of one hundred years of age. He lives in a small log hut among the mountains, the door of which is so very low that you have to crawl into it upon your hands and knees. 

At the time the greater part of his nation were removed to the Far West, the "officers of justice" called to obtain his company. He saw them as they approached, and, taking his loaded rifle in hand, he warned them not to attempt to lay their hands upon him, for he would certainly kill them. He was found to be so resolute and so very old, that it was finally concluded by those in power that the old man should be left alone. 

He lives the life of a hermit, and is chiefly supported by the charity of one or two Indian neighbors, though it is said he even now occasionally manages to kill a deer or turkey. His history is entirely unknown, and he says he can remember the time when the Cherokee nation lived upon the shores of a great ocean (the Atlantic) and the color of a white man's face was unknown. 

No comments: