In an earlier post, I thought it just a wee bit over the top to say that “the Cherokees” originated as a joint red/white criminal enterprise. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the esteemed ethnographer of the Cherokees, James Mooney, used similar language to describe what was going on in the Mississippi Valley:
In 1716 the French governor sent an officer with goods to the Natchez to establish a trading post among them, but found already on the ground some English traders from Carolina who were trying to form the Natchez, Yazoo, and Chickasaw into a syndicate for the purpose of making slavehunting raids upon the neighboring tribes, a business which the Carolina people had found extremely profitable in their late wars with the Apalachi and Tuskarora.
But that is not the primary point of this installment. Much more on that is to come.
Refugees Among the Cherokees
Most folks would be hard pressed to name native groups, other than the Cherokees, that lived in western North Carolina. I knew that the Natchez were on that list, establishing a village near Murphy in the 1700s. And I knew that Natchez were among the last of the native tribes to carry on some of the Mississippian traditions.
But that’s about all I knew of the Natchez until I discovered Mooney’s report, “The End of the Natchez.” (American Anthropologist, 1899) Here’s the beginning of “The End…”:
When LeMoyne d’Iberville sailed into the Mississippi in 1699, just two centuries ago, he found the Na’tsi or Natchez Indians, from whom the modern town takes its name, settled in nine villages, with a total population of perhaps 2500 persons, along what is now St Catherine creek, in Adams county, Mississippi. Thirty years later their villages had been destroyed, their chiefs and hundreds of their people killed or sold into slavery, and the survivors were fugitive refugees with other tribes. Today there may exist twenty of the name.
For several reasons a peculiar interest attaches to the Natchez. Their language seems to have had no connection with that of any other tribe, excepting possibly the neighboring Taensa of Louisiana. Their strongly centralized government and highly developed religious ceremonial gave them commanding influence among all the tribes of the region, while their heroic resistance to the French, and their final destruction as a nation, lend their history a tinge of romance which writers have been quick to appreciate. The interest is in no degree diminished when we learn that, contrary to the ordinary idea, they were not exterminated, but rather extirpated, which after all is but another word for the same process….
In this short sketch we shall endeavor to throw some light on their history subsequent to 1730, prefacing with a brief statement of the causes which led to their dispersal.
Tensions Between the French and the Natchez
In the early 1700s the French were consolidating their power in the new province of Louisiana and sought to establish a trading post in the midst of the Natchez. After the Natchez resisted that plan, the French built a fort at the principle village of the Natchez, which only exacerbated the conflict.
With a garrison thus forcibly established in their very midst, the Natchez were soon in a condition of smothered revolt, a feeling which the English traders resident among the Chickasaw strove by every means to nurse into active rebellion. In 1722 a quarrel occurred at the post, in which several were killed on both sides. The French commander attempted to punish the Indians by levying a fine upon the whole population of three villages, with the result that they retaliated, when the French burned one village and beheaded the chief….
The climax came in 1729, when the French commander coolly ordered them to abandon their principal village, that he might clear the ground for his own purposes. Engaging the Yazoo, Koroa, and Tioux to their support, and supplying themselves with arms and ammunition by means of a shrewd stratagem, at a given signal they fell upon the garrison on November 28, and massacred two hundred men-only about twenty escaping-besides capturing all the women, children, and negroes, with a loss to themselves of but twelve warriors. While the bloody work was going on, the Natchez chief was calmly seated under a shed giving directions for piling the severed heads in heaps about him as they were brought in. The war was now on….
In January, 1730, a force of several hundred Choctaw, led by a French officer, attacked a Natchez stockade, killing eighty men, capturing eighteen women, and releasing a large number of captives taken at the first massacre. The Natchez, and their surviving allies, attempted to flee. But battles, captivity and bloodshed continued. From the first outbreak in 1729 to the final repulse at Natchitoches, two years later, we have a record of about 240 Natchez warriors killed and 40 warriors and about 400 women and children taken arid sold into slavery, with no knowledge as to how many died of hunger and disease in the swamps or were picked off from time to time by the French Indians.
It is safe to assume that not half the tribe remained alive, and they were homeless refugees. They could not return to their own country, for it was now in the hands of their enemies; neither could they seek an asylum among the Choctaw, Tonika, Attbkapa, Caddo Akansa, or Illinois, for all of those were in the French interest: while the smaller tribes that might have befriended them had been brought as low as themselves. They could go only to the tribes in the English interest, the Chickasaw, Creeks, and Cherokee, or to the English settlers themselves in Carolina.
North to Carolina
Sometime after 1736, a remnant of Natchez were granted permission to settle among the Catawba on the Savannah River.
The "Nachee" are mentioned by Adair as one of the smaller tribes living with the Catawba in 1743, but retaining their distinct language. The next year the "Notchees," having killed some Catawba in a drunken quarrel, fled down to the white settlements to escape the vengeance of the injured tribe, and the colonial government was compelled to interfere to settle the affair. It is probable that the result of the quarrel was to separate them permanently from the Catawba, as in 1751 we find the "Notchees" again noted as one of the small tribes living in the South Carolina settlements.
Soon after they seem to have moved up again and joined the Cherokee, for in 1755 they are twice mentioned as concerned with that tribe in the killing of some Indians near the coast settlements. This appears to be the last reference to them in the South Carolina records. Just here Cherokee tradition takes them up, under the name of Anintsi, abbreviated from Ani-Na’tsi, the plural of Na’tsi. From a chance coincidence with the word for pine-tree, na'tsi, some English-speaking Indians have rendered this name as " Pine Indians."
The Cherokee generally agree that the Natchez came to them from the Creek country. It is probable that the first refugees came from South Carolina, while others say that they came from Carolina, and were joined later by others from the Creeks and Chickasaw. Some of them, we are told by Bienville, went directly from the Chickasaw. They seem to have been regarded by the Cherokee as a race of wizards and conjurers, probably due in part to their peculiar religious rites and in part to the interest which belonged to them as the remnant of a broken tribe.
The venerable James Wafford, a prominent mixed-blood Cherokee who was born in 1806 near the site of Clarkesville, Georgia, when it was all Indian country, and who afterward removed with his tribe to Indian Territory, informed the writer in 1890 that the “Notchees” had their town on the north bank of Hiwassee river, just above Peachtree creek, on the spot where a Baptist mission was established by the Rev. Evan Jones about 1830, and a few miles above the present Murphy, Cherokee county, North Carolina. On his mother’s side he had himself a strain of Natchez blood. His grandmother had told him that when she was a young woman - say about 1755 - she had occasion to go to this town on some business, which she was obliged to transact through an interpreter, as the Natchez had then been there so short a time that only one or two spoke any Cherokee.
They were all in the one town, which the Cherokee called Gwalgwa‘hi, ‘‘Frog place,” but he was unable to say whether or not it had a townhouse. In 1824, as one of the census enumerators for the Cherokee Nation, he went over the same section and found the Natchez then living jointly with Cherokee in a town called Gu’laniyi at the junction of Brasstown and Gumlog creeks, tributary to Hiwassee river, some six miles southeast of their former location and close to the Georgia line. The removal may have been due to the recent establishment of the mission at the old place. It was a large settlement, about equally made up from the two tribes, but by this time the Natchez were indistinguishable in dress or general appearance from the others, and nearly all spoke broken Cherokee, while still retaining their own language. As most of the Indians had come under Christian influence so far as to have quit dancing, there was no townhouse.
Harry Smith, father of the late chief of the East Cherokee, and born about 1815, also remembers them as living on the Hiwassee and calling themselves Na'tsi. From Ganse'tl, or Rattling-gourd, another mixed-blood Cherokee, who was born on Hiwassee river in 1820 and went west at the removal eighteen years later, it appears that in his time the Natchez were scattered among the Cherokee settlements along the upper part of that stream, extending down into Tennessee. They had then no separate townhouses.
Some, at least, of them had come up from the Creeks, and spoke Creek and Cherokee as well as their own language, which he could not understand, although familiar with both the others. They were great dance leaders, which agrees with their traditional reputation for ceremonial and secret knowledge. They went west with the Cherokee at the final removal of the tribe to Indian Territory in 183s. In 1890 there were a considerable number on Illinois river a few miles south of Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, several of them still speaking their own language, among whom were Groundhog, John Rogers, and a woman named Kehaka. Some of these may have come with the Creeks, as by an agreement between the Creeks and Cherokee, before the time of the removal, it had been arranged that citizens of either tribe living within the boundaries claimed by the other might remain without question if they so elected.
Among the East Cherokee in North Carolina, about 1890, there were several who claimed Natchez descent, but only one of full Natchez blood, an old woman named Alkini, who spoke with a drawling tone said to have been characteristic of that people, as older men remembered them years ago.
Haywood, the historian of Tennessee, says that a remnant of the Natchez lived within the present limits of the State as late as 1750 and were even then numerous. He refers to those with the Cherokee, and tells a curious story which seems somehow to have escaped the notice of other writers.
According to his statement, a portion of the Natchez, who had been parceled out as slaves among the French in the vicinity of their old homes after the downfall of their tribe, took advantage of the withdrawal of the troops to the north, in 1758, to rise and massacre their masters and make their escape to the neighboring tribes. On the return of the troops after the fall of Fort Duquesne they found the settlement at Natchez destroyed and their Indian slaves fled. Some time afterward a French deserter seeking an asylum among the Cherokee, having made his way to Great Island town, on Tennessee river, just below the mouth of the Tellico, was surprised to find there some of the same Natchez whom he had formerly driven as slaves. He lost no time in getting away from the place to find safer quarters among the mountain towns. Notchy creek, a lower affluent of the Tellico, in Monroe county, Tennessee, evidently takes its name from these refugees.
Haywood states also that, although incorporated with the Cherokee, the Natchez continued for a long time a separate tribe, not marrying or mixing with other tribes, and having their own chiefs, and holding their own councils, but their nation had now (1823) yielded to the canker 'of time and hardly anything was left but the name.'
Natchez Village at Peachtree
As Mooney indicated, when the Natchez first came to North Carolina around 1750, they settled on Peachtree Creek, east of present-day Murphy, NC. Their nearest neighbors were Cherokees at the Peachtree village, a mile or so downstream toward the Hiwassee River. Peachtree had been occupied more or less continuously since the Archaic period, with substantial mounds constructed there during the Mississippian period. After the mounds were excavated in 1885 and 1933, little remained to indicate it had been a village.
Other Remnant Groups
The Natchez represent just one example of remnant tribes that integrated with the Cherokee. John Swanton in his hefty reference volume Indians of the Southeastern United States (1946) names others:
Yuchi – “A few Yuchi seem never to have moved out of the Appalachian region, but to have remained among the Cherokee and become gradually incorporated into them.”
Tuskegee – Originally identified in northern Alabama, one band united with the Cherokees to form a large town on the south side of the Little Tennessee River, just above Tellico Creek.
Nottoway – Possibly a mixed band of Iroquois, Savannah and Conestoga. Around 1748 they moved from central and lower South Carolina to Keowee (near the mountains) and were absorbed by the Cherokees.
Catawba – After ceding land in South Carolina under terms of an 1840 treaty, they moved Haywood County but were unable to close a deal on land there. During that time some Catawba went to live with the Cherokee.
Clearly, the native groups of the Southeast were very mobile and very fluid. When the chiefdoms of Mississippian culture collapsed, centuries of instability and regrouping ensued, eventually resulting in what we now recognize as the tribal groups of the Southeast.
Cherokee delegation to England, 1730. Attakullakulla at far right.
Complicated Family Trees
Let's look at this mobility and regrouping on an individual level. By some accounts, the well-known 18th century Cherokee war chief, Dragging Canoe, had Natchez roots.
From the Black Indian United Legal Defense and Education Fund, here’s one explanation of the parents of Dragging Canoe:
Nionne Ollie, a Black French-speaking Cherokee woman of Keowee, South Carolina (variant spelling, ‘Nani’) [was] the wife of Chief Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter)… Nionne Ollie (described as “Black“) was said to have been from a Band of refugee Natchez (Notchey) born in the old historic Cherokee town of Tomately in 1733. She was captured as a Slave at Goose Creek, SC and sold into Slavery to a couple that took her to the French West Indies. Nionne purchased her own freedom as a young woman, returned to the Cherokee Nation and married Chief Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter). The couple had many prominent Cherokee children whose descendants remain part of the Nations (Black and Red) to date….
The couple took in a Scottish (White) Adoptee, named John Stuart [who had been caught up in the conflicts between settlers and natives at Fort Loudon during the 1750s.] Nionne (Nani) died in 1831 at the age of 98, a prominent citizen at Keowee Old Town in the South Carolina’s Low Country, near the area that the fateful Treaties of Hopewell were signed by the Nations that would ultimately comprise the 5 Civilized Tribes (first treaties with the United States). The Seminoles were represented as a sub-tribe of the Creeks. Nionne is buried at Oconee, SC.
I can’t vouch for this version of events - it is tricky business rebuilding these family trees - but numerous genealogies trace back to these individuals in one way or another. (See an earlier post on Fort Osborne and Ephraim Osborne in Virginia.)
So the mother of “Cherokee” war chief Dragging Canoe was not Cherokee by birth?
And neither was the father of Dragging Canoe? Though we think of Attakullakulla as Cherokee, his son, Turtle-at-Home, said that he was born to a sub-tribe of the Algonquian-speaking Nipissing to the north near Lake Superior. Attakullakulla was captured as an infant during a raid in which his parents were killed, and brought back to Tennessee to be adopted by a Cherokee family, where he was raised as Cherokee.
Father and Son
Attakullakulla was a member of the Cherokee delegation that travelled to England in 1730 and crossed paths with William Bartram in 1775. As a peace chief, he was more conciliatory than his son turned out to be. During treaty negotiations in 1775, a defiant Dragging Canoe was said to have delivered this oft-quoted speech:
Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man's advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. Where are the Delawares? They have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former greatness. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi (Cherokee) land. They wish to have that usurpation sanctioned by treaty. When that is gained, the same encroaching spirit will lead them upon other land of the Tsalagi (Cherokees). New cessions will be asked.
Finally the whole country, which the Tsalagi (Cherokees) and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, The Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi (Cherokees), the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land.
We will hold our land! For the day shall come when our children's children of the seventh generation hence shall raise up great gambling houses upon the bones of their ancestors!
And so it was...