The Cherokees are used for military solution to a boundary squabble
The official beginning of the French and Indian War is usually set at the time when a young Colonel George Washington led a detachment of Virginia Militia into western Pennsylvania, killed two French envoys during a firefight with French Indian allies, and then was captured at the Battle of Fort Necessity. Most of the fighting against the French in the French and Indian War was either on the Virginia frontier, northern New York or in Quebec. However, at the onset of hostilities, the Colony of South Carolina persuaded the military authorities to supply munitions and British Rangers to the Overhills Cherokees, so that the 4 decade long war between the Cherokees and French Native allies could be intensified. This was in fact a ploy to strike at Georgia’s allies.
Since 1690 France had claimed all of what is now Georgia and North Carolina from the Blue Ridge Mountains westward. The theoretical French territory included most of the Cherokee’s homeland and all of western Georgia, where the largest Creek towns were concentrated. In fact, both regions were occupied by allies of English colonies. The Cherokees were allies of the Carolinas and the Creeks were allies of Georgia. Creek towns in what is now northwest Georgia were slightly closer to the nearest British trading post in Augusta, but probably considered themselves on good terms with the French at Fort Toulouse in what is now central Alabama. The Apalachicola and Taliwa Creeks in northwest Georgia considered the Cherokees as being fellow allies of the English. All Creeks unfortunately assumed that by being loyal allies of the English in Georgia, the mutual obligations extended to South Carolina.
In mid-1755 an army of somewhere between 800-1000 Overhills Cherokees accompanied by British Rangers and some of their families marched southward from their core towns on the Little Tennessee River. Rather than striking southwestward toward their arch-enemies, the Kusa, Apike and Koasati, they continued southward into the territory of members of the Creek Confederacy. They did an ethnic cleansing as they moved southward, completely wiping out the Creek occupants of the small villages and hamlets in the region.
They quickly arrived at the ancient Creek town of Taliwa on the Etowah River near modern day Ball Ground, GA. Taliwa dated from at least 800 AD and probably had about 500 residents at most – over half of whom would have been women and children. The occupants of the town were taken by surprise, since they did not know about the French and Indian War and assumed that they were at peace with both the Cherokees and the French’s Indian allies. They would have had only the limited munitions needed for hunting. The town was quickly taken, so the survivors fled to a nearby swamp, where they withstood five attacks before fleeing.
As the survivors of Taliwa fled across the Etowah River, a Creek Keeper (priest) made the sign of a curse from the Master of Breath (God) on the victorious Cherokee army – a spread-fingered hand pointed at them. He shouted in Muskogee, “You have stolen the land of our ancestors by treachery, but you will not be able to keep it, no matter what you do. You will feel the suffering you caused on our people today, sevenfold, as you are driven away from this cursed soil.”
British authorities in Charleston quickly announced the invasion as a glorious victory against French allies and awarded all of the Creek’s lands west of the Chattahoochee River to the Cherokees. Colonial authorities in Georgia complained about the treachery, when they heard about it a couple of months later. However, the British Crown was losing the war with the French in New York, and wanted the English public to hear of victories somewhere else.
An invasion was also launched by the Middle & Lower Cherokee towns into what is now northeastern Georgia. There they attacked the Chickasaws living south and east of the Nacoochee Valley and Creeks living in the river bottomlands of the Savannah and Chattahoochee Rivers. Both the Chickasaws and the Creeks were staunch allies of the English. This invasion apparently was not successful. An official English map from 1756 shows all of the Cherokee towns in the northeastern tip of Georgia burned, and all of the Chickasaw & Creek towns still standing.
The instantaneous conversion to Cherokee ownership of what is now northwestern Georgia and the northeastern tip of Alabama apparently was enough to satisfy colonial authorities in Charleston. No more Cherokee attacks were launched against Georgia’s Indian allies. South Carolina felt that whatever threat a Georgia-Creek alliance might have offered the colony was now abated, and that the British Crown would soon see South Carolina’s point of view. The Cherokee Nation would have never have existed in northwest Georgia, had not the Colony of South Carolina taken the land from the Creeks and given it to the Cherokees.
It is interesting that in Georgia, the state that was primarily responsible for the Cherokee’s Trail of Tears, folklore remembers the 1755 invasion with rose-tinted glasses. An official state historic marker uses language that seems to equate the Cherokee capture of Taliwa as being equivalent to a victory for Christianity over the heathens. The marker makes the Cherokees seem to be outnumbered and defending their territory. It describes in detail the heroics of a Cherokee woman, Nancy Ward, who picked up a musket and started firing after her husband was killed. Another marker north of Dahlonega, GA describes a mythical victory of the Cherokees over the Creeks in 1755 at Slaughter Gap, “which gave all of North Georgia to the Cherokees.” If the battle was fought at all, the Cherokees lost. Families of Creek descent continue to occupy northeastern Georgia to this day.
The French and Indian War
The Cherokees did not take immediate possession of the land which they were given. It was far too close to the powerful Upper Creek allies of the French. In fact, an Upper Creek army led by the Mikko Drummer took possession of northwest Georgia in 1756. He established a provincial capital on the Coosawattee River and held it till the end of the French & Indian War.
The political turf was further muddied by events in 1757 and 1758. Cherokee war parties on their way back from assisting the British in upstate New York, were attacked in Virginia by militiamen, who thought they were hostile. Several fire fights also broke out when hungry Cherokees helped themselves to the provisions and livestock of Virginia frontier farmers. Violent hostilities soon broke out in South Carolina when several Cherokee leaders taken as hostage by vigilantes were murdered. Then the British garrison of Fort Loudon near the important Cherokee town of Chota was massacred as they were departing the fort with a promise of being allowed to return to South Carolina unharmed.
Soon thereafter, Ostemako, leader the Tamatli Cherokees changed sides to fight for the French. Immediately following that change of events the entire Carolina frontier exploded as almost all the Cherokees went on the warpath and attacked a broad swath of the Carolina frontier. Simultaneously, a smallpox plague swept through the Middle Cherokees, which is rumored to have been started by infected British blankets.
The counter attacks by the British Redcoats and Carolina militia units against the Cherokees were merciless. Very few Cherokee prisoners were taken. All captured Cherokee towns and farm fields were burned. Non-Cherokee Indians living in the North Carolina Mountains had to flee for their lives, since the militia units considered all Indians to be Cherokee hostiles. It is estimated that as much as half of the Cherokee population died during the period between 1755 and 1763 due to military actions, disease and famine.
The aftermath of the war – the 1763 treaty line
One can see the scale of anger of colonists toward the Cherokees in the maps that were produced between 1763 and 1784. Many do not even mention the word Cherokee, whereas the word CHEROKEES is emblazoned in supersized letters across the maps produced in the early 1750s. In the post-war maps, the Creeks were awarded the super-sized letters.
Basically, the Cherokees were non-personed by the colonists. The name of the Cherokee River was changed back to either Hogeloge River (a branch of the Yuchi’s) or Tennessee River (a branch of the Koasati.) In most maps, only two or three Cherokee town names are show, but their ethnic identity are not shown. It is obvious that the colonists planned for the Cherokees to cease to exist.
The Treaty of 1763 took away ALL Indian lands in North Carolina, east of the 84th longitude line. The line runs through Murphy, NC which is about 45 miles WEST of the Eastern Cherokee Reservation. However, at the time of the treaty, the line was thought to run through Andrews< NC which is about 11 miles east of Murphy. That’s right. From 1763 onward, the land of the current Cherokee reservation was outside the Cherokee Nation. It was only occupied again by Cherokees during the Trail of Tears, when some families hid out in mountain coves, hoping that being outside the Nation, the soldiers wouldn’t find them.
Only the extreme western tip of North Carolina – which is now Graham and Cherokee Counties – remained in Cherokee control. This is when the Soque at what is now called Soco Gap moved to the Snowbird Mountains to be within the tribe’s boundaries – and became known as the Snowbird Cherokees.
The 1763 Treaty land theft also applied to those North Carolina tribes such as the Yuchi, Okonee and Koweta, who had not attacked the colonists. This is a fact of history that few people know. North Carolinians today assume that all of the Indians in their mountains were always Cherokees. Not knowing Native American languages, the North Carolina mountaineers just assume that all of the Indian place names are Cherokee, when in fact, most are Creek words, or of Creek origin. The Okonee Creeks moved to Florida and became the core of the Seminoles. The Yuchi and Koweta moved southwestward and joined the Creek Confederacy.
The Cherokees had lost virtually all of the lands that they had occupied 60 years earlier. Catastrophe would strike the Cherokees again in the American Revolution, when they again fought on the losing side. The Revolutionary Period will be discussed in the next article of this series.