Another fairy tale about Nancy Ward bites the dust
OMG! The more one fact-checks the descriptions of Cherokee history in government-owned museums, state historical markers, Wikipedia and textbooks . . . the more absurd they become. Academicians don’t hesitate to rip apart fictional history about the lives of white celebrities in the early days of the United States, but they won’t touch tall tales created by whites about Native Americans history.
The Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville, on the northern edge of Metro Atlanta, tells visiting students that Cherokees greeted the De Soto Expedition in 1540. Meanwhile, the first official map of the State of Georgia, published in 1785, had the words,”Upper Creeks” emblazoned across the northern part of the state. On this map, the word, “Cherokee” does not appear within the boundaries of Georgia. This museum’s Native American exhibits deal solely with the Cherokees, even though Gainesville was only on the extreme edge of Cherokee territory for about 40 years. Very few, if any, ethnic Cherokees ever lived there.
In 2016, POOF ran an expose’ about the origin of the fictional version of Cherokee heroine, Nancy Ward’s life. Her fictional bio was created by a distant white cousin of hers and sold as a “dime novel” four years after her death. It was in the same genre as the “The Adventures of Davie Crockett” and from the same exact area of Tennessee and time period . . . the late 1820s. You can read the article here:
In the fictional version of her life, at age 16 in 1754, after seeing her husband, the Great Cherokee Warrior, Kingfisher, fall in battle, she led a charge of 500 brave Cherokee warriors against 2,000 cowardly Creeks, hiding behind trees next to the Creek town of Taliwa on the Etowah River. She drove off the Creeks and thus won all of North Georgia for the Cherokees.
Of course, there was no Battle of Taliwa and no Creek town anywhere named Taliwa. In real history, the Cherokees catastrophically LOST the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War in 1754. In the autumn of that year, a third of the Cherokee villages were burned and 32 Cherokee chiefs executed by an army from a single Creek town . . . Koweta. The Cherokees signed a surrender treaty in December 1754. Most of what is presented as Nancy Ward’s life in the famous outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills,” and in the off-Broadway musical about Nancy Ward, now touring the nation . . . are pure fiction.
Unraveling another enigma in the Southeast’s magical mystery history
The Battle of Etowah Cliffs or Hightower was fought on October 17, 1793 in what is now Rome, GA. POOF ran a detailed article on the battle on May 17, 2017. You can read the article here: Battle of Etowah Cliffs
An army of about 800 hostile Chickamauga Cherokees, Upper Creeks and Chickasaws had camped on a tall hill, overlooking the Etowah River and what is now Downtown Rome. They were slaughtered by an attacking army composed of Tennessee Mounted Militia. The commander of the Chickamauga hostiles, the great Cherokee warrior, Kingfisher, was killed in the battle.
Wait a minute! . . . Did you say Kingfisher? We thought he was killed in the Battle of Taliwa . . . that didn’t happen?
At the time, I wrote the article, I thought perhaps that there were two great Cherokee warriors named Kingfisher. I first asked Cherokees in the Southeast, whose knowledge I trust, about this. They could find a record of only one famous warrior named Kingfisher. He died in the autumn of 1754 and then died again in the autumn of 1793. At that point, one of them finally admitted that what I was saying about the current Nancy Ward musical, apparently was accurate. It is a fictional drama.
Just to be sure, I asked a Creek genealogist-friend of mine in Oklahoma to contact her genealogical sources within the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma about Kingfisher. I knew they would not be cooperative with me. She got back to me a few weeks ago. She said the Cherokee historians at Tahlequah, OK quickly froze up like icebergs, when they realized the major boo-boo in their official history. They could find no record of a great warrior named Kingfisher, living during the 1750s . . . except in what we know to be fictional accounts of Nancy Ward, dating from the 1890s and 1920s. The original Tennessee author of the Nancy Ward myth in 1828, pulled the name Kingfisher and a battle on the Etowah River, from an account of the Battle of Etowah Cliffs on the Etowah River in 1793. He contrived the name, Taliwa, because he thought it sounded like a Creek town name.
Lorraine also told me something astounding about Nancy Ward’s family background. There are five different dates for Nancy Ward’s birth in official genealogical sources. Most have her being born at about the same time as the fictional Battle of Taliwa or later. One genealogy states that she was born in 1793, the same year as the Battle of Etowah Cliffs.
According to the Creek genealogist in Oklahoma, the official 1738 birth date of Nancy Ward that you read in Wikipedia has no archival basis. Some author made up the date and her supposed royal Cherokee heritage so that she would be 16 at the time of the Battle of Taliwa. The official histories in Tennessee also have Nancy bearing children with a string of temporary white lovers, after she would have been long past menopause, if born in 1738. There is no record of Nancy having a child with a Cherokee father. Keep in mind, that in the 1700s and early 1800s, medicine was primitive. Most women did not live past their 40s. The most common cause of their deaths was childbirth.
Nancy Ward was at least 3/4th white. Many of her white relatives have well-documented birth and death dates. Their birth dates suggest that Nancy might have been born as late as 1763 . . . which one Ancestor.com genealogy states. The reason that there are so many descendants of Nancy Ward in Tennessee is that her children passed as whites and melted into white society even before the Trail of Tears. She was NOT a full-blooded Cherokee, who was the daughter of a Cherokee “emperor” . . . as the anonymous author of the Wikipedia article states.
Kingfisher was an important warrior of the Chickamauga Cherokee hostiles during the exact same period, when it is documented that Nancy warned her white neighbors of pending Cherokee attacks. This strongly suggests a family or romantic connection between her and Kingfisher . . . which the author of the 1820s dime novel concealed into a mythical marriage. Perhaps she was an 18th century Mata Hari, living between two worlds . . . Cherokee and their enemies, the white frontiersmen. However, all of her children were fathered by white frontiersmen.
We may never know the truth, but do know that the current version of Nancy Ward’s life is mostly fiction.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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