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Bombshell! Cherokee hero, Tsali, was actually executed by a Qualla Cherokee firing squad

Bombshell!    Cherokee hero, Tsali, was actually executed by a Qualla Cherokee firing squad


Glenn Drummond, a People of One Fire member in Alabama, has made an astonishing discovery.  It is a thoroughly researched article by Dr. John Finger, a University of Tennessee history professor, which completely debunks the myth of Tsali that is dramatically portrayed in the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the outdoor play, “Unto These Hills.”   Tsali was one of 12 men captured by Qualla Cherokee scouts, working for the US Army, and executed by a Cherokee firing squad.  These men were legally citizens of the states of Georgia or North Carolina and therefore shouldn’t have been rounded up by federal troops anyway.   The article has one mistake in it.  The US Army soldiers described in the incident were based at Fort Butler near Murphy, NC . . . not Fort Cass in Tennessee.  To read the article, go to:  It is ironic that the research article comes from the Western Carolina University Library, yet all other Google searches with the key words Tsali and WCU come up with stories, based on the mythological Tsali.

While the People of One Fire was studying the Little Tennessee River Headwaters in Georgia during 2017,  we came upon some surprising information that clearly put the official Tsali story in extreme doubt. Tsali was a typical Creek and Uchee first name during the early 1800s, not Cherokee.  This particular Tsali lived in a Uchee Village in Rabun County, GA near the present day Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School.   This band of Uchee had taken state citizenship in 1818 and been given allotments.  Most of their neighbors were whites and they got along well with them.  Junaluska, the conjurer who we as of today know, supervised the hunt for and execution of Tsali was also born in Rabun County, but had refused the allotments and moved west to join with the ethnic Cherokees. 

Popular accounts of Tsali, now published in North Carolina, list streams and mountains along the route of Tsali’s initial escape from federal soldiers that are actually in Rabun and Towns Counties, Georgia . . . not North Carolina.  Apparently, no one writing these stories were particularly familiar with the geography of the Southern Appalachians.  Also, these quasi-historians did not bother to fact-check the version of Tsali’s life in a myth with actual U.S. Army records as this professor did.

Another Cherokee myth exploded earlier

In 2008,  a team of history, anthropology and law professors from the University of Oklahoma discovered that the Battle of Taliwa never occurred and therefore Cherokee heroine, Nancy Ward, couldn’t have possibly been the heroine of this battle.  In fact, most of the description of her life now being portrayed in a musical play touring the United States is complete fiction. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills” and the current play about Nancy Ward state that the Cherokees won the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War.  These professors were shocked to discover that in fact, a single Creek town, Koweta, catastrophically defeated the entire Cherokee Nation in the autumn of 1754.  In 1754, 32 Cherokee village chiefs were executed by Koweta’s soldiers and a third of the Cherokee’s villages were burned.  The Cherokee signed a surrender treat in mid-December 1754.  Part of the terms of the treaty was that the Cherokees cede back to the Creek Confederacy all lands seized from the Creeks during the earliest stages of this bloody war.

The People of One Fire further researched Nancy Ward’s life in 2016.  Nancy was somewhere between 1/4th and 1/32nd Cherokee.  There are several different versions of when she was born and when she died.   The Cherokee man, whom she was supposedly first married to, died in the Battle of Etowah Cliffs in 1793 – not in the Battle of Taliwa in 1754.   She lived among and was married to whites for most of her life. The story that she saved the life of a white woman, who was about to be tortured by Chickamauga Cherokees, IS absolutely true.   She was very popular among white settlers in Tennessee because she tipped them off when Cherokee raids were pending and also was one of first Cherokees to own African slaves.  She promoted the use of African slaves to the Cherokees.    The fictional version of her life was dreamed up by a white cousin of hers . . . four years after her death . . . and published as a dime novel.

In the long run,  making up tall tales about Native American history will backfire on the tribes continuing to do so.  Sooner or later the fiction will be found out.  It discredits all those Native American scholars, who are dedicated to creating a comprehensive and accurate account of North America’s heritage.

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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.



    Richard, Regarding your Chichen Itza article, some of the Maya / Itza peoples started arriving in the state of Georgia by 800-900 AD? There are differences of opinions of when the newer Temple was built at Chichen Itza…as I have read from different articles: 800-1300 AD. The new temple NE side staircase seems to be aliened with South East Georgia…and as you have researched, there were temple mounds built by the Maya/ Itza people in Georgia starting 800-900 AD. According to Maya documents the Itza people arrived by boats to build the new city and temple, perhaps with the help of the Toltec’s, as their Tollan city and Chichen Itza has many Toltec building designs matches. May I ask your opinions on the timeline of Chichen Itza? Thanks again for you articles.

    • Hey Mark Some Itza arrived much earlier in the Nacoochee Valley and built the Kenimer Mound. I “suspect” that refugees came in waves in response to traumatic events in Mesoamerica. For example, Palenque was incinerated by a super-volcano in 800 AD. Maya civilization collapsed in the southern regions between 850 AD and 900 AD. Chichen Itza was conquered by the Toltecs around 1000 AD. Toltec Chichen Itza lost much of its importance and population between around 1200 AD and 1250 AD.


    Richard, Thanks for the replay… I think you are right on the Maya / Itza migrations into the South East triggered by the volcanos of Central America. As far as the “Toltec’s” are concerned, I don’t think any university has directed enough research money to give any account of them. They wore helmets like I have seen in artwork of Peru, their “chacmool” statues are found as far South as Western Costa Rica (800 AD) and as North as Western Mexico. It’s possible the Wari Kingdom of Peru had trade colony’s in Western Central America…and with the collapse of the Southern Maya / Itza cities, they made new trade contacts with Western and Central Mexico peoples. Both Peru and Western Mexico area have a connection with bronze age artifacts. The volcano’s event of the 800’s would have affected their colony’s of Western Central America… causing the Wari to move North into Mexico…and then later perhaps into the South East U.S.

    • On my first day at the national museum in Mexico City, Dr. Pina-Chan showed me how the art at Moundville, AL was identical to that at Tula, the capital of the Toltecs.


    Howdy, A few thoughts and questions. First is I have told folks from the beginning that this was bird country,
    still do thought I am inclining towards the thought they were bird people (clan) multiple images of human face
    with bird head above or on reverse of image (my thought is bird/man priest). Second, is the bird sculpture seen on my web site, have thought it more buzzard like from almost beginning. Third is a bit touchy…I feel and have felt from the start that many of the various heads (images) found here represent decapitations, they come in two major groups with/without necks. Lastly is questions of a blue eyed god/goddess (any help). Variations on one eyed god…this one gets deep is prime examples of left eye closed…then (later?) right eye closed. An aside no one can agree on which of Odin’s eyes he plucked out.

    • Good Morning

      Many of the clans of many tribes adopted birds as their totems. Now there is something interesting about the Cherokee Bird Clan. They use the word Chisqua, which is the Cherokee way of pronouncing Chiska. Chiska is the Panoan (Eastern Peru) word for bird and also the name of the Chiska People, who lived both in Peru and Northeastern Tennessee. I think that they were also at Cahokia. Archaeologists have not found much evidence of decapitations in the Southeast, but beheaded bodies are quite common in Mexico and South America. Many of the indigenous peoples in the Southeast were immigrants from elsewhere, who were escaping tyrants, bloody false religious and slavery. Beheading was definitely not a tradition among the Creeks. Shedding of any blood, whether animal or human was forbidden within two miles of a Creek temple or shrine.


    Howdy, Just a few lines. Thanks, Our Mountain (Meadow Mountain) is very much Snake shaped, with a rock at far
    bend called Balanced Rock; It presents a figure (head) wearing a turban. Above this is a geoform of an Eagle.
    Many stone images of the mountain have been found (one of my first collections). Birds images are to be found most everywhere.
    Yesterday got onto a new ranch, found a bluff that presents as that of (women) perhaps fertility site facing the
    MOUNTAIN. There is a stone piece I have found in five counties that I am leaning towards being a umbilical cord
    cutter. These are bird headed, most show sharp edges with no wear or sharping (one time use or votive offering.
    Found another image (head) with quartiz eye. Also very plain face (head) with a brown stone eye.
    Enough of boring you.


    Observations: The article by Dr. John Finger describes numerous contradictions. First the officer in charge of carrying out the affair stated that he did not wish to use Indians against Indians because it would dishonor America and he would only allow them to serve as trackers. Then he states that the Cherokee carried out the execution which means he (that officer) was a liar and did use Indians against Indians. He lied about that so he would clearly lie about other details. If told that the only way they could remain would be to execute Tsali and his sons it seems rather difficult to view them as villains for executing him, especially considering the ancient Blood Law which still existed at that time (life for life). Keep in mind that they adopted all of the women and children from his surviving family into their community and his descendants mixed with their descendants so that many EBCI today come from them all.

    The author of that article excusing the U.S. Troops for the murder of Tsali and his sons and blaming it on the Cherokee seems vaguely familiar . . . kinda like blaming Jews for the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Jews didn’t crucify people, they stoned people to death, and we know Romans whipped him and nailed him to a cross . . . but hey, the Jews killed Christ. Not sayin Tsali was Jesus. Tsali nearly beat Major Ridge to death during a council gathering for mocking Tecumseh and the only reason he didn’t was because Cheucunsene (still living despite claims that he died in 1792) spoke up. That article states that the U.S. Infantry was present and the commanding officer supposedly covered their eyes even though their commanding officer wasn’t supposedly there? How does that work? “I covered their eyes . . . but I wasn’t there”. The later claim that Tsali cursed his friend was written by a white man and sets Tsali’s anger on the Cherokee executing him. How appropriate that Tsali, the same man who supported Tecumseh’s war against America, would have nothing negative to say in his final moments against the Americans who recruited his own men to round him and his family up to move them off the lands. Are we to pretend that wasn’t how it all began? The Trail of Tears?

    As for Nancy Ward . . . she was an extraordinary woman of her time, complete with excellent qualities and human flaws. Nanyehi became Nancy Ward when she married Brian Ward. Her cousin Ostenaco Moytoy married her husband Brian Ward’s sister Lucy Ward. Lucy Ward was a Lady in Waiting (personal slave to the Queen of England). Ostenaco met Lucy while visiting London and meeting King George III and asked for Lucy’s hand. She traveled to Tennessee to be with him with the Queen’s approval. Nanyehi and Lucy were both pregnant at the same time. Nanyehi delivered her child and shortly after Lucy did also. Lucy’s child died during delivery and Nanyehi didn’t want Lucy to feel the heartbreak so she gave Lucy her own child and told her that it was Lucy’s. Ostenaco knew what she had done because the child was his family either way. Lucy died a few years later from a sickness and Nanyehi reclaimed her child. Nancy is a woman that I am very proud to say is my direct maternal ancestor from the Wolf Clan. Mother’s mother’s mother, etc straight back through Elizabeth “Betsy” Ward to Nanyehi. I accept her and Cheucunsene, both ancestors equally. Together they represented the diametrical views of all Cherokee at the time, both male and female, and cousins through adoption at that.

    I’m sure that if we search through Creek history there is a man like Cheucunsene and a woman like Nanyehi. We are only humans, after all.

    • The basic fact is that all of those Cherokees and Uchees, who were murdered . . . let’s call what it was . . . were state citizens and free to go where they please. They were arrested by the soldiers, when they had committed no crime. They had been promised in writing that if they took an allotment in 1818, they could stay on their land forever. It didn’t matter. The soldiers showed up to drive them off their deeded land, which were about 30 miles east of the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.


        Agree, he didn’t turn himself in. He was hunted down like a wild dog. He wasn’t alone. There were others. His death just produced the EBCI so his story has been remembered. Altered and prettied up. The same happened in eastern Kentucky but all the remained was oral traditions. There’s even a Cherokee-Creek Rd in Indian Grave, Kentucky with two large unmarked graves of two of my ancestors nearby. The CN knows about us. Robert K. Thomas visited my grandfather there twice and my grandfather served as a Sergeant in WWII with the Cherokee Lt. Colonel Jack Bushyhead. They liberated Dachau together. These wrongs will never be righted. My family held out until the 1950’s and then finally gave up and left for Detroit. Now my generation is all scattered around the earth. Nobody tried to reach out and draw us back in. Several ancestors even tried desperately to join the Qualla crowd in the early 1900’s but whoever made the decision decided that our ancestors refused to sign the Treaty to Remove during the Trail of Tears and never showed when offered lands within the boundary. They didn’t trust them after Tsali was killed. Can’t blame them. So . . . *shrugs* It is what it is. Glad the EBCI are still together. Best to them all, they lost some good people though.


    J.R, – I appreciate your words. (I’m a CN citizen descended from George Lowrey and Lucy Benge, now living next to Qualla)

    And what horribly sad and traumatic events to be reminded of. The EBCI folks remember exactly what happened. But elders remind us of the need for these things to take their own time, Indian time, with regard to discussing, acknowledging and healing.


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