Richard Thornton | May 1, 2017 | 2
The Battle of Taliwa never happened
In the summer of 2008, a team of history and law professors from the University of Oklahoma traveled to Dixie to research the Colonial and Federal Period archives. Their concern was that there were many inconsistencies in the orthodox history of the Southern Highlands and Eastern Tennessee. The academicians wanted to see exactly where the tribal boundaries were and when they changed.
After examining hundreds of pages of historical archives, the professors came to conclusion that very little one reads on state historical markers in the region and in official histories of the region is completely true and that much of it was patently false. For over 130 years Southeastern archaeologists had published interpretations of their artifacts based on fairy tales by white frontiersmen and tall tales from the Cherokees.
For example, there was never a Battle of Taliwa or even a Creek town named Taliwa. Every statement made on the state historical marker above is false. The town ruins that this sign refers to were abandoned around 1600 AD – probably due to a plague. The actual historical events of the time were diametrically opposite. Yet this famous story on the sign has become a fixture of Colonial Period history and a legion of Cherokee histories.
When the professors returned home from their adventure, many people were incredulous about their report. What they were saying couldn’t be true. The above tale was in official state history books, on several historic markers in two states and had been accepted as unquestionable fact for at least 185 years. There were statues, songs, poems, live plays and even a DAR Chapter that honored the heroine of the Battle of Taliwa, Cherokee teenager Nancy Ward, who picked up a musket and led a brave charge by outnumbered Cherokees to win all of North Georgia. How could all those people be wrong?
The professors responded that all they found in the Colonial Archives of South Carolina and Georgia were a flurry of letters in 1754 expressing concern that the Cherokees were about to be exterminated and a treaty signed in December 1754, whereby the Cherokees surrendered to the Koweta Creeks after 40 years of warfare.
Yes, it was true. All of the tall tales of the “Cherokees conquering all of North Georgia in 1754 or 1755” were actually propaganda published by Elias Boudinot, editor of the Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper, between 1827 and 1836, The Cherokee Phoenix was primarily aimed at New England intellectuals, who had no first hand knowledge of the Southeastern Indians.
The British Empire facing disaster
After the French and Indian War broke out in May of 1754, things quickly went from bad to worse for the British. The western frontier of Virginia was being depopulated by horrific raids carried out by Indian allies of the French, mainly the Shawnee. British agents approached the Creek Confederacy and asked them to send warriors to fight their longtime friends, the Shawnee. The Creeks refused, but sent notices to both warring nations that if either sent armies through Creek Territory to attack the other, the Creeks would automatically declare war on the invader. This is why there was fierce fighting in New England, New York and Quebec throughout the war, but none in the Lower Southeast where British, French and Spanish colonies directly adjoined each other. Unless attacking by sea, French forces in Louisiana and British forces in Georgia could not reach each other unless they had the permission of the Creek Confederacy.
British agents then asked the Cherokees to furnish 200 warriors to fight the Shawnee in Virginia, and then showed the Cherokees a vast territory in the Southeast that would be theirs if they did. The British offered to give them all the lands of tribes allied with the French. This is the source of the “Cherokees once ruled a great nation covering seven states” story that is seen in all Cherokee literature and films. They never lived in most of this region.
The British did persuade the Cherokees and all but one of the Creek towns to sign a peace treaty, ending the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War. It seemed to be a done deal, so Overhill Cherokee war parties began to attack isolated Shawnee villages in Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Koweta, the one hold-out among the Creeks, launched a blitzkrieg at the Cherokees to punish them for attacking their Shawnee friends in Kentucky, who were neutral and not helping the French. One by one the Kowetas destroyed every Cherokee army put in their way. By autumn all Cherokee villages south of the Snowbird Mountains had been destroyed.
A group of Koweta teenage girls, who were following their boyfriends* through North Carolina on a lark, stood at a distance from the principal Cherokee town of Quanasee (near Hayesville, NC) and mimicked sounds that were made by the Koweta Eagle Warriors, just before an attack. When the girls realized that the Cherokee warriors were running away in fright, they charged into Quanasee, chased out the non-combatants and burned the famous Cherokee town to the ground.
*Unlike most indigenous peoples in the Americas, Creek youth were encouraged to “date around” from five to ten years before marrying. Intimate relations between single teenagers and between single adults was considered normal. Adultery was severely punished. The young women used herbal birth control methods before and after marriage. Most women tried to wait until their mid-20s to have their first child, since it was thought that children born to older mothers were taller and smarter.
One Cherokee chief was killed in battle. Six more were captured, while hiding in caves in the Nantahala Mountains. They were burned at the stake on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. The Kowetas then began to ravage the remaining Cherokee villages in North Carolina.
The Cherokees dispatched a delegation to Charleston, SC to beg the British Redcoats to intervene or else the Cherokees would not have any live warriors to send to fight the Shawnee. However, Koweta dispatched a “Delta Force” squad, dressed in British clothing, which murdered 25 Cherokee chiefs on the streets of Charleston. The Kowetas then declared the war with the Cherokees over, since they had executed the exact same number of Cherokee chiefs, as the Creek chiefs, who had been killed in their sleep by the Cherokees at a “friendly” diplomatic conference in Tugaloo in 1715.
The Kowetas intentionally set the date of the Cherokee’s surrender treaty on the day in December, when 40 years earlier, the Creek chiefs had been murdered.
Accounts of Ward’s adult life appear more factual
Nancy Ward or Nanyehi is said to have been the daughter of the step-sister of Attakulakula and a British army officer named Ward. However, the first complete account of her life was not written until 1921 by an Oklahoma Cherokee, named Emmet Starr. The widow of a Cherokee man, named Kingfisher, she became the common law second wife of a South Carolina trader named Bryant Ward. Bryant was a nephew of Nancy’s father and eventually returned to his white wife in South Carolina. So Nancy Ward was at least 1/2 Caucasian and possibly 3/4 or more Caucasian.
It is well documented that Nancy Ward warned white settlers of a pending Cherokee raid in 1776 at the onset of the American Revolution and later repeatedly warned white settlers of Chickamauga Cherokee raids in the 1780s and early 1790s. It is also well-documented that Nancy intervened when Cherokee warriors were about to scalp Lydia Bean in 1776. Nancy took Lydia home with her and nursed her back to health.
Nancy was one of the first Cherokees to own African slaves and cattle. Her promotion of African slavery greatly endeared her to white Southerners. This fact and her repeated efforts to promote peace between the Cherokees and whites explains why she gained sainthood status after her death. However, there is one important fact left out of most concise biographies about her. Nancy died in 1824. There is no mention of the Battle of Taliwa or her involvement with the battle until four years after her death. A distant, white cousin told the story. It was picked up by the Cherokee Phoenix and then periodically appeared in other publications from time to time in the 1800s.
In 1828, the Cherokees were fighting the State of Georgia in the US Supreme Court. The position of the State of Georgia was that the Cherokees were not indigenous to Georgia and that the Georgia had signed an agreement with the federal government, which stated that all Cherokees would be removed from Georgia to a reserve in Alabama within 10 years, when Georgia allowed the Cherokees to move down into the northwest and north central part of the state in 1794. This is absolutely true and has been left out of ALL television documentaries about the Trail of Tears.
Elias Boudinot, Editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, fabricated a series of tall tales, which placed the Cherokees in northwest Georgia long before the American Revolution. The Battle of Taliwa story was published as fact, when it was pure fiction. One can look at official British army maps from 1776 and 1780 and see that the British army estimated that there were about 100 Cherokees in the entire Province of Georgia, which then stretched to the Mississippi River.
What James Adair said
In 1775, the famous Indian trader and explorer, James Adair, wrote the History of the American Indians. He published several statements that completely negate the message of the historical marker above.
p. 227 – “The territory of the Cherokees stretches from the upper branches of the Savannah River to the Tennessee River.” Obviously, in 1775, the Cherokees didn’t occupy “all of North Georgia.”
p. 258 – “The Creeks are the most powerful Indian nation on the continent. Toward the conclusion of the last war with the Cherokees, they defeated them so easily that in contempt, they sent several of their young women and boys against them, even though at the time, the Cherokees were the most numerous.”
When the Cherokees changed sides and attacked the South Carolina frontier in 1757, Adair recruited about 100 Chickasaw warriors in North Georgia to drive the Cherokees away from South Carolina. Obviously, the Cherokees had not conquered all of North Georgia.
The Cherokees’ own inconsistencies
There are two signs at the site of the Cherokee village of Quanasee. One tells us that the Cherokee-Creek War lasted from the 1740s to 1752. (Actually, it was 1715-1754) Another says that Quanasee was permanently abandoned in 1754 after being burned by the Creeks, because of the constant threat of the village being attacked again by Creeks living nearby in the Georgia Mountains. The nearest Creek town was in present day Blairsville, GA near Track Rock Gap. Yet in book stores in Hayesville and nearby Murphy, one can buy books glorifying the heroism of Nancy Ward when she helped conquer all of North Georgia in 1755.
Over in Vonore, Tennessee at the site of Fort Loundon, signs tell visitors that the Cherokees requested that the British build Fort Loundon because the Creeks had reconquered their old territory up to a point where they could reach Cherokee villages in a few hours. They also sell the Nancy Ward the Heroine books. In other words, there was about 50 miles of hostile Creek territory separating the Cherokees from all of North Georgia that they had conquered.
The presentation to the judge and jury
If I was making a final statement to a jury and jury on this on the charge that the Battle of Taliwa is a fraudulent chapter in history, I would present the following facts:
- There was no Creek town named Taliwa.
- There is no record of a Battle of Taliwa in colonial archives.
- The Cherokees lost the war with the Creeks catastrophically in 1754.
- The Cherokees and Creeks were at peace in 1755.
- All French, British and American maps show the Creeks occupying about 85% of North Georgia until after 1785.
- The famous 1755 map of North America by John Mitchell has the words, “Deserted Cherakee Settlements” over a broad swath of Georgia and western North Carolina.
- The official 1780 map of the Southern colonies by the British Army shows the Cherokees occupying a small region east of the Chattahoochee River and north of Yonah Mountain.
- The story about Nancy Ward and the Battle of Taliwa was never mentioned until several years after her death. It was created by a distant white cousin of hers, living in Tennessee. It was still not a part of mainstream history books, until included in a Cherokee history book, written in Oklahoma in the 1920s.
In other words, the story of “teenage heroine, Nancy Ward” was created to compensate for the shame of a Cherokee town, Quanasee, being captured by a group of teenage girls from Koweta on a lark.
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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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