The Battles of Echete Pass . . . the British Military Campaigns
Since December 1715, the alliance of tribes that the British called Charakey, had been the favorite Indians of the British Crown. In that month, this alliance had switched sides in the Yamasee War and saved the Colony of Carolina from being wiped off the face of the earth. Only in 1725, with the extreme pressure of British authorities, had this alliance become an actual tribe with a principal chief. Over and over again, in the years that followed, British agents embedded at trading posts around the Southeast had secretly warned the Cherokees, when an Iroquois, Shawnee, Catawba, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek or Alabamu army was approaching the Cherokee Country. Although most of these tribes were officially British allies, they did not get the same intelligence. However, after the Province of Georgia was founded in 1733, the Creek Confederacy gained access to a large supply of munitions and thus, from then on, the Cherokees were always on the defensive . . . kept in existence by the protection of the British Crown.
Thus, the Cherokees felt betrayed by their British ally, when the army of the Koweta-Creeks attacked the Cherokee Heartland without warning being given by the British agents. They felt doubly betrayed when the victorious Kowetas seemed poised to destroy the entire Cherokee tribe, but their long time British ally refused to send British Redcoats to the rescue. In fact, it was “Real Politik.” If the pro-British Creek towns in Georgia and South Carolina joined with the pro-French Creek towns in Alabama, Tennessee and Spanish Florida, Georgia and South Carolina would be wiped off the map. Nevertheless, when a Koweta-Cherokee peace treaty was signed in December 1754, the Cherokees agreed to honor old treaties and send bands of Cherokee warriors to aid their desperate British allies in the north, who losing battle after battle against the French.
It was one of those many dirty little secrets left out of your history book. No map recognized Georgia’s claim to northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, except those maps published by the Province or State of Georgia, until the late 1780s. You see, the Creeks were Georgia’s “pet Injuns” and so Georgia officials covertly supported the efforts of the Koweta Creeks to recapture their traditional territory in 1754 from South Carolina’s “pet Injuns” – the Cherokees.
After an illegal treaty was signed in late 1783 between Georgia and the Elate, an independent confederacy with a Creek name, which was composed of Hitchiti Creeks, Uchee, Sephardic/French mixed bloods, Peruvian tribes and immigrants from the Georgia Coast, Georgia filled Northeast Georgia with land grants to Revolutionary veterans . . . even though Congress had declared the treaty fraudulent. This is why the Treaty of Hopewell set the North Carolina-Georgia Line as the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation. Colonel Andrew Pickens didn’t even realize that Georgia’s delegates were establishing a legal paper trail for their claim to what is now North Georgia. A few years later, the Elate were sucker-punched by seeing their lands given to the Cherokees and their tribal government ignored by the United States. Elate means “Foothill People” in Hitchiti Creek.
By the time that Georgia and South Carolina began bickering in Congress and before the Supreme Court over their boundary dispute, Georgia had already filled what is now Northeast Georgia with many thousands of Revolutionary veterans and their families, plus Creeks and Uchees, such as my ancestors, who considered themselves Georgians. It was a fait accompli.
The first invasion of the Cherokee Country
Because Great Britain desperately needed the protection of its Southern Colonial Frontier by the Cherokees, it hesitated to take punitive action against the Cherokees for the murders of many frontier families. However, merciless counter raids by frontiersmen and colonial militia units had made peace impossible to achieve.
The “last straw” for the British Army was the siege of Fort Loudon at the confluence of the Little Tennessee and Tellico Rivers . . . which then were called the Tellico and Little Tellico Rivers. This was a direct attack on British Redcoats and a British fort. The Cherokees had cut off the garrison from outside aid or communications. Initially, there were only rumors of the siege passed on by the Creeks.
Several of the messengers had been dispatched from the fort to tell Charleston about the seige. They were either killed or captured then tortured. Other members of the garrison refused to volunteer. The fort’s commander, Captain Raymond Demeré asked an African-American slave named Abram to take a message. He was promised freedom as a reward, if he could carry messages through the Cherokee Country to the nearest British or Colonial military unit. Abram survived the dangerous journey several times. He was freed by the South Carolina House of Commons in 1761 as promised.
General Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander in North America was contacted by Governor Littleton of South Carolina. Amherst dispatched Colonel Archibald Montgomerie with an army of 1,300 to 1,500 troops, including 400 in four companies of the Royal Scots and a 700-man battalion of the Montgomerie’s Highlanders to South Carolina. His second in command was Major James Grant. The regulars were joined by some 300 mounted Carolina Rangers, in seven troops, 100 South Carolina militiamen, as well a party of 40 to 50 Catawba warriors to be used as scouts. The Catawbas turned out to be of little use, since they were unfamiliar with the geography.
The goal of the expedition was to crush the will of the Middle Cherokees by destroying their towns and crops, while recapturing fortifications, held by the Cherokees. The most desperate situation was at Fort Loudoun, where about 300 soldiers and colonials faced death.
By late May the British had reached Fort Ninety-Six. It was east of present day Anderson, SC. Montgomerie’s troops sacked and burned some of the Cherokee Lower Towns, including Keowee, Estatoe and Sugar Town. They killed or captured around 100 Cherokees – mostly non-combatants. The army then relieved Fort Prince George then offered to parley with the Cherokees. By then the Cherokee warriors had to the Middle Towns and were no longer willing to negotiate. At the max, the Lower Cherokee villages only contained about 150 warriors and 600 non-combatants. There was NEVER a significant number of Cherokees in South Carolina.
Montgomerie’s army rested ten days then marched on the Middle Towns, which were about sixty miles northwest. They were following an ancient Native American trade route through mountain valleys and passes. However, these were too narrow for wagons. The British had to leave behind their supply wagons trains, which could not fit the trails beyond the Lower Towns. The British utilized improvised harnesses and packsaddles for the horses and mules of the baggage train.
First Battle of Itsate Pass
Descriptions of this battle by North Carolina academicians are today fraught with contradictions. The original North Carolina historical marker, labeled “Battle of Echete or Itsate Pass” has been removed. The original sign correctly stated that Itsate Pass was the southern boundary of the Cherokee Tribe and that the Cherokee village of Echoee was about five miles north of the initial scene of combat. The mountain gap is about a half mile south of the Georgia-North Carolina line, so this makes sense.
In 1776, William Bartram stayed several days in Echoee, but had to depart quickly when word reached him that the Cherokees were about to go on the war path again. At that time, the northern boundary of the Creek Confederacy was only 15 miles south of the Georgia line at the Tallulah River . . . so again the original sign seems to have been accurate.
The North Carolina-authored articles about the battle make the location vague. They state that the first battle was five miles south of the Cherokee village of Echoe (present day Otto, NC) IN NORTH CAROLINA and that the second battle was 2 miles southeast of the first battle IN NORTH CAROLINA. However, the distances described by official British Army reports put both battles in Georgia in terrain that exactly matches the descriptions of the battlefields by the commanding British officers. As stated in Part One, South Carolina versions of these military campaigns, put the initial stages of both battles in Georgia. North Carolina historians do not permit alternative explanations of the battlefields to appear in online references, such as Wikipedia.
On June 27, 1760, The British Army had no problems passing through Rabun Pass, which separates Mountain City, GA from Dillard, GA. They then crossed the beautiful Dillard Valley. On their right would have been the site of the town of Itsate (Echete) containing the Dillard Mound. There is no mention of the town in the battle reports, so it may have been abandoned many decades earlier by its Creek inhabitants. At the northern end of this valley was Itsate Pass.
At Itsate Pass, Montgomerie’s vanguard, composed of a company of Carolina Rangers, was ambushed. The location is described as a steep slope on the left with high mountains beyond. On the right was a bow in the Little Tennessee River with large, rolling hills beyond. This exactly describes Itsate Pass. See the Map Supplement.
Captain Morrison and several Rangers were killed almost instantaneously. Many of the Cherokees were armed with hunting rifles, which had a longer and more accurate range than the muskets the British fought with. While the Cherokees were making carefully aimed shots, the British fired mass volleys from lines of Redcoats . . . rarely hitting anything but dirt or trees. Cherokee accounts speak of the British standing in ‘heaps’ and being shot down like turkeys. The Rangers proved to be incompetent and cowardly soldiers. Lieutenant Grant reporting that some fifty deserted before the march and the rest ran off when Morrison was killed. The Catawba Scouts were useless because they failed to spread outward to detect the Cherokees hidden behind trees and then fled along with the Rangers.
The Cherokees, led by Chief Occonostota, attacked the column on both sides, forcing it back. Montgomery sent the Provincial Rangers into the fight, while the Royal Scots moved to the hills on the right without the help of the Catawbas. The Highlanders went to the mountains on the left. Under this pressure the Indians withdrew to the higher mountains. After four hours of fighting the British continued their march, fording the river north of the battlefield. Montgomery’s baggage train, was left behind. It was guarded by only 100 men, but was saved after heavy fighting. Some of the Cherokee warriors sneaked around the flanks of the British column and attacked the pack animals and supply train, whose loss would cripple the army. This attack was eventually driven off.
The Grenadier and the Light infantry companies moved forward to support the Rangers while the Royal Scots came forward on rising ground to the right of the Cherokee. The Royal Scots were thrown back into open ground by heavy rifle fire and it took some time to reform and fight off the Cherokee counter-attack.
Montgomerie filled his line on the left with the Highlanders, who turned the Indian right. The Indians retired from this advance and came into contact with the Royal Scots in a brisk encounter from which they retreated to a position on a hill from which they could not be dislodged. Montgomerie ordered an advance through the pass and on to the town of Echoee, but a few Cherokees ran to warn the inhabitants of the pending attack.
There was a large number of seriously wounded men among the British ranks, which Montgomerie could not leave behind, if he advanced or retreated. He also lost many of his pack animals so that it was impossible to proceed any farther.
Montgomerie’s army was eventually able to push up the canyon as far as Echoee. However, after examining his situation, he realized that he had to abandon the forward movement of the column along with a large quantity of supplies in order to provide pack horses to transport the wounded to safety. The British force retreated back to Fort Prince George.
Montgomerie turned over his surviving supplies to the fort and left his most badly wounded there. He then continued his withdrawal to Charleston. While his expedition was partially successful in destroying the Cherokee Lower Towns (which were actually insignificant hamlets). He did end the siege of Fort Prince George. However, he had been stopped in his tracks at the frontier of the Cherokee Middle Towns. Most critically, he failed to relieve Fort Loudoun. In August Montgomerie and his men sailed back to New York.
Aftermath of the first invasion
The failure to relieve Fort Loudon eventually forced the garrison to surrender. Of course, the occupants of the fort were completely isolated, deep into the wilderness and so had no clue what was going on elsewhere. However after several months under siege, they had run out of food . . . even slaughtering their horses to avoid starvation.
Captain Demeré tried to surrender, but was so hated by the Cherokees, that they refused to parlais with him. They did agree to accept a conditional surrender from his second in command. The garrison allowed to retain their arms and enough ammunition to make the trip back to the colony provided they left the remaining arms and stores of ammunition to the Cherokee led by Ostenaco.
The Fort Loudon garrison marched out of the fort on August 9 with a Cherokee escort. The Cherokees entered the fort and found 10 bags of powder and ball buried, plus the cannon and small arms thrown in the river. The Cherokees, angered by Demere’s violation of the surrender agreement, went after the garrison.
The next morning the Cherokee escort for the surrendered garrison had drifted off. The British were attacked in the woods by perhaps 700 Cherokee warriors. Some 22 soldiers and 3 civilians were killed and 120 taken prisoners. The murdered British officers and colonials represented a total number equal to the number of Cherokee leaders killed at Fort Prince George, while being held hostage. Captain Demere’ was tortured for hours before being burned at the stake.
Upon hearing the shocking news, the panicked leadership in Charleston sought to end the war. A truce of six months was agreed to during which peace attempts failed.
The following winter was extreme harsh for the Cherokee due to the loss of the Lower Towns’ harvest and shortage of ammunition for hunting. Diseases were also spreading. Cherokee morale still remained high because they had been promised new muskets and munitions by the French. There is no evidence that the French ever gave them the promised support in significant amounts to make a difference.
Second invasion of Cherokee country
General Amherst was determined to launch a greater invasion of the Cherokee lands “to chastise the Cherokees [and] reduce them to the absolute necessity of suing for pardon,”. James Grant was now in command in South Carolina with more regulars: the 1st, 17th and 22nd Regiments, a war-party of Mohawks and Stockbridge Indian scouts, Creek scouts (veterans of the 1754 Koweta campaign), Catawba and Chickasaw warriors; a large number of provincials under Colonel Middleton. Several of these provincial militamen would gain fame during the American Revolution. They were William Moultrie, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Francis Marion. Grant’s force was more than 2,800 strong. His men were prepared for an extended campaign in the mountains with a supply train a mile long made up of 600 pack horses, carrying a month’s provisions, plus and a large herd of cattle managed by a few score slaves.
Montgomery arrived in Charleston on April 1, 1760. The troops reached Fort Prince George on June 2. Time was important since British-held Fort Loudoun, on the Tennessee River, was under close attack by the Indians.
On June 7, 1761, Major James Grant gave the order to cross the Keowee River and proceed deep into Cherokee territory. The Creek scouts had already left to carry out covert reconnaissance of the Cherokee Country frontier. Three days later his army arrived at the Dillard Valley. Grant was met by 1,000 Cherokee warriors on June 10, 1761, about two miles south the site of the previous battle of Itsate Gap. The Indians again ambushed the column and this time concentrated on killing the pack animals after the main body of the army had marched to roughly where the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School is today.
After six hours of long range skirmishing, the Cherokee exhausted their limited ammunition and withdrew. Grant’s force then proceeded northward into North Carolina to burn the fifteen Middle Towns and all the crops. Grant expressly ordered the troops to summarily execute any Indian man, woman or child they captured. This documented fact strongly suggests that far more Cherokees died in the second invasion that is given in official estimates one reads in most published sources, such as Wikipedia.
Although, Grant had marched his men to exhaustion with 300 too sick to walk, he had destroyed Cherokee food supplies for the winter and made 4,000 inhabitants of the Middle Towns homeless. In August 1761 the Cherokee sued for peace. As a result of the war, Cherokee warrior strength has been estimated by some academicians to be at 2,590 before the war in 1755 but 2,300 by summer of 1761. Given the massacres committed by Grants troops, this estimates seem very “white washed.” Many more Cherokee non-combatants had died from disease, starvation and summary execution.
On August 30, 1761, the Cherokee met with Grant at Fort Prince George and an informal peace was concluded. The official treaty was signed on December 18, 1761 by the Cherokee’s principal leaders and Governor William Bull on his plantation near Charleston.
Aftermath of Second Invasion
What few sources tell readers though, was that far more British colonists and soldiers had died during the war than suffered by the Cherokees. Nevertheless, possibly thousands of Cherokee non-combatants ultimately died of disease or starvation because of the stress created by lack of food and shelter after the war had officially ended. The Cherokee population plummeted and became fragmented. Standing Turkey, the pro-French Cherokee Principal Chief, was replaced by a pro-British leader.
At the behest of North Carolina officials, the Proclamation of King George III in 1763 moved the eastern boundary of the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina to the 84th Meridian, which passes through present day Cherokee Valley Casino in Murphy, NC. That line is 40 miles west of the center of the Qualla Cherokee North Carolina Reservation. Thus, only a minuscule tip of North Carolina was still in Cherokee territory. None of Graham County where the Snowbird Reservation is now, was in Cherokee territory.
Shawnee villages still existed along the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers near Asheville, NC, while Creek villages still continued to exist near present day Brevard, Rosman and Sapphire Valley, North Carolina. Theoretically, all Indians in western North Carolina were supposed to move west of the 84th Meridian, but these peoples lived in extremely remote locations and took no part in the 1761 and 1763 Cherokee treaties. Most Creeks either intermarried with whites or moved down into Northeast Georgia. Some North Carolina Shawnees established a province in what is now Forsyth and Cherokee Counties, Georgia. Others near Asheville lingered on.
Folk histories around Asheville recall massacres and scalpings occurring in the years between 1763 and 1784. Early accounts merely call the attacks being made by “Indians.” Late 20th century North Carolina historians naively changed Indians to Cherokees. They were not Cherokees. The Cherokees NEVER lived in the Asheville Area. The attackers in these incidents were small bands of Shawnee, desperately trying to hold on to their homeland . . . not knowing that it had been taken away from them without compensation.
North Georgia continued to be a terra incognita for British officials. Northwest Georgia had been occupied by Upper Creeks, allied with the French and Chickasaws, allied with the British. South Carolina moved many remnant Creek tribes to the Northeast Georgia Mountains to act as a barrier to the aggressive Kowetas. Their forgotten tribal names such as Soquee, Tokee, Taenaste, Enote, Sawate, etc, became the names of Georgia peaks, rivers and streams. The British established a 20 mile wide neutral zone in Northeast Georgia to prevent the Kowetas from attacking the handful of Lower Cherokees still living in South Carolina and Northeast Georgia.
Apparently both the Cherokees and the Creeks ignored the Proclamation Lines of 1763. In 1776, William Bartram spent a few days in Echoee, which had been rebuilt after the battles of 1760 and 1761. Echoee was 37 miles east of the Proclamation Line.
These Cherokees were friendly. His brief stay in North Carolina has been expanded into a one hour public television documentary, rooms in museums and full size books as “William Bartram tours the Cherokee Nation.” However, they warned him that hostile Cherokees to the west of the Proclamation Line were headed toward frontier settlements to massacre them.
Bartram clearly expressed his relief at reaching the northern boundary of the Creek territory at the Tallulah River, 20 miles south of Echoee, because his Creek friends would protect him from the hostile Cherokees. Thus, in 1776 all of what is now Habersham and White Counties in Georgia was considered to be occupied by Creek Indians, even if they were not members of the Creek Confederacy. That results in a very different understanding of the past than what is presented on historical markers and tourist brochures.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- What is the difference between Coweta, Cohutta and Kaweta? - June 18, 2018
- Native American appointed special prosecutor to bust crime in Georgia - June 16, 2018
- Archaeologist Arthur Kelly found Paracus-style skulls on Etowah River - June 13, 2018
- Downtown Cancun, Mexico in August 1970 - June 12, 2018
- My color slides survived eight years in an oven . . . but there was another surprise that made me weep! - June 10, 2018