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The famous Cherokee Martyr, Tsali, was actually a citizen of Georgia . . . living in the Dillard Valley!

The famous Cherokee Martyr, Tsali, was actually a citizen of Georgia . . . living in the Dillard Valley!


Tsali’s persecution by federal troops was far more outrageous than described in a current play.

Since 2012, the People of One Fire has been systematically analyzing all of the river basins, coast lines and islands of the Lower Southeastern United States to determine the real history of that region.  All available eyewitness accounts, historical maps and archaeological reports are interpolated to discern the truth from the mythology.

For example, research by professors at the University of Oklahoma determined in 2008 that there was no Battle of Taliwa, so Cherokee Nancy Ward couldn’t possibly been the heroine of this battle.  In 2016, POOF went a step further and traced the paper trail of how Nancy Ward’s mythological life as a “full blooded Cherokee princess” was created by white people long after she died. She was actually about 3/4th to 7/8th Caucasian.  She had a white father and most of her life, she mainly associated with white people. She was the first “Cherokee” to own slaves and promoted slavery.   The first mention of the fictional Battle of Taliwa was in a “dime novel” by a distant white cousin of hers . . . four years after her death.

POOF ran into an opposite situation this week, while studying the Little Tennessee River Basin.   The real story of Tsali’s capture and persecution is far more outrageous than told these days in “Cherokee history” literature.

Tsali was a Native American man, who struck and killed a federal soldier, while he and his family were being marched to a fort, where they were to be held until marched to the Indian Territory.  He escaped, but supposedly returned to face a court martial in return for a promise that other Cherokees in hiding would not be tracked down.  He and most of his sons were killed by a firing squad.

There are some factual, thoroughly researched books on Cherokee history. However, Wikipedia is being used by wannabes, people who claim 1/640th Cherokee ancestry and people, who might be real Cherokees, but still don’t know diddlysquat about other tribes or the South’s geography to create a mythological description of the past.  

The Wikipedia article on Tsali is one of the worst.  It is republished at the end of this article.  Wikipedia has placed warnings at the top of the Tsali article that it lacks citations to justify statements and appears to contain inaccurate history. 

It doesn’t matter.  For example, I tried to change the statement at the end that “the Lower Muskogee Creeks rebelled against the United States.”  The Lower Creeks were allies of the United States. It was the Red Stick Creeks in Alabama, who rebelled against the Creek Confederacy. Within an hour, some wannabe had changed the text back to the original false statement.

Major contradictions and false history in an outdoor drama

The author of this Wikipedia article has embellished the Tsali story to match a recent revision of the “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama in Cherokee, NC. The 2007 version left out the story of Tsali.  Outdoor dramas by playwrights living hundreds of miles away are NOT suitable references for history. Much of the popular history of Tsali was created by the play over the past six decades and is not based on historical documents.   In the latest version of the play, Tsali is a great Chickamauga Cherokee warrior and chief from Coosawattee (now Carters Lake, GA) who warns his people to flee to the section of the Cherokee Nation in the Smoky Mountains, where they will find refuge . . . pure fiction.   

The fact is that after 1763, the current location of the Cherokee Reservation was 45 miles EAST of the most easterly point of Cherokee land and that in 1838, none of the Smoky Mountains was in Cherokee territory.  Where the Cherokees live now was GIVEN to them by a white man, Will Thomas. 

Since 1763, all land in North Carolina, east of Murphy, has been outside Cherokee Territory.

The Wikipedia article states that this region, which had been outside Cherokee territory for 75 years, was densely populated with Cherokees.  That’s horse manure.  White families and some men with mixed blood Cherokee wives had long lived there.

The Chickamauga War lasted from 1777 to 1794.  If Tsali had been a leading warrior in the Chickamauga War, he would have been at least 64 years old in 1838, more likely around 70 or 75.  Yet, in all versions of his story, he has a large family of teenagers, children, toddlers and newborn baby living with him.  Wannabe’s and playwrights . . . if you are going to create fictional history, at least think through the implications of your fibs.

The original history of Tsali states that he was born in Cusseta. Some anonymous wannabe author said, “Oh geez, Cusseta sounds like Coosawattee, so it must be the same place!”  No, it is not.  Both words are Anglicizations of the Creek root word, Kusa  . . . but Cusseta was the farthest north CREEK town in the late 1700s.  It was on the boundary line between the Creeks and Cherokees in present day Stephens County, GA on the Savannah River.  It was abandoned in 1794, when that section of Georgia was ceded to the United States by the Cherokees and Creeks.  Cusseta was 102 miles east of Coosawattee.

Cusseta made even more sense, when I stumbled upon the real meaning of Tsali this week.  Tsali is how Cherokees spelled the Creek name, Tcali.  The Cherokee hero, Tsali had a Creek name. The Creek name is how they spelled the English name Charlie.  A “c” in Muskogee Creek is pronounced “ch.”

As you will read below, the new “Unto These Hills”/Wikipedia version of Tsali’s life has he and his family being marched to a Cherokee containment stockade on the Hiwassee River – Fort Butler.  Originally, the play didn’t say where he lived, then a later version had him living in Coosawatee. There were three Cherokee Removal forts built near Coosawattee.  It was ludicrous to have him walking to a fort 90 miles away.  So the current version of the play and Wikipedia now has his family hiding out in the Smoky Mountains.  Always before, Tsali and his family were living on their family farm when soldiers, hardened by the Seminole War, suddenly showed up and forced the family to leave at bayonet point.

Then I remembered that I had written an article on Tsali for an Examiner article in 2010.   Sure enough, I had cut and pasted the 2010 Wikipedia article to my research notes for the Examiner article.   That article, which apparently was written by a history professor, stated that Tsali lived on his family farm near present day Dillard, GA and the Little Tennessee River in the extreme northeast corner of Georgia.  There are many details stated as facts in the new version of the Wikipedia article, which . . . if you check what few sources are referenced . . . turn out to be speculations or pure fantasy.  The writers of the Wikipedia article and the playwright of “Unto These Hills” greatly altered the biography of Tsali to create a mythological man and a Greek drama.

Dillard was an odd location for a Cherokee to be in 1838.  The portion east of the Little Tennessee River in the Dillard Valley had been ceded in 1794.  The remainder of Rabun County had been ceded in 1819.   Why would battle hardened soldiers be suddenly sent many miles outside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation to round up Cherokees so far away from the Cherokee Nation, just before it was time for all Cherokees to march west?

Sketches of Rabun County History by Dr. Andrew Ritchie (1948) answered the riddle.  In 1818 the Creek and Cherokee Nations ceded a narrow corridor of land, east of the Chattahoochee River, which ran from the North Carolina line down to what is now Gwinnett County in Metro Atlanta.  It was occupied by mixed bloods and remnants of several tribes, who had no real ties to either the Cherokee or Creek Nation.   Creeks did send representatives to their national council in present day Columbus, GA, but occupants of the Cherokee portion in northern Habersham and Rabun Counties had no representatives on the Cherokee Council.

These isolated Native American families were offered an option of being granted 640 acres of land per family and becoming citizens of the State of Georgia.  Many accepted the offer.  Approximately 330 “Cherokee heads of households” in Rabun, Habersham and Towns Counties, very few of whom were actually ethnic Cherokees, applied for state citizenship and the allotments. 

This previously unknown allotment program explains the presence of many authentic Native American families in Towns County, GA, who do not carry DNA typical of ethnic Cherokees.  They were missed by the soldiers because they were citizens of the State of Georgia and not on the “pickup lists.”  

In 1819, a Native American woman named Betty was granted state citizenship and 640 acres along what is now Betty’s Creek in the Dillard Valley and the northern part of the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School campus.  That same year, North Carolinian, John Dillard, bought most of her land.  However, Native American families continued to live on the less desirable portions along Betty’s Creek.  Tsali was probably Betty’s son or son-in-law.

In 1838, many Native American families lived in the mountainous sections of western Rabun County.  Being property owners and citizens of the State of Georgia, they were not subject to removal to the Indian Territory.  This is why no Cherokee Removal stockades were built in Northeast Georgia.

Apparently, some whites in Northeast Georgia saw an opportunity to grab free land.  They notified soldiers that there were Cherokees hiding out in the mountains of what is now western Rabun County, just before it was time for all Cherokees to leave.  None of the soldiers checked for boundary lines or state citizenship.  To them Injuns were Injuns.  They hated all Injuns after just being chewed up by the Florida Seminoles.

Again . . . apparently, Tsali only spoke broken English or the soldiers ignored what he said.  In anger, he was trying to tell them that he was a Georgia citizen, owned his farm legally and could not be forced to move.  The original story was that when a soldier jabbed his wife with a bayonet in front of his house, Tsali grabbed the musket and clubbed him to death. The muskets were not loaded, so his sons grabbed the other soldiers’ muskets.  They ran off.   Even in the laws of that time, that would be justifiable homicide -self-defense.  The soldiers were carrying out an illegal action against citizens.  However, Tsali and his sons were to get no justice.  

The Wikipedia version of the story now says that Cherokees were forced into being the firing squad for Tsali and his sons.  That is possible, but not likely.   Giving loaded muskets to imprisoned Cherokees would not have been a very clever idea.

Now for the theatrical version of Tsali’s life . . .

New version of Tsali’s life in Wikipedia and “Unto These Hills”

Tsali (Cherokee: ᏣᎵ), originally of Coosawattee Town (Kusawatiyi), was a noted leader of the Cherokee during two different periods of the history of the tribe. As a young man, he followed the Chickamauga Cherokee war chief, Dragging Canoe, from the time the latter migrated southwest during the Cherokee–American wars. In 1812 he became known as a prophet, urging the Cherokee to ally with the Shawnee Tecumseh in war against the Americans.

Later, during the 1830s roundup of Cherokee for Indian Removal, Tsali, his wife and brother, his three sons and their families were taken by surprise and marched at bayonet point toward the Indian Agency on the Hiwasee River. When Tsali’s wife paused to care for the needs of her baby, one of the guards whipped her and prodded her with his bayonet, to force her on her way.[1]:235 According to a secondhand account by Wasidana, Tsali’s son, the mother and baby were forced onto horseback and, in the process, “she got her foot hung in the stirrup. Then her baby dropped. It went that way, out yonder, and bust the head. And it died right then.”[2] In response, a surprise attack was made on the soldiers, one guard was killed and the rest wounded or subdued. Tsali and his relatives fled to the mountains and hid out in a cave in the Smoky Mountains. His successful evasion was reported to the other Indians by grapevine and soon the mountain Cherokees by dozens, then by hundreds, joined him in the hideout, living off roots and berries on the border of starvation.

General Scott was baffled by the situation. He had not the troops to track down Indians in that impervious and secret region. Nor was he certain that he wanted to. But if Tsali’s freedom went unchallenged, a fateful example would be set for other Cherokees. Scott enlisted the services of William Thomas, a white trader who had lived for twenty years among the North Carolina Indians and had their confidence. Thomas was given a message to the leader of the fugitives. If Tsali and his family would surrender themselves to military justice, the rest of the Cherokees in the mountains could remain free.

He and his brother and sons came down from the mountains and gave themselves up. Tsali’s youngest boy Wasidana was spared; the others were executed. According to Wasidana, they were shot by a firing squad of Cherokee prisoners, compelled to the act as a means of impressing on the Indians the hopelessness of their position.

Tsali’s martyrdom, however, marked not a hopeless end but a beginning. The three hundred fugitives remaining free became the forebears of some five thousand Cherokees living today in the North Carolina mountains, legatees of the once-proudest Nation in Native American Indian history. And Tsali’s story survives close to the scene of its original enactment, in the annual presentation of a Cherokee drama entitled Unto These Hills.

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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.



    Fact Check, Please…

    POOF Published Comments:
    “The fact is that after 1763, the current location of the Cherokee Reservation was 45 miles EAST of the most easterly point of Cherokee land…”
    “Since 1763, all land in North Carolina, east of Murphy, has been outside Cherokee Territory.”

    After 1763, in the four treaties listed below, the Cherokee Nation ceded land that was both inside Cherokee Territory and east of Murphy, North Carolina.

    – November 28, 1785 the Treaty of Hopewell, was signed between the Cherokee Nation and the United States. This treaty ceded a tract of land in Western North Carolina and a separate tract of land in Kentucky and Northern Tennessee.

    – Treaty of July 2, 1791, known as the Treaty of Holston, land ceded in North Carolina and Tennessee.

    – Treaty concluded the 2nd day of July, 1798 the boundaries of the Cherokee claims were to remain the same as was allowed for in the previous treaties – although, according to the United States, surveying of the claims to accurately place the survey lines on the landscape was necessary. Upon completion of the survey, adjustment to the boundary lines to adhere to previous treaties included a tract of land in Tennessee and a tract of land in North Carolina between the Pickens’ Survey Line and Meigs’ Survey Line be shifted on to the claims of the United States.

    – On February 27, 1819, representatives of the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty that resulted in the cession of approximately six thousand square miles of their claims to the United States, included portions of what are today Macon, Jackson, Swain, and Transylvania Counties in western North Carolina.

    The 1809 Meigs Census of the Cherokee Nation shows there were 10 Cherokee settlements east of Murphy, North Carolina in which 1,065 Cherokee were enumerated. The original census is housed in the Moravian Archives, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    I am not defending the myths or seeking a debate, just asking for a fact check.

    • YES . . . small bands of Cherokees did live outside the boundaries of their tribal territory in North Carolina. However, when I was director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources, we learned that the Cherokees never lived any farther east than Haywood County. Asheville was always Shawnee country until whites moved into the area. The Hendersonville, NC area was always Creek until whites moved there in the 1790s.

      On the other hand, several of those Cherokee treaties included cession of vast swaths of lands, especially in Kentucky and Tennessee, which the Cherokees never lived and which were occupied by other tribes, primarily the Chickasaw, Shawnee, Upper Creeks and Uchee. This is why there are even today, towns in eastern Tennessee with Muskogean names like Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Sewanee.

      The 1763 Proclamation Line the 84th Longitude Line, which runs through Murphy and Robbinsville, NC. This is why Cherokees living in the area of Bryson City, NC in the early 1800s woke up one day to find white settlers staking property lines and building cabins along the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee Rivers.

      Junaluska’s band was one of those outside the tribal territory. Most accounts say that his band was in the Maggie Valley. This is why when Junaluskas band regrouped after the Trail of tears, they settled right on the 84th meridian – They are now called the Snowbird Cherokees.

      The Proclamation line did not apply in Georgia. There were very few Cherokees in Georgia until after the Revolution and they were all east of the 84th meridian. Instead, in Georgia, British authorities created a 20 mile wide neutral zone to keep the Coweta Creeks from burning any more Cherokee villages.

      We had a very similar situation in Georgia. Creek and Uchee bands continued to exist outside the steadily moving boundaries of the Creek Confederacy. My Creek-Uchee ancestors moved up the Savannah River to the Broad River after the Coweta Creeks defeated the Cherokee Nation in 1754. Creeks continued to live in the same valley until Lake Russell was constructed in the 1960s, yet after 1785, they were outside Creek territory.


        POOF: “YES . . . small bands of Cherokees did live outside the boundaries of their tribal territory in North Carolina. However, when I was director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources, we learned that the Cherokees never lived any farther east than Haywood County.”

        According to the 1809 Meigs Census of the Cherokee Nation, these small bands of at least 1,065 Cherokee were living INSIDE the boundaries of their tribal territory in North Carolina… Not, “outside their tribal territory” as you indicate in the first sentence of your reply. Additionally, your original post stated “east of Murphy, North Carolina” not “any farther east than Haywood County,” as you have now stated in this post. That is a difference of just at 100 miles.

        POOF: “The 1763 Proclamation Line the 84th Longitude Line, which runs through Murphy and Robbinsville, NC. This is why Cherokees living in the area of Bryson City, NC in the early 1800s woke up one day to find white settlers staking property lines and building cabins along the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee Rivers.”

        You are correct, the Proclamation Line was run in 1763 and yes white intruders were encroaching onto the Cherokee lands but it DID NOT mean that the lands belonged to the intruders. The land was inside the Cherokee Nation, owned by the Cherokee until it was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of 1819. Not in 1763 as you stated in your original post. That is a difference of 56 years for which you informed your readers that the Cherokee did not own or live on their land. If this not be the fact, why were the Cherokee compensated for the land?

        POOF: “Junaluska’s band was one of those outside the tribal territory. Most accounts say that his band was in the Maggie Valley. This is why when Junaluskas band regrouped after the Trail of tears, they settled right on the 84th meridian – They are now called the Snowbird Cherokees.”

        In North Carolina, the subject of your original post, Nununyi was the easternmost village of the Out Towns. It was not in Maggie Valley. It is in present day Cherokee, North Carolina. Junaluska was not the headman of Nununyi nor was he the headman of the Buffalo Town – the Cherokee who now live in Graham County, North Carolina, some of which are called the Snowbird Cherokee. The headman of Buffalo Town was Big George.

        There are three paragraphs in your reply that I am not addressing because they begin discussion about topics irrelevant to your original post! Your original post was about the North Carolina Cherokee and Tsali, who WAS NOT captured in Georgia. My replies thus far have been about the fact check(s) needed for your posts regarding Cherokee Lands in North Carolina.

        • The “outside the boundaries” Cherokees in 1809 were mainly in Arkansas and north central Alabama.

      • The outside the boundaries Cherokees mainly were in Arkansas.


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