The Secret History of Middle Tennessee that Your Teacher Never Told You
Why are the Chickasaws not mentioned in Tennessee historical markers? Why is there a sign at reconstructed Fort Nashborough in Downtown Nashville that tells of Upper Creek attacks on the Nashville Area as late as 1794, yet official Tennessee State History textbooks contain a map showing 3/4th of Tennessee “always being Cherokee.” Why were the first attacks of the Red Stick Creeks in 1813 and 1814 on settlers living in Middle Tennessee?
During the Red Stick War, armies from Mississippi and Georgia were sent into Alabama and stopped in their tracks by the Red Stick insurgents. Most of the fighting that resulted in a victory for the United States was done by an army of volunteers formed by the State of Tennessee. Why would many Tennesseans be willing to fight the Red Stick Creeks, when they lived so far away from where the hostile Creek villages were located?
A new POOF subscriber wrote us on July 7, 2016 with several questions. She is originally from Nashville, TN and as a girl accompanied her parents, who portrayed frontier settlers at the reconstructed Fort Nashborough in Downtown Nashville. She also dressed up in a frontier period dress for the tourists. This experience started her love for American history. According to her family’s lore, her father is part Chickasaw from Middle Tennessee and her mother had an ancestor somewhere back, who was an Eastern Blackfoot (Saponi) woman from Virginia.
A couple of years ago, this high school history teacher and her two children moved to the Knoxville area. They have been visiting Native American sites in Eastern Tennessee and have attended some pow-wows. She said that all of the Native American sites are labeled “Cherokee” and that in Eastern Tennessee, there is absolutely no mention of either the Chickasaws or the Creeks at festivals.
She recently watched a Knoxville TV station’s news report, which announced that De Soto visited many Cherokee villages in Eastern Tennessee in 1540. The screen showed a map of Tennessee, which told viewers all of the state was originally occupied by the Cherokees. The TV news reporter then interviewed a self-identified Cherokee in Maryville, TN with blue eyes and then quoted an archaeologist at the Eastern Band of Cherokees Cultural Preservation Office about the Cherokee’s contacts with De Soto in Tennessee and North Carolina. Apparently, the Cherokee official was interviewed via a telephone.
No mention was made at all in the newscast about the Chickasaws. She said that she has read the actual De Soto Chronicles, not the annotated version by late 20th century professors, and there is absolutely no mention of the Cherokees in them, but the Chickasaws are mentioned.
During the 20th century, white academicians in the Southeast’s interior and the Eastern Band of Cherokees progressively constructed a concept of the region’s Pre-European history that was farther and farther removed from what eyewitness accounts and early maps described. This incremental skewing of history was inflated by the tendency of academicians to quote the speculations of authority figures as “facts” from which to interpolate new “facts.” Also, the Eastern Band of Cherokees annually provides large cash grants and “casino perks” to Chambers of Commerce in Eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia to persuade their officials to present the current Cherokee version of history. Let’s take a look at what the actual maps and colonial archives say between 1540 and 1814.
Tennessee in 1540: All town names mentioned by the Hernando de Soto Expedition as it was passing through eastern Tennessee in 1540 are Muskogean words that can be translated by a contemporary Muskogee-Creek dictionary. No Cherokee words are recorded anywhere in the De Soto Chronicles. Most of these town names became tribal divisions of the Creek Confederacy. Tennessee anthropologists recognize this fact, but the tourist literature of many counties in Eastern Tennessee now call them “Cherokee” villages. Unfortunately, local TV news reporters are much more inclined to quote the local tourist hand outs rather than University of Tennessee professors.
Tennessee between 1684 & 1701: During the late 1600s French explorers thoroughly explored Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. They built a large fort on Bussell Island where the Little Tennessee River joins the Tennessee River. Two small Kusate (Upper Creek) villages remained on the island. As can be seen above in the 1684 map by Jean Baptiste Franqueline, the French did not encounter any indigenous people who called themselves Cherokee or Aniwiya. Most of Tennessee was occupied by Muskogean peoples such as the Chickasaws and those who would be later called Upper Creeks. There were some Hogeloge- Uchee in the vicinity of the Hiwassee River and a cluster of villages with either South American or Muskogean names in northeastern Tennessee. Western North Carolina was occupied by proto-Creek and Shawnee villages.
The headwaters of the Tennessee River were named by the French to be the Casquinampo River, which is a Koasati word meaning “Many Warriors.” The remainder of the Tennessee River was labeled the Callimaco River, which is Itza Maya and means “House of the King.” The 1694 David Morden Map (Great Britain) and 1701 Guillaume de Lisle Map (France) continued the ethnic labeling of the Franqueline Map. The 1701 map shows Northeastern Tennessee occupied by the Apika Creeks and Congoria.
The ancestors of the Cherokees are shown to be in West Virginia and possibly the eastern tip of Kentucky. They are called the Tionontatecaga, a word that means “Cave Dwellers.” The Creeks are the only Southeastern tribe that do not use a name for the Cherokees that means “Cave Dwellers.”
The Cumberland and Duck River Valleys were always a prime locale for hunting large game. Their dolomitic limestone soils produced grasses and bushes that were especially nutritious for ruminants. The soil was also productive for growing corn. Between around 1000 AD and 1600 AD, this region contained many Native American towns and villages . . . undoubtedly the ancestors of the Chickasaws and some of the Upper Creeks. Even after the larger towns were abandoned, Chickasaw and Upper Creek hunters would come long distances to hunt the large herds of deer, bison and elk. Several years ago, the headwaters of the Duck River in the Cumberland Plateau were chosen as the ideal location to reintroduce elk into Tennessee. The animals are thriving and the herd is growing much faster than expected.
Tennessee between 1715 and 1717: The hand drawn 1715 Beresford Map was the first colonial document to even mention the Cherokees. It was produced by the Carolina Militia to show the location and power of their Native American enemies. Any document that you see online which uses Cherokey, Charakey, Cherokee, etc. for date earlier than 1715 is a fraud that has been edited from its original form.
Beresford placed a cluster of 30 Cherokee villages with 700 warriors on the Holston and Nolichucky Rivers in extreme northeastern Tennessee. He labeled all of the Upper Tennessee River as the Cusate River . . . meaning that Upper Creeks occupied the entire length of the river. He placed 10 Cherokee villages with 300 warriors in the extreme northwest corner of South Carolina and on the upper Tuckaseegee River in North Carolina. No Cherokee villages are shown in either Georgia or extreme Western North Carolina.
The 1717 De Lisle map was the first European map published that mentioned a word like Cherokee. He used Charaqui and placed their villages exactly where Beresford had placed them. He also continued to show most of Eastern Tennessee occupied by Creek and Uchee villages.
Modern maps for this time period, published by the Eastern Band of Cherokees and by anthropology professors, who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, show the Cherokees in the 1600s and early 1700s to have occupied a territory “covering seven Southeastern states and containing 30,000+ Cherokees. As can be seen in the previous maps, this information is absolutely false.
Tennessee between 1721 and 1725: In December 1715, the South Carolina Cherokees met with leaders of the Muskogean towns in Georgia at the neutral Hogeloge village of Tugaloo at the headwaters of the Savannah River to discuss a joint military campaign against the Carolina Colony. Thirty-two Muskogean leaders were killed in their sleep, thus kicking off the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War. According to a subsequent map, the Hogeloges immediately fled southward into Muskogean territory. Several Cherokee villages in NE Tennessee, such as Kituwa, moved from NE Tennessee and occupied abandoned Muskogean town sites in Western North Carolina. This is why most of the radiocarbon dates for definite Cherokee settlements in Western North Carolina date from after 1715-1720.
The Cherokees switched sides and came to the aid of the beleaguered Carolina colonists. While the larger body of Cherokees in NE Tennessee and the northern North Carolina Mountains attacked Kusate towns in eastern Tennessee, the Lower Cherokees seized the northeastern tip of Georgia. The Muskogeans further south were not able to come to the aid of the Yamasee, who were terrorizing the South Carolina frontier farms and plantations, because they had to protect their own towns. Saving the British colony brought the Cherokees favored status and access to many European firearms and goods.
The 1721 William Barnwell Map shows a much larger Cherokee Alliance that had acquired significant territory, many immigrants and several member towns. The Muskogean towns on the Upper Tennessee River, north of the Hiwassee River had been abandoned. The map shows the Overhill Cherokees now had 19 towns with 3100 residents and 900 men. The new division, called the Middle Cherokees had 30 towns with 5100 residents and 2100 men. The Lower Cherokees had 11 towns with 2100 residents and 600 men. Note the disproportionate number of adult males among the Middle Cherokees. That means that hundreds of warriors had come from other tribes to join the Middle Cherokees. However, the total population of the expanded Cherokee Alliance was 10,300. That is 1/3 the number quoted in documents published by the Eastern Band of Cherokees and some archaeological reports.
The 1725 George Herbert Map showed that the boundary between the Cherokees and Creeks had stabilized. The Creek Confederacy had been formed in 1717 and was able to stop further loss of Muskogean territory. Beginning in 1721 , the boundary would be the Hiwassee River, headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and what is now called Yonah Mountain, but was then called Nokose Mountain. Southeastern Tennessee would remain Upper Creek territory until the 1780s.
Tennessee in 1735: The original Migration Legend of the Creek People that was presented to the Colony of Georgia on June 7, 1735, states in several places that the original members of the People of One Fire or Creek Confederacy were the Chickasaws, Alabamas, Apikas and Kashitas (Cusseta~Cusate). It also stated that the Chickasaws dropped out later on because of conflicts with the Kowetas, when they joined. However, the Kashitas and Chickasaws remained close allies and often built their towns side by side. In archaeological terminology Kashita and Chickasaw correspond to the Dallas and Mouse Creek Culture. Apparently, the “Mouse Creek” Chickasaws were assumed to be Upper Creeks by 18th century British explorers.
In the late 20th century, some University of Tennessee anthropology professors didn’t do their homework and announced that the Mouse Creek Culture was composed of Hogeloge-Uchees. However, the Hogeloge had round villages with round buildings. The Chickasaw-Mouse Creek Culture houses were rectangular, but their villages lacked mounds, which the Dallas Culture towns did build.
Tennessee between 1754 and 1763: In the spring of 1754, British officials persuaded the Cherokees and all but one branch of the Creek Confederacy to sign a peace treaty. However, the one tribal town that didn’t sign the treaty, Koweta, attacked the Cherokees alone and inflicted the worse defeat the Cherokees had ever known. A third of their villages were burned and 32 Cherokee chiefs were executed. The Valley Cherokees and their distinct language pretty much became extinct. The Cherokees signed a surrender treaty with Koweta in December 1754. This historical fact has been completely erased by 20th century historians, but is recognized in the 1755 John Mitchell Map. Note the words “Deserted Charakee Settlements” across a broad swath of North Carolina and Northeast Georgia.
Source of “Cherokee Nation covering Seven States Myth“: In 1755, the British Crown signed a treaty with the Cherokees that offered them all of the lands of the tribes allied with France in present day Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, if the Cherokees would provide 200 warriors to fight the French allied Indians in Virginia. By this time, the Shenandoah Valley had almost been depopulated because of Indian massacres. The Cherokees also agreed to cede territory they claimed, but didn’t occupy in South Carolina. This land cession caused a schism in the tribe by those, who didn’t want to give up any land, no matter how much new land they were “awarded” by the British to the west.
The actual occupants of these territories in Middle Tennessee that were awarded to the Cherokees were the Upper Creeks, Chickasaws and Shawnees. They never allowed the Cherokees to occupy the remainder of Tennessee and Kentucky, but during the following eight decades, the Cherokees repeatedly sold tracts in these lands they didn’t legally own in order to settle debts with whites.
Proclamation of 1763: The Cherokees turned against the British in 1757, after a series of atrocities committed by both British settlers and the Cherokees. Initially, they were victorious against British and Colonial forces, but then a winter campaign by the combined army of Redcoat and militia units devastated the Middle Cherokees. The entire Cherokee Nation eventually surrendered. In King George’s Proclamation of 1763, the Cherokees, plus non-hostile Creek and Shawnee bands in the North Carolina mountains . . . living east of present day Franklin, NC . . . lost all their lands east of the 84th longitude line. This line runs through present day Murphy and Robbinsville, NC.
Thousands of Cherokees were forced to move into present day Tennessee. Most of the Upper Creeks in Southeast Tennessee moved southward into present day Alabama, to occupy lands vacated by the Muskogean allies of the French – who had moved to Louisiana, Tejas Tamaulipas and Coahuila. However, the area around Chattanooga, TN was still occupied by the Chickamauga Chickasaws. There were also Chickamauga and Upper Creek Villages in North Georgia. Below is the boundary line between the Cherokees and Creeks that would continue until 1785.
American Revolution: The Cherokees agreed to fight for the British, but foolishly attacked the South Carolina frontier without regard to the political loyalties of the families they massacred. These savage attacks turned the entire frontier into a hotbed of Patriot fervor. Patriot forces counter-attacked. The Lower Cherokees were virtually exterminated and the Middle Cherokee towns were left as smouldering ashes.
The Cherokees soon sued for peace with the embryonic United States, but minority factions wanted to keep on fighting. The faction led by Dragging Canoe moved away from the traditional location of Overhill Cherokee towns in 1776. However, the original political distinction had occurred in 1755, when this faction protested the 1755 treaty with the British government. In 1779, these renegade Cherokees were invited to settle their villages near the Chickasaw town of Chickamauga. Both these Chickasaws and Upper Creeks living nearby were allies of the British. All three groups staged raids into eastern and middle Tennessee. The Upper Creeks in that area raided both Anglo-American and Creek villages and farmsteads in Northeast Georgia.
No historic map, either before or after the American Revolution, every showed Cherokee villages located in Middle Tennessee or the Cumberland Plateau. The land there that they sold to British entrepreneurs before the Revolution and to the United States after the Revolution was always occupied by either the Shawnees, Chickasaws or Upper Creeks.
After the United States won the American Revolution, the Chickamauga Cherokees dispersed into less accessible locations in NE Alabama and NW Georgia. The Chickamauga Chickasaws and Upper Creeks moved to North-Central Alabama and continued to raid white settlements and farms in Middle Tennessee. More Cherokees fled into Northeast Alabama when Tennessee militias began attacking non-hostile Cherokee farmsteads in revenge for atrocities committed by Chickamauga Cherokees. The Chickamauga Cherokees were crushed in the Battle of Etowah Cliffs in 1793. In 1796, the Creek Nation signed a treaty with the United States that accepted the huge chunk of land, secretly stolen from them in 1784 in the treaty
Selling other peoples’ lands: The Cherokees began selling off lands in Kentucky and Tennessee that belonged to the Chickasaw and Shawnee in 1775. In 1784, the Cherokees sold a big chunk of Northeast Georgia to the United States that was always occupied by a branch of the Creeks, which was an ally of the United States. However, some Upper Creeks, Chickasaws and Uchees continued to live in Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Even more hunted there.
Then in a series of treaties between 1804 and 1806, the Cherokees ceded away a vast territory that was the traditional home of the Chickasaws in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Their allies, the Upper Creeks, were also living in the region at this time. The Creeks considered the two large towns on the Duck River, know to archaeologists as Mound Bottoms and the Pack Mound site to be sacred territory. The federal government knew that the Cherokees had no real claim on this land, but they also knew that the Cherokees were willing to sell it because of being deep in debt. The Creeks were at the peek of their power and economic health, and so were obstinate when approached for land purchases.
This was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. The leaders of the Cherokee Nation were now all former Chickamauga Cherokees. who fought a bloody 18 year long war with the goal of returning to tradition indigenous lifestyles. Instead, after losing, they flipped 180 degrees and now were developing plantations with African-American slaves. The Chickamauga Cherokees had betrayed their former Chickasaw and Upper Creek allies by selling their most productive hunting lands and old town sites.
Beginning around 1811, Tecumseh began traveling southward to promote Native American unity against the further westward expansion of the frontier. Angers simmered until the Red Stick Civil War broke out in 1813 between the Pro-United States majority in the Creek Confederacy and those who wanted to be allies of Great Britain in hope of regaining lost lands. A small party of Creeks returning from the capture of Fort Detroit happened upon some families on the Ohio River and killed them. However, the first long distance Red Stick raid was against farmsteads in the Duck River Valley. The Red Sticks returned several more times to kill settlers until the State of Tennessee organized its militia to protect the region.
Why so many Tennessee volunteers? In doing his research for his last book, Greek Revival America, former National Park Service Director, Roger Kennedy discovered that Andrew Jackson’s involvement in the Red Stick War had an ulterior motive from the beginning . . . cotton! In the 20 years since the cotton gin had been invented on Cumberland Island, GA fortunes were already being made at plantations that had large slave work forces. English mills were buying all the cotton that the South could produce and screaming for more. However, cotton would not grow in the Upper South or at elevations over 1000 feet. It also was not well suited for hilly Piedmont terrain.
The Black Belt, a band of incredibly fertile soil in southern Alabama was believed to be an ideal location for establishing large cotton plantations. The only trouble was that it was in the heart of the Creek Nation . . . the largest indigenous tribe in North America. The Creeks had been using firearms since the late 1600s and if fighting as a threatened and united nation, could cause horrific casualties among Anglo-American troops. The key to getting rid of the Creeks would be to manipulate them into destroying themselves.
Kennedy speculated, but did not write it in his book, that British agents intentionally encouraged a faction of Creeks in Alabama to rebel with the full knowledge that they would be eventually be exterminated and the cotton-growing lands would open up to white Southern planters. The British had pulled off such Byzantine intrigues in other areas of the world, so it was certainly not beyond their capability.
Kennedy found proof that Andy Jackson had been in contact with agronomists from the start of the Red Stick Campaign. Prior to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Jackson sent letters to four agronomists, requesting that they join him on the campaign. The four scientists were to determine the best locations for growing cotton within the Creek territories in Alabama and Georgia then prepare a map for him.
The agronomists identified 28 million acres that were suitable for cotton plantations. Most of the territory was in areas occupied by Creek allies of the United States. Jackson deleted seven million in West Georgia, where Muskogee speaking allies of William McIntosh lived. However, Jackson’s Hitchiti-speaking allies in Southwest Georgia were not so fortunate. Their land was taken without compensation, leaving a little over 21 million acres to be stolen from the Creeks.
Any militia volunteer, who served the duration of the Red Stick War, would be eligible for free land in the territory seized from the Creeks. Of course, some volunteers sought revenge for loved ones or friends killed in Tennessee by the Upper Creeks over the previous 35 years. Others sought adventure. However, it is likely that the majority joined Jackson’s army with the hope of getting a large tract of land in cotton growing country, where they could become rich off the blood, sweat and tears of slaves.
And now you know!
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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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