One question I often hear is,”Are you Chickamauga or Cherokee? You say one and then the other, sometimes in the same breath!”
The simple answer is that there is no difference. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it usually satisfies the questioner. For the longer answer, the eye must turn far back over the shoulder, down the road we’ve already walked…
Before the war that you call French and Indian, and that Europeans call the Seven Years, Cherokee were one people, against the Creeks and Tuscarora, Shawnee and Osage, French and English and Spanish. But as our enemies made friends with the French, and were given guns and powder and hatchets and many fine things, we found it difficult to defend our hunting grounds using the old weapons, the arrow and the war club.
And so we made friends with the English, and they sent us guns and powder and many fine things too. And in return, they asked us to simply do as we always had done, fight our enemies. But they asked us to do it according to their needs and their timing. And had we done so, it would leave our women and children open to attack. And so a deal was struck whereby the Great Father across the Sea would send us Red Coats to defend our people, while we fought their enemies. And so the walls of London were built just outside the walls of our Peace city, Chota, center of the universe.
But the Englishmen on our eastern border, while claiming to be loyal to the Great Father of the English, would not do his bidding. And so when, returning victorious from war against your enemies, we requisitioned a few horses, as we had been instructed to do if need arose, 13 of our warriors were killed by rabble-rouses, what you call ‘militia’. This upset the balance between our peoples, and so we did the civilised thing and killed the first 13 Englishmen we came across.
Civilised people would accept this loss as justice, but you did not. You killed even more of us, men, women and children. And so Adg’Nstata and Adg’Kala led many warriors on the path we call the War against the Red Coats, and we slaughtered nearly every soldier within the walls of London, and starved the rest until they ran away.
But at London was one great man, the second in command of the Red Coats, John Stuart. He was also a great Cherokee, adopted by Adg’Kala and named Bushyhead. He was instrumental in negotiating peace between our Nation and the Englishmen, both Virginian and Carolinian, separately. He was always thereafter separated from us by distance, working across the sea on our behalf before the Great Father. But he stayed loyal to the people he loved. And so peace came and the War against the Red Coats ended, with the command from the Great Father that his Red children would always and forever hold the land God had given us, our beloved mountains and caves, and that his White children would always live between us and where the Sun began her journey across the Great Vault each day, never to enter our mountains, on pain of death. And so peace was held. We dispensed the Great Father’s justice to a few outlaws who would not abide by his words, and began moving toward the house of the daughter of the Sun, that is to say westward from the east.
But the Englishmen in Virginia and Carolina, especially Carolina, were dissatisfied and began to grumble. And soon, they were like the parakeets which used to block out the sun for days, swarming into our mountains, burning down trees and building houses and fields foreign to us. And Adg’Kala appealed to Bushyhead, but Bushyhead was powerless. He said the Great Father had many wicked children in Virginia and Carolina who would not act as Englishmen ought any longer. These men, he said, were revolting. And it is true. They did not bathe, they drank the whisgy until they could not stand, and they killed the game and trampled the berries with no care in the world. They were very revolting. But he sent us another good and loyal Englishman, Alexander Cameron, who was adopted by Tsiyu Gansini as a brother, and so I count him as an ancestor by the name Scotchee.
But Adg’Kala, being a peace chief, a diplomat, stayed the hand of my people and many Cherokee opposed him. He signed treaty after treaty, giving up more and more of our hunting grounds, until finally we were asked to give up Kaintuckee, the Great Hunting ground of All, where no man could live, but all men could hunt, Cherokee and Shawnee and Iroquois alike. At this last treaty, his son, my ancestor Tsiyu Gansini, opposed him manfully. I cannot do justice to his words, but they were recorded by Scotchee in English:
“Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man’s advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. Where are the Delewares? They have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former greatness. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi land. They wish to have that usurpation sanctioned by treaty. When that is gained, the same encroaching spirit will lead them upon other land of the Tsalagi. New cessions will be asked. Finally the whole country, which the Tsalagi and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, The Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi, the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land.”
And this is the beginning of my people, the Chickamauga. For many years, with the help of Bushyhead and Scotchee, with supplies from our Great Father across the Sea, we fought. We were only a few families at first, Mostly Red Paint and Wolf. But we were successful! Tsiyu Gansini once said, “We have never lost any of our land through war. All our losses have been by the peace path.” And though most Cherokee, and all our great leaders of that time were allied against us, revolting Englishmen are their own worst enemies. And as depredation after depredation were visited on peaceful Cherokee who always protested that they were NOT Chickamauga, our numbers swelled until we were very nearly the whole of the Cherokee people, and the peacemakers were left with no one to lead.
And because Tsiyu Gansini saw a vision from the Great Father of All, sent to him in a trance, that all Red Men were brothers, our numbers swelled even further as our enemies from the beginning of time began to join us against those who would wipe us from the land of our ancestors. Creek and Catawba, Seneca and Shawnee, we were many. Every man and woman followed the ways of their own people, but in defense and in war, we were one people, living and working together, building a new way to be Indian. This second war against the English, Dragging Canoe’s war, would last for decades. During this time, some Shawnee came to live among us. Included in their number were 3 brothers, the younger two mere boys, Lalewithika and Tecumseh. Tecumseh, the Leaping Jaguar, learned to be a man in the shadow of Tsiyu Gansini, who was like his uncle. His own people were patrilineal, so he saw him as a father. We are matrilineal, and so Tsiyu Gansini diligently served as his uncle.
One night, in 1792, on land now drowned by your hydroelectric dams, Tsiyu Gansini dropped dead in the glow of the firelight, dancing in celebration of the success of the diplomatic mission sent south to the Creeks, chewing between his teeth the fresh scalp of an enemy. White medicine describes this event as a cerebrovascular hemorrhage, but it is enough to say the Great Father smiled on him and beckoned him to Him.
Within two years of his death, Chickamauga were dispersing, with some moving to Arkansas, some to Mexico, some moving a bit south to live among the Red Stick Creek. Many stayed and were reunited with the rest of the Cherokee nation proper, actually leading the Cherokee until the revolt of the Young Chiefs.
Many things were excised in the interest of brevity, but this thumbnail sketch will have to do.