Enter a search request and press enter. Press Esc or the X to close.
Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Philip Staffelli-Suel
Welcome back Junior Curators! Here in Tennessee we have a rich Native American history. Today we are going to be talking about the Cherokee tribe and one of their leaders, Dragging Canoe. That may seem like a unique name but think of it more as a nickname. He was the son of Cherokee diplomat, Attakullakulla. Even at a young age, he wanted to be a warrior. So, he asked his father if he could join a war party. His father refused, so he hid in a canoe. After his father found him, Attakullakulla told him if he could carry the canoe, then he could join the war party. He had a difficult time carrying the canoe and it dragged on the ground, but his father and the other warriors admired his effort. It was from that moment on he was referred to as Dragging Canoe.
Drawing of Dragging Canoe, “TN4ME.ORG: Dragging Canoe,” Tennessee State Museum.
As settlers moved further and further West, Dragging Canoe opposed this encroachment onto Cherokee territory. In 1775 Richard Henderson, a North Carolina Judge and land speculator, along with Daniel Boone, negotiated a deal with leaders of the Cherokee to sell over 20 million acres of land, most of what is now modern-day Tennessee and Kentucky. Dragging Canoe refused to sign the treaty, telling them they would find the settlement “dark and bloody.” He fled with other Cherokee and Native Americans and established communities along Chickamauga Creek during the winter of 1776-77. This group became known as the Chickamaugas.
In July of 1776, the Cherokee Wars broke out and Dragging Canoe led the Chickamaugas on raids on American towns. The American counter-attack on the Chickamaugas forced them and other Cherokee to abandon their East Tennessee homes. Dragging Canoe advocated for the Cherokee to move further down the Tennessee River into the area of modern-day Chattanooga and to adopt the policy of attack and retreat. In April of 1781, he led a Cherokee attack on Fort Nashborough, which is known as the “Battle of the Bluffs.” During the attack the Native forces lured the men out of the fort then attacked. The settlers were cut off from retreat by the Chickamaugas. The story goes that Charlotte Robertson released the dogs of the fort. In the confusion, the settler forces were able to escape. The Chickamaugas were able to still capture a lot of the settlers’ horse.
The Release of the Dogs at Fort Nashborough, Tennessee Blue Book.
As Dragging Canoe got older, he moved on from a warrior to become a diplomat. He continued to ensure the survival of Cherokee traditions and helped to establish an alliance with the Shawnees and Creek tribes. Dragging Canoe died after a night of dancing and celebrating a major victory by the Native American federation he formed. Following his death, many of the Cherokee began to pursue peace with white settlers.
Diplomat – A person representing a country or nation abroad.
Encroachment – To spread into someone else’s territory or land.
Advocated – To fight for or support something.
Why did the Cherokee disapprove of the white settlers coming into Tennessee?
Why would Dragging Canoe need to become more of a diplomat than a warrior as he got older?
After the death of Dragging Canoe, why would the Cherokee want to pursue peace?
Read the following article about the Tellico Blockhouse Treaty and imagine what Dragging Canoe would have thought about it.
Philip Staffelli-Suel is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.