Cherokee military history
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The Cherokee people from the Southeastern United States and later Oklahoma and surrounding areas have a long military history. Since European contact, it has been documented through European records. Tribes and bands had numerous conflicts in the 18th century with European colonizing forces, primarily English. Both Eastern Band and Cherokee Nation Indian Territory, now Oklahoma,fought in the American Civil War, with bands allying with either the Union or the Confederacy. As a result of many Cherokee allying with the Confederacy, the United States government required a new treaty with the nation after the war. Cherokees have served in the United States military in the 20th and 21st centuries.
- 1 Traditional military leadership
- 2 War of the Cherokee and Chickasaw with the Shawnee (1710)
- 3 Tuscarora War
- 4 Destruction of Chestowee
- 5 Yamasee War
- 6 War with the Muskogee-Creeks
- 7 Anglo-Cherokee War (1760)
- 8 War with the Chickasaw and major land cessions in 1763
- 9 Watauga Association
- 10 Transylvania Purchase
- 11 Second Cherokee War
- 12 Chickamauga Wars
- 13 After the wars
- 14 American Civil War
- 15 20th century
- 16 21st century
- 17 Notes
- 18 References
Traditional military leadership
Prior to the 18th century, Cherokee political leadership, much like that of neighboring Muscogee and Natchez tribes, was dual or shared by two chiefs: "white" or peace leaders, and "red" or war leaders. In times of conflict, the red war chief would organize young men into war parties. The primary war chief was assisted by a deputy chief, a speaker, and messengers. Decisions were made by a war council composed of delegates from each of the seven Cherokee clans. War women, including the Beloved Woman or Ghigau, could participate in the council or accompany war parties. Scouts and medicine men would round out the red organization.
War of the Cherokee and Chickasaw with the Shawnee (1710)
Around 1710, the Cherokee and the Chickasaw forced their joint enemy, the Shawnee, north of the Ohio River. In the 1660s, the Cherokee had allowed a refugee group of the Shawnee to settle in the Cumberland Basin when they were fleeing the Iroquois during the Beaver Wars. The Shawnee also acted as a buffer against the Cherokees' traditional Chickasaw enemies.
The Cherokee allowed another group of Shawnee to pass through their territory to settle on the Savannah River, where they would be a buffer against the Catawba. Over time, more Shawnee came into the area and began to attract the attention of the Iroquois. In addition, they were allied with the French. The British-allied Cherokee and Chickasaw finally decided to act in concert to expel the Shawnees from their territories. The conflict lasted 1710–1715. Sporadic warfare continued for more than 50 years. In 1768 the Shawnee and Cherokee forged a peace between them.
Except for some trading contact, the Cherokee remained relatively unaffected by the presence of European colonists in North America until the Tuscarora War and its aftermath. In 1711, the Tuscarora began attacking colonists in North Carolina after diplomatic attempts to address various grievances failed. The governor of North Carolina asked South Carolina for military aid. Before the war was over several years later, South Carolina had mustered and sent two armies against the Tuscarora. The ranks of both armies were made up mostly of Indians, with Yamasee troops especially.
The first army, under the command of John Barnwell, campaigned in North Carolina in 1712. By the end of the year, a fragile peace had been established, and the army dispersed. No Cherokee were involved in the first army. Hostilities between the Tuscarora and North Carolina broke out soon after.
In late 1712 to early 1713, a second army from South Carolina fought the Tuscarora. This army consisted of about 100 British and over 700 Indian soldiers. As with the first army, the second depended heavily on the Yamasee and Catawba. This time, however, hundreds of Cherokee also joined the army. The army's campaign ended after a major Tuscarora defeat at Hancock's Fort. All told, over 1,000 Tuscarora and allied Indians were killed or captured. Those captured were mainly sold into the Indian slave trade. Although the second army from South Carolina disbanded soon after the battle, the Tuscarora War continued for several years. Some previously neutral Tuscarora turned hostile, and the Iroquois confederacy entered the dispute. In the end a large number of Tuscarora moved north to live among the Iroquois.
The Tuscarora War altered the geopolitical context of colonial America in several ways, including an increased Iroquois interest in the South. For the many southeastern Indians involved, it was the first time so many had collaborated in a military campaign. It was also the first time they saw how different the various English colonies were. As a result, the war helped to bind the Indians of the entire region together. It enhanced Indian networks of communication and trade. The Cherokee became much more closely integrated with the region's various Indians and Europeans. The Tuscarora War marked the beginning of an English-Cherokee relationship that, despite breaking down on occasion, remained strong for much of the 18th century.
Destruction of Chestowee
The Tuscarora War also marked the rise of Cherokee military power, demonstrated in the 1714 attack and destruction of the Yuchi town of Chestowee (in today's Bradley County, Tennessee). The English traders Alexander Long and Eleazer Wiggan instigated the attack through various deceptions and promises, although there had been pre-existing conflict between the Cherokee and Yuchi. The traders' plot was based in the Cherokee town of Euphase (Great Hiwassee). It mainly involved Cherokee from that town.
In May 1714, the Cherokee destroyed the Yuchi town of Chestowee. Inhabitants not killed or captured fled to the Creek or the Savannah River Yuchi. Long and Wiggan told the Cherokee that the South Carolina government wished for and approved this attack, which was not true. The governor of South Carolina, having heard of the plot, sent a messenger to tell the Cherokee not to continue the attack on Yuchi. The messenger arrived too late to save Chestowee. The Cherokee attack on the Yuchi ended with Chestowee, but it was enough to catch the attention of every Indian tribe and European colony in the region. Thus, around 1715, the Cherokee emerged as a major regional power.
In 1715, just as the Tuscarora War was winding down, the Yamasee War broke out. Numerous Indian tribes launched attacks on South Carolina. The Cherokee participated in some of the attacks, but were divided on what course to take. After South Carolina's militia succeeded in driving off the Yamasee and Catawba, the Cherokee became strategically pivotal. Both South Carolina and the Lower Creek tried to gain Cherokee support. Some Cherokee favored an alliance with South Carolina and war on the Creek, while others favored the opposite.
The impasse was resolved in January 1716, when a delegation of Creek leaders was murdered at the Cherokee town of Tugaloo. Subsequently, the Cherokee launched attacks against the Creek. In 1717, peace treaties between South Carolina and the Creek were completed, undermining the Cherokee's commitment to war. Hostility and sporadic raids between the Cherokee and Creek continued for decades. These raids came to a head at the Battle of Taliwa in 1755, present-day Ball Ground, Georgia, with the defeat of the Muscogee Creek. The Creek had already withdrawn most of their towns from what is now North Georgia to create a buffer zone between themselves and the Cherokee.
In 1721, the Cherokee made their first land cession to the British, selling the South Carolina colony a small strip of land between the Saluda, Santee and Edisto rivers. In 1730, at Nikwasi, Moytoy of Tellico was chosen as "Emperor" by the elders of the principal Cherokee towns. Sir Alexander Cumming had requested this to gain control over the Cherokee. Moytoy agreed to recognize King George II of Great Britain as the Cherokee protector. Seven prominent Cherokee, including Attakullakulla, traveled with Sir Alexander Cuming to England. The Cherokee delegation stayed in London for four months. The visit culminated in a formal treaty of alliance between the British and Cherokee, the 1730 Treaty of Whitehall. While the journey to London and the treaty were important factors in future British-Cherokee relations, the title of Cherokee Emperor did not carry much clout among the Cherokee. Although Moytoy's son Amouskosette attempted to succeed him as "Emperor" in 1741, the power in the Overhill country had shifted to Tanasi, then to Chota.
The unification of the Cherokee "empire" was essentially ceremonial, with political authority remaining town-based for decades afterward. In addition, Sir Alexander Cuming's aspirations to play an important role in Cherokee affairs failed. In 1735 the Cherokee were estimated to have sixty-four towns and villages and 6000 fighting men. In 1738-39 smallpox was introduced to the country via sailors and slaves from the slave trade. An epidemic broke out among the Cherokee, who had no natural immunity. Nearly half their population died within a year. Hundreds of other Cherokee committed suicide due to disfigurement from the disease.
War with the Muskogee-Creeks
Cherokee folklore describes the conflict between the Cherokees and the Muscogees as being over disputed hunting grounds in what is now North Georgia, The last phase of the war lasted from 1753–1755. However, the war actually began in 1715 after the Cherokees invited all of the Muskogean leaders (there was no Creek tribe then) to a diplomatic conference in the Cherokee town of Tugaloo, at the headwaters of the Savannah River. At the behest of a Cherokee conjurer, the Cherokee hosts murdered all of the Creek leaders in their sleep, thus precipitating a fifty year long war. The English and French maps of the period show only a very small area in the northeastern tip of what is now Georgia, ever being occupied or claimed by the Cherokees, so the story of the joint hunting grounds is a myth. Later, after the Anglo-Cherokee War, the British Crown did create a relatively small joint hunting ground in northeast Georgia, which was approximately 20 miles wide and 50 miles long.
The Cherokees remember the war as a great victory for the Cherokees as a result of the Battle of Taliwa on the Etowah River in northwestern Georgia. However, actual archives from the period tell an opposite story. First of all, northwestern Georgia was claimed by France and occupied by their Indian allies, the Apalachicola. The Muskogee-Creeks were allies of the Colony of Georgia and Great Britain. They never were known to have lived in northwestern Georgia, or even claimed land in northwest Georgia. The word, Taliwa, in fact, is not Muskogee, but the Apalachicola word for "town." It is unlikely that the Muskogee-Creeks, as allies of Great Britain, would have fought on behalf of Indians allied with France.
French military maps of the period show all of what is now northwestern Georgia to be occupied by tribes allied with France until 1763. In fact, in 1757, a large contingent of Upper Creeks, allied with France, relocated from what is now north-central Alabama to northwestern Georgia to reinforce the Apalachicola. They remained in the region till 1763. Taliwa may have been burned by an Overhills Cherokee Army, but it was not a Muskogee town. That battle had nothing to do with the fifty year long battle with the Muskogees.
Evidence which refutes the Cherokee version of the Cherokee-Muskogee War is in the archives of the Georgia Historical Society. The letters and reports of Georgia colonial officials and Indian traders describe a series of devastating attacks between 1750 and 1755 on the Valley Cherokee towns in North Carolina and Lower Cherokee towns in northeastern Georgia, which left the region depopulated and being used as Creek hunting grounds. One Georgia trader to the Creeks reported that the Koweta Creeks even sent boys and women into battle to mock the Cherokees before defeating them yet again. He also wrote that the Koweta Creeks maintained a place outside the town, where they burned Cherokee captives. The general reliability of these reports are confirmed by a map prepared by Dr. John Mitchell in 1755, which shows all of the Valley and Georgia Cherokee towns burned and abandoned in that year.
Anglo-Cherokee War (1760)
Upon hearing reports that the French were planning to build forts in Cherokee territory (as they had with Ft. Charleville at the Great Salt Lick, now Nashville, Tennessee), the British hastened to build forts of their own, completing Fort Prince George near Keowee (in South Carolina) among the Lower Towns, and in 1756, Fort Loudoun near Chota. In this year the Cherokee gave their assistance to the British in the French and Indian War; however, serious misunderstandings between the two allies arose quickly. In 1760, the Cherokee besieged both forts, forcing a British relief army to retire at the battle of Echoee and eventually capturing Fort Loudoun. The British retaliated by destroying 15 Cherokee communities in 1761, and peace treaties ending hostilities were signed by the end of the year. A Royal Proclamation of 1763 from King George III forbade British settlements west of the Appalachian crest, attempting to afford some temporary protection from encroachment to the Cherokee, but it proved difficult to enforce.
The Cherokee and Chickasaw continued to war intermittently with the Shawnee along the Cumberland River for many years; the Shawnee allied with the Lenape, who remained at war with the Cherokee until 1768.
War with the Chickasaw and major land cessions in 1763
After their devastating defeat by the Muskogee-Creeks, the Valley Cherokees essentially ceased to exist. The Overhills Cherokees had lost several towns to the Upper Creeks during the first two years of the French & Indian War, but changed sides in 1757; thus avoiding any more losses. Still able to muster about 800 warriors, the Overhills Cherokees turned their attention west, to the hunting grounds of the Chickasaw in what is now the portion of Alabama north of the Tennessee River – from 1758 to 1769. After eleven years of intermittent warfare, they were defeated at the Battle of Chickasaw Old Fields.
In 1763 the French and Indian War ended with a complete victory for the British Empire. The Cherokees were punished for switching sides in 1758 by the loss of all of their lands east of the 80th longitude line. This line runs through modern day Murphy, NC and is about 45 miles west of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Reservation today. Having lost all but the extreme western tip of North Carolina's current boundaries. the surviving North Carolina Cherokees had no place to go. The British Crown allowed them to occupy the northwestern corner of what is now the boundaries of Georgia, plus the northeastern tip of what is now the State of Alabama. These were areas formerly occupied by Indian allies of the French.
To compensate the Muskogee-Creeks for their constant loyalty to Great Britain, the British Crown gave the remainder of Alabama, to the Creeks, plus opened up all of Florida to Creek migration. Those Creeks, who migrated to Florida later became known as the Seminoles.
Following the Battle of Alamance in 1771, which brought their Regulator movement to an end, many North Carolinians refused to take the new oath of allegiance to the Royal Crown and withdrew from the province. One of these, James Robertson, led a group of some twelve or thirteen Regulator families from near where present day Raleigh, North Carolina now stands into the west. Believing they were in the territorial limits of the colony of Virginia, they settled on the banks of the Watauga River. After a survey proved their mistake, Deputy Superintendent Cameron ordered them to leave. However, certain Cherokee leaders in the region interceded on their behalf, and they were allowed to remain, provided there was no further encroachment.
In 1772, Robertson and the pioneers who had eventually settled in Northeast Tennessee (along the Watauga, the Doe, the Holston, and the Nolichucky Rivers) met at Sycamore Shoals to establish an independent regional government known as the Watauga Association.
The Cherokee would soon come to regret their generosity, because these settlements and branches on the Cumberland River were to become the bane of their existence.
In response to the first attempt by Daniel Boone and his party to establish a settlement inside the hunting grounds of Kentucky, the Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Mingo, and some Cherokee attacked a scouting and forage party that included Boone’s son. This sparked the beginning of what was known as Dunmore's War (1773–1774), named after the governor of the Virginia colony at the time.
One year later at Sycamore Shoals, in 1775, a group of North Carolina speculators led by Richard Henderson negotiated the Treaty of Watauga with Overhill Cherokee leaders, chief of whom were Oconostota and Attakullakulla, in which the Cherokee surrendered claim to the Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda'gi) lands and supposedly gave the Transylvania Land Company ownership. This treaty disregarded the claims to the region by other tribes such as the Shawnee and Chickasaw.
Dragging Canoe, chief of Great Island Town (Amoyeli Egwa) and son of Attakullakulla, refused to go along with the deal. He told the North Carolina men, “You have bought a fair land, but there is a cloud hanging over it; you will find its settlement dark and bloody”. The governors of Virginia and North Carolina repudiated the Watauga treaty, and Henderson had to flee to avoid arrest.
Second Cherokee War
The year after the beginning of the American Revolution, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk led a delegation from the northern tribes to the southern tribes and met with the Cherokee leaders at Chota, calling for united action against those they called the Long Knives. At the close of his speech, he offered his war belt, and Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunisini) accepted it, along with Abraham of Chilhowee (Tsulawiyi). Dragging Canoe of Great Island also accepted belts from the Ottawa and the Iroquois, while Savanukah, the Raven of Chota, accepted the belt from the Lenape.
The Middle Towns were to attack South Carolina, the Lower Towns Georgia, and the Overhill Towns Virginia and North Carolina. The Overhill Cherokee offensive proved to be disastrous for the attackers, however, because the settlers had been warned by the Beloved Woman (the female equivalent of Beloved Man, or chief) Nancy Ward, particularly those under Dragging Canoe going up against the Holston settlements. Abraham of Chilhowee was likewise unsuccessful in his attempt to take Fort Watauga, and Savanukah did no real military damage. After the failed raids, Dragging Canoe led his warriors to South Carolina to join in the attack of the Lower Towns.
In response, North Carolina sent 2400 militia to scour the Middle Towns while South Carolina and Georgia sent 2000 men to attack the Lower Towns. In all, they destroyed more than fifty towns, burned their houses and food, destroyed their orchards, slaughtered livestock, and killed hundreds, as well as put survivors on the slave auction block. In the meantime, Virginia sent a large force and North Carolina volunteers to the Overhill Towns. By this time, Dragging Canoe had returned with his warriors and calling for them to burn their own towns, send the women, children, and old below the Hiwassie, and ambush the Virginians at the French Broad River. Oconostota advocated making peace at any price and the rest of the older chiefs agreed.
Dragging Canoe gathered those of like mind and migrated southwest, even as those from the Lower Towns poured into North Georgia. The Virginia force found Great Island, Citico (Sitiku), Toqua (Dakwa), Tuskeegee (Taskigi), and Great Tellico deserted, with only the older leaders who had opposed the younger ones and their war remaining. Christian, commander of the Virginia force, limited the reprisal in the Overhill Towns to the burning of the deserted towns.
The next year, 1777, the Cherokee in the Hill, Valley, Lower, and Overhill towns signed the Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner with Georgia and South Carolina and the Treaty of Fort Henry with Virginia and North Carolina agreeing to stop warring and ceding the lands of the Lower Towns, with those colonies promising in return to protect them from attack, a promise that was ephemeral at best.
The area to which Dragging Canoe and his band migrated was in what is now the region of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and here they set established eleven new towns, four of which bore names of towns on the Little Tennessee: Toqua, Citico, Tuskeegee, and even Chota. He himself made his headquarters in the town called Chickamauga, which lent its name to the entire surrounding area, for which reason the frontiersmen and colonists called his band the "Chickamauga" or the "Chickamauga Cherokee", though they were never a separate tribe. From here Dragging Canoe began a guerrilla war that lasted nearly two decades and terrorized the entire western frontier from the edge of the Muscogee nation north to the Ohio River and east into Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, as well as Georgia.
Because of the activities of the Chickamauga Cherokee, the frontiersmen, and sometimes the colonies and later states, launched punitive raids against the Cherokee, usually against the Overhill Towns. However, large forces invaded the Chickamauga area in 1777 and destroyed all eleven towns. After that occurred again in 1782, Dragging Canoe and his people shifted west and southwest yet again, this time to what became known as the Five Lower Towns (though they later number much more than five), which were west of the edge of the Cumberland Mountains and below the series of navigation hazards in the Tennessee River Gorge. Due to their new location, and additions of population from the understandably unhappy Lower Towns people, he and his people began to be referred from this point as the "Lower Cherokee". Their headquarters area was never invaded again until the final year of the wars.
It was about this time that Dragging Canoe, now based out of Running Water Town (Amogayunyi, at the current Whiteside, Tennessee), began to work extensively in cooperation with the Upper Muscogee, often as separate forces but sometimes coming together for large operations. The Shawnee and other northern tribes were allies already, the Shawnee even sending warriors to fight with those of his band; the noted war leader Chiksika and his younger brother Tecumseh were among one of the Shawnee war parties who did so, staying for nearly two years. The Cherokee, of course, responded in kind and sent warriors north.
Just as Dragging Canoe and those of like mind among the other tribes of the South were coming together in a coalition to fight the Americans with the help of the British, the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. Dragging Canoe simply travelled south to Pensacola and obtained the support of the Spanish of West Florida to continue his war, still maintaining relations with the British governor at Detroit.
In 1788, the murder of Old Tassel, the headman of the Overhill Cherokee and head chief of the Cherokee, along with several other pacifist chiefs while on an embassy to the State of Franklin and the invitation of the latter enraged the whole Cherokee people. More joined the Chickamauga Cherokee in their raids or carried out ones of their own than ever before. In response, Franklin sent out a large force to invade the Five Lower Towns, but this was soundly defeated at the foot of Lookout Mountain. Dragging Canoe raised an army of Cherokee and Muscogee that numbered over three thousand, which split into war bands, some of which were hundreds strong.
Four more years of frontier warfare ensued. Dragging Canoe came back to his home town in 1792 after a long diplomatic trip which had seen the Lower Muscogee and Choctaw accepting his invitation to join the war (but which the Chickasaw had rejected). However, the morning after a huge dance at Lookout Mountain Town (Utsutigwayi or "Stecoyee" —now Trenton, Georgia) celebrating his diplomatic successes —as well as those of a recent raid by The Glass and his brother Turtle-at-Home on the Cumberland River and into Kentucky —Dragging Canoe was found dead.
He was succeeded as leader of the Lower Cherokee by the nephew of Old Tassel, John Watts, with the assistance of Bloody Fellow and Doublehead. One of the first things Watts did was renew the alliance with Spain through West Florida and shifted his headquarters to Willstown (now Fort Payne, Alabama). The next year, though, he sent a delegation to Knoxville, then capital of the Southwest Territory, to seek terms of peace. This delegation, which included his deputy Doublehead, was attacked. Watts answered this action by raising the largest single native force seen on the frontier to date, one single army of over one thousand Cherokee, Muscogee, and Shawnee. They were thwarted in their hostile intentions on Knoxville but did manage to destroy several smaller settlements along the way. The activities at one of these, Cavett's Station, set in motion rivalries that would dominate Cherokee affairs into the 19th century.
In autumn the next year, 1794, General Robertson, military commander of the Mero District (as the Cumberland River settlements were then called) in the Southwest Territory received word that the Lower Cherokee and the Muscogee were planning large-scale attacks on his region. He sent a large force of U.S. army regulars, Mero District militia, and Kentucky volunteers south. The force attacked Nickajack, one of the Five Lower Towns, without warning, destroying it completely, then proceeded to Running Water and destroying it as well. Fortunately for the Cherokee, the greater part of the populations of those two towns was at a stickball play several miles to the south at Crow Town.
That incident, combined with the defeat that summer of the army of their northern allies under Blue Jacket of the Shawnee and Little Turtle of the Miami, convinced Watts and his fellow war leaders that the end of the wars was inevitable. The Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse was signed 7 November 1794, ending the Chickamauga wars.
After the wars
Following the peace treaty, the leaders of the Lower Cherokee were dominant in national affairs. When the national government of all the Cherokee was organized to form the original Cherokee Nation, the first three persons to hold the office of Principal Chief —Little Turkey (1794–1801), Black Fox (1801–1811), and Pathkiller (1811–1827) —had all previously served as warriors under Dragging Canoe; as had the first two Speakers of the Cherokee National Council, Doublehead and Turtle-at-Home. In addition, other former Chickamauga warriors such as Bloody Fellow, The Glass, and Dick Justice dominated the political affairs of the Cherokee Nation for the next twenty years, being in many ways more conservative (keeping as many of the old ways as possible) while embracing many facets of acculturation.
The Lower Cherokee had their governmental seat at Willstown, in what was known as the "Lower Towns". Roughly speaking, the Lower Towns were south of the Hiwassee River along the Tennessee down to the north border of the Muscogee nation and west of the Conasauga and Ustanali in Georgia while the Upper Towns were north and east of the same and between the Chattahoochee and Conasauga.
The seat of the Upper Towns was at Ustanali (bear Calhoun, Georgia), also the titular seat of the Nation, and with the former warriors James Vann and his protégés The Ridge (formerly known as Pathkiller) and Charles R. Hicks, the "Cherokee Triumvirate", as their dominant leaders, particularly of the younger more acculturated generation. The leaders of these towns were the most progressive, favoring acculturation, formal education, and modern methods of farming.
The settlements of the Cherokee remaining in the highlands of western North Carolina which had become known as the Hill Towns, with their seat at Quallatown, and the lowland Valley Towns, with their seat now at Tuskquitee, were more traditional, as was the Upper Town of Etowah, notable for being inhabited mostly by full-bloods and for being the largest town in the Nation.
When pressure began to be applied to the Cherokee Nation for its members to emigrate westward across the Mississippi, leaders of the Lower Cherokee were the first to lead parties away for good. Likewise, the remaining leaders of the Lower Towns (those mentioned above, Young Dragging Canoe, Sequoyah (George Guess), others) proved to be the strongest advocates of that course of action. The domination of the former warriors over the external affairs of the Nation lasted until a revolt of the young chiefs in the Upper Towns in 1808 which temporarily unseated Black Fox, The Glass, and others —until the reunification council at Willstown the next year abolished separate regional councils.
American Civil War
Out of gratitude to Thomas, these Western North Carolina Cherokees served in the American Civil War as part of what became known as the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders. Thomas' Legion consisted of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The legion mustered approximately 2,000 men of both Cherokee and white origin, fighting on behalf of the Confederacy, primarily in Virginia, where their battle record was outstanding. Thomas' Legion, along with the Western District of North Carolina under Brigadier General John Echols (of which it was the only effective unit) surrendered after capturing Waynesville, North Carolina on May 9, 1865, after learning of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House (the decision was made by Brig. Gen. Echols, the senior commander; Thomas wanted to keep fighting). They agreed to cease hostilities on the condition of being allowed to retain their arms for hunting. Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, commanding officer of the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi as well as Principal Chief of the Confederate Cherokee, demobilized his forces under a cease-fire agreement with the Union commander at Fort Towson (which was within the territory Choctaw Nation) on July 23, 1865.
The Civil War was devastating for Western Cherokee, who fought on both sides of the war. After their forced removal from their southern homelands to Indian Territory, the Cherokee were wary of the South. The Confederacy wooed the Cherokee with promises of autonomy and security of their landholdings. In 1861, the Confederacy had three regiments of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole soldiers. These fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in 1862.
Because of the Native alliances with the Confederacy, in the summer of 1862, 5000 Union soldiers, under the command of Colonel William Weer, 10th Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry, swept through Indian Territory. They fought the Confederacy at Locust Grove in the Cherokee Nation on 2 July 1862. On 16 July 1862, Captain Greeno, 6th Kansas Cavalry, captured Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. On 19 July, Colonel Jewell, 6th Kansas Cavalry, captured Fort Gibson, a strategic port.
Cherokee, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole joined Union regiments organized by William A. Phillips, of Kansas. They fought battles in Missouri, Arkansas and the Honey Springs and Perryville in the Cherokee Nation.
The majority of Cherokee traditionalists supported abolishing slavery, opposed the South, and formed an association known as the “Pin Indians.” They identified themselves by a pair of crossed pins under their coat lapels.
Principal Chief John Ross tried to keep the Cherokee Nation out of the war and issued a proclamation of neutrality in 1861. Stand Watie, who supported the Confederacy, was a threat to John Ross’ authority. On May 21 of that year, the Cherokees held a council of over 4000 men. The majority present supported the South and Chief Ross agreed with them to maintain tribal unity. At the time, the South appeared to be winning the war and Union politicians expressed anti-Indian sentiments. In October 1861, Chief Ross signed a treaty with the Confederate States of America.
In the summer of 1862, Union troops captured Principal Chief Ross, who was paroled and spent the remainder of the war in Washington and Philadelphia. He worked to convince the government of the Cherokee Nation to remain loyal to the Union.
In 1863 the Cherokee Nation abolished slavery and emancipated all Cherokee slaves. As a result of the nation's alliance with the Confederacy, the US government required it to agree to a new treaty. This stipulated that Cherokee freedmen must be accepted by the tribe as full members, just as their counterparts were made citizens of the United States throughout the South.
Cherokee have proudly served in both World Wars. Approximately 600 Cherokee and Choctaw served in World War I in the 142nd Infantry Regiment (United States) of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division.
While Comanche and Navajo code talkers are well known, Cherokee men also served as code talkers in World War II, with as many as 40 of them using their native language for sensitive communications.
Rear Admiral Joseph "Jocko" Clark, an Oklahoma Cherokee, was a highly decorated Admiral in the United States Navy as a result of his achievements in commanding aircraft carriers in World War II. He achieved the highest rank of a Native American in the US military.
Second Lieutenant Billy Walkabout, an Oklahoma Cherokee of the Blue Clan, was the most-decorated Native American veteran of the Vietnam War. He served in the United States Army Company F, 58th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
The United Keetoowah Band Lighthorse Color Guard is composed of UKB military veterans. "If you're Native American, you're going to fight harder. That's the kind of track record the Keetoowah Cherokee veterans have. You fought harder because this is your country," UKB Chief George Wickliffe has said.
Cherokee Nation veterans who were honorably discharged may join the Cherokee Nation Warriors Society. They often provide a color guard for civic events and powwows. Veterans are specially honored at the Eastern Band's annual fall festival.
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- Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Bob Benge". Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 98–106. (Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 1976).
- Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Dragging Canoe". Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 176–189. (Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 1977).
- Finger, John R. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the 20th Century. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991).
- McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-691-00627-7.
- Meadows, William C. The Comanche code talkers of World War II, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-292-75274-0.
- Rozema, Vicki. Footsteps of the Cherokees: A Guide to the Eastern Homelands of the Cherokee Nation, John F. Blair Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0-89587-346-0.
- Oatis, Steven H. A Colonial Complex: South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680–1730, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8032-3575-5.
- Sturtevant, William C., general editor and Raymond D. Fogelson, volume editor. Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast. Volume 14. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2004. ISBN 0-16-072300-0.
- Wilkins, Thurman. Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People, New York: Macmillan Company, 1970. ISBN 978-0-8061-2188-8.