Great Indian Warpath

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Tennessee Historical Commission marker at the north end of McSween Memorial Bridge (US-321) in Newport, Tennessee. The sign recalls the location of War Ford, 0.2 miles to the east along the Pigeon River. The ford was an important crossing along the Great Indian Warpath.

The Great Indian Warpath (GIW)—also known as the Great Indian War and Trading Path, or the Seneca Trail—was that part of the network of trails in eastern North America developed and used by Native Americans which ran through the Great Appalachian Valley. The system of footpaths (the Warpath branched off in several places onto alternate routes and over time shifted westward in some regions) extended from what is now upper New York state to deep within Alabama. Various Indians traded and made war along the trails, including the Catawba, numerous Algonquian tribes, the Cherokee, and the Iroquois Confederacy. The British traders' name for the route was derived from combining its name among the northeastern Algonquian tribes, Mishimayagat or "Great Trail", with that of the Shawnee and Delaware, Athawominee or "Path where they go armed".

The trail and white settlers[edit]

In the north, the line of the Seneca Trail formed the boundary of "the frontier" by the time of the French and Indian War (1756–63). When King George III issued a proclamation in 1763 forbidding further settlement beyond the mountains and demanding the return of settlers who had already crossed the Alleghenies, a line was designated roughly following the Seneca Trail.

The route[edit]


In the south, the GIW began at the Gulf of Mexico in the Mobile area and proceeded north by northeast, bisecting another trail known as the Upper Creek Path and crossing the Tennessee River near Guntersville. It then followed roughly the same route as the Tennessee upriver until reaching the vicinity of the modern Bridgeport. There it crossed the Tennessee once again at the Great Creek Crossing just below the foot of Long Island on the Tennessee, intersecting another path, the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail, which ran from the area of St. Augustine, Florida to that of Nashville, Tennessee.


A preserved section of the Unicoi Turnpike Trail near Conasauga Creek in the Cherokee National Forest

Several miles upriver from Long Island, the GIW passed through the Nickajack area, so-called by the Cherokee (from Ani-Kusati) because it had once inhabited by the Koasati.

After following the south bank of the Tennessee River, the Warpath proceeded through Running Water Valley to Lookout/Will's Valley, where it met the Cumberland Trail, which came up through the latter valley from its terminus at Gadsden, Alabama, on a point along the Upper Creek Path on its way to the Cumberland Gap, the Ohio Valley, and the Great Lakes region. Having met, both trails crossed the foot of Lookout Mountain approximately along the same route as the later Old Wauhatchie Pike.

Once over the mountain, the Warpath crossed lower Chattanooga Valley to what archaeologists refer to as the Citico site, which was for several hundred years the pre-eminent town in the early period of the Mississippian culture in East Tennessee (until around 1200). Afterwards, it ran east along the route of the late Shallowford Road to Missionary Ridge, where it divided, the main branch heading northeast toward the Shallow Ford (which can still be seen) across the Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek) and the other branch directly east along the route of Bird's Mill/Brainerd Road to cross at another ford at the site of the later Brainerd Mission and Bird's Mill.

Here, on the east bank, is where Dragging Canoe and his Chickamauga Indian faction established headquarters after leaving the Overhill Cherokee towns on the Little Tennessee River (see Chickamauga Wars (1776–94)). From there, it proceeded north along the modern-day Chickamauga Road until reaching the main route again to follow roughly along the later Chattanooga-Cleveland Pike. From the area of Cleveland, Tennessee, the Warpath following much the same line as Lee Highway until reaching the Little Tennessee River.

From Old Chickamauga Town, a third branch of the Warpath passed across Hickory Valley, where it intersected a path from the Cisca and St. Augustine Trail in North Georgia to the Tennessee River, which intersected the main route of the Warpath before fording the stream at Harrison, Tennessee, to reach the Middle Mississippian town archaeologists call the Dallas site. After crossing that valley, the branch from Chickamauga passed east to Parker's Gap through Whiteoak Mountain and turned northeast, eventually itself reaching the main route again.

In the Overhill Cherokee country it ran from lands to the north to the town of Chota on the Little Tennessee. Here, another important trail, the Warriors' Path, continued south to the town of Great Tellico (present-day Tellico Plains), following Ball Play Creek, modern Ball Play Road, and the Tellico River. At Great Tellico, the Warrior's Path intersected the Trading Path (later called the "Unicoi Turnpike"), which ran east over the mountains. From Great Tellico, the Warrior's Path followed Conasauga Creek to its confluence with the Hiwassee River, where the town of Great Hiwassee stood.[1]


In Virginia, the GIW generally followed the future path of U.S. Route 11. From the Tennessee border, the fork called the Chesapeake Branch led off to the northeast passing 3 miles (5 km) west of what is now Bristol, then through the sites of present-day Abingdon, Glad Spring, Marion, Rural Retreat, Fort Chiswell, Draper, Ingle's or Pepper's ferry, Salem, Roanoke, Amsterdam, Buchanan, Lexington, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Winchester, and on into West Virginia and Pennsylvania. A fork of this branch cut off at present Ellett, Virginia, went up the North Fork of the Roanoke River, down Catawba Creek to Fincastle or Amsterdam. The Richmond fork of this Chesapeake branch led off from Salem, and continued southwest of Lynchburg, and thence northeast to the future site of Richmond.[2]

The other trail, called the Ohio branch, led up the Holston Valley to the north fork of the Holston River by what is now Saltville, Virginia, to the New River, and thence down the New and Kanawha rivers to the Indian settlements in Ohio and western Pennsylvania.[3]

West Virginia[edit]

In present-day West Virginia, the Seneca Trail generally followed the future path of U.S. Route 219. It entered the present state a few miles west of Bluefield and followed the Bluestone River to the New and Greenbrier rivers to the vicinity of White Sulphur Springs. It then followed Anthony Creek down to the Greenbrier River near the present PocahontasGreenbrier County line which it then ascended to the vicinity of Hillsboro and Droop Mountain. It then made its way through present Pocahontas County by way of Marlinton, Indian Draft Run, and Edray. Passing into present Randolph County, it descended the Tygart Valley River from its headwaters and passed through the vicinity of present-day Elkins, after which it proceeded north by ascending Leading Creek. It exited Randolph County when it crossed Pheasant Mountain. Descending the Left Fork of Clover Run into present-day Tucker County, it crossed the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River and exited that county by way of Horseshoe Run northeast of St. George. Here it also exited the present state of West Virginia near Oakland, Maryland.


The Seneca Trail continued north through western Maryland and western Pennsylvania generally by way of the Youghiogheny and Allegheny rivers.

From Baltimore, a connector path closely followed the present-day route of Maryland Route 10, the Arundel Expressway. It continued south of Maryland Route 2 towards Annapolis near the once-planned extension of MD 10. War parties could then invade the Delmarva Peninsula.


Mention has been made of the Catawba Trail. The following is Hon. James Veech's account and description of it as given in The Monongahela of Old:

The most prominent, and perhaps the most ancient of these old pathways across our county, was the old Catawba or Cherokee Trail, leading from the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, &c., through Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, on to Western New York and Canada. We will trace it within our limits as well as we can. After crossing and uniting with numerous other trails, the principal one entered Fayette territory, at the State line, at the mouth of Grassy run. A tributary trail, called the Warrior Branch, coming from Tennessee, through Kentucky and Southern Ohio, came up Fish creek and down Dunkard, crossing Cheat river at McFarland's. It run out a junction with the chief trail, intersecting it in William Gans' sugar camp, but it kept on by Crow's mill, James Robinson's, and the old gun factory, and thence toward the mouth of Redstone, intersecting the old Redstone trail from the top of Laurel Hill, afterward Burd's road, near Jackson's, or Grace Church, on the National Road. The main Catawba trail pursued the even tenor of its way, regardless of minor points, which, like a modern grand railroad, it served by branches and turn-outs. After receiving the Warrior Branch junction, it kept on through land late of Charles Griffin, by Long's Mill, Ashcraft's Fort, Phillip Rogers' (now Alfred Stewart's), the Diamond Spring (now William James'); thence nearly on the route of the present Morgantown road, until it came to the Misses Hadden's; thence across Hellen's fields, passing near the Rev. William Brownfield's mansion, and about five rods west of the old Henry Beeson brick house; thence through Uniontown, over the old Bank house lot, crossing the creek where the bridge now is, back of the Sheriff's house; thence along the northern side of the public grave-yard on the hill, through the eastern edge of John Gallagher's land, about six rods south of John F. Foster's (formerly Samuel Clarke's) house, it crossed Shute's Run where the fording now is, between the two meadows, keeping the high land through Col. Evans' plantation, and passed between William and John Jones' to the site of Pearse's Fort; thence by the Murphy school-house, and bearing about thirty rods westward of the Mount Braddock mansion, it passed a few rods to the east of the old Conrad Strickler house, where it is still visible. Keeping on through land formerly of John Hamilton (now Freeman), it crossed the old Connellsville road immediately on the summit of the Limestone hill, a few rods west of the old Strickler distillery; thence through the old Lawrence Harrison land (James Blackiston's) to Robinson's falls on Mill Run, and thence down it to the Yough river, crossing it just below the run's mouth, where Braddock's army crossed, at Stewart's Crossings. The trail thence kept through the Narrows, by Rist's, near the Baptist meeting-house, beyond Pennsville, passing by the old Saltwell on Green Lick run, to the mouth of Bushy run, at Tinsman's or Welshouse's mill. Thence it bore across Westmoreland county, up the Allegheny, to the heads of the Susquehanna, and into Western New York, then the empire of the Iroquois. A branch left the main trail at Robinson's mill, on Mill or Opossum run, which crossed the Yough at the Broad ford, bearing down across Jacobs creek, Sewickley and Turtle creeks, to the forks of the Ohio, at Pittsburgh, by the highland route. This branch, and the northern part within our county [Fayette], of the main route, will be found to possess much interest in connection with Braddock's line of march to his disastrous destiny.

This Cherokee or Catawba Indian trail, including its Warrior branch, is the only one of note which traversed our county northward and southward. Generally, they passed eastward and westward, from the river, to and across the mountains.

Decidedly the most important of all these [trails passing eastward and westward] is Nemacolin's Trail, afterward adopted and improved by Washington and Braddock, the latter of whom, by a not unusual freak of fame, has given to the road its name, while its shrewd old Indian engineer, like him who traced for Napoleon the great road across the Simplon, has been buried in forgetfulness.

New York[edit]

The Seneca Trail started/ended in western New York near Niagara Falls.

Path Belt. In 1775 the twelve united colonies entered into an agreement concerning the usage of the paths and the roads:

Brothers: It is necessary, in order for the preservation of friendship between us and brothers of the Six Nations (Iroquois) and their allies, that a free and mutual intercourse be kept between us; therefore we, Brothers: The road is now open for our brethren of the Six Nations and their allies, and they may now pass as safely and freely as the people of the Twelve United Colonies themselves. And we are further determined, by the assistance of God, to keep open and free for the Six Nations and their allies, as long as the earth remains.

Afterwards, the GIW generally followed the Allegheny Mountains into the Mid-Atlantic region, New England, and into Newfoundland, where it met its northern terminus.

See also[edit]


  • Duncan, Barbara R. and Riggs, Brett H. (2003). Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. ISBN 0-8078-5457-3.
  • Maxwell, Hu (1924). "The Seneca Indian Trail". The Tucker Democrat (Tucker County, West Virginia).
  • Mooney, James (1982). Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee. Nashville: Charles and Randy Elder—Booksellers. pp. 206–207.
  1. ^ Duncan 2003:242-243
  2. ^ Brown, Ralph (October 1937). "A Sketch of the Early History of Southwestern Virginia". William and Mary Quarterly 2nd Ser., Vol. 17 No. 4 pp 501-513 (The text is in the public domain.). University of William and Mary. Archived from the original on 2014-01-30. 
  3. ^ Brown, Ralph (October 1937). "A Sketch of the Early History of Southwestern Virginia". William and Mary Quarterly 2nd Ser., Vol. 17 No. 4 pp 501-513 (The text is in the public domain.). University of William and Mary. Archived from the original on 2014-01-30.