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Tsali (Cherokee: ᏣᎵ), originally of Coosawattee Town (Kusawatiyi), was a noted leader of the Cherokee during two different periods of the history of the tribe. As a young man, he followed the war chief Dragging Canoe, from the time the latter migrated southwest during the Chickamauga Wars. In 1812 he became known as a prophet, urging the Cherokee to ally with the Shawnee Tecumseh in war against the Americans.
Later, during the 1830s roundup of Cherokee for Indian Removal, Tsali and some of his family attacked and killed United States soldiers. The principal Cherokee chiefs sent warriors to capture him and his family, and executed Tsali and two of his sons. The remainder of his family were absorbed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who stayed in the state after removal.
During the turbulent years leading up to the War of 1812 and the Creek War, Tsali first became known as a major figure on the Cherokee national scene. The teachings of Tenskwatawa, known as the "Shawnee Prophet", began to filter down to the Native Americans of the Southeast, where they sparked a traditionalist cultural and religious revival. Tenskwatawa was the brother of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who led a pan-Indian resistance against the Americans.
Tenskwatawa's influence inspired what the later anthropologist James Mooney called the "Cherokee Ghost Dance movement". This revival increased Tecumseh visited the council of the Upper Muscogee and representatives of the other tribes of the Southeast at Tuckabatchee. He called on them to band together, abandon the ways of acculturation, and take up arms together in a united war against the Americans.
The Cherokee National Council had sent a small delegation led by The Ridge to hear Tecumseh. He was generally well received but, when Tecumseh asked the Cherokee delegation when he could speak to their National Council, The Ridge replied that if Tecumseh set one foot inside the Cherokee Nation The Ridge would kill him. The chief considered the Shawnee a threat to Cherokee stability, although he had fought alongside many of the Cherokee leaders in the late 1780s during the Chickamauga Wars.
Some weeks after that Council, the 1812 New Madrid earthquake struck, affecting the entire continent of North America, with aftershocks for weeks afterwards. The legend spread that after his rejection by the Cherokee at Tuckabatchee, Tecumseh had promised that when he returned home, he would stomp his foot down on the earth so that the anger of the Great Spirit would come upon the Earth.
In a Council meeting at Ustanali some weeks later, the traditionalist prophet Tsali from the town of Coosawattee came to speak. He was eloquent in favor of alliance with Tecumseh. The Ridge, widely acknowledged as the best orator among the Cherokee Nation, attacked what he had said. Supporters of Tsali attacked The Ridge, who was saved by the intervention of a friend.
The Ridge's defiance of Tsali caused the prophet to lose face with the Council, which had been at the point of voting nearly unanimously to support Tecumseh's war. Tsali prophesied a great apocalypse for the Cherokee Nation and said the only safe haven would be the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, to which he then departed.
The National Council refused The Ridge efforts to gain support for the Americans in their conflict with the British during the War of 1812. The Council got involved in the Creek War only after recruited by the Lower Muscogee.
After the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, the federal government began to round up Cherokee in preparation for the forced removal to what was to become Indian Territory. When the soldiers came into the small group of farmsteads owned by Tsali's extended family in the Snowbird Mountains of western North Carolina, they were attacked, and some of them killed.
Both John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and Yonaguska, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, condemned Tsali's actions. They offered to capture him and his warriors. in the strongest of terms and offered to help run him and his family down. Yonaguska was given the task, and asked for assistance from his friend Utsala on the Nanthahala River, hoping to gain him permission to stay in the state as compensation for his effort.
The Cherokee captured Tsali and his family; they executed him and two of his sons. The rest of his large family was allowed to remain under the umbrella of the Eastern Band.
Representation in other media
- Brown, John P. Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838. (Kingsport: Southern Publishers, 1938).
- Eckert, Allan W. A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh. (New York: Bantam, 1992).
- McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
- Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee. (Nashville: Charles and Randy Elder-Booksellers, 1982).
- Wilkins, Thurman. Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1970).