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Robert "Bob" Benge (c. 1762–1794), called Captain Benge (or "The Bench" to frontiersmen), was one of the most feared Cherokee leaders on the frontier during the Cherokee–American wars (1783-1794) in the area of present-day Southwest Virginia.
Born as Bob Benge about 1762 in the Overhill Cherokee town of Toqua. He was the redheaded mixed-blood son of a Cherokee woman and a Scots-Irish trader named John Benge, who lived full-time among the Cherokee. He had a sister Lucy. The available sources strongly imply, but do not prove, that young Benge and his sister Lucy were also half-siblings with George Guess, better known as Sequoyah. Both Sequoyah and Benge were great-nephews of Old Tassel and Doublehead. Under the Cherokee matrilineal kinship and clan system, children were considered born into their mother's clans, and their mother's brothers were very important figures, especially for boys.
When Dragging Canoe and his party moved to the southwest in 1777, John Benge moved his family to a new home in Running Water, one of the Chickamauga Lower Towns. When Bob, who became known as "Captain Bench," his half-brother The Tail, and cousin Tahlonteeskee got old enough, they joined with their maternal uncle John Watts in fighting the Cherokee–American wars. During the Cherokee Removal of 1838, the fourth wagon train of a thousand Cherokees from Alabama was conducted by Captain John Benge, son of the Chickamauga warrior.
Exploits as a warrior
Living at Running Water Town (now Whiteside, Tennessee), enabled him to meet and operate with the Shawnee band of Chiksika and his brother Tecumseh. Benge often went with them on raids and forays during the time they were at Running Water. In one of his early raids, in spring 1777, he is said to have captured two women while raiding around Fort Blackmore, Virginia. Afterward he often ran with the mixed group of warriors led by Doublehead out of Coldwater Town at the head of Muscle Shoals, Alabama on the Tennessee River. Among his accomplishments was saving the population of the town of Ustally in 1788 which John Sevier had slated for destruction.
Benge raided as far north as the Ohio River, deep into southwestern Virginia, all of the Washington District of North Carolina, and southeast into Georgia and South Carolina. These included a joint raid between his party and that of Doublehead into the Kentucky hunting grounds.
The Brown family
Benge was at Running Water Town when word came that an agreement had been reached with John Sevier for an exchange of hostages; it mentioned the Brown family, who had been taken captive in 1788 as they reached Nickajack, passing through the Five Lower Towns on the Tennessee River. Only three of the surviving members remained among the Cherokee, the other three having been sent to the Muscogee.
Joseph Brown and his sister Polly were brought immediately to Running Water, but when runners were sent to Crow Town to retrieve Jane, their youngest sister, her owner refused to surrender her. Benge mounted his horse and hefted his famous axe, saying, "I will bring the girl, or the owner's head". The next morning he returned with Jane. The three were later handed over to Sevier at Coosawattee.
Benge came to a parting of the ways with his former close ally, Doublehead, over an incident at Cavett's Station. In 1793 John Watts led a raid on the Holston River settlements, aiming at White's Fort (now Knoxville, Tennessee). There, Benge negotiated the surrender of the garrison and its defenders with the promise of safe passage. Doublehead and his band violated the parole by attacking and killing them all: men, women, and children, as soon as they were outside the small fort. This was over the pleas of Benge, Watts, and James Vann to honor the agreement. Benge never operated again with Doublehead after the incident. The massacre also contributed to a bitter animosity between Doublehead and Vann that led to a division between the Upper and Lower Towns after the end of the wars in 1794.
He was killed April 6, 1794 in an ambush in what is in what is now Wise County, Virginia during an extended raid deep into enemy-held territory, while escorting prisoners captured from a settlement earlier in the day back to the Lower Towns. The militia took his scalp and sent it to the Governor of Virginia, Henry Lee III, who sent it on to President George Washington. Credit for killing Benge went to militia leader Vincent Hobbs Jr, son of one of the original white settlers of current Lee County, Virginia.
- Robert Addison, History of Scott County, Virginia p. 83.
- Addison, p. 3.
- American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol.1, 1789-1813, Congress of the United States, Washington,DC, 1831-1838.
- 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).
- Moore, John Trotwood and Austin P. Foster. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, 1769-1923, Vol. 1, pp. 228–231. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923).