Dragging Canoe–Tsiyu Gansini
|Died||February 29, 1792 (aged 53–54)|
|Occupation||War chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee|
|Relatives||son of Attakullakulla|
Dragging Canoe (ᏥᏳ ᎦᏅᏏᏂ, pronounced Tsiyu Gansini, "he is dragging his canoe") (c. 1738–February 29, 1792) was a Cherokee war chief who led a band of Cherokee warriors who resisted colonists and United States settlers in the Upper South.
During the American Revolution and afterward, Dragging Canoe's forces were sometimes joined by Upper Muskogee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Indians from other tribes/nations, along with British Loyalists, and agents of France and Spain. The series of conflicts lasted a decade after the American Revolutionary War. Dragging Canoe became the preeminent war leader among the Indians of the southeast. He served as war chief, or skiagusta, of the group known as the Chickamauga Cherokee (or "Lower Cherokee"), from 1777 until his death in 1792. He was succeeded by John Watts.
Born about 1738, he was the son of Attakullakulla ("Little Carpenter") and Nionne Ollie ("Tamed Doe"). Both parents had been born to other tribes, taken captive in war, and adopted by Cherokee families who raised them in their tradition. His father was born to the Nipissing near Lake Superior. His mother was born to the Natchez and adopted as a daughter by Oconostota's wife.
His family lived with the Overhill Cherokee on the Little Tennessee River in what is now southeast Tennessee. Dragging Canoe survived smallpox at a young age, which left his face marked. According to Cherokee legend, he was given his name because of an incident in his childhood. When he wanted to join a war party moving against the Shawnee, his father said that he could accompany the war party as long as he could carry his canoe. The youth tried to prove his readiness for war but could only drag the heavy canoe.
War chief of the Cherokee
Dragging Canoe first took part in battle during the Anglo-Cherokee War (1759–1761). In its aftermath, he was recognized as one of the strongest opponents to encroachment by settlers from the British colonies onto Cherokee land. Eventually, he became the headman of Mialoquo ("Great Island Town," or "Amoyeli Egwa" in Cherokee) on the Little Tennessee River.
When the Cherokee chose to ally with the British in the American Revolution, Dragging Canoe was at the head of one of the major attacks. After the colonial militias' counterattack, which destroyed the Cherokee Middle, Valley, and Lower Towns in the Carolinas, his father and Oconostota wanted to sue for peace.
Refusing to admit defeat, in 1777 Dragging Canoe led a band of the Overhill Cherokee out of the towns, further south. They migrated to the area seven miles upstream from where the South Chickamauga Creek joins the Tennessee River, in the vicinity of present-day Chattanooga. Thereafter, frontiersman called them the "Chickamauga" because of their settlement by the creek. They established 11 towns, including the one later referred to as "Old Chickamauga Town." This was across the river from the trading post of Scotsman John McDonald, assistant superintendent of the regional British concerns. He supplied the Chickamauga with guns, cannons, ammunition, and supplies to fight the American rebels.
In spring of 1779, Evan Shelby led an expedition of frontiersmen from Virginia and North Carolina to destroy Dragging Canoe's Chickamauga towns. Shelby reported their success in a letter to Patrick Henry, saying "[the Chickamauga Cherokee] are reduced to a Sense of their Duty and a Willingness to treat for peace with the united States."
In 1782, for the second time, Cherokee towns were attacked by United States forces. The devastation caused by Colonel John Sevier's troop forced the band to move further down the Tennessee River. Dragging Canoe established the "Five Lower Towns" below the natural obstructions of the Tennessee River Gorge. These were: Running Water Town (now Whiteside), Nickajack Town (near the cave of the same name), Long Island (on the Tennessee River), Crow Town (at the mouth of Crow Creek), and Lookout Mountain Town (at the current site of Trenton, Georgia). Following this move, this band was alternately referred to as the "Lower Cherokee."
From his base at Running Water Town, Dragging Canoe led attacks on white settlements all over the American Southeast, especially against the colonists on the Holston, Watauga, and Nolichucky rivers in eastern Tennessee. After 1780, he also attacked settlements in the Cumberland River area, the Washington District, the Republic of Franklin, the Middle Tennessee areas, and raided into Kentucky and Virginia as well. His three brothers, Little Owl, the Badger, and Turtle-at-Home, often fought with his forces.
Dragging Canoe died February 29, 1792 at Running Water Town, from exhaustion (or possibly a heart attack) after dancing all night celebrating the recent conclusion of an alliance with the Muskogee and the Choctaw. The Chickamauga were also celebrating a recent victory by one of their war bands against the Cumberland settlements.
Historians such as John P. Brown in Old Frontiers, and James Mooney in his early ethnographic book, Myths of the Cherokee, consider him a role model for the younger Tecumseh, who was a member of a band of Shawnee living with the Chickamauga and taking part in their wars. In Tell Them They Lie, a book written by a direct descendant of Sequoyah named Traveller [sic] Bird, both Tecumseh and Sequoyah are stated to have been among his young warriors.
- Note: Is often misspelled "Dragon Canoe" in records.
- Klink and Talman; The Journal of Major John Norton; p. 42
- Dragging Canoe; By Ezzell, Patricia Bernard. (Tennessee Valley Authority); Tennessee Encyclopedia; accessed September 2015
- Dragging Canoe & The Chickamauga Cherokees; Bogan, Dallas; Tennessee Gen Web online; accessed September 2015
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- Rolater, Fred S. "The Chickamaugas". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
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- Ramsey, J. G. M., The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century, 1853 (2007 Online Edition). (Rockwood, TN: RoaneTNHistory.org, 2007).
- Brent Yanusdi Cox, Heart of the Eagle: Dragging Canoe & the Emergence of the Chickamauga Confederacy, 1999
- Robert J. Conley's novel, Cherokee Dragon (Real People series), 2000