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99. The Shawano Wars

Among the most inveterate foes of the Cherokee were the Shawano, known to the Cherokee as Ani'-Sawänu'gï, who in ancient times, probably as early as 1680, removed from Savannah (i.e., Shawano) river, in South Carolina, and occupied the Cumberland river region in middle Tennessee and Kentucky, from which they were afterward driven by the superior force of the southern tribes and compelled to take refuge north of the Ohio. On all old maps we find the Cumberland

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marked as the "river of the Shawano." Although the two tribes were frequently, and perhaps for long periods, on friendly terms, the ordinary condition was one of chronic warfare, from an early traditional period until the close of the Revolution. This hostile feeling was intensified by the fact that the Shawano were usually the steady allies of the Creeks, the hereditary southern enemies of the Cherokee. In 1749, however, we find a party of Shawano from the north, accompanied by several Cherokee, making an inroad into the Creek country, and afterward taking refuge among the Cherokee, thus involving the latter in a new war with their southern neighbors (Adair, Am. Inds., 276, 1775). The Shawano made themselves respected for their fighting qualities, gaining a reputation for valor which they maintained in their later wars with the whites, while from their sudden attack and fertility of stratagem they came to be regarded as a tribe of magicians. By capture or intermarriage in the old days there is quite an admixture of Shawano blood among the Cherokee.

According to Haywood, an aged Cherokee chief, named the Little Cornplanter (Little Carpenter?), stated in 1772 that the Shawano had removed from the Savannah river a long time before in consequence of disastrous war with several neighboring tribes, and had settled upon the Cumberland, by permission of his people. A quarrel having after ward arisen between the two tribes, a strong body of Cherokee invaded the territory of the Shawano, and, treacherously attacking them, killed a great number. The Shawano fortified themselves and a long war ensued, which continued until the Chickasaw came to the aid of the Cherokee, when the Shawano were gradually forced to withdraw north of the Ohio.

At the time of their final expulsion, about the year 1710, the boy Charleville was employed at a French post, established for the Shawano trade, which occupied a mound on the south side of Cumberland river, where now is the city of Nashville. For a long time the Shawano had been so hard pressed by their enemies that they had been withdrawing to the north in small parties for several years, until only a few remained behind, and these also now determined to leave the country entirely. In March the trader sent Charleville ahead with several loads of skins, intending himself to follow with the Shawano a few months later. In the meantime the Chickasaw, learning of the intended move, posted themselves on both sides of Cumberland river, above the mouth of Harpeth, with canoes to cut off escape by water, and suddenly attacked the retreating Shawano, killing a large part of them, together with the trader, and taking all their skins, trading goods, and other property. Charleville lived to tell the story nearly seventy years later. As the war was never terminated by any formal treaty of peace, the hostile warriors continued to attack each other whenever they chanced to meet on the rich hunting grounds of Kentucky, until finally, from mutual

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dread, the region was abandoned by both parties, and continued thus unoccupied until its settlement by the whites.[1]

According to Cherokee tradition, a body of Creeks was already established near the mouth of Hiwassee while the Cherokee still had their main settlements upon the Little Tennessee. The Creeks, being near neighbors, pretended friendship, while at the same time secretly aiding the Shawano. Having discovered the treachery, the Cherokee took advantage of the presence of the Creeks at a great dance at Itsâ'tï, or Echota, the ancient Cherokee capital, to fall suddenly upon them and kill nearly the whole party. The consequence was a war, with the final result that the Creeks were defeated and forced to abandon all their settlements on the waters of the Tennessee river.[2]

Haywood says that "Little Cornplanter" had seen Shawano scalps brought into the Cherokee towns. When he was a boy, his father, who was also a chief, had told him how he had once led a party against the Shawano and was returning with several scalps, when, as they were coming through a pass in the mountains, they ran into another party of Cherokee warriors, who, mistaking them for enemies, fired into them and killed several before they discovered their mistake.'

Schoolcraft also gives the Cherokee tradition of the war with the Shawano, as obtained indirectly from white informants, but incorrectly makes it occur while the latter tribe still lived upon the Savannah. "The Cherokees prevailed after a long and sanguinary contest and drove the Shawnees north. This event they cherish as one of their proudest achievements. 'What!' said an aged Cherokee chief to Mr Barnwell, who had suggested the final preservation of the race by intermarriage with the whites. 'What! Shall the Cherokees perish! Shall the conquerors of the Shawnees perish! Never!'"[4]

Tribal warfare as a rule consisted of a desultory succession of petty raids, seldom approaching the dignity of a respectable skirmish and hardly worthy of serious consideration except in the final result. The traditions necessarily partake of the same trivial character, being rather anecdotes than narratives of historical events which had dates and names. Lapse of time renders them also constantly more vague.

On the Carolina side the Shawano approach was usually made up the Pigeon river valley, so as to come upon the Cherokee settlements from behind, and small parties were almost constantly lurking about waiting the favorable opportunity to pick up a stray scalp. On one occasion some Cherokee hunters were stretched around the camp fire at night when they heard the cry of a flying squirrel in the woods--tsu-u! tsu-u! tsu-u! Always on the alert for danger, they suspected it might be the enemy's signal, and all but one hastily left the fire and concealed themselves. That one, however, laughed at their fears and, defiantly throwing some heavy logs on the fire, stretched himself out on his blanket

[1. Haywood, Nat. and Aborig. Hist. of Tennessee, pp. 222-224, 1823.

2. Ibid, p. 241.

3. Ibid, p. 222.

4. Schoolcraft, Notes on Iroquois, p. 160, 1847.]

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and began to sing. Soon he heard a stealthy step coming through the bushes and gradually approaching the fire, until suddenly an enemy sprang out upon him from the darkness and bore him to the earth. But the Cherokee was watchful, and putting up his hands he seized the other by the arms, and with a mighty effort threw him backward into the fire. The dazed Shawano lay there a moment squirming upon the coals, then bounded to his feet and ran into the woods, howling with pain. There was an answering laugh from his comrades hidden in the bush, but although the Cherokee kept watch for some time the enemy made no further attack, probably led by the very boldness of the hunter to suspect some ambush.

On another occasion a small hunting party in the Smoky mountains heard the gobble of a turkey (in telling the story Swimmer gives a good imitation). Some eager young hunters were for going at once toward the game, but others, more cautious, suspected a ruse and advised a reconnaissance. Accordingly a hunter went around to the back of the ridge, and on coming up from the other side found a man posted in a large tree, making the gobble call to decoy the hunters within reach of a Shawano war party concealed behind some bushes midway between the tree and the camp. Keeping close to the ground, the Cherokee crept up without being discovered until within gunshot, then springing to his feet he shot the man in the tree, and shouting "Kill them all," rushed upon the enemy, who, thinking that a strong force of Cherokee was upon them, fled down the mountain without attempting to make a stand.

Another tradition of these wars is that concerning Tunâ'ï, a great warrior and medicine-man of old Itsâ'tï, on the Tennessee. In one hard fight with the Shawano, near the town, he overpowered his man and stabbed him through both arms. Running cords through the holes he tied his prisoner's arms and brought him thus into Itsâ'tï, where he was put to death by the women with such tortures that his courage broke and he begged them to kill him at once.

After retiring to the upper Ohio the Shawano were received into the protection of the Delawares and their allies, and being thus strengthened felt encouraged to renew the war against the Cherokee with increased vigor. The latter, however, proved themselves more than a match for their enemies, pursuing them even to their towns in western Pennsylvania, and accidentally killing there some Delawares who occupied the country jointly with the Shawano. This involved the Cherokee in a war with the powerful Delawares, which continued until brought to an end in 1768 at the request of the Cherokee, who made terms of friendship at the same time with the Iroquois. The Shawano being thus left alone, and being, moreover, roundly condemned by their friends, the Delawares, as the cause of the whole trouble, had no heart to continue the war and were obliged to make final peace.[1]

[1. Heckewelder, Indian Nations, p. 88, reprint of 1876.]

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