The Chickamaugas were a diverse group of Cherokees, Creeks, dissatisfied whites, and African Americans who stymied white settlement in Tennessee for approximately nineteen years. On March 19, 1775, one month before the outbreak of fighting in the American Revolution, Richard Henderson signed the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with the Cherokees led by Attakullakulla, or Little Carpenter. The private treaty ceded Central Kentucky and northern Middle Tennessee to Henderson. Little Carpenter's son, Dragging Canoe, led the opposition and warned the whites that they were buying a “dark and bloody ground.” (1)

In 1776 the Shawnee chief Cornstalk came south to persuade the Cherokees and other southern tribes to join the British and resist American settlement across the Appalachian mountains. Dragging Canoe and many of the younger Cherokees were quite sympathetic, and eventually the majority of the 2,500 Cherokee warriors attacked the Upper East Tennessee settlements. The Watauga settlers drove away the attackers, and soldiers from the Carolinas and Virginia destroyed most of the Cherokee villages east of the mountains. The most antiwhite Cherokees, led by Dragging Canoe, Bloody Fellow, Young Tassel, and Hanging Maw, moved into several abandoned Creek towns including Citico and Chickamauga along Chickamauga Creek and began calling themselves Chickamaugas after the “river of death.”

The British provided the group with two thousand pounds of supplies early in 1779 in preparation for a major raid on the East Tennessee settlements. In a preemptive strike, Evan Shelby and 900 Virginia and North Carolina troops descended the Tennessee River by boat and surprised the Chickamaugas. The whites burned the villages and seized the supplies. The raid produced few Indian casualties, however, and Dragging Canoe moved the group to the more defensible territory west of Lookout Mountain, setting up the five Lower Towns: Running Water and Nickajack in Tennessee, Lookout Mountain in Georgia, and Long Island and Crowtown in Alabama.

By this time the Chickamaugas, who had started out as dissatisfied Overhill Cherokees, included many Upper Creeks, Shawnee, French “boatmen,” some blacks, and Scots traders. Daniel Ross settled among them by 1785. The Shawnee warrior Cheesekau and his younger brother Tecumseh also lived with them.

The Donelson river voyagers to Fort Nashborough fought their way through the Chickamauga area during the spring of 1780. In the course of their voyage, several members of the party were killed. In the fall of 1780 the Chickamaugas struck at the Cumberland settlements and destroyed Mansker's Station in Goodlettsville. The following April they attacked Fort Nashborough but lost the battle of the Bluffs. In December 1780 the Chickamaugas lost 80 men to forces under John Sevier at Boyd's Creek, near the Little Tennessee River. The Chickamaugas kept the Cumberland settlements isolated in 1787, and even attacked Fort White (Knoxville) in 1788. On a river trip, Joseph Brown was captured; he spent a year at Nickajack. In 1792 they struck at Buchanan's Station, just four miles south of Fort Nashborough. Travelers between East and Middle Tennessee were forced north on the Wilderness Trail, and even there, some 100 deaths occurred. Then, on February 29, 1792, the day after a great victory celebration, Dragging Canoe died suddenly, and the mantle of leadership passed to Young Tassel.

The specific end of the Chickamauga period came on September 12, 1794, when a Southwest Territory militia unit under Major James Ore and led by former prisoner Joseph Brown crossed Monteagle Mountain and wiped out Nickajack and Running Water. By the end of the year the remaining Chickamaugas had joined the Overhill Cherokees to make treaties with the white Tennesseans.

Indian resistance continued, as the towns of Lookout Mountain, Long Island, and Crowtown realigned themselves with the Upper Creeks. Raids into southeast Middle Tennessee continued on a regular basis. The area from Murfreesboro to Beech Grove could not be settled until 1800; Warren County opened to white settlement in 1806; and whites settled Sequatchie County between 1807 and 1810. No effective white settlements, however, except the trading post of Daniel Ross, reached Chattanooga until 1817. The Chickamauga movement finally ended with Andrew Jackson's victories over the Red Stick Creeks in the 1813-14 Alabama campaign.

Suggested Reading

Ronald N. Satz, Tennessees Indian Peoples: From White Contact to Removal, 1540-1840 (1979)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Chickamaugas
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018