Dragging Canoe, Cherokee warrior and leader of the Chickamaugas, was born in one of the Overhill towns on the Tennessee River, the son of the Cherokee diplomat Attakullakulla. Historians have identified Dragging Canoe as the greatest Cherokee military leader. Even at an early age Dragging Canoe wanted to be a warrior. He once asked his father to include him in a war party against the Shawnees, but Attakullakulla refused. Determined to go, the boy hid in a canoe, where the warriors found him. His father gave the boy permission to go–if he could carry the canoe. The vessel was too heavy, but undaunted, the boy dragged the canoe. Cherokee warriors encouraged his efforts, and from that time, he was known as Dragging Canoe.
As the head warrior of the Overhill town of Malaquo, Dragging Canoe fought a number of significant battles against white settlers. By the 1770s the increasing encroachment by settlers on Indian land concerned Dragging Canoe, and he worked to achieve their removal. In 1776 fourteen northern tribes sent envoys to the Overhill towns to offer an alliance with the Cherokees. Dragging Canoe thought the opening of the Revolutionary War provided the perfect opportunity to strike the isolated white settlements. The Cherokees planned a three-pronged attack: Old Abram led a contingent against the Watauga and Nolichucky settlements; warriors under the leadership of the Raven struck Carter's Valley; and Dragging Canoe fought at the battle of Island Flats, where he was wounded. The settlers suffered heavy losses initially, but the arrival of reinforcements proved too much for the Cherokees, and they were defeated.
Many Cherokee leaders argued against further fighting, but Dragging Canoe refused to submit. He fled the Overhill towns with like-minded Cherokees and established new towns on Chickamauga Creek in the winter of 1776-77. This group, which included discontented members of various tribes, came to be known as the Chickamaugas. Dragging Canoe and his warriors fought the 1781 “Battle of the Bluffs” near Fort Nashborough and defeated American army troops when they invaded the Chickamauga towns in 1788.
As he aged, Dragging Canoe moved from the position of warrior to that of diplomat. He worked to preserve Cherokee culture and establish an alliance with the Creeks and Shawnees. In 1791 a federation of Indian forces defeated General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory. Shortly after a diplomatic mission with the Chickasaws, Dragging Canoe died on March 1, 1792, in the town of Running Water, one of the towns he had helped to found.