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Becky Calwell says...

On 03/02/11
at 03:51 PM

Becky has 2306 topics and 1 post so far

We received this commentary from Douglas McClure Wood regarding the e-WV article on Cherokees by John Alexander Williams. Wood has been researching West Virginia’s American Indian heritage since 1977. After earning a B.S. in Wildlife Management from West Virginia University, Wood began researching the connections between the natural history and the cultural history of the Mountain State. Wood was awarded a research grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council to study Ostenaco, a Cherokee military leader. He found that Ostenaco and other Cherokee warriors were engaged in military action on behalf of their British colonial allies in the region that would become West Virginia. Doug Wood and his wife, Dianne, attempt to fill in gaps in understanding of Eastern Woodland Indian heritage in the Appalachian region in general and West Virginia in particular. His years of experience in historical and ecological research and Dianne’s professional expertise in pharmacology and her interest in Eastern Woodland Indian uses of plant and animal materials have led to an education consulting service called Trails Inc. that emphasizes cultural connections with the natural world.

Wood: I have enjoyed Professor Williams’s books and articles on Appalachian history topics for many years. His treatment in e-WV of Cherokee history in relation to West Virginia is relatively short and simplified to meet the needs of the West Virginia Encyclopedia, but I hope the author and the administrators of e-WV will allow me to expand on some of the points made in the entry on Cherokees. I think these expansions will help readers understand better the relationship between Cherokee history and West Virginia history.

Williams: “Their geographic location in the western Carolinas, north Georgia, and eastern Tennessee …”

Wood: This geographic location more aptly describes the seats of their towns but not the extent of their land claims based upon military conquest and use for hunting territory. While some European colonial authorities argued that legitimate claims to land possession were supported only by the actions of seating permanent residences and agricultural crops thereupon (See Virginia Council President Col. Burwell’s letter to the Board of Trade in Christopher Gist’s Journals by William M. Darlington, 1893, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), others recognized the validity of possession claims resulting from military conquest.

After all, such claims had been part and parcel of the European way of land acquisition for thousands of years. And some colonial authorities recognized that American Indians held hunting rights on a par with military conquest and house/garden seats as evidence of legitimate land possession, although the boundaries of such lands were sometimes not rigid and co-claims between various societies on the same tracts were considered legitimate and often codified by treaty.

Williams: “It was not until the U.S. government forcibly removed most of the Cherokee from their homeland that this society ceased to play a major role in the history of the American south.”

Wood: Although this statement is essentially accurate, it is also a bit misleading by what it leaves out. Yes, the U.S. government forcibly removed most of the remaining Georgia, Tennessee, and Carolina Cherokees from their homeland, but the original culprits of forced removal were citizens and authorities in those states who had been murdering and stealing land from Cherokees for decades before the U.S. government settled the racial genocide by removing the embattled Cherokees to another, less disputed territory. Neither federal nor state authorities can be considered angelic in these actions, but at least the federal government, unlike the state governments, gave the Cherokees an alternative place to relocate and carry on their lives.

Williams: “Although the Cherokee claimed land south of the Great Kanawha River in present West Virginia, they did not depend on it for hunting and relinquished this claim in the Treaty of Hard Labor (1768).”

Wood: This statement is a little misleading in two of its purports, i.e., the Cherokee relinquished their claim to the land south of Great Kanawha River, and the Cherokee did not depend on this land for hunting. The Cherokee did not relinquish their claim to all the land south of Great Kanawha River that is now within the state of West Virginia in the Treaty of Hard Labor. The text of that treaty can be read at the following website: Robert Anderson gave a nice synopsis of the treaty line’s location in relation to present-day Interstate 77 in his e-WV entry on The Treaty of Hard Labor. The portion of the boundary line that passed through the land that would become West Virginia ran through the present-day counties of Mercer, Wyoming, Raleigh, Boone, Kanawha, Putnam, and Mason. Significant portions of each of these counties, except Raleigh, plus all of Cabell, Wayne, Mingo, Logan, Lincoln, and McDowell were still within the Cherokee claim after the treaty line was defined. Regarding the other purport, in 1768, the Cherokee claim of possession for the land between their communities and Kanawha River was, in their eyes, legitimized by both military conquest and hunting rights. They considered themselves the conquerors of the French-allied Ohio Valley Indians as a result of their numerous military expeditions against those peoples during the French and Indian War, and during the 1760s.

I detailed some of the documentary evidence for this military conquest in my article “I Have Now Made a Path to Virginia: Outacite Ostenaco and the Cherokee-Virginia Alliance in the French and Indian War” published in West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies, Fall 2008. David H. Corkran gave even more details in his book The Cherokee Frontier: Conflict and Survival, 1740-1762.

The Cherokees’ familiarity with and possession of the region south of Kanawha-New River due to hunting and military exploits is well supported by South Carolina and Virginia colonial documents, particularly from the 1750s and 1760s. In fact, when the Cherokee government, led in part by Ata-gul-kalu (a.k.a. Attakullakulla, Leaning Wood, and The Little Carpenter) sold even more land in 1770 (The Treaty of Lochaber still anchored the boundary to the mouth of Kanawha River), and then without treaty in 1771 (an on-the-ground alteration of the line resulted in the northern corner being anchored at the mouth of Kentucky River), this incensed many Cherokees, including Ata-gul-kalu’s son (Tsi-yu gun-si-ni, a.k.a. Dragging Canoe), who felt betrayed that their hunting lands had been sold and given away without full consultation of the people.

Williams: “They used the Great Appalachian Valley corridor to fight and trade with their fellow Iroquoian language speakers in New York and Pennsylvania, and on at least one occasion engaged in a great battle with these enemies at a place near modern Shepherdstown. Cherokees also briefly played a role as allies of Western Virginia frontiersmen in the ill-fated Sandy Creek Expedition of 1756. Otherwise they did not threaten the Ohio Valley except in the upper New River area of present southwest Virginia.”

Wood: Cherokee war parties actually comprised a significant threat to Ohio Valley Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes from 1756 through the early 1770s. The evidence for this from period documents is abundant and includes George Washington’s journal of his 1770 trip down Ohio River to Kanawha River and back, James Kenny’s journal of daily activities at the Quaker trading store in Pittsburgh 1761-1763 (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1913), and George Croghan’s account of his trip down Ohio River in 1765 (The Olden Time, Vol. I, 1846). The Cherokee successes in the Ohio Valley sustained a state of fear among their enemies for quite some time. In a correspondence dated November 1765 from George Croghan to his supervisor William Johnson, the superintendent of the Royal Northern Indian Department, Croghan related that fear. He said that the Indians there believed “the English would take their Country from them & bring the Cherokees there to settle & to enslave them” (The New Regime 1765-1767, 1916).

Williams: “Young men responded to the entreaties of Mingo and Shawnee warriors to join in their assaults during the Indian wars that accompanied and followed the Revolution, but these were the actions of individuals, not of the Cherokee leadership.”

Wood: Since there were at least two vastly different, but, nonetheless, politically organized factions of Cherokees at this time, i.e., that which followed the older leadership represented by Ata-gul-kalu, and that known as the Chickamauga faction represented by Tsi-yu gun-si-ni, it would be more accurate to say “these were the actions of the anti-American faction of the Cherokee leadership.” There is no question that the Chickamauga faction had a very large following and that they planned their alliances with similar-minded Shawnees, Delawares, and Mingoes against western Americans as a reorganized government of Cherokees independent of the old leadership. Yes, the United States authorities did not recognize the anti-American Cherokees as legitimate leaders of the pacifist or American-allied Cherokees, but that is how every political authority paints its opposition in order to justify war.

Williams: “Cherokees who were active in West Virginia were almost always members of the Overhill towns, one of five clusters of villages among which their people were distributed.”

Wood: This is an oversimplified characterization of Cherokee operatives in West Virginia. During the French and Indian War, large numbers of warriors from each of the three major clusters recognized by most traders and English authorities (Over Hill Towns, Lower Towns, and Middle Towns, which included the Valley and Out Towns) fought on behalf of the British colonies in present-day West Virginia.

In the Special Collections at the University of Virginia Library is a manuscript collection titled, Papers of John Forbes. In this collection is a list, compiled by Captain Abraham Bosomworth, of more than 600 Cherokee and Catawba warriors who had checked in at Winchester, Virginia, in the spring of 1758 in anticipation of the Forbe’s campaign. It includes the name of each party’s leader and his hometown. The Middle and Lower Towns dominate this list. While it is true that Over Hill war parties operating along Ohio River at this time were not accounted for on the list, the evidence, nonetheless, does not support Professor Williams’s statement. Even on the 1756 Sandy Creek Campaign, there were Cherokee allies from all three community clusters. Indeed the Keeowee Indians, as the Lower Town Cherokees were often called because of their principal town (Kuwahiyi), lent their name to one of the army’s encampments at the confluence of a tributary of Dry Fork in McDowell County, is still called Kiwi Creek today.

Williams: “Given the limited role that Cherokees played in West Virginia history, it is curious that a claim of Cherokee ancestry developed among many families in the Mountain State. This may be because after their 19th century ‘renaissance,’ the Cherokees were better known and more widely admired than the other Indian societies—such as Shawnee or Delaware—who are more likely to have participated in genetic exchanges on the Western Virginia frontier. Demographically, it is more probable that claims of Indian blood actually masked African-American ancestry. A third possible explanation comes from the migration of young Cherokee men from their North Carolina reservation during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other southerners, white and black, migrated north to West Virginia lumber and coal camps during this period, and it is possible that Cherokee migrants chose the same paths.”

Wood: Professor Williams’s musings on the role of Cherokees in West Virginia history and on Cherokee ancestral lines of present-day West Virginians are, in my humble opinion, not informed by the latest historical writings on these subjects. My research findings and my experiences have led me to entirely different conclusions. I have already touched upon the significant role that Cherokees played in West Virginia history, particularly in the period from 1756 through 1795, when, at last, the outcome of several treaties ended all American Indian war party incursions into West Virginia. While Cherokee influence on West Virginia history may have been regional (southern West Virginia, not statewide as in the 1750s) during the latter half of this period, it was significant nonetheless. My research has turned up four major Cherokee migration periods and their causes that led to immigration into West Virginia.

The first was in the first three decades of the 19th century. Increasing pressure from Euro-American citizens of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina caused Cherokees, “mixed-bloods,” and mixed-race couples to move northward into the mountainous regions of eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and southeastern Ohio. My own Cherokee ancestress, Margaret Walters, was born in Virginia in 1810 to a couple who had emigrated from Tennessee to Virginia prior to her birth.

The next period of significant outmigration was the spurt caused by the federally managed forced emigrations in the 1830s. Significant numbers of Cherokee/Cherokee-mixed people, although practically invisible to authorities, avoided going westward to Oklahoma by leaving just before or during the evictions. Solomon and Seaberry Osborne are relatively well-known West Virginia representatives of this migration period. Once the southern states became more tolerant of the remnant bands of Cherokees, like those centered around Cherokee and Snowbird, North Carolina, and Red Clay, Tennessee, the emigration slowed, until the end of the Civil War.

The next two migration periods I discuss are treated by Professor Williams as one. However, the slightly different causes for each migration have led me to divide them. In the period immediately following the Civil War, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and southeastern Ohio received significant numbers of Cherokee/Cherokee-mixed peoples who came into the region to get employment in coal mines, on railroads, and on timbering crews. I have known several people (most are deceased) who had one or two Cherokee great-grandparents who moved into West Virginia in that period for the purposes stated. The next notable Cherokee-affiliated immigration into eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and southeastern Ohio was in response to the eugenics laws passed in the 1920s. These laws were designed to prevent racial mixing, but they were often not enforced in the most remote regions where local cultures were relatively tolerant and local governmental authorities were unwilling to enforce the laws. Several mine, timber, and railroad owners were also reluctant to allow their dependable employees of non-Caucasian racial inheritance to be harassed by the more zealous of the eugenics laws enforcers. These legal pressures placed particularly on mixed-race couples and their descendants caused this migration to consist largely of Cherokee-mixed people, not necessarily couples considered “full-bloods.” In the four state region, the combination of low-level enforcement of eugenics laws (which were not repealed in some states until after passage of federal civil rights legislation of the 1960s), and expansion of natural resource extraction industries and affiliated businesses between the mid-1920s and the 1960s worked to make this three-decade period likely the most fruitful as far as in-migration of Cherokee-mixed people is concerned. Professor Williams’s posit, “Demographically, it is more probable that claims of Indian blood actually masked African-American ancestry” is probably most applicable to this period, but without support of a thorough investigation it is certainly not to be considered a universal answer, nor even the most likely answer to the question, “Why do so many southern West Virginians claim Cherokee ancestry?” I am fortunate that the West Virginia Humanities Council has allowed me the opportunity to educate West Virginians about the Cherokee involvement in the French and Indian War in West Virginia on behalf of their British allies. Representing the Council’s History Alive! Program, I have traveled to dozens of schools, conferences, living history events, scout camps, etc. every year since 2006 to tell this story through the character of Outacite Ostenaco, an Over Hill Cherokee military leader who operated in West Virginia from 1756 through 1758.

During the question and answer portion of the presentation, I typically ask if any of the audience members have been told by other family members that they have American Indian ancestry. The results of my unscientific poll are that in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, about 5 percent to 20 percent of the audience members raise their hands. In the north-central counties, it ranges from none to 20 percent. The further south I travel, that percentage increases. Immediately south of Kanawha River, it is 20 percent to 50 percent. When I make presentations in the southernmost group of counties between New River and Tug Fork, 80 percent to 100 percent is not uncommon. Those in the northern counties who express certainty of their ancestor’s tribal affiliation, typically answer either “Delaware” or “Shawnee,” and sometimes “Mingo,” perhaps lending credence to Professor Williams’ purport that Shawnees and Delawares “are more likely to have participated in genetic exchanges on the Western Virginia frontier,” at least in the northwestern portion of West Virginia. Those in the southern counties most often answer “Cherokee.”

I don’t pretend that these undoubtedly biased, unscientific conclusions are something to hang a hypothesis on, but I do believe they bear further investigation by anthropologists, historians, ethnographers, and others who would enhance our understanding of the American Indian cultural and historical influences on West Virginia.

Posts & Replies

Name Message

Joy Martin Rosales says...

On 04/14/16
at 01:46 PM

Joy has 0 topics and 1 post so far

Hi, I have been told we have Indian blood through my Grandma Faith Ellen Lilly Martin. Does anyone have proof of our heritage? I might qualify for additional grants to finish college if its true and i can prove it

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