Note: The following has been transcribed from original text written in late 1800s. Please make allowances for the harsh language used.
The Cherokee Indians were the earliest settlers of our county of whom we have any knowledge. They occupied, once, from Cane Creek, below Tuscumbia (where their domain joined that of the Chickasaws), up the Tennessee river, to its head-waters; and their scattered towns spread far into the Northern parts of Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
Cherokees were the Mountaineers
The Cherokees were the “Mountaineers” of aboriginal America, and extended over the most picturesque and salubrious region east of the Mississippi. — (Bancroft’s History of the United. States.) This powerful and extensive tribe came from the Eastward; and first had settlements on the Appomattox river, and were allied to the Powhatans.
The Virginians drove them thence, and they retreated to the head-waters of the Holston river. Here, after having made temporary settlements, the Northern Indians compelled them to retire to the Little Tennessee river, where they established themselves permanently. About the same time a large branch of the Cherokees came from South Carolina (near Charleston), and formed towns on the main Tennessee, extending as far as the Muscle Shoals. They found all that region unoccupied, except upon the Cumberland, where was a band of roving Shawnees. — (Pickett’s History of Alabama.)
Earliest Account dates back to Spanish invasion
Of the Cherokees in North Alabama, the earliest authentic account we have dates back to the invasion of the Spanish under De Soto, in 1540, just 340 years ago. In his wonderful march he crossed the branches of the winding and historic Coosa river: remained some time at Chiaho, where stands Rome, in Georgia; then marched down the right bank of the Coosa to Costa (the site of Gadsden, in Alabama), where lived the Cherokees. Never before had our soil been trodden by European feet. Never before had the natives beheld white faces, long beards, strange apparel, glittering armor, and, stranger than all, the singular animals bestrode by these dashing cavaliers (Pickett).
The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543 (Two Volume Set)
De Soto’s men burn Mabila, illustration by H.Roe
The country of the Cherokees was described by the early historians as the most beautiful and romantic in the world ; as abounding in delicious springs, fertile valleys, lovely rivers and lofty mountains ; the woods full of game and the rivers of fish. But none of these early writers had ever seen the country about the Muscle Schoals, which was last settled and most highly valued by these Indians. The buffaloes roamed over the plains in countless numbers.
Paths radiated in every direction
As late as 1826, at the licks in this county, their paths, knee deep, radiated in every direction. In 1780, the small colony which made a crop of corn that year at Nashville, Tenn., had to leave three men to prevent the buffaloes from destroying the crop, whilst the rest returned to East Tennessee for their families.Guild’s ” (Old Times in Tennessee.)
“Deer, wild turkeys and the smaller game continued abundant, even after the whites took possession of the country. As many as sixty deer were counted in a single herd. The Tennessee river and its affluents swarmed with fish, for there never was anywhere a better inland feeding ground for them than the Muscle Shoals. Its shallow waters stretch for fifteen miles along the channel, and spread out two or three miles wide, and produce a thick growth of aquatic plants (called moss), which come to the surface and sport the tips of their leaves on the swift, sparkling current.”
These plants, roots and leaves are freely eaten by fish, and wild fowls also. Of these last, swans, wild geese and ducks (which annually visited their feeding ground in old times) the number was fabulous. Added to this, the bottom of the river was strewn with mussels and periwinkles, which were not only highly relished by the fish and fowl, but by the Indians, who had in them a sure provision against starvation in times of scarcity. I could well imagine that the last prayer of the Cherokee to the Great Spirit, when he was leaving this scene of beauty and abundance, would be that he might, when he opened his eyes in the next world, be permitted to see such another hunters’ paradise as this.
Cherokees males were larger and more robust
The males of the Cherokees, in ancient times, were larger and more robust than any other of our natives; whilst their women were tall, erect and of a delicate frame with perfect symmetry (Bartram). And on account of the pure air which they breathed, the exercise of the chase, the abundance of natural productions which their country afforded and the delicious water which was always near, they lived to an age much more advanced than the other tribes (Adair).
“I saw a good deal of them from 1815 to 1834, when they were removed to the West, and also had a personal knowledge of other Southern tribes, and I think this pre-eminence was maintained to modern times.”(James Edmonds Saunders)
Sir Alexander Cumming, in 1730, sent an envoy who was guided by Indian traders to Neguasse, on the Little Tennessee, which was the seat of empire of all the Cherokee towns. A general assembly of the chiefs took place. They offered a chaplet, four scalps of their enemies and five eagle tails as the records of the treaty ; it was proposed to them to send deputies to England.
Seven Chiefs sent – Treaty concluded
Seven chiefs were sent and a treaty was concluded, in which they promised that “love should flow Wee a river and peace should endure like the mountains,” and it was kept faithfully for a generation (Bancroft). Again in 1761 this peace was confirmed, when Timberlake, a lieutenant in the Royal service, descended to the Holston in canoes and visited their towns. He returned to Charleston with three of their chiefs and sailed for England (Timberlake).
This peace, however, did not last for many years. The extension of the white settlements to East Tennessee and shortly afterward, to Middle Tennessee roused the animosity of the Cherokees, and the Revolutionary War coming on, the emissaries of Great Britain turned their arms against the colonies they had planted, and a conflict ensued which continued nearly twenty years.
- Above has been exactly transcribed from Recollections of North Alabama by James Edmonds Saunders. Born in Virginia 1806, Died 1896
Check out genealogy and novels by Donna R. Causey
Read more about DeSoto and other Alabama explorers in ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1)
Some stories include:
- The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
- The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
- Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
- Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
- Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement