Episode 6 Transcript

Painting of a Native American Warrior

Painting of a Native American warrior (not Dragon Canoe)

In September, 1780, a ragtag group of backwoodsmen from what is today North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia assembled to begin a journey to defend their homes and belief in liberty. They met their destiny at Kings Mountain and this is their story. The Mitchell County Historical Society presents Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain. Episode Six: Chief Dragging Canoe.

The name Dragging Canoe struck fear in the hearts of early settlers in what was then Western North Carolina (now Eastern Tennessee). Considered by historians to be the greatest Cherokee military leader, he led raiding parties that attacked settlements for over a decade following the Declaration of Independence and the signing of the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals that granted lands to white settlers near modern-day Johnson City, Elizabethton, and Greeneville, Tennessee. Dragging Canoe vehemently opposed the treaty. He felt the Proclamation of 1763 overruled it and that the land ceded under it still belonged to the Cherokee nation.

Born around 1738 near modern-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, Dragging Canoe was the son of the Cherokee diplomat Attakullakulla. Even as a young boy, he desired to be part of a war party against the Shawnee nation but his father refused. He was determined to go and hid in a canoe where the Cherokee warriors found him. Finally, Attakullakulla relented, saying that he could go, if he could carry the canoe. It was too heavy for the young boy, so he dragged it, encouraged by the war party to continue with them. Thus, he became known as Dragging Canoe.

His first action in battle was during the Anglo-Cherokee War, which was a part of the French and Indian War. Dragging Canoe distinguished himself in battle against the Redcoats, and later joined in the alliance by the Cherokee with several other tribes and the British to attack the settlements in East Tennessee. He led one of the major attacks against the settlers and quickly got the reputation of being one of the biggest opponents of settlement in the region.

Following the devastation during the Cherokee Wars, leaders of the tribe wanted to sue for peace with North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Dragging Canoe and others disagreed. He led a band of Cherokees andother tribes south back to near his birthplace. They settled near Chickamauga Creek, creating new towns and returning to terrorize settlers, attacking them and continuing to pressure them to leave, then retreating back to their new towns. They were given the name Chickamauga after the creek they settled on, even though they were still members of various tribes.

U.S. forces attacked the Chickamauga, led by Evan Shelby in 1779 and Overmountain Men leader John Sevier in 1782. These attacks forced them to move farther down the Tennessee River, but they continued their raids against the settlers throughout eastern Tennessee, including the settlements where many of the Overmountain Men lived. Dragging Canoe even began leading attacks into Virginia and Kentucky with his band of warriors over the next 10 years. He continued to successfully evade parties sent out to capture him.

Later in his life, Dragging Canoe assumed more of a diplomatic role, working on preserving Cherokee culture and establishing an alliance with the Creek and Shawnee tribes.

Finally, the end came when Dragging Canoe died February 29, 1792 at Running Water Town, his home base in southern Tennessee. Legend has it that he died from a heart attack or exhaustion after dancing all night, celebrating recent attacks in the Cumberland Plateau area and a new alliance with the Muskogee and Choctaw tribes that would increase the ability to continue attacks against the settlers. With his death, the main organizer of the resistance against the settlers disappeared and, while occasional raids continued, the organized opposition by the Cherokee to the settlers began to disappear.

Dragging Canoe is considered by historians to be a role model to a young Tecumseh, who later rose to prominence as a leader who attempted to continue the struggle against the settlers during the Tecumseh war, which took place farther west, a fight that eventually proved to be futile with repercussions that continue until today.

Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain is a production of the Mitchell County Historical Society, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of the history, heritage, and culture of Mitchell County, North Carolina. Today’s program was written, narrated, and produced by David Biddix. Special thanks to WTOE radio in Spruce Pine, North Carolina (1470 on the AM dial) and WKYK Radio in Burnsville, North Carolina (940 on the AM dial) for airing our program. You can also download episodes through Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Learn more at mitchellnchistory.org/ovm.

The Mitchell County Historical Society offices are located in the Historic Mitchell County Courthouse in Bakersville. We’d love for you to become a member of our Society! You can learn more about us on the web at mitchellnchistory.org. There, you can also see show notes about today’s episode, links to online resources about the Battle of Kings Mountain and those involved in it, and much more about Mitchell County’s history and heritage. You can also visit us on Facebook. Join us next time as we continue the journey to Patrick Ferguson and the famous battle atop Kings Mountain.