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Dragging Canoe meets with Shawnee emissaries after the destruction of Chickamauga and ten other towns

Tsiyu Gansini (ᏥᏳ ᎦᏅᏏᏂ), "He is dragging his canoe", known to whites as Dragging Canoe, (c. 1738 – March 1, 1792) was an American Indian war leader who led a dissident band of Cherokee (joined by Upper Muskogee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Indians from other tribes/nations, along with British Loyalists, French and Spanish agents, renegade whites from the colonies, and runaway slaves), against the United States in the American Revolutionary War and a decade afterwards, a series of conflicts known as the Chickamauga wars, becoming the pre-eminent war leader among the Indian of the Southeast of his time. He served as principal chief of the Chickamauga, or Lower, Cherokee from 1777 until his death in 1792, upon which he was succeeded by John Watts.



Son of Attakullakulla ("Little Carpenter" in English), who was part Shawnee and part Nipissing, and a mother who was a Natchez living in a town of refugees from that tribes who had settled among the Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee River. Dragging Canoe contracted smallpox at a young age, which left his face pock-marked. According to Cherokee legend, his name is derived from an incident in his early childhood in which he attempted to prove his readiness to go on the warpath by hauling a canoe, the attempt resulting in him only being able to drag it. His rise to leadership among the Cherokees was highly unusual under the maternal clan system, and was despite having an important father. Attakullakulla had gained his status as a nephew of Principal Chief Old Hop, since uncle-nephew connections meant more than father-son relationships.


War Chief of the Cherokee

Dragging Canoe did later get his chance to take part in war, initially against the Shawnee and Muskogee (later his two closest allies), but he gained his first real taste in the Anglo-Cherokee War (1759-1761), along with prior forays into the Ohio country as well. In the aftermath of this war, he became one of the most vocal opponents of encroachment by settlers from the British colonies onto Indian, especially Cherokee, land. Eventually he became chief of Great Island Town (Amoyeli Egwa in Cherokee, written Mialaquo by the British) on the Little Tennessee River.

When the Cherokee opted to join in the fighting of the American Revolution on the side of the British, Dragging Canoe was at the head of one of the major attacks. After his father and Oconostota refused to continue further after the wholesale destruction of the Cherokee Middle (Hill), Valley, and Lower Towns, Dragging Canoe led a band of the Overhill Cherokee out of the towns to the area surrounding Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek) in the Chattanooga area, where they established eleven towns in 1777, including the one later referred to as "Old Chickamauga Town" across river from place where the British commissary John McDonald had set up shop, doing so on the advice of Alexander Cameron, the British agent to the Cherokee. From this location, frontiersmen gave his group the name the Chickamauga Cherokee, and later called them the Lower Cherokee.

After the Chickamauga towns were destroyed a second time in 1782, Dragging Canoe's band moved down the Tennessee River to the "Five Lower Towns" area below the obstructions of the Tennessee River Gorge: Running Water (now Whiteside), Nickajack (near the cave of the same name), Long Island (on the Tennessee River), Crow Town (at the mouth of Crow Creek), and Lookout Mountain Town (at the site of the current Trenton, Georgia). From Running Water, Dragging Canoe led attacks on white settlements all over the American Southeast, especially against the colonial settlements on the Holston, Watauga, and Nolichucky Rivers in East Tennessee, and the Cumberland River settlements in Middle Tennessee (after 1780), sometimes raiding into Kentucky and Virginia as well. His brothers Little Owl, The Badger, and Turtle-at-Home are known to have taken part in his wars as well.

Dragging Canoe died March 1, 1792, from exhaustion or an apparent heart attack after dancing all night celebrating the recent conclusion of alliance with the Muskogee and the Choctaw, despite a failed similar mission to the Chickasaw, from whence he had just returned, plus a recent victory by a Chickamauga war band on the Cumberland River settlements. He is considered by many to be the most significant Native Americans leader of the Southeast, and provided a significant role model for the younger Tecumseh, who was a member of a band of Shawnee living with the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee and taking part in their wars. His successor as Chickamauga War Chief was John Watts or Young Tassel.


  • Alderman, Pat. Dragging Canoe: Cherokee-Chickamauga War Chief. (Johnson City: Overmountain Press, 1978)
  • Brown, John P. Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838. (Kingsport: Southern Publishers, 1938).
  • Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Dragging Canoe". Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 176–189. Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian,
  • Haywood, W.H. The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its Earliest Settlement up to the Year 1796. (Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Publishing House, 1891).
  • Klink, Karl, and James Talman, ed. The Journal of Major John Norton. (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1970).
  • McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee. (Nashville: Charles and Randy Elder-Booksellers, 1982).
  • Moore, John Trotwood and Austin P. Foster. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, 1769-1923, Vol. 1. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923).
  • Ramsey, J. G. M., The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century, 1853 (2007 Online Edition). (Rockwood, TN:, 2007).

See also

  • Chickamauga wars
  • Brent Yanusdi Cox, Heart of the Eagle: Dragging Canoe & the Emergence of the Chickamauga Confederacy 1999
  • Robert J. Conley's novel, Cherokee Dragon (Real People series) 2000
Preceded by
Position nonexistent
Leader of the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee
Succeeded by
John Watts


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