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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tsali....The Cherokee Legend

Under the “Treaty of New Echote”, in 1836 the U.S government demanded that all Cherokee who lived within what was then the Cherokee Nation to give up their homeland and be removed to “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi. It became apparent in May of 1838 that very few had left willingly.
Winfield Scott, a General in the U.S Army arrived in Calhoun Tennessee in command of nearly 7,000 soldiers to begin operations to force the Cherokee out. Stockades were erected in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama to hold the Cherokee while they waited for the march to Rattle s\Snake Springs. At this point they would be moved by force under armed escort on what became known as the “Trail of Tears”
Tsali was a traditional Cherokee who lived with his wife and three sons near the mouth of the Nantahala River near present day Bryson City, NC. Traditional Cherokee were defined as those who refused the white mans road and chose to live in the mountains outside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation as it existed from 1819 to 1838. Tsali was the farmer of a small plot located on the hill above his cabin and also hunted to provide for his family. He had not been involved in the debates over the removal policy and news from the troubles in Georgia trickled into the hills of Western North Carolina. In May of 1838, the traditional Cherokee were the bulk of those who refused to be pushed out of their homeland by “progress”.
James Mooney was an Anthropologist with the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology who came to live with the Cherokee from 1887 to 1890. The story he told was of Tsali's brother in law coming to Tsali's cabin and told him of the soldiers that were rounding up the Cherokee to take them to the land where the setting sun touches the ground. Not long after Tsali had heard of the actions taken by the government, soldiers arrived at his cabin. Although Tsali did not understand why he and his family along with the family of his brother in law, were being taken away he offered no resistance and went with the soldiers to Bushnell, the sight of the stockade that held Cherokee which is now under TVA's Fontana Lake. They took along with them only a few small things that they were able to tie into bundles and carry. They were escorted by four soldiers and according to Mooney one of them pushed the wife of Tsali which angered him. Tsali spoke in his native Cherokee language and told the others around him to take the soldiers guns when he pretended to fall. In the scuffle that ensued, one of the guns fired and a soldier was shot in the head. Tsali and his family ran and would hide out in the hills surrounding Clingman's Dome.catch(e) {}" The official record of the military tells a story of how they were overpowered and an ax being used as a murder weapon. General Scott gave orders for the Colonel William Foster to hunt down and kill the murders.
The military enlisted the aid of Chief Drowning Bear of the Quallatown band who were not required to be moved west since they lived outside the Cherokee Nation boundaries. Colonel Foster entered the Littlee Tennessee River valleywith nine companies of th U.S Fourth Infantry. A tenth company headed by Lieutenant Larned was headed for the Oconaluftee with Will Thomas. Thomas is believed to have convinced the Quallatown Cherokee that if they would cooperate that they would get to stay in North Carolina. So the Oconaluftee Cherokee went with a force of sixty men to aid in the capture of Tsali and the others. Soon the Cherokee brought in Tsali's oldest son Nantayalee Jake and Tsali’s brother-in-law, Nantayalee George who were reported by Foster to be the leaders of the murderous acts. Tsali’s wife and the wife of Nantayalee George and her small daughter had also been brought in by the Oconaluftee Cherokee. By November 12th it was reported that all but one of the murders were brought in. Only Tsali remained. The Cherokee made up a six man execution squad that shot all but Tsali's wife and youngest son. Foster announced that the removal was finished and that all of the remaining Indians could join their brothers at Quallatown. Thomas had convinced Foster that Tsali had only played a minor role in the murders so Foster with his mission complete left the mountains along with his Fourth Infantry. After Foster had left Bushnell, Tsali was brought in by other Quallatown Cherokee and At noon on the next day, Tsali was tied to a tree and shot in the same manner as the others.
Colonel Foster’s final report dated December 3, l838 reported Tsali’s execution and commended Drowning Bear for his assistance. Foster asked that one of the “fugitive” groups under the leadership of Euchella, who had aided in the capture of Tsali, be allowed to stay with the Quallatown Cherokee. The commissioners for the Cherokee removal officially agreed in January, l839.
Soon, the story of Tsali became a legend and inspiration among the Quallatown Cherokee was widely reported that Tsali had willingly surrendered so that the Federal troops would leave the North Carolina mountains and allow the Quallatown Cherokee to remain in their homeland.
The Federal government had declared that the removal was over but for the rest of the century the government still made efforts to get the Quallatown Cherokee to move to the west. The legend of Tsali and the belief that he had selflessly given his life in order that his people could remain in their beloved mountains still live in the hearts and minds of the Cherokee people today and so do more than 10,000 Cherokee, in the center of their ancient homeland. These grounds are indeed ancient and have become my home away from home. Nearly every spare minute I have is spent in these mountains hiking, biking, camping and listening. These hills speak to those that will take the time to hear what they say. Today a recreation area bears the name of the one who gave his life for the lives of many. Tsali recreation area overlooks Fontana Lake under which lies the grave of a man who believed in a way of life most only dream of. Sometimes when I listen to these hills.......I hear weeping and crying. (photo above of my wife (Kim) on the Thompson Loop trail in Tslai 2005)


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