Around this time of year we start thinking about all that wonderful food coming next week. In the schools kids are learning about the first Thanksgiving: Pilgrims, Native Americans, Plymouth Rock, and so on. Something many of us may not consider is that the original owners of the Cumberland Plateau were Native Americans, or more specifically, Cherokee.
The Cherokee used the area for hunting because much of the Plateau was uninhabitable. The area was so thick with trees and brush that it made settling virtually impossible, until eastern settlers came to clear land for homes, farms, and businesses.
It is said that many of the Cherokee who did live in the area camped near the Sequatchie. Often they were spotted skinning a bear, small game, or deer. When it came to giving up their precious hunting land they did not do so easily against the Scot-Irish.
The infamous Chief Doublehead was the last Chickamauga Cherokee Chief. There are many tales about his time trying to defend the Wilderness as Cherokee land throughout the late 1700s. One chilling tale took place in Crab Orchard on April 1, 1974 when about 40 Chickamauga attacked a company of travelers.
Thomas Spencer and James Walker were leading their group across the Wilderness trail (now the road in between Knoxville and Nashville). The surprise attack happened when a volley of arrows came shooting across the hill to kill Spencer and wound Walker. It is said that Spencer’s saddle bags containing a thousand dollars in gold fell off his horse to the hands of the enemy. Today, that hill in Crab Orchard is known as Spencer’s Hill.
Throughout his early years Doublehead was known for his ruthlessness and supporting the Cherokee fight to preserve their land, but later on he took a more political role. Doublehead was selected to perform negotiations with the United States. Regardless of his political position, Doublehead did not back down easily. He still carried on in his war for their land.
Until June of 1794 the last Chickamauga Cherokee Chief met with President Washington. He had the political focus of Washington and his dignitaries. Washington wanted the hunting grounds for settlers.
“On June 26, 1794, Doublehead negotiated for and signed a treaty giving the Cherokees an annuity of $5,000 per year plus a trading post on a large land reserve on the Tennessee River in the area along Blue Water Creek, in present-day Lauderdale County, Alabama.” (Doublehead, Walker, p. 146)
The settlers now had their land, and the beginnings of Cumberland County were in the works, but Doublhead’s people were not happy with him or how he used their land for his own gain. The Wilderness was the Cherokees favorite hunting land, and it was then that the Cherokee people began to plot his assassination.
It took multiple attempts by the Cherokee men to kill the last Chickamauga Cherokee Chief Doublehead. In their eyes he was a traitor. The first attempt on his life was by Bone Polisher and an unnamed man. The man swung a tomahawk severing Doublehead’s thumb. Bone Polisher then attacked only to be met by Doublehead’s pistol.
Later on that evening Doublehead was in an argument with a man by the name of John Rogers at John McIntosh’s Tavern. He had been a resident in the Cherokee land for a long time. Doublehead left the tavern wounded and shot.
The Chief then took refuge that night in James Black’s house while Bone Polisher’s friends traced his blood to the house. Other men who had been at the tavern also came to finish him off. In the end Doublehead took a tomahawk to the head, finalizing the assassination of the last Chickamauga Cherokee Chief.