Cherokee Tear
by: Sheila Faith Boyd

Sequoyah’s syllabary:
Brock is spelled Quagi, qua pronounce Kwa means bird. Gi pronounce G is the color red.
Quagi is bird red, or as the English version, which is reversed, red bird.

illon Asher became friends with Chief Red Bird along the Holston River when his father William Asher, who was an American soldier, was serving there. Dillon was about 14 at the time. In 1799, he built his home along the Red Bird River, in the middle of Chickamauga hunting grounds. Dillion's Home Dillon and Red Bird has a personal treaty of peace because of their friendship and Red Bird’s people honored it. I am sure their families have merged over the years, but in my case, it was my grandparents Delia Brice and William Matt Asher. My mother, Velva Asher was born at Redbird, in Bell County, Kentucky and moved to Knox County at age 10. I remember visiting Uncle Clinton Brice in Redbird as a child, and walking across a creek on a swinging bridge, perhaps it was the same creek my great (+4) grandfather Red Bird was…well, I will wait to explain that later. Red Bird’s village was Taluegue (a version of Telliqua in the east and Tahlequah in the west). The village, which ran along the Warrior’s Path up Goose Creek to Otter Creek and down Stinking Creek, was located near Fogertown in Clay County, Kentucky. The county lines of Clay, Bell, and Knox have changed since that time.

During hunting season, Red Bird’s people would travel to the banks of Red Bird River, named for him, to hunt game, fish and gather plants for medicine and for eating.

On May 23, 1791 a petition by the white people lead to a Board of War that allowed the destruction of Chickamauga villages by burning their homes and destroying their food supply, stealing their horses and burning their crops.

The War Chiefs Bloody Fellow and Chuquilatague “Doublehead,” which was Red Bird’s uncle, signed the Treaty of Holston, which was a treaty of peace and friendship between the President and citizens of the U.S. and the Cherokee Nation, on July 2, 1791. However, most Cherokee did not like the Treaty and continued to fight for their homes as the white settlers continued to cross the Cumberland Gap in droves. The Chickamauga who wanted peace and to stay in their homes adopted the white culture trying to survive. Others moved north to join the Shawnee or beyond the Mississippi and westward.

Between 1803 and 1805 the Treaties of Tellico were signed, each relinquished more and more of the Chickamauga’s land because of the demand for salt, which was abundant in these lands. In January of 1806, Red Bird and Doublehead relinquishing all of the salt rich land north of the Tennessee River by signing yet another treaty. His own people feeling he had betrayed them killed Doublehead. The ridge of his murder still bears his name Doublehead Gap in Wayne County, KY. There are other version of his death and the reasons for it, but I prefer this one.

In 1810 when the ‘War Hawks’ were elected to Congress, they canceled out all Chickamauga land claims in southern Kentucky, leaving the people orphans. Red Bird tried every possible way to keep the peace between his people and the U.S., but to no avail.

Reverend Gideon Blackburn a Presbyterian pastor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, opened a school on Cherokee land near Chattanooga, Tennessee. In the late summer of 1810, Blackburn agreed to offer protection and a "white man's" education to all Cherokee women and children from the Cumberland River valley.

Doublehead's daughter, Beloved Woman/War Woman "Cornblossom," sent her son Little Jake on horseback to spread the word that anyone seeking protection at the Blackburn school should meet in the great rock house behind Yahoo Falls when the moon was full and round. Once all the children were gathered, they were to wait for Cornblossom and travel to Rev. Blackburn’s Indian School at Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee.

Over 100 women and children were under the Falls when the white men, Hiram Big Tooth Gregory and his Indian fighters came. War Woman Standing Fern, who was married to Cornblossom’s oldest son War Chief Peter Troxell, and others were standing guard outside the cave. They fought to save the children, fearing not their own death, but were outnumbered and killed. The rest of the children, pregnant women, and old men that were in the cave suffered unspeakable acts and brutally murdered. Only a few children escaped alive.

When Cornblossom, the Beloved Woman, with her younger children, her son, War Chief Peter Troxell, Red Bird and their warriors arrived at Yahoo Falls, the massacre was almost over. Some of the Indian Fighters remained to make sure all were dead, “nits make lice,” they said, and that included unborn babies.

Beloved Woman and the warriors charged on the murderers that remained and killed them. War Chief Peter Troxell died in battle. Beloved woman, Red Bird’s cousin, died a few days later from her wounds.

In the fall of 1810 more than one hundred innocent Chickamauga men, women, and children were massacred at Yahoo Falls in Big South Fork in McCreary County, Kentucky, and were buried in a mass grave in the rock shelter behind the falls. Red Bird’s friend Jack wounded in the battle, and crippled for the remainder of his life.

Ywahoo, or Ya-hu-la, was a trader who lived in a stone house behind the Falls. The spirit people took him away. His ponies wore bells around their necks, which tinkled as he rode and echoed through the mountains along the Great Tellico Trail.

Today that trail is US 27. A marker is placed there that reads:

Yahoo Falls, McCreary County, Kentucky
A Sacred Place
Many innocent Indian Women
and Children who Knew No Wrong
Were Massacred by Indian Fighters On August 10, 1810
Let us Remember them With a Cherokee Tear
In Loving Memory of Red Bird do-tsu-wa
Dedicated 12 Aug 2006 with an Inter-tribal Ceremony

After the massacre, the Chickamauga lands were sold for 10 cents an acre and were purchased by the white settlers who masterminded the Yahoo Falls massacre. With salt at $25.00 a barrel, they soon became rich. Red Bird and his friend Jack settled on the west side of Red Bird River across from Jack’s Creek. They built a cabin there and lived in peace, hunting and fishing, selling their furs. There are many version of this next part of the story, some say that cowardly white men attacked them in their sleep, but the one I remember from childhood is this:

While Red Bird was out hunting or trapping for furs, and Jack was fishing alone, two white men attacked and brutally murdered him. They threw his body into the creek, at a place known as Willie’s Hole. The white men, (history records the names as John Livingston and Edward Miller) then lay in wait for Red Bird to return. Upon his return, they killed him, and cut off his head and threw him into the creek. John Gilbert, who discovered the bodies, retrieved them and buried them in a nearby rockshelter. I am not sure if the creek I crossed on the swinging bridge as a child was the same creek my great (+4) grandfather Red Bird was thrown into with his friend or not, but I wish I had asked more questions as a child, and paid more attention.

Published with permission 08/20/2009 by Willis Asher

Back to top Home Page Contact Me