Tsi'yu-gunsini - Dragging Canoe, Chickamaugas Cherokee Chief, 1738-1792
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 Dragging Canoe was one of the greatest warriors of Cherokee recorded history. A cousin to Nancy Ward he was one of the first to propose a united Native front against Westward colonization.

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Tsi'yu-gunsini - Dragging Canoe, Chickamaugas Chief

NATIVE NAME: Tsi'yu-gunsini

ENGLISH NAME: Dragging Canoe

ALTERNATE NAMES:Cui Canacina, Savage Napoleon, Dragon (so called by his enemies).

ALTERNATE SPELLINGS: Cheucunsene, Kunnese

  • Tsi'yu-gunsini - Canoe (tsi'yu), He is Dragging It (gunsini).
  • Dragging Canoe - 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, but he was only able to drag it.
BIRTHPLACE / DATE: Attakullakulla resided in the village of Tenase through 1755 so this is likely the place of Dragging Canoe's birth. Dragging Canoe was said to be a few years older than his cousin Nancy Ward (born 1738), daughter of Tame Doe who was the sister of Attakullakulla, Dragging Canoe's father. Estimated date of birth: 1740.

RESIDENCE: Tellico, and Chota, E. Indian Nation, Tennessee. Later, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, Dragging Canoe moves families downriver to Chickamauga and Chattanooga and Running Water Creek (now Whiteside), and Upper and Lower Towns

DEATH DATE / LOCATION: He died March 1, 1792, in Running Waters, Tennessee from exhaustion or an apparent heart attack after dancing all night celebrating the recent conclusion of an alliance with the Muskogee and the Choctaw. He also had a very small cut from a rifle ball on his side that went unattended and became infected. It was normal after each battle that the Chief and his warriors dance and gave thanks to Yowa (God, Creator) for a great victory. This would go on for several days and nights.

BURIAL PLACE: In traditional Cherokee style he was buried in a sitting position, his possessions heaped around him.

MOTHER: Nionne Ollie was a Natchez living in a town of refugees from that tribe who had settled among the Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee River. She appears only rarely in the documentary record. In 1758 Dragging Canoe's father wrote to Lyttelton, "I desire that you would send me a cloak for my wife," and once he tried to exchange two prisoners for two negro slaves to help her. In a letter dated 1766, she is mentioned, but nothing more.

In November, 1774 she accompanied her husband to North Carolina. In Bethabara they both listened to an organ. He had heard many organs but she insited that the lid be removed because she feared a child was trapped inside.

FATHER: Attakullakulla (also known as Little Carpenter, Leaning Wood and White Owl). He was supreme Chief of the Cherokee from 1760-1775.

  • Tache
  • The Badger
  • Little Owl
  • Raven
  • Turtle At Home
  • Alexander Cameron, (an adopted white)
  • John Stuart was a soldier at Fort Loudon who was adopted by Attakullakulla and who later became Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

  • Young Dragging Canoe, born 1753
  • White Owl, named after his father's brother
  • Sarah or Sara
BAND / CLAN AFFILIATIONS: Wolf Clan, the warriors of the Cherokee Nation.There are seven clans, with the Wolf being the most important. The other six clans are the Deer, Bird, Paint, Wild Potato, Blue and Long Hair.

SIGNIFICANT POSITIONS: Tsi'yu-gunsini was a war leader who led a dissident band of young Cherokees against the United States in the American Revolutionary War. Dragging Canoe is considered by many to be the most significant 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 Chickamaugas and taking part in their wars.

Dragging Canoe was headman of the town of Malaqua, a town on an island in the Little Tennessee River, now inundated by the TVA Tellico Dam around 1770.


Dragging Canoe contracted smallpox at a young age, which left his face pock-marked. The onslaught of the disease in 1738 - 1739 resulted in the death of over half of the Cherokee people.

He was about six feet tall with a broad and muscular body.

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 out of the towns of the Overhill Cherokee to the area surrounding Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek) in the Chattanooga area, where they established eleven towns, including the one named Chickamauga across river from the 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.

A cousin to Nancy Ward, he was one of the first to propose a united Native front against Westward colonization. After the Chickamauga towns were destroyed a second time in 1782, they moved down the Tennessee River to the "Five Lower Towns" 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 joined him on many of these attacks.

In 1775, Dragging Canoe made an impassioned speech to rally his people. He said:

"Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man's advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. Where are the Delewares? They have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former greatness. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi (Cherokee) land. They wish to have that usurpation sanctioned by treaty. When that is gained, the same encroaching spirit will lead them upon other land of the Tsalagi (Cherokees). New cessions will be asked. Finally the whole country, which the Tsalagi (Cherokees) and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, The Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi (Cherokees), the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land. A-WANINSKI, I have spoken."

Dragging Canoe's speech had such a strong influence on the chiefs that they closed the Treaty Council without more talk. Yet, the white men prepared another huge feast with rum and were able to persuade the Cherokee Chiefs to sit in another Treaty Council for further discussion of land sale. The land being sought was the primary hunting lands of the Cherokee.

Attakullakulla, Dragging Canoe's father, spoke in favor of selling the land, as did his brother, Raven, who was jealous of Dragging Canoe's growing power among the young warriors. Alexander Cameron recorded Dragging Canoe's speech, which became known as the "We are not yet conquered" speech.

But in the end, they did not hold the land. In the largest private real estate transaction in United States' history, the Transylvania Land Company led by Richard Henderson purchased 20 million acres of land from the Cherokee Nation that included the Cumberland River watershed and lands on the Kentucky River (all of eastern and central Kentucky) for price of 2,000 pounds sterling and 8,000 pounds in goods (about six wagon loads).

During these dealings, the local settlers "purchased" the right to remain on the Cherokee lands that they were living on in the Watauga settlement. Dragging Canoe, opposed to the selling of the Cherokee ancestral hunting grounds, warned the whites that they were purchasing a "dark and bloody ground."

Dragging Canoe embarked on the war trail against settlements in Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas that would last for seventeen years. The Chickamaugan Cherokee united over 2,000 warriors from the Carolinas, Northern Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky,mostly from the Wolf Clan.

After more fighting, the forced second Treaty of Long Island of Holston confirmed the 1777 forced cessions and then took more Cherokee land. In 1782 The English gave up the war effort and sued for peace. Dragging Canoe established contact with the Spanish in Florida and British in Canada and Detroit. In 1790 Dragging Canoe's Chickamaugans continued fighting with the Shawnee in the Ohio Valley. 1790-94 saw brother "Little Turtle's War" of the Miami in the Ohio Valley with the Wyandots, Delaware, Hurons, Mohawks and Dakota.

After their initial victories, the Chickamaugans had the unofficial encouragement of the Spanish governments of Florida and Louisiana and continued attacking American settlements. One of these incidents almost killed a young Nashville attorney/land speculator named Andrew Jackson, which may explain his later attitude regarding the Cherokee.

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