Cherokee Traditional Territory: Grotto Falls, Smoky Mountains [Picture courtesy of]Cherokee Traditional Territory: Clingman's Dome, Smoky Mountains [Picture courtesy of]

Old Tassel's 1777 speech

The words of Jeff's relative, Kai-yah-teh-hee or "First-to-kill" (aka Onitossitah or Old Tassel) from July 1, 1777 demonstrate a dedication to family and community that are just as relevant today as they were during the treaty negotiators at the time. In this speech, Kai-yah-teh-hee responded to proposals by U.S. treaty commissioners that Tsalagis should cede more territory to the U.S. As appointed Tsalagi spokesperson during these treaty negotiations (Treaty of Long Island), Kai-yah-teh-hee forcefully addressed the treaty commissioners regarding continued Yonega encroachment onto Tsalagi homelands:

It is not a little surprising, that when we enter into
treaties with our brothers, the whites, their whole cry is
'more land'. Indeed, formerly, it seemed to be a mere matter
of formality with them to demand what they knew we dare
not refuse. But on the principles of fairness, of which we
have received assurances, during the conducting of the present
treaty, and in the name of free will and equality, I must
reject your demand.

Suppose, in considering the nature of your claim, (and in
justice to my nation I shall and will do it fully,) I were to ask
one of you, my brother warriors, under what kind of authority,
by what law, or on what pretence he makes this exorbitant demand
of nearly all the lands we hold between your settlements
and our towns, as the cement and consideration of our peace.
Would he tell me it is by right of conquest? No! If he
did, I should retort on him, that we had last marched over
his territory ; even up to this very place which he has fortified
so far within his former limits; nay, that some of our young
warriors (whom we have not yet had an opportunity to recall
or give notice to, of the present treaty) are still in the woods,
and continue to keep his people in fear, and that it was but till
very lately that these identical walls were your strong holds,
out of which you durst scarcely advance.

If, therefore, a bare march, or reconnoitering a country is
sufficient reason to ground a claim to it, we shall insist on
transposing the demand, and your relinquishing your settlements
on the western waters, and removing one hundred miles
back towards the east, whither some of our warriors advanced
against you in the course of last year's campaign."
Let us examine the facts of your present irruption, into
our country; and we shall discover your pretensions on that
ground: What did you do? You marched into our territories
with a superior force; our vigilance gave us timely notice of
your manoeuvres; your numbers far exceeded us, and we fled
to the strong holds of our extensive woods, there to secure
our women and children.

Thus, you marched into our towns; they were left to your
mercy; you killed a few scattered and defenseless individuals;
spread fire and desolation wherever you pleased; and returned
again to your own habitations. If you meant this, indeed,
as a conquest, you omitted the most essential point; you should
have fortified the junction of the Holstein and Tennessee rivers,
and have, thereby, conquered all the waters above you. But,
as all are fair advantages during the existence of a state of
war, it is now too late for us to suffer for your mishap of

Again, were we to enquire by what law or authority you
set up a .claim; I answer, none! Your laws extend not into
our country, nor ever did; you talk of the law of nature
and the law of nations, and they are both against you."
Indeed much has been advanced on the want of, what
you term, civilization among the Indians; and many proposals
have been made to us to adopt your laws, your religion, your
manners, and your customs. But, we confess, we do not yet
see the propriety or practicability of such a reformation; and
should be better pleased with beholding the good effects of
these doctrines on your own practice, than with hearing you
talk about them, or reading your papers to us upon such

You say, "Why do not the Indians till the ground, and
live as we do?" May we not with equal propriety, ask why the
White people do not hunt and live as we do? You profess to
think it no injustice towards us to kill our deer and other
game, from the mere love of waste; but it is very criminal in ;
our young men if they chance to kill a cow or hog for their
sustenance, when they happen to be on your lands. We wish,
however, to be at peace with you; and, to do as we would be
done by. We do not quarrel with you for killing an occasional
buffalo, bear, or deer on our lands when you need one to eat;
but you go much farther-; your people hunt to gain a livelihood
by it; they kill all our game? Our young men resent
the injury; and, it is followed by bloodshed and war."
This is not a mere affected injury; it is a grievance which
we equitably complain of, and it demands a permanent redress.
The great God of Nature has placed us in different situations.
It is true, he has endowed you with many superior
advantages; but he has not created us to be your slaves: We
are a separate people! He has given each their lands, under
distinct considerations and circumstances; he has stocked
yours with the cow, ours with the buffalo; yours with the
hog, ours with the bear; yours with the sheep, ours with the
deer. He has, indeed, given you an advantage in this, that
your cattle are tame and domestic, while ours are wild, and
demand not only a larger space for range, but art to hunt and
kill them; they are, nevertheless, as much our property as
other animals are yours; and ought not to be taken away
without our consent, and for something equivalent.

In June/1788, Old Tassel and two other Tsalagi peace chiefs (Hanging Maw & Abram) were assassinated under a flag of truce while in captivity of Colonel John Sevier's militia near Chilhowee (North Carolina). After the three Tsalagi chiefs were confined to a hut, John Kirk, acting out of revenge, killed all three with his tomahawk, while fellow militia members (including Sevier) looked on without interfering.

Note: I originally listed Old Tassel's speech as being given in 1785 but was corrected by a perceptive reader. After researching the original source of this speech, which I located in Colonel Tatum's 1820 publication (see citation below), I found that it was originally given in 1777 and not 1785 as previously listed. While Old Tassel did participate in the 1785 treaty negotiations, he was much more conciliatory at that time.

Colonel Tatham. 1820. The Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year 1820, Volume IV. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown.

United States. American State Papers, Indian Affairs. 2 volumes. (Washington, DC: 1832) Vol 1:40-41 [Accessed at:]