Few know of Tsi'yu-gunsini
or Dragging Canoe; Yet he is a significant figure
in Tsalagi history. One of our roles as insurgent
educators is to remind folks of their sacred histories.
So in that spirit, I'm writing to remind folks
of the courageous actions of Tsalagi War Chief
Tsi'yu-gunsini and his relevance to contemporary
Tsi'yu-gunsini, son of Peace Chief and Tsalagi
treaty negotiator Ada-gal'kala, came to prominence
when he challenged the illegal land cessions
agreement proposed by the Transylvania Company
at Sycamore Shoals in 1775. On March 15, 1775,
during the second day of negotiations, the Transylvania
Company proposed to purchase most of what is
now Kentucky and middle Tennessee from Tsalagis.
In response to Yonega negotiator Richard Henderson's
proposals, Tsi'yu-gunsini, who was considered
an obscure warrior from the Overhills, walked
to the center of the treaty grounds and spoke:
Whole nations have melted away in our presence
like balls of snow before the sun, and have
scarcely left their names behind, except as
imperfectly recorded by their enemies and destroyers.
It was once hoped that your people would not
be willing to travel beyond the mountains, so
far from the ocean, on which your commerce was
carried on, and your connections maintained
with the nations of Europe. But now that fallacious
hope has vanished; you have passed the mountains
and settled upon the Tsalagi lands, and wish
to have your usurpations sanctioned by the confirmation
of a treaty. When that should be obtained, the
same encroaching spirit will lead you upon other
lands of the Tsalagis. New cessions will be
applied for, and finally the country which the
Tsalagis and our forefathers have so long occupied
will be called for; and a small remnant of this
nations once so great and formidable, will be
compelled to seek a retreat in some far distant
wilderness, there we will all dwell but a short
space of time before we will again behold the
advancing banners of the same greedy host; who,
not being able to point out any farther retreat
for the miserable Tsalagis, would then proclaim
the extinction of the whole race.
After delivering his prophetic oration, Dragging
Canoe left the negotiations, which prompted
younger warriors to withdraw as well.
Despite his best efforts, Dragging Canoe saw
that the Tsalagi Peace Chiefs were still willing
to make a deal for the purchase of large sections
of Tsalagi territory. At the conclusion of the
land cession negotiations, Dragging Canoe turned
to Henderson and said: "You have bought
a fair land, but you will find its settlement
dark and bloody."
Tsi'yu-gunsini acted on his words. Between
1777-1792, Dragging Canoe and his warriors in
the Chickamauga Confederacy attacked illegal
Yonega settlements on Tsalagi homelands. The
Chickamauga Confederacy, which consisted of
Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Shawnees,
freed Blacks and some 300 British Tories, was
a formidable force and numbered approximately
1,000 warriors by 1777, defeating the U.S. military
in two decisive battles (1780 and 1781).
Dragging Canoe also chose his battles wisely,
withdrawing warriors and their families from
clan towns when confronting larger U.S. forces
practicing "scorched earth" campaigns.
In doing so, he and the Chickamauga Confederacy
outlasted their British allies and sustained
one of the most unified and boldest Indigenous
resistance movements ever to confront American
Upon returning from a meeting with Mississippi
Choctaws on February 29, 1792, Dragging Canoe
requested an Eagle-Tail Dance ceremony. After
dancing all night with his warriors, Dragging
Canoe crossed over on March 1, 1792.
With his ability of unify different Indigenous
nations to resist Yonega encroachment, Dragging
Canoe was a teacher to other warriors, such
as Tecumseh, and inspired them to take action
on behalf of their people.
Through his actions and leadership, Tsi'yu-gunsini
planted the seeds of Indigenous resistance and
resurgence that carry forward to this day.
For more on Dragging Canoe, see works by these
Conley, Robert J. 2005. The Cherokee Nation:
A History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New
Conley, Robert J. 2001. Cherokee Dragon: A
Novel. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Brent Yanusdi Cox. 1999. Heart of the Eagle:
Dragging Canoe and the Emergence of the Chickamauga
Confederacy. Milan, TN: Chenanee Publishers.
For more on ongoing Indigenous political movements,
see the following website: