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


Dragging Canoe

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 Indigenous struggles

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 imperialism.

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 Tsalagi authors:

Conley, Robert J. 2005. The Cherokee Nation: A History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

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: