It is perhaps the most beloved story of Cherokee folklore. In 1755, a 16 year old Cherokee girl, named Nanyehi (aka Nancy Ward) saw her husband die in battle then picked up a musket and led a charge of 500 brave Cherokee warriors against 2,000 cowardly Creek warriors, who were hiding behind trees. In doing so, they captured a Creek town named Taliwa and won the northern half of the Colony of Georgia for the Cherokees. A state historic marker locates the Battle of Taliwa on the Etowah River near present day Ball Ground, GA. Another state historic marker in downtown Ball Ground announces that the Cherokees won all of North Georgia in a stickball game with the Creeks. A third state historic marker on Neels Gap to the northeast announces that the Cherokees won all of North Georgia in a terrible battle fought at Slaughter Gap.
The story of Nancy Ward is found in state history books, historical markers and tourist brochures in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. There is a DAR chapter named after this heroine and a musical, based on her life, now being performed in Tennessee. There is a problem, however. History buffs from those states will get the surprise of their lives.
And now for the rest of the story
In early 2007, Judge Patrick Moore of the Muscogee-Creek Nation sent me an email requesting that I assemble a group of Colonial and Federal Period maps that delineated the boundaries of the Creek Confederacy. He asked me to include a brief report on the changes in boundaries and an estimate of land area shown for the Creek Confederacy in each map. He didn’t say why he needed the maps.
When one is a consultant for a government agency, one does not usually ask questions. Later in the year Judge Moore requested 40 x 4 feet long river canes, with diameters between ¾ inch and 1 inch from an Upper Creek village site in northwest Georgia. Again, I didn’t know why. As I said . . .
A few months later, Judge Moore mentioned that a team of law and history professors from the University of Oklahoma were traveling to the Southeast to study old treaties in the archives of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The professors and I were never able to hook up for lunch or dinner, so I assumed what they were doing had no relation to what I was doing.
A few weeks later, one of the history professors in the research team, Dr. Joshua Piker, emailed me to say that I needed to correct the report that was attached to the maps. He told me that I had to remove all references to the Battle of Taliwa. There was no evidence that the Battle of Taliwa ever occurred.
I was indignant. I wrote back very impolitely, “You are telling me that all the historians in the Southeast, all the history books in the Southeast, all the historical markers in Georgia and Tennessee, the Cherokee Tribe and even the Daughters of the American Revolution are wrong and you are right? Sorry sir, I can’t buy that.”
We argued back and forth for a couple of weeks, but eventually I was convinced that Dr. Piker was right and everybody else, including myself, was wrong. In the years since then, as I have become increasingly skeptical of orthodox American history, I have found much more proof that backs up Dr. Piker’s observations.
Before we move on to the facts of American history, it should be explained that there is endemic problem with both Native American history and Colonial Period history in the eastern United States. Far too often, academicians have used each other as references rather than digging into primary sources of facts such as the Oklahoma professors did.
Dr. Piker’s discovery that the Battle of Taliwa was a myth was based on several undeniable facts:
1. The Oklahoma professors could not find a Creek town named Taliwa in Georgia, Tennessee or Alabama . . . ever. Taliwa is the Apalachicola word for “town.” The Apalachlicola Indians lived on the Apalachicola River in Florida.
2. The Cherokee Nation and Creek Confederacy were at peace in 1755. The peace treaty was being enforced by the British Crown, who desperately needed the Cherokees to fight the French-allied Shawnees in Virginia and for the Creeks to guard the back door of Georgia and South Carolina from a French invasion coming from Mobile (now Alabama.)
Despite what all the tourist brochures and wannabe Cherokees tell you on their web sites, the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War ended in 1754 with a catastrophic defeat by the Cherokees. They had lost all of their land gained since 1721, plus the Koweta Creeks had executed 32 of their chiefs in 1754. Six important Cherokee chiefs were burned at the stake near the banks of the Chattahoochee River. Twenty-five Cherokee chiefs were murdered on the streets of Charleston by a Koweta Creek commando squad, while they were begging for assistance from the British Redcoats against the onslaught of the Koweta army. By the time that the Koweta Blitzkrieg ended, the Valley and Georgia Cherokees were essentially extinct, and most Middle Cherokee towns were abandoned.
This dire situation is confirmed by the famous map of North America produced in 1755 by John Mitchell. A section of Mitchell’s map is shown above. Across a broad swath of western North Carolina and the northeastern tip of Georgia are written the words, “Deserted Cherakee Settlements.”
3. The professors could find no colonial document that either mentioned a Cherokee victory any time in 1754 or 1755. All Dr. Piker could find were frantic letters dispatched back and forth between Charleston and Savannah that bemoaned what appeared to be the eminent extinction of the Cherokee Nation. However, Georgia refused to support a military attack on their “pet Injuns” the Koweta Creeks, because the Creek Confederacy had more soldiers that all the Southern colonies combined and the Koweta’s had always supported Georgia in its wars with Spain and France. If the entire Creek Confederacy went over to the French side, all of the Southern colonies could be wiped out in a matter of weeks.
The Cherokees lost about a third of their territory in those two years from attacks by the Koweta Creeks in the Georgia Piedmont and the Kusa Creeks in the Georgia Mountains and what is now southeastern Tennessee. The Kusa Creeks maintained a large fortified town at the confluence of Coosa Creek and the Nottely slight north of Track Rock Gap until 1785. The Kusa’s burned so many Cherokee villages in the Hiwassee River Valley of North Carolina that the region was virtually depopulated by 1754. The location of this fortified town totally negates the claims of the Cherokees and some Georgia archaeologists in 2012 that the Cherokees built the Track Rock terrace complex as a location for holding ceremonial dances.
4. The Creek Confederacy did not cede their lands in northwest Georgia until 1785 and did not cede the Etowah Valley until 1793. American officials were desperate to end the bloodshed in Tennessee caused by the Chickamauga Cherokee War. They persuaded the Upper Creeks to cede much of northwest and north-central Georgia for a Cherokee hunting ground. The Creeks insisted on keeping their sacred lands along the Etowah River, however. The Chickamauga War continued for another eight years. Thousands of Cherokee refugees swarmed into northwest Georgia to put distance between their farms and the Tennessee River. By 1790, much of northwest Georgia was permanently occupied by Cherokee families, but the Creek town Euharlee still sat along the Etowah River near present day Cartersville and the Creek town of Hontawekee was still located where Ball Ground is today. Hontawekee is another way of saying, Hontawache, the town where Eleanor Dare spent the last years of her life, according to the Dare Stones found in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia.
Most of the Creek villages departed when the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation was permanently set at line running through Kennesaw Mountain in 1793. Kennesaw is not a Cherokee word as generally stated in references, but derived from the Creek word, Kanasawa, the Creek word for the Hog-nosed Skunk.
Crisis caused by the war with France
Almost immediately after war broke out with France in 1754, Indian war parties allied with the French began to massacre farmsteaders on the Virginia and Maryland frontier. The Creek towns that were allied with Georgia refused to attack the Creek towns that were allied with France. However, they promised to block any invasion of Georgia.
Colonial officials from Georgia and South Carolina frantically pressured the Creeks and Cherokees to end their war that had been going on since 1715. All of the Creek towns except Koweta, including those allied with France, agreed to sign peace treaties with the Cherokees. However, the French-allied Upper Creeks demanded that the new boundary be the Hiwassee River in present day Tennessee, which was the boundary in 1721. They had burned the Cherokee towns located on the Hiwassee River.
The new frontier was only 36 miles from the Cherokee Overhill towns on the Little Tennessee River. In 1755, Cherokee leaders demanded that the British build a fort near their principal town of Chota to protect them from the Upper Creeks, before the Cherokees were willing to send 200 warriors to fight the Shawnee in Virginia. Fort Loudon was built in 1756. The Cherokees fulfilled their end of the bargain.
Tennessee historians should have long ago suspected that something was amiss in the Battle of Taliwa story. How could the Cherokees capture all of the Upper Creek’s territory in Georgia, yet be quaking in their moccasins over a potential attack from Upper Creeks in Tennessee? The Overhill Cherokee army would have had to march about 110 miles through enemy territory and pass many Upper Creek towns in order to attack the fictional town of Taliwa. Such a town would have had no more than 100 warriors, not 2000 as stated in the myth. When illuminated in the light of historical facts, the Taliwa story becomes preposterous. However, apparently no one in Tennessee ever shined their deductive flashlights on it.
Unlike almost all Native American forces in the past, Koweta had disciplined soldiers that fought as units in battle. They had learned many tactical skills from fighting at the side of British Redcoats. The Koweta army marched up the Chattahoochee Valley without being detected then systematically destroyed every Cherokee town in its path. After Koweta re-conquered its lost territory and had killed 32 chiefs to compensate for the 32 Creek chiefs killed in their sleep by the Cherokees at a diplomatic conference in 1715, its leaders declared the Creek-Cherokee War over. Koweta then offered the Cherokees a peace treaty that put the boundaries where they were in 1715.
It is highly probable that Nancy Ward fought at the side of her husband’s comrades in some battle, somewhere. The Cherokees were at war with the Shawnees in 1755. The Shawnee’s are a likely candidate. How and why the story of that battle became altered to be a battle against a non-existent town in a war that had ended a year earlier, can presently be only in the realm of speculation.
What is known is that the Cherokee People suffered terribly between 1738 and 1793. Almost all their conquests occurred between 1715 and 1725, when they enjoyed a steady supply of British firearms and munitions, while their enemies didn’t. They were always considered imperialistic invaders from the north. From then on, their mountain fortress was frequently attacked by the Chickasaws, Creeks, Choctaws and Shawnees, plus they were in a constant state of tit for tat raids with their ancient enemies in the north, the Iroquois. Horrific smallpox plagues starkly reduced their population. Their communities were repeatedly devastated in the Creek-Cherokee War, the Anglo-Cherokee War, the American Revolution and the Chickamauga Cherokee War. No one can imagine the horrors that they experienced over and over again.
Perhaps the Nancy Ward story evolved in the same way that Southern veterans of the Civil War sat around their pot belly stoves, embellishing the heroic deeds of the past, in order to compensate for the reality of the terrible losses the South endured because of that war. At some point in the hazy past, a myth about a battle at a town that didn’t exist in a war that had been over for a year, became historical fact. Thereafter, anyone who challenged the new facts became the heretic trying to alter history.