Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation
During the removal of a large number of Cherokee to Oklahoma from their
homeland in the Appalachian Mountains, some Cherokee families found refuge in the Snowbird
Mountains. The leader of one such family was the warrior Tsali.
Soldiers, acting under orders from President Andrew Jackson to remove all the
Cherokee to Oklahoma, told Indians living in what was known as the Cheoah Valley to gather
at a stockade on what is now known as Fort Hill in Robbinsville. Gold had been discovered
in the land of the Cherokee, and Jackson's regime decided the Cherokee had little need for
The dispossession of the Cherokee began in 1838 and came to be known as
The Trail of Tears.
Jackson's actions seem particularly callous in light of the benefit he received
from Chief Junaluska and his warriors in 1814. Junaluska, a
leader of the Snowbird Band of the Cherokee, is credited with saving Jackson's life in the
Battle of Horseshoe Bend against the Creek Indians.
Junaluska and his warriors swam the Tallapoosa River in the dark and took the
Creek warriors' canoes -- a feat that was accomplished in spite of gunfire from the Creek
camp as they approached. The action gave Jackson the upper hand in what had been a
situation stacked against him.
Junaluska was forced to leave North Carolina with the emigration of the
Cherokee to Oklahoma in 1838, but later returned to the Snowbird Mountains, walking all
the way. After his return, Junaluska was given 337 acres in Graham County and made a
citizen of North Carolina. His grave is marked with a memorial stone on a hill in the town
Tsali was an old man with grown sons when the soldiers came to the Cheoah
Valley and told the Cherokee to leave their ancestral homes and go to the stockade. Tsali,
his sons Alonzo, Jake and George, and their wives chose to stay in their homes near the
mouth of the Nantahala River.
Jackson's soldiers found the families and seized them, taking them to a
stockade near the junction of the Tuckaseegee and the Little Tennessee River. On the way
to the stockade, the soldiers camped out with the prisoners near the homestead of Burtin
The next day, some of the women complained of being unable to walk and were
given horses to ride. At a dense laurel thicket along the Little Tennessee where Paines
Branch flowed toward Fairfax, according to a prearranged signal, the women removed
tomahawks and knives they had concealed in their skirts and threw them to Tsali and his
worriers. Then the women rode off around the thicket and disappeared on a trail.
The warriors fought and prevailed over the soldiers, and followed their wives
into the hills.
Three soldiers died because of the battle and a full company of soldiers was
sent from Knoxville, Tennessee to find the runaways.
Tsali and his family evaded the soldiers for a while. However, his sons were
betrayed by another Indian. Alonzo, Jake and George were captured and shot on the bank of
the Little Tennessee River near Panther Creek.
Will Thomas, a white friend of the Cherokee, finally persuaded Tsali's group to
come out of the mountains by securing a promise from the U.S. Army that the runaways would
be tried by their own people and that those Cherokee found not guilty would be allowed to
remain in their North Carolina homes.
Tsali gave himself up at the home of Abraham Wiggins, a close
relative of Thomas. Tsali ate a last meal, had prayer with Wiggins' wife, Margaret, then
was led off by his people, tried and shot. His death secured a home in these mountains for
all the Cherokee who had not yet been forced to walk The Trail of Tears.
Other sites of interest dealing with the Cherokee Nation:
Memorial, Museum and Medicine Trail
Guide for Tracing Cherokee Genealogy -- Cherokee Proud
Inventor of the Cherokee Alphabet
Stories -- How the Bluebird and Coyote Got Their Color
Stories -- The Legend of The Cedar Tree
Revised: October 07, 2008.