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Dragging Canoe

Tsiyu Gansini (ᏥᏳ ᎦᏅᏏᏂ), "He is dragging his canoe", known to whites as Dragging Canoe (often misspelled Dragon Canoe in records; lived from c. 1738 until 29 February 1792) was a Cherokee war chief who led a band of Cherokee against colonists and United States settlers in the Upper South.

Beginning during the American Revolution, his forces were sometimes joined by Upper Muskogee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Indians from other tribes/nations, along with British Loyalists, French and Spanish agents. The series of conflicts, lasting for a decade after the American Revolutionary War, were known as Chickamauga Wars. Dragging Canoe became the pre-eminent war leader among the Indians of the Southeast of his time. He served as principal chief of the Lower Cherokee from 1777 until his death in 1792, when he was succeeded by his pick, John Watts.


  • Biography 1
    • War chief of the Cherokee 1.1
  • Death 2
  • Legacy 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


He was the son of Attakullakulla ("Little Carpenter"), who was born to the Nipissing. When he and his mother were captured when he was an infant, he was adopted into the Cherokee tribe and assimilated. His mother was Nionne Ollie ("Tamed Doe), born to the Natchez and adopted as a captive by Oconostota's household.[1]

They lived with the Overhill Cherokee on the Little Tennessee River. Dragging Canoe survived smallpox at a young age, which left his face marked. According to Cherokee legend, his name is derived from an incident in his early childhood. He tried to prove his readiness for war by carrying a canoe, but could only drag it.

War chief of the Cherokee

Dragging Canoe first took part in battle during the Anglo-Cherokee War (1759–1761). In its aftermath, he was recognized as one of the strongest opponents to encroachment by settlers from the British colonies onto American Indian, especially Cherokee, land. Eventually he became the chief of Great Island Town (Amoyeli Egwa in Cherokee, written Mialaquo by the British) on the Little Tennessee River.

When the Cherokee chose to ally with the British in the American Revolution, Dragging Canoe was at the head of one of the major attacks. After the colonial militias' destruction of the Cherokee Middle (Hill), Valley, and Lower Towns, his father and Oconostota wanted to sue for peace. Refusing to give up, Dragging Canoe led a band of the Overhill Cherokee out of the towns.

They migrated to the area surrounding Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek) in the present-day Chattanooga area of eastern Tennessee, where they established 11 towns in 1777, including the one later referred to as "Old Chickamauga Town." It was across the river from where John McDonald had a trading post. Frontiersman called them the Chickamauga because of their settlement by the river. They were later referred to as the Lower Cherokee.

In 1782 their towns were destroyed again by United States forces. The band moved further down the Holston, Watauga, and Nolichucky rivers in East Tennessee. After 1780, he also attacked the Cumberland River settlements in Middle Tennessee, and raided into Kentucky and Virginia as well. His three brothers Little Owl, the Badger, and Turtle-at-Home fought with his forces. Cherokee families linked to southeast Kentucky teach that The Canoe lived among them after he bolted the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals upon refusing to sign the accord. It is likely that Chief Canoe knew Cherokee Chiefs Arun Redbird Brock and Cummamaw, also known as Chief Butterfly.


Dragging Canoe died 29 February 1792[2] at Running Water town, from exhaustion or an apparent heart attack after dancing all night celebrating the recent conclusion of alliance with the Muskogee and the Choctaw. He had not brought the Chickasaw into the alliance. The Chickamauga were also celebrating a recent victory by one of their war bands against the Cumberland River European-American settlements.


Tsiyu Gansini is considered by many to be the most significant Native American leader of the Southeast. He and his Chickamauga Cherokee are referenced in the U.S. Declaration of Independence as the "merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions". Historians such as John P. Brown in Old Frontiers and James Mooney in his early ethnographic book Myths of the Cherokee consider him a role model for the younger Tecumseh who was a member of a band of Shawnee living with the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee and taking part in their wars. In Tell Them They Lie, a book written by a direct descendant of Sequoyah named Traveller Bird both Tecumseh and Sequoyah are stated to have been among his young warriors.

See also

  • Brent Yanusdi Cox, Heart of the Eagle: Dragging Canoe & the Emergence of the Chickamauga Confederacy, 1999
  • Robert J. Conley's novel, Cherokee Dragon (Real People series), 2000


  1. ^ Klink and Talman, The Journal of Major John Norton, p. 42
  2. ^ Rolater, Fred S. "The Chickamaugas". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  • Alderman, Pat. Dragging Canoe: Cherokee-Chickamauga War Chief, (Johnson City: Overmountain Press, 1978)
  • Brown, John P. Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838, (Kingsport: Southern Publishers, 1938).
  • Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Dragging Canoe," Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 176–189. Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian,
  • Haywood, W.H. The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its Earliest Settlement up to the Year 1796, (Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Publishing House, 1891).
  • Klink, Karl, and James Talman, ed. The Journal of Major John Norton, (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1970).
  • McLoughlin, William G., Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee. (Nashville: Charles and Randy Elder-Booksellers, 1982).
  • Moore, John Trotwood and Austin P. Foster. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, 1769–1923, Vol. 1. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923).
  • . (Rockwood, TN:, 2007)The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century, 1853 (2007 Online Edition)Ramsey, J. G. M., .
Preceded by
Position nonexistent
Leader of the Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee
Succeeded by
John Watts
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