Blood Oath of the Cherokee
|The History Behind the Novel|
Writers of historically based fiction are typically allowed to take certain liberties with history, in order to make a story flow well or to make it more understandable, but there was little reason to do that here. The history itself is compelling. Of course, I have made some changes here, but I have likewise tried to remain true to the historic record and what is known to be characteristic of the historic period, unless there was a literary reason for change. History, in and of itself, is quite interesting, and for those blessed with an adoration for this subject, it is also quite entertaining. Still, as an author, I feel a responsibility to offer a few words about the history behind this novel. For those who might be interested in a quick summation, I’d estimate that this novel is perhaps 75% congruent with the historic record.
The Hill, The River, The Mountains, and The Land
First, transition periods in history are never pretty, and much blood was spilled on this rough mountain frontier from 1650 until well after the time period covered here. The historic locations for this work, Tugaloo Town and Estotoe, lower towns of the Cherokee, the cemetery hill and the Tugaloo River—part of the Savannah River system--are indeed part of the picture of this frontier, and many of these locations are marked with historic markers today. Currahee Mountain--of Band of Brothers’ fame-- Clingman’s Dome, Panther Creek, Toccoa Creek, the Unicoi Turnpike, the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, and almost all of the other features of transportation and/or geography described here did provide the backdrop for much of the frontier mountain settlement from 1745 until 1840 or so. I changed geography very little in this text, and one can still note many of these locations today.
The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road was the busiest highway in colonial American in the decades prior to the American Revolution, as our ancestors landed in the northern port towns of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and immediately sought to own land. Thousands upon thousands of German, Scots, and Scots-Irish immigrants came demanding land, which they could never have owned in Europe. Neither could they find their land on the coastal plains of the 13 original colonies, so they headed down the Philadelphia Wagon Road directly to Walton’s Ford. The Unicoi Turnpike that opened the mountains from the Tugaloo into the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains, likewise began here. Further, the Traveler’s Rest Inn and Stage Coach Tavern serviced that migration along the lower portions of these historic trails. Today, that Tavern is a state historic site only 15 miles from Interstate 85 at the Georgia/South Carolina border.
America took one of its early bites of territory on this continent at exactly this spot, across the ford on the beautiful Tugaloo River, near the present mountain community of Toccoa, Georgia. It is amazing to consider the numbers of persons who parted with “civilization” at that river crossing, to become a part of the settlement of this frontier. It did indeed happen, right here!
The Cherokee were and are a remarkable people; they are a spiritual people, as herein described, who value balance in all things. There is much to admire here. Historically, they were one of the largest tribes in North America, and migrated into the lower mountainous region several centuries prior to the time period described here. They did practice nearly constant war against the Creek over hunting grounds in these mountains. In time, the Cherokee were the only tribe on this continent to establish a constitution, a written language, and an early newspaper.
The Blood Oath of the Cherokee did govern the life of the Cherokee. With that said, Cherokee Protocol, the tribe’s respect for women, and the participation of women in governance, were all noted, quite consistently two centuries ago by their contemporaries, as unique characteristics within this marvelous tribe of First Americans. While the blood oath may seem unintelligible today, respect for that oath probably prevented more bloodshed than it caused in the long run, which is why it was relatively common belief in various societies throughout history. Certainly it fostered and bolstered Cherokee Protocol, which is a practice that we, in today’s world, would be wise to emulate.
The destruction of Tugaloo Town, and the Battle of Taliwa were recorded by history as having happened in the locations presented here, but no maps or narratives exist to show the actions in those battles. The fighting and tactics described herein are entirely conjecture, but are based on the history of that period. Moreover, both battles resulted in major change on the frontier, with the historic results described here.
The Battles of King’s Mountain, Horseshoe Bend, and the Warrior’s Path are presented fairly accurately in the text, as they are described in historical documents. King’s Mountain is clearly the most important historically. Ferguson was a marvelous leader on what proved to be the wrong side of history, and his grave is marked today atop King’s Mountain. Moreover, that battle did eliminate Cornwallis’ left flank in his move northward. Thus, in some measure, that battle led to the victory at Yorktown several months later. Both the battle and the bloody, shameful aftermath—the killing unarmed Tories, and urination on bodies--really happened. Still that battle was critical in the history of the American Revolution. The stone tablet resting atop King’s Mountain today summarizes the result: On This Spot, The American Revolution Was Won!
Whenever possible the actual words and descriptions provided by historic participants in these battles were accurately reported: these were the words of both the Cherokee and the white settlers. Most of the speeches of the Cherokee such as Doublehead, and Little Carpenter were recorded by various authors at the time, as were the words of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, and the words of David Crockett in opposition to the Cherokee Removal. Ferguson’s taunt of the Patriots was historical, and Sevier did have that read to inflame passion in every mountain tavern he and his men could reach!
The Cherokee Leaders
The name of the Peace Chief of the Cherokee in Tugaloo Town is not known today, but the composite character presented here as Runs-To-Water does represent much of what is known about Cherokee leaders. Other Cherokee leaders such as Ridge, Little Carpenter, Doublehead, and Kingfisher were all historic figures, though I’ve moved them around a bit in history. The Cherokee Chief Junaluska, and not Major Ridge, was credited with saving the life of Andrew Jackson at Horseshoe Bend, and later was famed for his quote regretting that action. John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears, is presented accurately herein. While only 1/8 Cherokee, he was a tremendously important Cherokee leader of the period, and the survival of his people today are, in no small measure, a credit to his wisdom and leadership.
Nancy Ward was a historic figure who was famous in her own time. This marvelous woman--a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee--is perhaps one of the greatest female leaders this continent has ever produced, saving scores if not hundreds of lives on this frontier. Americans owe her a debt, and history should pay her much more attention. Her grave site lies just off Highway 411 in Southeast Tennessee. A quiet and peaceful hilltop setting, maintained by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, this hallowed ground is worthy of a reverent visit.
Major Ridge did serve as Speaker of the House in the Cherokee Nation, prior to the Cherokee Removal. He was a wealthy plantation owner who did own numerous slaves. He led the Treaty Party during that time, and signed the Treaty of New Echota, giving up all Cherokee land in the East. For those actions, he paid with his life, as did his son John in 1839. John Ross opposed that treaty and is, today, revered by the Cherokee.
The four heroes of King’s Mountain, Robert Jarrett, James Wyly, Jessie Walton, and Ben Cleveland, each participated in that definitive historic battle, and later settled this bloody frontier of the southern Blue Ridge. They played their respective roles in history along the Tugaloo, much as described here, though Wyly did not keep a diary. While Cleveland did lead a contingent up King’s Mountain, Walton did not, and no record exists of the specific role of Robert Jarrett or James Wyly in that battle, except for the fact that they were present. Ms. Elizabeth Hayes once showed me a letter documenting Robert Jarrett’s participation in the Battle of King’s Mountain, and she did share the story of the Creek Raid on Tugaloo Town, as reported here in the novel.
Ben Cleveland was a judge whose plantation did migrate from Franklin County, Georgia into South Carolina. He was never referred to as Early, but he was a very large man, as reported here. His address to his company prior to going up King’s Mountain, is historic, and like most great leaders of the day, he did lead from the front. He is buried along the banks of the Tugaloo River, near the hill and Tugaloo Town, and his grave is indeed, marked as a soldier of the Revolutionary War. Later, Devereaux Jarrett did establish a strong family and plantation along the Tugaloo River, and many descendents of that family live in the area today including Ms. Elizabeth Hayes, who is a descendent of Jarrett and not Cleveland as reported in the text.
The Reverend John Cleveland was a historic figure; as a local minister he did start the Tugaloo Baptist Church, one of the earliest churches in the area. As reported here, he ministered to all in his day, and it is understood in this area even today, that this locale once knew a man who was indeed, a profound spiritual force. The Tugaloo Baptist Church still serves this neighborhood, and is a strong influence for good—having served as the birthplace of many congregations in Georgia and South Carolina. Should one travel through on a given Sunday morn, you might wish to venture north up the Tugaloo River just a few miles off I - 85, and seek the Divine Spirit within that church, where all are, and have always been, welcomed.
Devil John Cleveland, the son of Ben Cleveland, was historically reported to have been the obtuse and disreputable character described herein. History knows him because of his distinguished family, and not for any contributions he made.
In contrast to the narrative, James Wallace Prather established the Prather plantation, not Ekaia who is a fictional character. Further, there is absolutely no evidence that there was any Cherokee blood in that family bloodline. With that stated, such things did occur in these hills, much more frequently than was recorded by history.
The early Georgia Gold Rush did occur in 1928, and certain historic legends credit Benjamin Parks with the first discovery of gold in the Cherokee Nation within North Georgia. Gold doomed the Cherokee, and there was no way to stem the tide of those hungry for land and gold who streamed into the Cherokee country after that date. The Trail of Tears, one of our nation’s greatest shames, resulted in part from that gold discovery.
The Wards, Cashes, Wylys, and Jarretts, still populate this area, but the Carmichaels never lived in this river valley at all. Still, rough frontiers bred rough men, and in many cases uninterpretable family situations such as that described in the book among the Carmichaels did arise along the colonial frontier. One early trader with the Cherokee in Tugaloo Town was named Sharpe, but little is known of this man (and nothing is known of his dental hygiene). His son, reported in the novel as stealing a whore from the Savannah docks, is entirely fictional, but again, such things did occur in those distant days.
Devy, as described herein, is entirely fictional. I wanted Devy in the story, as a counterpoint to my Cherokee view, and he provided to me that literary mechanism.
Endings and Beginnings
More could be said, but this will suffice for now. Of course, historic fiction never truly ends since history has not yet ended. Even if a fictional tale moves into the future a bit, that should be forgiven, for history--that demanding mistress of us all--can, in some measure predict the tides of peoples and the lives of men.
I will complete the work begun with Blood Oath, by continuing the story of the hill herein, of Toccoa Creek, of the Tugaloo River Valley, and the incredible peoples who lived and died there; as stated in the novel itself, we are they.
The Band of Brothers of World War II fame, trained here, as have men for every war in American history. Confederate Gold was buried here, in the dying days of the War of Northern Aggression; the last official meeting of the Confederacy was held only 50 miles from this riverbank. In that sense, the horror of institutional slavery ended not with Lee’s surrender in Virginia, but when the last Confederate Cabinet Meeting ended in the small community of Washington, Georgia, only a few miles off the lower Tugaloo River.
Afterward, moonshine was cooked up along these lower blue mountains; it still is today, and one should never mistake the wisp of smoke from the next ridge for a mere campfire. After that war, the railroads that built our nation came through, following just along the Philadelphia Wagon Road route, which is why the Band of Brothers training camp ended up here. The next novel in this series tells of the Civil War years, the early moonshine years, though it begins when I first knew Devy on a distant battlefield of Vietnam.
I’ll present a bit of that here, just to wet your appetite; for even today nobility in the common man and woman in America is not a dying fad. It is the cornerstone of the American character. Relish the history, and cherish the story; it is who we are.
Jimmy Cherokee Waters
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© Copyright 2008 Currahee Books
Publisher: William Bender 766 Collins St.,Toccoa, GA 30577800 991-1114