The Turkeytown Treaty

From 1721 through 1868, the Cherokee people had more than forty treaties with the white people, at first with the British and colonists and later with the American government.  So far as I can tell, all of them seem to have been broken.

One that is of interest to us here in dealing with place names of Cherokee origin is the Treaty of 1817, also called the Treaty of the Cherokee Agency.  There had been, in 1816, two other treaties which, as usual, required the Cherokee to cede more lands.  In March of that year, they had ceded all remaining lands in South Carolina,  a small section in and around what is now Oconee County.  In September, the tribe in a general meeting at Turkeytown [Alabama] had ratified the Treaty of the Chickasaw Council House, ceding most of their lands in Alabama and nearby border areas, some 3,500 square miles.

On 8 July 1817, the Treaty of the Cherokee Agency was signed by 31 Cherokee leaders from North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, and by 15 Arkansas Cherokee chiefs, as well as by Major General Andrew Jackson—he did not become President until 1829—and by Governor McMinn of Tennessee.  It is often somewhat erroneously called the Turkeytown Treaty.  Including the Arkansas chiefs constituted the first formal recognition of the Western Cherokee.  Most of the Cherokee bitterly opposed this treaty and that of 1819.

Together with the Treaty of Washington in 1819, the Cherokee Nation ceded almost all their remaining lands in the East, except for northwest Georgia and some adjacent lands in Tennessee, Alabama, and the extreme western part of North Carolina.  The details of the cessions can be found in the map at this link.

A key provision of the Treaty of 1817 that came to affect some place names was Section 8:

“And to each and every head of any Indian family residing on the east side of the Mississippi river, on the lands that are now or may hereafter be surrendered to the United States, who may wish to become citizens of the United States, the United States do agree to give a reservation of six hundred and forty acres of land in a square to include their improvements which are to be as near the centre thereof as practicable, in which they will have a life estate with a reversion in fee simple to their children reserving to the widow her dower, the register of whose names is to be filed in the office of the Cherokee agent, which shall be kept open until the census is taken as stipulated in the third article of this treaty [June 1818]. Provided, That if any of the heads of families, for whom reservations may be made, should remove therefrom, then, in that case the right to revert to the United States. And provided further, That the land which may be reserved under this article, be deducted from the amount which has been ceded under the first and second articles of this treaty.”

The treaty promised a square mile of land to every Indian family east of the Mississippi River living on the lands that were ceded to the government if they would become citizens of the United States and give up their status as Cherokee [or other] Indians.  Six hundred forty acres for their very own, with their present home as nearly as possible to the center of that acreage–that was the promise.  All they had to do was file a request with the Indian Agent within almost a year.  Very few of the people had ever owned any land, and the concept was somewhat foreign to them.  Perhaps the main attraction for becoming “citizen Indians” may have been staying in the East, on familiar lands.  Only about 311 Cherokee people applied for the land.  A few of those actually got some land, usually less than the promised amount, and almost all of them lost what they did get.  Still, for a time, some of them remained among the white settlers.

Without going into historical details about the frustrations and thwarting of the allotments, we can see what effects some of these citizen Cherokees had on local place names.  [If you would like to examine some of the efforts by the states to deprive the Cherokee of the promised allotments, you could read the efforts of the state of Tennessee, which were probably typical of most of the states involved, possibly excepting North Carolina.  Georgians were especially inimical to the Cherokee, as later events would prove.]  You can find more depth on Cherokee history at this link.

Cherokee people who applied included The Cat, who lived near Sugartown [Cullasaja].  The creek he lived on is now called Cat Creek.  His name was probably a translation of Gvhe, wildcat, or  it may have been a translation of Tlvdatsi, the mountain lion, which the white settlers called “painter” [panther”].  Wesa was merely a Cherokee attempt at the English word “Puss,” the word used for a domestic cat.

One applicant, Little Betty, lived near the whites a little longer than most.  She was a widow with several children, we are told.  Her reserve was to be at Eastertoy, which later became Dillard, Georgia.  Betty’s Creek is named for her.  I am surprised to see its name showing up with increasing frequency as Betty Creek, an example of the gradual erosion and changing of place names as outsiders move into the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.  Among people who grew up near Dillard, the name is always pronounced as if it were “Bettis Creek.”

Near Betty’s Creek is Betty Whitecloud Street.  As of now, I do not know if there is any connection with Little Betty, and I am inclined to doubt that there is.

Another applicant was Old Mouse, who lived “below Cowee,” that is, downstream from Cowee [NC].  He is remembered in the names of Old Mouse Creek and Mouse Mountain.  His name is a translation of the Cherokee word talasgewi [or possibly tsisdetsi or tsistetsi], with “Old” having apparently been appended in English.

The reservee listed in application documents as Musk Rat was living on Cartoogechaye Creek [on Ca-tur-as-joy Creek, the document says].  Muskrat Creek, Muskrat Valley, and Muskrat Road are named for him. His English name was a translation of salaquisgi [or salagisgi or selagisgi].

Otter Creek, about halfway between Franklin and Robbinsville, in the Nantahala Community, takes its name from citizen Cherokee Otter.  His name is a translation of Tsiyu.  His neighbor to the northwest was one Taylor Eldridge, white husband of Pathkiller’s daughter Ailcey.  Pathkiller himself had applied for his reserve about 2½ miles above the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, further to the northwest in the same general area.  Otter’s daughter Jane, while working for some of the white settlers, is said to have been killed by a panther [tlvdatsi, mountain lion].  Her name was given to Jane Otter Creek, a tributary of Otter Creek.

In 1818, Eu-chu-lah of Cowee applied for his 640-acre reserve just west of the Cowee Mound, and it seems to have been granted.  In old documents, it is recorded as the Euchella Farm.  It seems to have been taken over by the state of North Carolina almost immediately, whether by sale or by force.  In 1821, 299 acres of it was sold by the state to Joseph Welch.  The name survives in Euchella Cove, Euchella Church, and some other modern developments some miles to the west of the original farm.

About Turkeytown, Alabama:  The present community lies about halfway between Weiss Lake and Gadsden; the historical Cherokee town site, Gvna-digaduhvyi, is under the water of the lake.  The community, Little Turkey Road, and Turkeytown Gap are named for Gvna [or Gvnastee, Gvnusdi], the first Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  His name translates to Turkey [or Little Turkey].  John Ross was born at Gvna-digaduhvyi in 1790, and he was one of the people requesting a reserve under the “Turkeytown Treaty.”

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