The Forgotten Tribe of the Hiwassee

The Forgotten Tribe of the Hiwassee

“Hidden History”

Joe Guy


In the spring of 1714, Eleazer Wiggan sat around a council fire in the Cherokee town of Tanasi, near what is now Vonore, Tennessee.  Wiggan was a British trader who lived among the Cherokees.  He was called “Old Rabbit” by the Indians as he was short, shrewd, and sneaky in his dealings. In the council house at Tanasi with several of the Cherokee leaders, he listened closely for an opportunity to turn the Cherokees attention to a matter that would have a great affect on his trading business.


Wiggan had been a trader for several years, hauling his wares of guns, powder, lead ball, flints, copper kettles, trade silver, hatchets, shirts and blankets from distant Charles Town in the Colony of South Carolina.  Passing over the mountains, he sold his trade goods from a shack he’d built in Tanasi.  He did a productive business with the Cherokee, but he knew he could do better.


About thirty miles south of the Cherokee towns, another Indian tribe lived along what was called the Ayuwasi River, now the Hiwassee.  These were the Yuchi Indians, who called themselves the “Tsoyaha yuchi" , meaning "Children of the Sun from faraway".  The Yuchi were also called the “round town people”, as they often lived in villages that were encircled by a protective palisade of sharpened poles.  They were a war-like people who lived side by side on often uneasy terms with their Cherokee neighbors. Wiggan also traded with the Yuchi, but he didn’t seem to do as well.  Simply put, the Yuchi insisted on paying less in deer hides than the Cherokees did, so as far as he was concerned, the Yuchi’s were not good customers.  And so he’d come up with a plan to rid himself of the Yuchi’s, and he would use the Cherokees to accomplish this.


As the council continued, one of the chiefs who Old Rabbit had already been plying brought up his growing disgust with their Yuchi neighbors.  They were bothersome, he accused, and were untrustworthy.  Others began to speak of rumors they had heard: that the Yuchi had been courting the favors of the Cherokees mortal enemies: the Spanish.  These, of course, were lies that Old Rabbit himself had spread, and Wiggan smiled wryly as he saw his plan unfolding perfectly.


“I wonder,” said Wiggan, “why the Cherokee, who are so strong and mighty. Would tolerate the perfidity of the Yuchi?  If the Cherokee chose to do so, the Yuchi could be wiped away, and their towns would become the property of the Cherokee, making the Cherokee even stronger.”


The Indians listened intently to Old Rabbit.  Some of the older leaders disagreed with such action against the weaker tribe, but many of the younger chiefs, led by the warriors called Caesar and The Flint, were already inflamed at Wiggans’ rumor-spreading, and soon were clamoring for an attack on the Yuchi’s.  Days later, the war party headed south.


The main Yuchi village was located on the Ayuwassee River at Tsistowee, or as the whites called it “Chestuee”, at the mouth of the creek of the same name, not far below the mouth of the Ocoee.  With Wiggan and fellow trader Alexander Long supplying the guns, the heavily armed Cherokee stormed the town’s walls in a surprise attack. The surviving old Yuchi men, women and children gathered in the communal house and committed mass suicide, rather than be taken captive. A woman and a couple of children survived, and were taken as slaves back to South Carolina where they told their story to officials. Other battles were fought further west at Yuchi Old Fields in present Meigs County. Officials with the board of trade in Charles Town were not happy when they learned of Wiggan’s exploits. Long and Wiggan both were arrested for promoting their particular interests, were tried and convicted of inciting Indian war, and were stripped of their trading licenses.


Wiggan would later return to trading, and would be an influencial translator during a later Cherokee visit to King George in 1730, along with a young Cherokee warrior called “White Owl”, later known as Attakullakulla.


As for the Yuchi, the remainders of the tribe drifted south to become part of the Creek nation, while a few remained and were eventually accepted into the Cherokee.  But due to the plot of a greedy trader, the Yuchi disappeared from Southeast Tennessee forever.  Now only a small community and boat dock in Meigs County retain the “Euchee” name.  But this tribe did leave Tennessee with one important legacy:


The Yuchi referred to the confluence the French Broad and Holston Rivers in their language as Tana-tsee-dgee, which translates roughly to "where-the-waters-meet," and literally means "brother-waters-place."  The name of the Cherokee town of Tanasi  was derivative of Tana-tsee, and this name was later corrupted to  the name of the region, and later the state, of Tennessee.