The outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, presented in Cherokee, NC throughout the summer each year, commemorates the trials and tribulations of the Cherokee people.
Simon Kenton was known to the Indians as "the white man who cannot be killed" because, no matter what they did to him, he kept coming back.
Simon Kenton rescuing Daniel Boone. In his day, Kenton was better known and more respected than even Boone.
There is no authorized portrait of Tecumseh in extant; but this description by one of the officers serving under Major-General Brock, who commanded the British forces in Ontario, is the next best thing. He wrote this when Brock and Tecumseh met at Fort Malden in 1812: "Tecumseh was very prepossessing, his figure light and finely proportioned, his age I imagined to be about five-and-thirty, his height five feet nine or ten inches, his complexion light copper, his countenance oval, with bright hazel eyes beaming cheerfulness, energy and decision. Three small crowns or coronets were suspended from the lower cartilage of his aquiline nose, and a large silver medallion of George the Third, which I believe his ancestor received from Lord Dorchester when governor-general of Canada, was attached to a mixed coloured wampum string which hung round his neck. His dress consisted of a plain, neat uniform, a tanned deer-skin jacket with long trousers of the same material, the seams of both being covered with neatly cut fringe, and he had on his feet leather moccasins much ornamented with work made from the dyed quills of the porcupine."
Wooden Statue of Tecumseh by Artist Neil Z. Cox
The outdoor drama, Tecumseh, presented in Chillicothe, Ohio throughout the summer each year, memorializes the great warrior chief.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE INDIANS?
Are we going to let our emotions rule us, or the facts?
I've heard a lot of far-fetched stories about what happened to the American Indian. The worst is that Americans did to the Indian what Hitler did to the Jews. That is the height of hysterical irrationality. Since 1970, American Indians have used the Thanksgiving season to protest their plight, and our liberal, politically-correct educational system and media have bought into it. I'm really sick of hearing how minorities in this country have been discriminated against, persecuted and even slated for genocide. My family is Scotch-Irish. Historically, no group of people have been more persecuted than the Irish, except maybe the Jews. Yet, I cannot remember the last time I heard an Irishman complain about his plight. Nor a Jew. Surely if any group has a right to complain, those two do.
Yet, every year, we hear from some quarter how the American Indian was done wrong. Do we realize that most American families have Indian blood in them? The idea behind America is that all nationalities and cultures eventually blend into one; not that each has its own little piece of America: Irish-America, African-America, Native America. That is part of the problem: we are becoming more and more segmented as a nation. We've all been persecuted and trampled upon. It's time just to move on and leave all that in the past where it belongs.
I'd like to clear up a few of the misconceptions about the Indians, as far as I understand them. I believe that all tribes were treated differently, simply because most of them were dealt with on an individual basis and by individual states. Mostly it was in the territories that they were dealt with on a federal level. But keep in mind that the people involved, both white and red, were sinful and flawed. Rarely have people dealt with each other fairly, and governments certainly have not.
I am mostly familiar with the Great Smokey Mountain Indians of North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Ohio Valley Indians of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana; but those two scenarios give a good picture of how Indians were treated overall. These two stories are incredibly interesting and, at times, extremely exciting - even more than Last Of The Mohicans, in my opinion - and yet neither have ever been made into films. The latter has been written up as an historical novel - one of the best - which I'll mention at the end.
Cherokees and Catawbas
I'll begin with my story of the mountain Indians. There were two main tribes in Western North Carolina: Cherokees and Catawbas. The Cherokees hated the white man and did everything they could to stop his western advance and to destroy him entirely. My hometown of Lenoir and the surrounding Catawba, Caldwell, Wilkes and Burke counties were the staging area for Daniel Boone's later trips west. The Boones lived on the Yadkin River, not far from my family's home. Every spring, Daniel gathered up the families that had travelled there from all over the East Coast, and took them on the perilous journey into the North Carolina mountains and Cherokee country, and then on into Tennessee and Kentucky.
But long before Boone, the Cherokees had been trying to stop the forthcoming wave of European settlers. Meanwhile, another tribe, the Catawbas, were content to live in peace with the white man. This infuriated the warlike Cherokees, who threw insult after insult at the Catawbas. Finally, in 1737, the Catawbas could take no more and declared war on the Cherokees. The two tribes fought at a place four miles north of Lenoir called Warrior Gap. Six times, the Catawba braves drove the Cherokee warriors back to the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. After almost a week of fighting, the two tribes were exhausted and their numbers depleted, so they declared a truce. To signify that they would live in peace hereafter, they erected a mound of stones and tied two young poplars together, both of which can still be seen today just off Highway 321 west of Lenoir.
Even though the Cherokees lived in peace with the Catawbas from that point on, they did not relinquish their war on the white man. This continued into the early 1800's. So, finally, something had to be done. I don't know exactly how North Carolina's removal of the Cherokees to Oklahoma (then called "Indian Territory") in 1838 compares with the removal of other Cherokees, such as those in Georgia, or the removal of the other four tribes that were involved in the Trail of Tears; but I do know that Captain John Connelly, of my home county of Caldwell (then Burke) was responsible for the North Carolina relocation. Nor do I know what was in Andrew Jackson's mind when he authorized the removals; but I do know that Jackson is generally considered one of our finest presidents and a hero of the War of 1812. So, are we going to let our emotions rule us, or the facts?
The fact is, the Cherokees would not stop fighting. Some would say they were justified, since their land was being taken from them. But you could use that same logic to say the Canaanites were justified in defending the Promised Land, even though God had given it to the Israelites. I mean, if you really want to be honest, every piece of land that ever became someone's "homeland" previously belonged to someone else, and was probably taken away from them by force. Look at England and France: they've swapped ownership of Normandy how many times? The Normans invaded England and took it over. England invaded Normandy and took possession of it. That's what the Hundred Years War was all about. That's what Shakespeare's Henry V deals with.
The fact is, Europeans being persecuted for their religious beliefs needed somewhere to go because no European nation would take them. The New World was the Pilgrims' last hope. And Native Americans had more land than they knew what to do with. Who wouldn't love to have endless tracts of land on which to ride and hunt? But there were people who had no land at all and needed homes. It was right that they should come to America in search of a new life. It was right that Native Americans share their limitless land with them. It was right that the two people should eventually merge into one nation.
The Cherokees could have chosen to live in peace, like the Catawbas, and stayed in North Carolina and become part of a great state. But instead they chose to fight the wave of change that was bearing down upon them. When change comes, it's always those who know how to adapt and change themselves that survive and do well. Those who fight change always end up flattened by it. The Cherokees did not want things to change, and that was their doom.
Captain John Connelly rounded up the Cherokees who had no permanent homes - some 600 did, and so remained in North Carolina - or who hadn't fled into the mountains, and marched them down the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Thousands died along the way. The good news is, those that made it eventually rebounded, so that today, Cherokees are the largest group of Native Americans in the United States.
Just as a side note: after that, Captain Connelly came back to North Carolina and settled in an area that is today called Connelly Springs, where he had a son named Waitsel that opened a general store not far from my family's home. My great, great grandaddy had a son, which he also named Waitsel (probably after Captain Connelly's son) who also opened a general store one mile up the road from Waitsel Connelly's. And that's who I was named after.
Tecumseh and "the White Man Who Could Not Be Killed"
My second story is about the Indians of the Ohio Valley, and concerns the greatest scout and Indian fighter in history - greater than Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. I'm talking about Simon Kenton, friend of Tecumseh (the great Shawnee leader) and known to the Indians as "the white man who cannot be killed." I once lived in the area of Ohio where both Kenton and Tecumseh spent their early years, and was surprised when I moved away that no one outside that area had ever heard of Kenton, and few of Tecumseh, when in their own day, both men were better known and more revered than either Boone or Crockett.
Kentucky was the sacred hunting ground of many tribes, including the Shawnee. As settlers continued to pour down the Ohio River from Virginia and Pennsylvania, bound for the Ohio country, they honored the sacred status of Kentucky only out of fear of the Indians. But Indians on the Kentucky side would shoot at the settlers as they came down the river, so the settlers retaliated by venturing into Kentucky and eventually trying to settle it. Simon Kenton was one of the scouts that lead the settlers in.
It was a harrowing venture. Kenton was captured many times by the Indians, tortured and forced to run the infamous gauntlet, where braves line up and strike the victim with clubs and other weapons as he's coming down the line. Kenton ran mile long gauntlets that lasted for days, and yet he was never killed; whereas most men could not have endured even a fraction of that type of cruelty. Thus, Native Americans began to think of him as "the white man who cannot be killed," and they respected him greatly.
Tecumseh had a brother that was supposedly a prophet for the Great Spirit, who predicted the coming destruction of the white man. A shooting star (Tecumseh means "shooting star") and other natural phenomena established this in their minds. Together, in 1808, the two brothers founded Prophetstown near present-day Battle Ground, Indiana. Braves from many different tribes joined them there, attracted by the religious teachings of Tecumseh's brother, whom they called "the Prophet;" but it was Tecumseh to whom they eventually looked for leadership.
Tecumseh was opposed to the selling off of Indian lands in such treaties as the Treaty of Fort Wayne, and travelled about urging Indians not to honor them, as well as warned the governor of Indiana, William Henry Harrison, not to attempt to settle the lands. In 1811, in the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison and 1,000 men, who were encamped outside Prophetstown awaiting a meeting with Tecumseh's brother, were attacked unexpectedly at dawn, but held their ground, after which they burned the Indian village. Tecumseh was away at the time. The defeat was a great setback for the Indian confederacy.
In the War of 1812, Tecumseh and about 400 braves joined the British in taking Detroit, which they lost a year later. In 1813, in the Battle of the Thames near Moraviantown, Ontario, Harrison and his men defeated the British and killed Tecumseh, causing the tribes of his confederacy to surrender. Today, Tecumseh is hailed as a hero in Canada because of his efforts to repeal an American invasion during the War of 1812. Go figure.
Simon Kenton served as a scout and leader of a militia group in the Battle of the Thames. Later, he moved to New Jerusalem, Ohio, where he become a Christian, which explains why he could never be killed, in spite of all the times he was tortured and all the gauntlets he had to run. Kenton was a good man that was predestined for greatness, and lived an extraordinary life as a result. Tecumseh, as well, was an extraordinary man, but marked with tragic flaws because he was on the wrong side of a conflict he could not win. False religious beliefs and false pride proved to be the undoing of Tecumseh and his brother.
One of the things that Tecumseh contended was that the land belonged to no one, and therefore the treaties being signed by various chiefs were invalid. But if the land belonged to no one, why were he and other Indian leaders against its being settled by whites? It was change that the Indians were ultimately against, and they were willing to fight and die to keep things as they had always been. But change is inevitable.
If you'd like to learn more about Simon Kenton and Tecumseh, Allan W. Eckert's The Frontiersmen: A Narrative (1967, 2001) is one of the finest examples of an historical novel I know. Well-researched, it captures the spirit of the times without compromising the facts. You won't be able to put it down.
It's Time to Move On
I regret that Native Americans suffered as they did, just as I regret that African-Americans suffered, Irish suffered, Jews suffered, and all peoples suffered. But that is part and parcel of living in a fallen world. There was a lot of evil perpetrated on both sides of the Indian conflict. But there was also a lot of good done, which we have forgotten. The fact is, the world was changing and Native Americans, for the most part, were unwilling to change with it. I believe it was right and good that European Christians come to this country, if for no other reason than to share the gospel with Native Americans. But also, so the two peoples could share their lives with each other. Unfortunately, one of the parties was unwilling, for the most part. They could have been part of something great: the forming of a new nation. Instead, they became one of the obstacles in that formation. It is regrettable, but it was their choice.
That doesn't mean that blending hasn't taken place. As I said, most American families have their share of Native American blood. But, going forward, I think the whole reservation idea is absurd. Those lands need to be broken up, sold or given to Native Americans, and allowed to become real towns - not tourist stops or gambling resorts. Native Americans need to see themselves as Americans, period. After all, they were the first. Like everyone else, they need to recognize the good things about their past, as well as the mistakes they made, and be willing to forgive the evils done to them. That's the only way they'll be able to move on and fulfill their destiny, which lies in the future, not the past.
Waitsel Smith, November 24, 2009
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page.]
Just a note of thanks for your post. I'm a Kenton devotee and found your article. I not only enjoyed it, I agree with you on your views of bend or break, assimilate or die. And I completely agree with your comments on America becoming fractured – returning to tribalism if you will – and the negative effect it has on all. You're Irish; I'm Welsh – but we're both Americans. I only wish more people today had your views. Thanks - Rick, Idaho USA
Next to the Jewish people, the American Indian is the least reached out to people group for the Gospel. they have the highest suicide rate, unemployment rate, divorce rate and drug use rate. While they should not play the victim, I personally think, my opinion, that as a people group, they have been pretty miserably treated in our country. The Jewish people have managed to carve out a life for themselves, albeit Christ-less for the most part. Irish people as a group worked hard and made lives for themselves and their families. I think the American Indians' story after the Westward Expansion has made it hard to be proud of their history as assimilated Americans unlike the Irish and the Jewish peoples. I am very fond of Ron Hutchcraft ministries that reaches out each summer to Native American youth with the Gospel- the only thing to turn them around as a people group. The same for Jewish people, by the way and the Irish.And every people group in the US! Happy T'sgiving. You raise some good points. Blessings - Janice, Georgia USA
Mr. Waitsel: I have agreed with you about most of what you have written in the past, but this one I can't support. Native Americans have definitely been abused by those who settled this country. Admittedly, there were unnecessary atrocities against whites by certain natives, but the one against some of them that is closest to home is the Cherokee Trail of Tears. It happened. One reason it happened is that someone found the treasure in gold right near to where my daughter lives in North Georgia and decided to move the Cherokees somewhere else far from that land, a land that had hardly any resources - Oklahoma. I'm sure you know about that. What happened to them on that trek is beyond description. These were not a bunch of screaming, war-hooping savages. They lived in houses and had developed their own written language. Add to all this the many broken treaties. I do agree with you that the native Americans need to get over the past (if we'll let them) and try to get more involved in our modern society instead of protesting. It would be great to see more of them in government in place of most of the yahoos that we now have. Respectfully - Arno, Georgia USA
Hey Arno. I mentioned the Georgia Cherokees in my article, and said that I was unfamiliar with their case. If you look up the Cherokee Trail of Tears on Wikipedia, it says that they took them into Illinois on the way to Oklahoma. (!!!) Why would they do that, considering how difficult it was to travel back then? There is just too much dubious information out there designed, I believe, to fan the flames of discontent. I would rather stick to what I can personally verify. Thanks for your thoughts, and have a very blessed Thanksgiving. - Waitsel
Hello again, Waitsel: Thanks for your response. You're a real gentleman and I wish you a belated blessed Thanksgiving. - Arno
I dont know who you are, but I do agree with what you say, however you need to get up to speed with your own history. The Scot Irish were Protestants and they were given land in Ireland by an Englishman by the name of Oliver Cromwell. His goal, suppress and control the Catholic Irish. In time the English and Scot Irish, key word Scot, almost succeeded, they force the immigrations of almost half of Irish in Ireland.
The Scot Iris were part of the group that persecuted the Native Irish in IRELAND and later in the USA. However we do need to leave all that behind an move on. We are a nation of mixed ancestry. Its good to remember the people that gave us who we are as a people and a nation, but we must not forget our pass. It was a wise man that once said, "He who does not study history runs the danger of repeating it". We need to learn from our past so we do not repeat it.
What is interesting to see is that all the people of the world once had a change to be the dominant power and they all screwed it up. If we don't learn we will follow the same path. May God give us wisdom to use the past to mold the future. - George
AMEN! Thank you... I too am frustrated of people (people groups) living in pity-parties and not going forth in strength and bring healthy change from the past... Much to pray about for sure. Joy in Jesus - Jean, Georgia USA
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text © 2009 Waitsel Smith. Photos and artwork various artists. All Rights Reserved.