Bloody War Begins on Cumberland
After the initial white settlement along the Cumberland River in 1780, Doublehead launched a bloody attack with his Chickamauga warriors on the settlers encroaching on their sacred buffalo hunting grounds that lasted until June 1795. During this period, Judge Haywood stated that Doublehead had more blood on his hands than anyone in America.
Chattanooga-March 8, 1780—In the early days of 1780, General James Robertson and Colonel John Donelson were the leaders that began a movement west to establish a new settlement on the Cumberland River that would eventually become Nashville, Tennessee. General Robertson would take a group overland to the area, while Colonel Donelson’s group would make the trip by water. The water route would take the group down the Tennessee River to the Ohio River, then up the Ohio to the Cumberland River, then up the Cumberland to the Big Lick (Nashville). The Donelson route was extremely dangerous, not only because of the treacherous rapids, but the group would go through the country of the Chickamauga and by some of the largest Indian towns on the Tennessee River. Not only would the Donelson party pass the Town of Dragging Canoe, but also the Town of Doublehead. Both of these war leaders of Chickamauga had declared in 1775 their intentions of stopping the encroachment of white settlers on their sacred buffalo hunting grounds.
In the early part of 1780, Colonel John Donelson’s flotilla of some forty boats carrying 50 men and 130 women and children begin descending the Tennessee River toward Nashville. While in route west of Chattanooga, they were fired upon by a group of Chickamauga killing a young man by the name of Payne. Lagging behind the main group of voyagers was a boat of 28 persons that had smallpox and this group was captured and killed by the Chickamauga as seen in the following:
There was with the flotilla a boat carrying twenty-eight passengers, among whom an epidemic of smallpox had broken out. To guard against a spread of this disease to other members of the fleet agreement had been made that it should keep well to the rear, its owner, Mr. Stuart, being notified each night by the sound of a hunting horn when those ahead went into camp. Therefore, this unfortunate party was far behind while the events above mentioned were taking place. When they came down opposite the towns the Indians were on the shore in large numbers and seeing them thus cut off from the rest of the fleet swarmed out in canoes and with cold-blooded, murderous intent killed and captured the entire crew. Cries of the latter were distinctly heard by those in the boats ahead, but they were unable to stem the swift current and thus return to aid their perishing comrades.
But the Indians suffered a swift and righteous retribution for this wanton act of cruelty. They became infected with the disease of their victims, and for many months thereafter smallpox raged, not only among the Chickamauga, but in the tribes of their neighbors, the Creeks and Cherokees. When stricken with the malady and while the fever was yet upon them, the savages would take a heavy sweat in their huts. When driven to madness by the fever and heat, they would rush out and leap into the river, from the effects of which folly they died by scores. Old persons of to-day well remember the traditional accounts of a great and terrible mortality which prevailed among the savages after the capture of Stuart's boat (Albright, 1909).
The great Chickamauga Chief Dragging Canoe had survived the smallpox disease, but the scars remained on his body to the day he died. Thousands of native American Indian people were not as lucky and died of the horrible afflictions brought into their land by white settlers.
After the ordeal with Stuart boat, the Chickamauga Indians again attacked some ten miles west of Chattanooga at the “Suck” and wounded four people including the infant of a Mrs. Peyton. The son of Jonathan Jennings, his comrade, and a black man jumped into the water to swim to shore. The black man drowned and the two boys were captured by the Chickamauga. The Jennings boy was ransomed by a friendly half-blood trader named John James “Hell-Fire Jack” Rogers and returned to his family at the French Lick. His comrade was killed and burned; therefore, by the time Donelson’s group reached Nashville, he had 31 people killed by the Chickamauga.
Muscle Shoals-March 14, 1780--Doublehead and the lower Tennessee River Chickamauga were firmly in control of the eastern and western ends of the Muscle Shoals, which consisted of a series of six sets of rapids. “When Colonel John Donelson and his company drifted down the Tennessee River in 1780, they encountered hostile Indians at both ends of the Muscle Shoals and at the lower end, five of their party was wounded.” This is one of the first confirmed conflicts with white settlers and the Chickamauga at Doublehead’s bastion of the Muscle Shoals. The Muscle Shoals stretched from just west of present-day Decatur, Alabama to Waterloo, in western Lauderdale County, Alabama.
Nashville-May 1780—Nashville (French Lick, Big Lick, or Bluff) was one of the prime targets of Doublehead and his Chickamauga Warriors. The area around Nashville was the site of one of the largest mineral licks found along the Cumberland River, and therefore attracted great herds of deer, elk, and buffalo. Many of the licks along the river were described as the hub of a wagon wheel with its animal trails radiating out like the spokes. These buffalo, elk, and deer trails were worn deeply into the earth and many times were used as roads by both the Indians and white long hunters.
The lick at Nashville was known as the Big Lick or French Lick and a favorite hunting site of Doublehead. Several trails from the Muscle Shoals stronghold of Doublehead led directly to the licks on the Cumberland River. These trails included what would become known as the Natchez Trace, Doublehead’s Trace, Sipsie Trail, Black Warriors’ Path, and several lesser known routes. All these trails were used by several factions of the Chickamauga including the Chickasaw, Lower Cherokee, Upper Creek, Delaware, Shawnee, Yuchi, and others to attack the white settlers who were invading their hunting grounds. The Delaware faction would at times attack areas along the Cumberland from their stronghold in the Ohio River Basin.
One morning during the month of May, a hunter by the name of Keywood came running to the fort at the Bluff and reported that John Milliken had been killed on Richland Creek, five or six miles to the south. The two men were journeying toward the settlement and stopped at the creek for a drink. While they stooped down to drink, they were fired upon by a band of Chickamauga Indians hidden on the bank and Milliken fell dead. Keywood had escaped uninjured and made his way to the settlement to bear the news of the tragic death of his comrade.
A few days later, Joseph Hay was on the Lick Branch between the Bluff and Freeland’s Station when a party of Chickamauga shot and scalped him. The Indians took his gun, hunting knife, shot pouch, and powder horn. He was buried east of Sulphur Spring.
Soon thereafter, a man named Bernard was at work clearing land when he was shot and killed. The Indians cut off his head and carried it with them. In the retreat of the Chickamauga, they encountered three young men, two brothers named Dunham and a son of John Milliken, who had already been killed. The Dunhams escaped to Freeland’s Station, but the young Milliken was killed and his head also cut off and carried away.
Mansker's Station-June 1780—Mansker’s Station, near Goodlettsville, Tennessee, was located 12 miles north of Nashville on the west side of Mansker’s Creek between two large licks. The station was named after Casper Mansker who was born in 1746 and died in1820. Mansker was one of the early long hunters that came from the east in the late 1760’s to take bear, deer, elk, and buffalo. Mansker killed 19 deer in one day that were traveling between the two licks.
Mansker’s Station near Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Two settlers by the names of Goin and Kennedy were clearing land between Mansker’s and Eaton’s Stations. They were fired upon, killed, and scalped by the Chickamauga. Later in the year, the Chickamauga killed Patrick Quigley, John Stuckley, James Lumsey, and Betsy Kennedy at Mansker’s Station. Also, William Neely from Mansker’s Station was killed near Neely’s Lick and his daughter taken prisoner. She was held at a Creek town but released several years later.
Renfroe's Station-July 1780—Some twenty persons were killed over two days by Doublehead’s Chickamauga warriors during their assault on Renfroe’s Station at the mouth of the Red River. Two were killed in the initial attack and the rest left for the Bluff, but they came back and gathered belongings. Again they started for Eaton’s Station or the Bluff, but made camp before reaching their destination. Early the next morning, they were attacked and scattered in the woods where each of them were hunted down and killed. Among those that died were Joseph Renfroe and Mr. Johns and his entire family of twelve.
Renfroe’s Station Historic Marker
Read more about the vicious battles that took place between Doublehead's Chickamauga warriors and the settlers on the Cumberland River in my soon to be published book--Doublehead: Last Chickamauga Cherokee Chief. The battles become much more intense and vicious!