Red Bird (Dotsuwa) and the Cherokee History of Clay County, Kentucky


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John Sevier

John Sevier was inaugurated Governor of Tennessee on March 30, 1796. As governor, it was his sworn responsibility to enforce the treaty between the Cherokee and the newly formed United States of America. He was bound by office to take responsibility for any and all violations against the Cherokee by the citizens of the State of Tennessee. He consistently met this responsibility with denial to the Cherokee with added threats of war and removal. One of his first correspondences to the Cherokee Nation was written on April 2, 1796, addressing a complaint that a warrior had been killed.

  Knoxville 2nd April 1796
Friends and Brothers
It is some time since I talked to you upon paper and living so great a distance from each other, we can seldom speak face to face I am lately come to this place, and us yet not acquainted with all the things that have happened for some time past. I am sorry to hear that some of my red brethren are missing or lost if it is the case we cannot as yet find out who it is that have done so wrong and black a deed but when it is known our laws will then punish him with death. It is very wrong to punish the innocent for the fault of rogues and bad men neither will it bring back our friends that sleep in the dust; it is enough for one to be lost by bad people, and not a great many perhaps on both sides was either of us, to begin to take satisfaction, for you know every person have their friends you that are men and warriors must listen well to my talks and not let foolish and inconsiderate people break the white belt of Peace, that now so happily extends from our hearts to those of our red brothers. Don't think harm when I say you are only a handful of people, and that war will ruin you if ever you enter into it again. Look back thirty years ago, you was then a great people, more then ten times the number you have now, and if you had never went to war you would have been ten times stronger now, then you was at that time. Brothers you know I have always advised you to live in peace, I pitied your women and children and warriors ought always to take care of them, for they are harmless and innocent, and depend upon men for their safety and protection. I shall always endeavor to keep the path of peace wide and straight between us, and if ever war is again known in your land, it will not be our fault. Your good and great friend Governor Blount is going to Philadelphia to set in the great and beloved Council of America your beloved Father Washington the President is there, and so long as your Nation keeps bright the chain of peace, they will both be your friends.
Your friend and Brother
John Sevier

On July 7, 1796, Sevier writes a follow up letter to the Cherokee Nation explaining that he cannot be held responsible for murders that occurred under the previous administration of Governor Blount. It is also Sevier's first correspondence to them about Kentucky.

  Knoxville 7 July 1796
Friends & brothers
Since peace has taken place between us I shall always be happy to hear of your welfare I am rejoiced to find your people have seen their folly of going to war, and have concluded to keep deep under ground the hatchet and scalping knife by such measures and conduct of your nation, you may become strong, numerous, and have all the good things you stand in need of. This letter will be delivered unto you by Colonel Whitley from the State of Kentucky who is going into your country to see and get some white people, that some of your people took prisoners from that country some time ago, also to get some black people, that was taken from the same place, (a woman and three children that belonged to General Logan of that Country) now my brothers I shall earnestly expect that you will immediately give up all these people, and let them be conveyed home to their own Country, which in our last treaty of peace you have promised you would do; I shall also do the same, if any of your people is among us, but I know of none but one boy, who is now going to school and he told me a few days ago, that he did not want to go home until he could learn to read and write, which was very good in him, and when ever he wants to return he shall be sent safe to you. If there is any more I don't know of them, I have but lately come into office and am not acquainted with all things that have happened in the time of Governor Blount. Colonel Whitley is a beloved warrior among the white people, and a friend of mine. I shall expect your people will treat him like a brother, as he does your people when they go to his home, and I shall hope to see him return safe with all his people, that he is now going after
Your friend and brother
John Sevier

By January 1797, Sevier had been informed that Red Bird was murdered. It was also clear to Sevier that the murder had been committed by citizens of the State of Tennessee, which were under his jurisdiction. As a trained lawyer, Sevier knew that he had to respond, as the incident was a direct violation of a United States treaty with the Cherokee. On January 12, 1797, Sevier wrote a letter to Cherokee agent Silas Dinsmore to be read aloud to the Cherokee. Initially, Sevier wanted to express his condolences for the murder of Red Bird by stating that he doubted any of his people would do such a thing. However, he later decided to strike out this section of the letter.

  Knoxville 12th January 1797
I have just now arrived at this place, and am sorry to be informed that some of your foolish young people have been taking horses and plundering wagons on the Cumberland road; such conduct will soon darken the bright chain of friendship that now so happily is joined to each nation. I hope you that are Warriors and chiefs, do not encourage such proceedings, and I have a better opinion of you, than to Suppose you would any longer Suffer it to be done. You have no reason to think I wish any ill, neither do the great majority of the white people, in case your nation will be friendly. You know I have always advised you, not to let foolish young fellows destroy the good understanding between us. I request you will proceed to make inquiry after the horses and other property that have lately been taken by your people and send the same into this place, in order that the owners may have it again, by which means our friendship will continue to be firm and strong. I have wrote to Mr. Dinsmore on this subject, and hope you will pursue such measures as will enable you and him to recover the Stolen property.
DELETED TEXT: Brothers I am sorry to hear one of our red friends has lately been killed, and if I can find out that any of our people has been guilty of such a dark and unfriendly action, I will have them punished, but I have reason to hope and believe that it was not any of our people, although there is bad men in every Nation, yet I am sure it was not done by a person belonging to our State. I have always told you, that I wished your Nation to do well, and I hope they may always live in peace, and raise their children in friendship with their neighbors and brothers, the white people. My brothers you know if stealing of horses is suffered to be done, peace won't last long, and you must be sensible your situation will be dangerous; you are but few in numbers and war will ruin you if ever you engage in it again. Our people live very near you, and reason will teach you that they don't wish to have any disturbances or quarrel with you.
Your friend brother John Sevier
Your friend and brother
Warriors and Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation

By February 1797, Sevier clearly understands that it was not one, but two Cherokee that were murdered—Red Bird and Will. On February 10, 1797, Sevier writes another letter to the Cherokee Nation. While it does present condolences for the murders, he denies that they were committed by anyone under his authority. Like the previous letter, it is disingenuous and patronizing in its posture, criticizing and threatening the Cherokee with war and subsequent removal from their homeland.

  Knoxville February 10th 1797
I am sorry to hear of so much blood being spilt, it is a thing I never expected would again happen between the Cherokees and White people — when I first heard that two of your people was killed I did not believe it, and my reason was that none of your people sent me any information, neither did the agent, or any person make any complaint, which ought to have been done and then I would have endeavored to have the men taken, that killed your people, although it was done I am informed in the State of Kentucky, though I believe the men lives in this state that committed the murder — they are bad men and have committed a cowardly and black action, and I am very sorry to hear of it, but it is done, and if the person can be taken they must suffer agreeably to our laws and the treaty existing between your Nation and the United States. It is very wrong in your people to take long satisfaction until you had made a complaint and let us had an opportunity to have taken the murderers, and let them that did the mischief suffer. Your own good sense must tell you that it is a very wrong thing for to make the innocent suffer for the guilty, it is contrary to our reason, and to the laws of the Great being who made all things — your people has lately taken several lives and those who are entirely innocent, and had not done your people any injury; this my brothers is contrary to our treaty, and your own interest; if you don't put a stop to such conduct, your nation will bring on a war, and then the consequence must be very bad on your side, you are but a handful of people, and you would have to leave your country, which will cause your women and children to suffer very much — our people don't want to go to war against you, though they are not a afraid, and you know they are not; therefore I expect you will consider your own interest and keep your foolish people from doing any more mischief, otherwise the consequence will be bad.
Your friend and brother
The Warriors and Chiefs of the Cherokee nation

Sevier grows concerned that the murders of Red Bird and Will could become a National incident and lead to an untimely war for the newly formed country. On February 14, 1797, Sevier writes to former governor William Blount, then in the United States Congress, informing him of the crime and naming Ned Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingston) as the murders.

Knoxville 14 February 1797
Yours of the 3rd ultimo by Mr. Casey came duly to hand; I expect that when this reaches you Congress will have risen, but as there is a probability that you may remain in Philadelphia sometime after the session is over, I think it necessary to inform you that the Indians have killed one person in Powell's Valley and wounded another; also have killed one more on Harpeth Cumberland Junction that this has been done in retaliation for two Indians said to be very inhumanly murdered by Ned Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingston) somewhere near unto the head of Kentucky River, I hope to have the matter shortly made up so as to restore peace and harmony. The reports of a probability of a war with the French, and direct taxation seems to cause much clamor, and excites apparently much indignation among many here, against the measures of the American Government. I have not wrote to the other members expecting they will in all probability leave Philadelphia, before this letter will arrive, which I hope will be Sufficient apology should it be otherwise.
I have the honor to be et cetera
John Sevier
a copy enclosed which was sent to Silas Dinsmore agent
Honorable Mr. William Blount
14th February 97

By March, Sevier demonstrably understands that citizens from Tennessee murdered Red Bird and Will in Kentucky, and he is solely accountable. On March 5, 1797, Sevier writes to John Watts Jr. and other Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation, in response to their letter of March 4, 1797. While he does admit that it was his citizens who violated the United States Treaty, he begins the letter by accusing Dick, a well known friend of Red Bird and Will's, for retaliation of their murders.

  Knoxville 5 March 1797
Your letter of the 4th came to hand to today, in which you say that your people have done no damage on either the person or property of the whites. I wish this was the case, and I make no doubt you think so, but you may be sure, several is killed one in Powell Valley by a fellow called Dick, can talk some English has hunted there, and is well known by the people. I mention this that you may know the person, — there has also been a great many horses taken from Cumberland and one man killed and another wounded, and yesterday another was killed and scalped on Little Pigeon about thirty miles from this place. This conduct my brother has a bad appearance and as I told you before will be attended with disagreeable events should your people be so foolish and unwise not to decline such practices. You mention that I wrote you in a threatening manner, but my brother if you listen to the words of my letter, there is no threats in it, I have only spoken to you the language of truth, and the fatal consequences, that must attend your Nation, should you be so imprudent as to again go to war — I don't nor never did speak to you with a false tongue, nor do I wish your people to be treated ill, but on the contrary that they may live in peace and safety and raise their children in quietude.

I know very well, that some of the white people are bad men and have been guilty of a horrid crime in killing the Red Bird and Will, and whenever they can be taken they shall suffer for it, one of them has run away and the other as yet is not taken; as I told you in my last I tell you in this, that the innocent ought not to suffer for the guilty, neither ought your people to take any satisfaction until you had first made your complaint and stated your sufferings.

It is impossible for me to know when damage is done to your people without you inform me; and your own good sense will point out to you that a murderer seldom ever discovers upon himself, which I suppose is the reason why your people denies they have done any mischief. You say you have been a long journey and while at Philadelphia received very different talks from that of mine; and say that I say you are but a handful of people and in consequence of our superiority in numbers suppose we have a right to do as we please — I deny saying we had a right to do as we please and on any such a supposition, neither is there any such a word in any letter. It is true I said you were only a handful of people, which is the truth and I also advised you of the danger of going to war. If the people at Philadelphia have told you that you are a numerous and strong people, and that you ought to go to war and kill your white brothers, they have not told you that which is true, nor that which would be for your good and the interest of your nation was you to take such advice.

What I said in my letter was to convince your nation of their danger and the great evils that always attend a war, and the distressing condition your people would be in, should such a thing take place — you wish I would talk to my people and tell them not to cross the Tennessee River or to survey your land — I have often told them that, neither do I wish or intend any such thing should be done. But you know I am a great way from that place, and can't see what every foolish man is doing, I expected that the guards at Tellico, would stop such people from crossing over, and I suppose, they would was they to see them, but neither them nor myself can see the transaction of every bad man, no more, than you can your people, who come over on our side and kill our people and steal our horses. Now brother I hope I have said enough to convince you, that I don't wish our people and yours to enter into war against each other, and I hereby declare that I wish to have peace and friendship subsisting between the two Nations, and shall with all my heart and strength do everything in my power to promote the same — I hope you will also endeavor to keep your people within the bounds of reason; and let us try to prevent any further effusion of blood. I wish us to live friendly and bury all animosities deep in the earth. If you have complaints, the government will redress them, and you know they are taking measures to effect the same, but if your people will undertake contrary to the Articles of the treaty to redress themselves, you can't expect the government will do it — I request that you will make enquiry into the murder lately done on Pigeon; and if possible have the murderers punished agreeably to the Articles of Treaty. — Your people could have no color of excuse for committing any depredations on that quarter for they are not on lands claimed by your Nation, neither have they interrupted any of your people —I hope to have an answer from you as soon as possible.

Your friend
John Sevier

To John Watts and other Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation

On March 17, 1797 Sevier writes a letter to Governor Garrard of Kentucky specifying Edward Miller and John Livingston as the murders of Red Bird and Will.

  Knoxville 17 March 1797
Yours of the 10th instantly I am duly honored with and shall observe the contents. The wanton and unprovoked murder committed on the Red Bird and another Indian of the Cherokee tribe, is a crime so atrocious and aggravating in its nature, that it is my sincere wish and desire to have the perpetrators apprehended, in order they may suffer agreeably to the demerit of their crimes. The taking of them will be attended with some difficulty. Levingston (Livingston) I have been informed left this state in a few days after it was known he had been guilty of the murder, and Mitchell is constantly on his guard in such a manner, that will render it difficult to have him apprehended — you rest assured that nothing shall or will be lacking in the executive, to have them taken and safely conducted into the State of Kentucky, if by any means the same can be accomplished
I have the honor to be very respectfully
Your Excellencys Most obedient Humble, Servant
By the governor His Excellency
Governor Garrard
Governor of Kentucky

On March 19, 1797, Sevier issues orders to the Sheriff of Hawkins County, Tennessee to apprehend the murderers of Red Bird and Will committed by Edward Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingston), both citizens of the State of Tennessee and living in Hawkins County. It is important to note that Sevier is untruthful when he states, "I am just now informed" of the murders. Compare the dates and prose in the preceding letters.

  State of Tennessee to the Sheriff of Hawkins County
I am just now informed by an express from the Governor of the State of Kentucky that a most cruel daring and unprovoked murder was perpetrated by Edward Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingston), citizens of this State and inhabitants of Hawkins County, on two Indians of the Cherokee Nation, one of the name of Red Bird who was hunting in the State of Kentucky, on the waters of Kentucky River. The perpetration of such horrid and unwarranted an act is contrary to the treaties existing between the United States and the Indian tribes, as also all laws human and divine, and such aggressions ought to meet exemplary and adequate punishment suitable to the demerit of their crimes, agreeably to the laws they have, so flagrantly and wantonly violated. In conformity to the demand made by his Excellency the Governor of the State of Kentucky, and agreeably to an act of Congress in such Cases made and provided: I do hereby command you, to take the aforesaid Edward Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingston), or either of them if to be found in your County, and them or either of them safely and securely to convey unto the public jail of Kentucky, then and there, them or either of them, you are to deliver unto the keeper thereof. In order that you may be the better enabled to apprehend, take, and convey the said Edward Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingstone), or either of them as aforesaid, you are hereby empowered to apply to, and call upon, any officer or officers, either Civil or Military within this State, to furnish you with such guard or guards, as may be adequate and necessary for the purpose of taking, and Safely conveying them, to the public jail of Kentucky as aforesaid. I also command and enjoin that all officers Civil and Military, be aiding and assisting in having the aforesaid Edward Mitchell and John Levingston (Livingston) apprehended and taken in order that they may be dealt with as the law in such cases may direct. Given under my hand and seal in Knoxville this 19th day of March 1797.

By the Governor
John Sevier

Order Sheriff Hawkins County

On March 28, 1797, Sevier writes to the Cherokee Nation further explaining that he has been requested by the Governor of Kentucky to have the two Tennessee citizens who murdered Red Bird and Will apprehended and sent to Kentucky to be tried for their crime. It is a fact, which Sevier has known for some time. While he admits the injustice to the Cherokee, it is not done without threatening them with war and removal.

Knoxville 28 March 1797
I have received an express from the Governor of Kentucky which informs me that two men Citizens of the State of Tennessee, has murdered two men of your Nation, one of the name of Red Bird. This murder was committed within the bounds and State of Kentucky, and the Governor thereof has demanded of me to send them into that State to be tried for the murder agreeably to the laws of the State — I have sent forth orders to have the murderers taken, and when taken to be immediately sent to Kentucky in order that they may be tried, and receive the punishment due their crime if found guilty — now my brothers you have had time enough to find out the persons that have killed the several people belonging to the State of Tennessee, one has been killed and another wounded on the Kentucky Road since I wrote you before; I therefore request and demand of you, that you have those murderers apprehended and punished agreeably to the treaty entered into between your Nation and the United States . I am determined to have the white transgressors taken and punished if it can be done, and I shall expect you will apprehend the murderers on your part and have them punished — let us convince such disorderly people, that they shall not be the cause of shedding the blood of innocent people and bringing about a war, which never fails to produce very fatal and disagreeable events I have frequently informed you how disagreeable a war would be to the white people of this State and the United States in general, and also the dangerous consequences, that in all probability might and would attend your Nation should such a went take place — I hope your nation will consider well the dangerous consequences, and put a final stop to the further effusion of blood, otherwise I am afraid it will tend to bring about very disagreeable events, which is the wish of this government to prevent.
Your friend
John Sevier
The Warriors and Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation

As a final letter on the subject, written on March 30, 1797, Sevier focuses on the killings in retaliation for Red Bird and Will. For him, the matter of their murders is now closed.

  Knoxville 30th March 1797
I am induced to believe, that the Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation have possessed time sufficient to fully ascertain by whom the late murders have been committed on several of the citizens of the State of Tennessee. I demand that the Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation apprehend, and bring to condign punishment, those of their nation, who have been guilty of the perpetrations, and shall expect the leaders will evince, a disposition to strictly and explicitly comply with the articles of the subsisting treaty between their nation and the United States. On the part of this State, permit me to assure you, that those white persons who have so flagrantly violated, the laws of this and the United States, by committing violence's on any part of the Cherokee Nation, shall not be suffered to escape with impunity. That it is the perfect intention of the executive, and a sincere desire, that such violators of the laws and treaties existing between the United States and the Indian tribes, as also their disregard to the feelings of humanity, may and shall suffer agreeably to the demerits of their crimes, so far as the government shall have energy sufficient to inflect the same, which I have no doubt is fully competent and adequate — this is accompanied by one to the Chiefs on the subject, which you will please to have read and explained to them, and assure the Nation that it is the desire of the State of Tennessee , to continue uninterrupted peace, reciprocity of friendship, and a friendly intercourse, so far as the good conduct of the Nation may warrant and merit the same.

I have the honor to be with very sincere and great respect, your most obedient Servant
John Sevier
Silas Dinsmore Esquire

Treaty of Tellico

John Sevier was re-elected for a second term as Governor of Tennessee between 1803 and 1809. During this time, the third and fourth Treaties of Tellico were negotiated and signed. The fourth treaty, signed on October 25, 1805, ceded Cherokee land in Kentucky, south of the Cumberland River. Among the Cherokee chiefs and headmen who signed the treaty were Kentucky born Taltsuska (Doublehead), phonetically written as Dhuqualutauge, Robert Benge's oldest brother Ahuludegi (John Jolly), phonetically written as Eulatakee, and Dotsuwa (Red Bird), phonetically written as Tochuwor.

By the time of the fourth Treaty of Tellico, it was likely that either one of Red Bird's sons or nephews was given his name. Traditionally, names of a father or uncle are given in a naming ceremony before or after their death. Because the treaty ceded land in Kentucky and Red Bird was murdered in Kentucky during Sevier's previous term, it was in the best interests of Indian agents Return J. Meigs and Daniel Smith to make sure that a descendant and namesake of Red Bird was represented.

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