Cherokee Chief Junaluska

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Cherokee Chief Junaluska

Chief Junaluska Memorial
Cherokee Chief Junaluska.jpg
Robbinsville, North Carolina

Cherokee Chief Junaluska

 (ca. 1775 - November 20, 1858)*


The script on the bronze plaque, bolted to a great hunk of native stone, states: “Here lie the bodies of the Cherokee Chief, Junaluska, and Nicie, his wife. Together with his warriors he saved the life of General Jackson, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and for his bravery and faithfulness, North Carolina made him a citizen, and gave him land in Graham County. He died October 20th, 1868, aged more than 100 years.” Postscript, "This monument was erected to his memory by the General Joseph Winston Chapter D.A.R. [Daughters of the American Revolution] 1910." An organization known as “Junaluska’s Friends” was recently organized, and restored the Junaluska grave site. Their work is primarily devoted to keeping alive the memory of Chief Junaluska.

Cherokee Chief Junaluska
Cherokee Chief Junaluska.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Junaluska, the Cherokee who saved Andrew Jackson’s life and made him a national hero, lived to regret it. Born in the North Carolina mountains (present-day Murphy, North Carolina) around 1775, he made his name and fame among his own people in the War of 1812; when the "mighty tribe of Creek Indians allied themselves with the British against the United States." At the start of the Creek War, Junaluska recruited about 800 Cherokee warriors to "go to the aid of Andrew Jackson" in northern Alabama. Joined by reinforcements from Tennessee, including more Cherokee, the Cherokee spent the early months of 1814 performing duties in the rear, while Jackson and his Tennessee militia moved like a scythe through the Creek towns. In March, however, word arrived that the Creek Indians were massed behind fortifications at Horseshoe Bend. Jackson, with an army of 2,000 men, including 500 Cherokee led by Junaluska, advanced towards the Bend, 70 miles away. There, the Tallapoosa made a bend that enclosed 100 acres in a narrow peninsula opening to the north. On the lower side was an island in the river. Across the neck of the peninsula the Creek had built a strong breastwork of logs and hidden dozens of canoes; if retreat became necessary.


The fort was defended by 1,000 warriors. There were also 300 women and children. As cannon fire bombarded the fort, the Cherokee crossed the river at a ford three miles below the fort and surrounded the bend to block the Creek escape route. They took position where the Creek fort was separated by water. The battle raged throughout the morning. There were dead and wounded on both sides. Among the frontiersmen fighting for Jackson that day were Sam Houston & Davy Crockett. Although David (Davy) Crockett allied himself with General Andrew Jackson against the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the Tennessee Congressman strongly and openly opposed President Jackson's (7th President 1829-1837) Indian removal policies, which ultimately cost Crockett his political career. Consequently, Crockett relocated to Texas and died in the Battle of the Alamo.

Junaluska Monument.jpg
Junaluska Monument

In the presence of Jackson, a few captured Creeks were being questioned, when one broke loose, snatched a knife, and lunged for Jackson. Junaluska, witnessed it and quickly responded by sticking out a foot and tripping the Creek warrior, saving Jackson’s life. As the battle continued, Junaluska conceived a brilliant plan. Without notifying Jackson, he gathered a dozen Cherokees, sneaked to the river’s edge behind the fort, plunged into the water, and swam over to where the Creek canoes were moored. Junaluska and his braves freed the canoes and maneuvered them to the opposite bank where other Cherokee warriors piled into them and, under cover of a steady fire from their own companions, returned to the opposite bank, thus breaching Creek defenses. When more than half the Creeks lay dead, the remnant retreated into the river, only to find the banks on the opposite side lined with blazing guns. Of the 1,300 Creeks inside the stockade, including women and children, not more than 20 escaped. Of 300 prisoners, only three were men. Two weeks after the decisive battle, Billy Weatherford, the greatest of the Creek chiefs, surrendered to Jackson, turning the general into a national hero.


(Right) About the Junaluska Monument. North Carolina Historical Commission, The Third Biennial Report of the North Carolina Historical Commission. Edwards and Broughton Printing Co., Raleigh, North Carolina, 1910.


When the battle of Horseshoe Bend concluded, Jackson is reported to have told Junaluska: “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the east.” In a few short years Junaluska would have occasion to recall those words with bitterness. When the great removal of the Cherokee began, Junaluska said: “If I had known that Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at the Horseshoe.”


Today’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are direct descendants of the Cherokee Indians who avoided, or survived, the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears.


Junaluska was among the Cherokee removed to the West during the Trail of Tears in 1838. But he returned to the mountains of his birth in 1842, walking all the way from what is now Oklahoma. And when he returned, the state of North Carolina intervened and recognized the debt that America owed him. By a special act of the state legislature in 1847, North Carolina conferred upon him the right of citizenship and granted him a tract of land in what is now Robbinsville, Graham County. Junaluska died on November 20, 1858, and was buried on a hill above the town where, in 1910, the General Joseph Winston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to his memory.


Junaluska has been memorialized by Lake Junaluska, Junaluska Assembly, Junaluska Creek, Junaluska Gap, Junaluska Ridge, Mount Junaluska, and Junaluska Rock.

*Dates provided courtesy Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and Museum of the Cherokee Indian.


Sources: Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation; Museum of the Cherokee Indian; National Archives.

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