Tsali: Cherokee Hero

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Tsali: A.K.A. Charlie
Photographs courtesy Museum of the Cherokee Indian: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
(There are no known photos of Tsali) Photographs by the webmaster.

Tsali, Cherokee Brave

Photo of the Firearm that Killed Tsali
Weapon That Killed Tsali.jpg
Photograph of the Weapon that Killed Tsali

Gun used to execute Tsali, aka Charlie 
Tsali refused to leave his homeland during the "Trail of Tears." Refusal to obey the President's executive order, aka Forced Removal of the Cherokees in 1838, cost Tsali his life.

Description of the gun that killed Tsali
Cherokee Museum.jpg
(Cherokee Museum)

This “average” man found himself in circumstances he might never have imagined, and his reaction to historical forces much greater than himself made him into a hero and martyr for the Cherokee who remained in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Tsali’s sacrifice, his death at the hands of a firing squad he chose for himself, proved to be a turning point in the history of the principal people; the present-day Eastern Band of Cherokee.

Tsali: Historical Marker
Tsali: Cherokee Hero and Warrior

Gathering the Cherokee:
As the troops commanded by General Winfield Scott gathered people of the Cherokee nation for removal, they searched for those who tried to hide. Most of the Cherokee cooperated—and spent their final days back east in the stockades—but 1,000 or more either hid from the troops or hoped their relative isolation would protect them. Tsali and his family were among these people. By the time the troops finished rounding up the stragglers they could ferret out—and Tsali lay in his grave— those remaining behind, the first of the Eastern Band, would number about 1,000. As a farmer and provider, Tsali was far more concerned with the weather and the crops he nurtured in the soil. Tribal factions struggled. Politicians argued. But Tsali knew little of the turmoil until May 1838. His brother-in-law, Lowney, brought word of the companies of soldiers searching the valleys and the thousands of Cherokee people herded in stockades. The whites were preparing for a great march to the west, to herd the principal people to a new home in Oklahoma. Tsali returned to his fields, and one of the stories told of him at this time involves a dream. As he worked, legend has it that Tsali imagined his people remaining in the mountains and carrying on the traditions and wisdom of their ancestors. True or not, the legend fits with what happened next to Tsali. On The Trail, Scouts discovered Tsali and his family when they came to their cabin and ordered them to join other Cherokee in the stockade at Bushnell, which is now covered by the waters of Fontana Lake. Like the rest of the nation, Tsali and his family were given little time to prepare for the journey. Taking only the belongings they could carry, Tsali, his wife, sons, and brother-in-law left their home under the guard of two soldiers. When Tsali’s wife stumbled and a soldier prodded her with his bayonet, Tsali’s life took a much different course. Hiding his anger as well as he could, Tsali spoke to his kinsman in their native tongue, aware that the soldiers did not understand Cherokee. “When we reach the turn in the trail,” he is supposed to have said, “I will trip and fall and complain of my ankle. When the soldiers stop, leap upon them and take their guns. Then we’ll escape into the hills.”

Cherokee Tsali.jpg
Cherokee Tsali

Tsali’s Fate is Sealed:
The captives had never intended to kill or wound either of the soldiers, but an accidental discharge during the struggle left one soldier dead and turned Tsali, Lowney, and the sons, Ridges and Wasituna, into wanted men. Tsali’s family fled immediately to the safety of a concealed cave under Clingman’s Dome, now a part of the National Park, where Scott’s troops would be at a marked disadvantaged if they ever discovered the fugitives. And Tsali was committed to fighting to the death rather than letting his family become prisoners. Apparently, the fugitives weren’t aware that more than 1,000 other Cherokee were also hiding out in remote areas of the Great Smokies. They had banded together under the leadership of Utsali or “Lichen,” who had sworn never to leave their mountain homeland. Tsali’s family and Utsali’s band eluded capture during the summer of 1838. By fall, the final group of soldiers and Cherokee detainees began the long trip west, a.k.a. Trail of Tears.
General Winfield Scott's Proposal:
Faced with the nearly impossible task of capturing the fugitives, General Scott came up with an idea for ending the campaign and revenging the death of his soldier. He sent for Will Thomas, who had been adopted by the great chief Yonaguska. “If Tsali and his kin will come in and give up,” he told Thomas, “I won’t hunt down the others. If Tsali will voluntarily pay the penalty, I will intercede with the government to grant the fugitives permission to remain. But if Tsali refuses, I’ll turn my soldiers loose to hunt every one of them.” When Thomas delivered the message under Clingman's Dome, Tsali agreed to turn himself in. When they reached the stockade, Tsali, Ridges, and Lowney were sentenced to death, while the younger Wasituna and his mother were spared.

Tsali, Cherokee Indian

A Legend is Born:
In a field next to the stockade at Bushnell, the condemned men were stood against three trees. The colonel in charge asked the prisoners for their customary final words. Tsali spoke up: “If I must be killed, I would like to be shot by my own people.” Three Cherokee men were selected to be the executioners. Tsali and his kin waved aside the blindfolds they were offered. A volley rang out in the valley, and the men slumped to the earth. Tsali (
Description of Flintlock that killed Tsali), Lowney, and Ridges were buried near the stockade. A little over 100 years later, the valley was flooded, and the graves today are covered by the waters of Fontana Lake. (Also see Cherokee Indian Charles George: American Hero and Medal of Honor Recipient: HOMEPAGE.)

Sources: Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation; Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Recommended Viewing: The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy (2006), Starring: James Earl Jones and Wes Studi; Director: Chip Richie, Steven R. Heape. Description: The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is an engaging two hour documentary exploring one of America's darkest periods in which President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 consequently transported Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation to the bleak and unsupportive Oklahoma Territory in the year 1838. Deftly presented by the talents of Wes Studi ("Last of the Mohicans" and "Dances with Wolves"), James Earl Jones, and James Garner, The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy also includes narrations of famed celebrities Crystal Gayle, Johnt Buttrum, Governor Douglas Wilder, and Steven R. Heape. Continued below...

Includes numerous Cherokee Nation members which add authenticity to the production… A welcome DVD addition to personal, school, and community library Native American history collections. The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is strongly recommended for its informative and tactful presentation of such a tragic and controversial historical occurrence in 19th century American history.

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Related Reading:

Recommended Reading: Tsali's Hatchet (480 pages). Description: The Cherokee Trail of Tears comes to life between the pages of TSALI'S HATCHET. Walk in the footsteps and experience an 1836 Cherokee family as they endure the impossible and rise to become the first American Indian Nation to surpass everyone's expectations. "...a gripping story of courage!"

Recommended Reading: Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. Description: One of the many ironies of U.S. government policy toward Indians in the early 1800s is that it persisted in removing to the West those who had most successfully adapted to European values. As whites encroached on Cherokee land, many Native leaders responded by educating their children, learning English, and developing plantations. Such a leader was Ridge, who had fought with Andrew Jackson against the British. Continued below...

As he and other Cherokee leaders grappled with the issue of moving, the land-hungry Georgia legislators, with the aid of Jackson, succeeded in ousting the Cherokee from their land, forcing them to make the arduous journey West on the infamous "Trail of Tears." ...A treasured addition for the individual remotely interested in American Indian history as well as general American history.


Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Nation: A History. Description: Conley's book, "The Cherokee Nation: A History" is an eminently readable, concise but thoughtful account of the Cherokee people from prehistoric times to the present day. The book is formatted in such a way as to make it an ideal text for high school and college classes. At the end of each chapter is a source list and suggestions for further reading. Also at the end of each chapter is an unusual but helpful feature- a glossary of key terms. The book contains interesting maps, photographs and drawings, along with a list of chiefs for the various factions of the Cherokee tribe and nation. Continued below...

In addition to being easily understood, a principal strength of the book is that the author questions some traditional beliefs and sources about the Cherokee past without appearing to be a revisionist or an individual with an agenda in his writing. One such example is when Conley tells the story of Alexander Cuming, an Englishman who took seven Cherokee men with him to England in 1730. One of the Cherokee, Oukanekah, is recorded as having said to the King of England: "We look upon the Great King George as the Sun, and as our Father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white our hands and hearts are joined together..." Conley wonders if Oukanekah actually said those words and points out that the only version we have of this story is the English version. There is nothing to indicate if Oukanekah spoke in English or Cherokee, or if his words were recorded at the time they were spoken or were written down later. Conley also points out that in Cherokee culture, the Sun was considered female, so it is curious that King George would be looked upon as the Sun. The "redness" of Native American skin was a European perception. The Cherokee would have described themselves as brown. But Conley does not overly dwell on these things. He continues to tell the story using the sources available. The skill of Conley in communicating his ideas never diminishes. This book is highly recommended as a good place to start the study of Cherokee history. It serves as excellent reference material and belongs in the library of anyone serious about the study of Native Americans.


Recommended Reading: Cherokee Proud, Second Edition, by Tony Mack McClure. Description: Absolutely the "Bible" of Cherokee Genealogy. New, 336 pages, 2nd Edition. If the information in this remarkable new book doesn't lead a person to proof of their Cherokee roots, nothing can! “It is an A-to-Z on organizing and locating the requirements / qualifications for membership.” Continued below...

Are you Cherokee? Are you the individual that has always been told that you are a Cherokee, but have no facts or records to prove it? To claim Cherokee membership means that you must prove it – you must have the facts, so toss the doubt away, get the facts, and claim what is rightfully your heritage by blood quantum. Now, are you ready to prove that you are a Cherokee? It’s not difficult if you take the time to locate the facts. Included are proven resources for tracing your family genealogy, the family tree, roots, bloodline, and for researching your ancestors to prove that you meet the blood requirements (qualifications) for Cherokee membership and tribal enrollment. Those that qualify as “American Indians are American Indians” and are entitled to the rights and benefits of the tribe! Also includes a proven “how to dos” written by the foremost expert in Cherokee history, genealogy and heritage. Cherokee membership is not like joining a gym or paying dues, it’s your blood, so claim it. Are you remotely interested in knowing that you are a “Cherokee Indian” or are you the individual that enjoys genealogy? Do you want to locate and preserve your Native American ancestry? Finding information about ancestors for genealogy and heritage is also a lot of fun. Moreover, you are preserving your own family history and heritage with your relatives and loved ones for generations and generations… Take a look at exactly what is required to locate and organize and present your information to prove that you meet the qualifications as a member of the Cherokee tribe. Cherokee Proud, by Tony McClure, is referred to as the "Bible for Cherokee Genealogy." Cherokee Proud has also been rated a SOLID FIVE STARS by every person that has read and rated it. To see if you meet the 'Cherokee qualification and requirement for membership', then look no further -- purchase Cherokee Proud. Read the reviews and see what people and organizations are saying about it.


"Cherokee Proud is the very best book I have ever seen on tracing Cherokee genealogy." -- RICHARD PANGBURN, acclaimed author of Indian Blood, Vol. I & II found in most libraries

"McClure unabashedly loosens his journalistic standards for portions of this book which reach him too emotionally. Understood. Fascinating and enlightening."

BACK COVER: Among the people of this country are individuals in whose blood runs the proud heritage of a noble and resilient people whose ways and talents rank with the finest civilizations the world has known. They are the " Tsalagi ". . . the Cherokee. This book will help you learn if you are one of them. -- BOOK READER

"The contents of Cherokee Proud are exceptional - valuable information that can be used by so many readers and researchers who have Native American (Cherokee) ancestry." -- DON SHADBURN, Famous Georgia historian and noted author of Unhallowed Intrusion and Cherokee Planters of Georgia

"This Cherokee guide is the best yet!" -- LAWTON CONSTITUTION

About the Author: Well known and acclaimed Cherokee author Dr. Tony Mack McClure, a native of Tennessee, is a certified member of the Native American Journalists Association, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and Committeeman for the Tennessee Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, over 250 newspapers, on all major television networks and many cable systems.


Recommended Reading: The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900, by John R. Finger. Review from University of Tennessee Press: This volume presents the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokees during the nineteenth century. This group – the tribal remnant in North Carolina that escaped removal in the 1830’s – found their fortitude and resilience continually tested as they struggled with a variety of problems, including the upheavals of the Civil War and Reconstruction, internal divisiveness, white encroachment on their lands, and a poorly defined relationship with the state and federal governments. Yet despite such stresses and a selective adaptation in the face of social and economic changes, the Eastern Cherokees retained a sense of tribal identity as they stood at the threshold of the twentieth century. Continued below…

“Most scholars, like most Cherokees, have tended to follow the Trail of Tears west with scarcely a backward glance at the more than 1,000 Indians who stayed behind in the North Carolina mountains. In this pathbreaking book, John R. Finger combs federal, state, and local archives to tell the story of these forgotten natives.”

-- Journal of Southern History

“This work is a significant contribution to the literature on this long-ignored group….Finger works [his] sources well and out of them has produced a narrative that is readable and that puts the Eastern Band of Cherokees as a tribal entity into a clear, historical perspective.”

-- American Historical Review

John R. Finger is professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Related Studies: Tsali, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation, Trail of Tears History Photo, Picture 1830 Indian Removal Act of the Cherokees, Western North Carolina Smoky Mountains, 1838 Trail of Tears Oklahoma Removal, Cherokee Indians Resistance History and Details

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