Tahchee, A Cherokee Chief
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Tahchee is the Cherokee word for Dutch. How the individual before us acquired this name we are not informed, except that he obtained it in his infancy from his own people. In process of time, as its import became known, it was translated into the word Dutch, by which he is most usually called. He was born about the year 1790, at Turkey Town, on the Coosa River, in a district of country then composed of the wild lands of the United States, but now included in the State of Alabama, and was forty-seven years of age when his portrait was taken. The picture is an admirable likeness. Tahchee is five feet eleven inches high, of admirable proportions, flexible and graceful in his movements, and possesses great muscular power and activity; while his countenance expresses a coolness, courage, and decision, which accord well with his distinguished reputation as a warrior
He is the third of the four sons of Skyugo, a famous Cherokee chief, and had thus, by inheritance, a claim to rank, which is always respected among the Indians, when supported by merit. At an early age, in company with his mother, and an uncle who was called Thomas Taylor, he emigrated to the St. Francis river in Arkansas; but, as his family was among the first of those who were induced, by the encroachment of the whites, to remove to the west of the Mississippi, and his own age not more than five years, he retains but a faint recollection of the exodus. The country, in which they sought a refuge, was a wilderness into which the white man had not intruded a broad and fertile land, where extensive prairies, alternating with luxuriant forests, afforded shelter and pasturage to vast numbers of the animals most eagerly sought by the hunter. The young Tahchee was early initiated in the arts and perils of the chase. He remembers, when he first went forth a slender but ardent boy, in search of game, that his uncle prepared a gun, by cutting off part of the barrel, so as to render it portable and easily managed in the hands of the young hunter. Thus early is the native of the forest trained to these arts of woodcraft, and taught to face the dangers of the wild, and the extremities of the weather; and it is through the means of such culture, that he becomes so expert in all that relates to hunting and border warfare, and so indifferent to every other occupation or amusement.
For the first three years, his exertions were confined to the immediate neighborhood of his residence; but, at the end of that period, he was permitted to accompany a regular hunting party upon one of those long expeditions so common among the American tribes, and which indeed occupy the greater portion of the lives of those among them who are active and ambitious. He was absent a year, following the game from place to place, roaming over an immense region of wilderness, and enduring all the vicissitudes attendant upon long journeys, the succession of the seasons, and the ever-varying incidents of the chase. Those who have hunted only for sport, can form but a aint conception of the almost incredible dangers and fatigues endured by the Indians in these protracted wanderings, during which they travel to distant regions, often meet, and more often cunningly elude, their enemies, and suffer the most wonderful privations. Their lives are a continuous succession of feasting and starvation, of exertion and sleep, of excitement, intense anxiety, and despondency, through all which they pass without becoming weary of the savage life, or learning, in the hard school of experience, the wisdom which would teach them to imitate the examples of the ant and the bee, by making provision for the winter during the season of harvest.
On the return of Tahchee, after this long absence, he reached home late at night, and knocked at the door of his mother’s cabin, who, supposing it to be some drunken Indian, called out to him angrily to go away, as she had no whisky to give him. Dutch, who, like a true Indian, would rather effect his object by in direction, than by any open procedure, went round the maternal mansion, which was but a flimsy fabric of logs, whose weak points were well known to him, and attempted to enter at a window, but was met by his amiable parent, who stood prepared to defend her castle against the unknown intruder, armed with a tough and well seasoned stick, with which she was wont to stir her hominy. He was, of course, compelled to retreat, but soon after succeeded in effecting, at some other point, a practicable breach, by which he entered, and was immediately recognized and cordially welcomed by his mother.
After remaining at home but three months, he accompanied another party, composed of about fifteen hunters, to the Red river, who, being unsuccessful, soon returned. During their absence, another party of Cherokees were attacked upon White river by the Osages, who killed several, and took one prisoner a cousin of Tahchee being among the slain. The tidings of this insult incited the Cherokees to immediate measures of retaliation, and a war party was raised, consisting of thirty-two individuals, headed by Cahtateeskee, or the Dirt Seller. Though but a mere boy, Dutch was permitted to join the expedition, probably in virtue of his consanguinity to one of the slain; but. as is customary on such occasions, the burden of carrying the kettles, and other baggage, fell to his lot, for the Indian warrior never condescends to perform any labor that can be shifted off upon the less dignified shoulders of a youthful or feminine companion. At their first encampment, the Dirt Seller, who was his uncle, raised him to the station of a warrior, by a ceremony, which, however simple, was doubtless as highly prized by the young Cherokee, as was the honor of knighthood by our scarcely less barbarous ancestors. The leader of the hostile band, having cut a stick, and fashioned it with his knife into the form of a war-club, presented it to his promising relative with these words: “I present this to you; if you are a Brave, and can use it in battle, keep it; if you fail in making it, as a warrior should, effective upon the living, then, as a boy, strike with it the bodies of the dead!” Tahchee received this interesting token of his uncle’s regard with becoming reverence, and used it, on subsequent occasions, in a manner which reflected no disgrace upon his worthy family. They shortly after came upon an encampment of the enemy, in the night, which they surprised, and attacked just before daybreak. Tahchee, fired with zeal, and, incited by the recent admonition of his uncle to prove his manhood, slew two of the enemy with his war-club, and secured the customary evidence of savage prowess by taking their scalps. The Osages were defeated, with the loss of sixteen of their warriors, who were killed and scalped, while not a man was killed on the side of -the Cherokees. The only blood drawn from our young hero, was by a wound from his own knife, while in the act of performing, for the first time, the operation of scalping a fallen enemy. His daring and successful conduct gained him great renown, and when, on the return of the party, the scalp dance was celebrated, with the usual ceremonies, the honor of being recognized as a warrior was unanimously conceded to the youthful Tahchee. His subsequent career has amply fulfilled the promise thus early indicated, and a long series of warlike exploits has conclusively proved that both his skill and courage are of the highest order.
An active war, between the Osages and Cherokees, succeeded the events which we have noticed. Excursions and inroads were made on both sides during two or three years, and many hard battles were fought, in which”both were alternately victorious; but, although Tahchee served actively throughout the whole war, no party to which he was attached, was ever defeated, or lost a man, nor was he wounded.
After a vindictive and harassing war, a peace was at length concluded, which was happily so well cemented, that Tahchee and a friend, being on a hunting expedition, wandered into the Osage country, and were so well received, that they remained among their former enemies for fourteen months, during which time Tahchee learned to speak the Osage language, and, by conforming to the habits of that tribe, gained their esteem, and became identified with them in manners and feeling. He joined one of their war parties in an expedition against the Pawnees, but re turned without having met with an enemy.
During his residence among the Osages, he, of course, engaged with them in hunting as well as in war. On one occasion, being on a hunt with a large party, their provisions became scarce, and a few of the most active young men were selected to go out and kill buffaloes. He was asked if he could shoot the buffalo with an arrow; for as the Cherokees inhabit a wooded country, where these animals are not so abundant as upon the prairies over which the Osages roam, and where the practice of chasing them on horse back is not common, he was not supposed to be expert in this species of hunting. . He, however, replied confidently, that he thought he could do any thing that could be done by their own young men, and was accordingly joined to the number. Each of the hunters was furnished, at his departure, with a certain number of arrows, and was expected, on his return, to account for the whole, and especially to assign a sufficient excuse for the loss of any that might be missing. They set out on horseback, completely equipped for the hardy and exciting sport, and succeeded in finding a herd grazing upon the plain. Having cautiously approached, without alarming the game, until they were sufficiently near for the onset, the finest animals were selected, and the hunters dashed in among them. The frighted herd fled, and the hunters, each marking out his victim and pursuing at full speed, pressed forward until the superior fleetness of the horse brought him abreast of the buffalo, when the hunter, who had previously dropped the reins, and guided his steed by a well understood pressure of the heel in either flank, discharged his arrow with an aim which seldom erred, and with a force so great as to bury the missile in the body of the huge creature. Several of the herd were killed, but our friend Dutch was unsuccessful, in consequence of the provoking interference of a large bull, which several times, as he was on the point of discharging an arrow, prevented him from doing so, by crossing his path, or interposing his unwieldy body between the hunter and his prey. Incensed at having his object thus frustrated, he discharged an arrow at the bull, which penetrated the shoulder of the animal, but without inflicting a wound severe enough to prevent the latter from escaping with the shaft. On the return of the party, Tahchee was reprimanded for having lost an arrow, and threatened with corporal punishment it being customary in that nation to whip the young men when they lose or throw away their arrows. He excused himself by saying that he was ignorant of their customs, and unaware of the impropriety of throwing an arrow at random. Upon this, Claymore, a distinguished chief, interfered, and, by his own authority, forbade the punishment.
He returned again to his people, and, in the succeeding autumn, set out upon a long hunt, with no other companion than three dogs. He ascended the Arkansas river in a canoe to the mouth of the Neosho, and then pushed his little bark up the latter as far as there was sufficient water for this kind of navigation, and, being unable to proceed further by water, he abandoned his canoe, and traveled on foot across a region of prairies, several hundred miles, to the Missouri river. Here he employed himself in hunting and trap ping, until he secured ninety beaver skins, with which he returned to the spot at which he had left his canoe. On his return home, he stopped at an Osage village on the margin of the Neosho, where he learned that a celebrated Cherokee chief and warrior named Chata, who had made the former peace with the Osages, had been killed by them, while hunting in company with Bowles, who after wards led a party of Cherokees into Texas, and formed a settlement. Three other Cherokees of another party had been killed) and, as retaliation was expected to ensue, as a matter of course, a war between the tribes was inevitable. Dutch was, therefore admonished that his life was in danger, and, having been kindly supplied with moccasins and parched corn, was requested to depart. In this little history we see a curious, though a common picture, of savage life. An individual betakes himself alone to the forest to spend months in wandering and hunting. Day after day he pushes his little canoe against the current of a long river, until he has traced its meanders nearly to the fountain head leaving the ordinary hunting-grounds of his people hundreds of miles in the rear, touching warily at the villages of tribes known to be friendly, and passing, by stealth, those at which he might encounter an enemy. When the stream affords him no longer a practicable highway, he hides his canoe in the grass or bushes, and bends his solitary way across immense plains, in search of some secluded spot, where, undisturbed by any intruder, he may pursue the occupation of the hunter. Returning, loaded with the spoils of the chase, he must again trace his long, and weary, and solitary route, through the haunts of open foes and faithless friends, uncertain whom to trust, or what changes the revolution of several months may have effected in the relations of his tribe. And he reaches his home at last, after a series of almost incredible dangers and hardships, with the acquisition of a few skins, which are exchanged for a bottle of whisky, and a supply of gunpowder, and, having enjoyed a brief revel, and a long rest, is driven forth again by necessity, or the love of a vagrant life, to encounter a repetition of the same savage vicissitudes.
Soon after the return of Tahchee, a Cherokee woman was killed by the Osages, and, being the daughter of an aged female, who had no male relatives to revenge the murder, the bereaved mother came to him in deep distress, and, with tears in her eyes, besought him to become the avenger of the injury. He complied with the request, and, having raised a war party, led them against the enemy, nor did he return without bringing with him a sufficient number of bloody trophies to satisfy the mourning relatives of the deceased.
After a brief but active war, peace was again established between the belligerent parties if that can be called a peace, which may be interrupted by the bad passions of any individual who may choose to gratify his propensity for stealing horses, or shedding human blood, regardless of the vengeance which is sure to follow, and of the war into which his misconduct is certain to plunge his tribe.
The treaty made by the United States with the Cherokees, in the year 1828, gave great dissatisfaction to many of that tribe, and was so offensive to Tahchee, that he determined to abandon the country.
On this occasion, our friend Dutch removed to Red River, where he resided three years, when he emigrated to Bowles’s settlement, in Texas. A year afterwards, he went with a war party against the Tawakanaks, of whom fifty-five were killed, and their village destroyed, while but five of Tahchee’s party were slain. He next returned to Red River, on whose banks, near the junction of the Kiamiska, he lived three years, continuing to make war upon the Osages. The government of the United States having, in various treaties with the Indian tribes, stipulated that they should live in peace, and having undertaken to interpose their authority, if necessary, for the preservation of harmony, had forbidden this war between the Cherokees and Osages, and, as Tahchee was now an active partisan leader, he was admonished to discontinue his predatory career. Persevering in a course of inveterate hostility, when most of the leaders of his tribe had consented to a peace, the commanding officer of the American army, for that district, offered a reward of five hundred dollars for his capture.
Intelligence of this offer was conveyed to Tahchee by some of his friends, who sought to prevail on him to fly; but it served only to make him more desperate. To show his utter contempt of this mode of securing his capture, he started in the direction of the fort, and, approaching a trading-house near the mouth of the Neosho, at which were some Osages, he sprang in among them, and, within hearing of the drums of the fort, killed and scalped one. With his rifle in one hand, and the bleeding trophy in the other, he made for a precipice near by, and, as he sprang from it, a rifle ball grazed his cheek but he made his escape in safety to Red river, where he received a message from the Indian agent of the United States, and Colonel Arbuckle, the commanding officer, inviting him to return; he at first declined, but on being informed that it was the wish of his Great Father, and assured that the offer of a reward was recalled, he buried the tomahawk, and came back. In one of the late expeditions of a portion of our army, Dutch was chosen, by the commanding officer, to accompany it. To his accurate knowledge of the country to be traversed, he added the skill of the hunter. He went, therefore, in the twofold capacity of guide and hunter. His services, on this occasion, were of incalculable value. He literally fed the troops. No man knew better than he where to find the buffalo, how to capture him, and from what part of his body to cut the choicest pieces. To the question we put to him “How many buffaloes have you killed?” he answered, “So many I cannot number them.” And to another ” What parts of the animal are considered the best?” he replied, “The shoulder, including the hump, and the tongue.”
The cheerfulness with which he bore his toils and his exposures, in the twofold capacity referred to, in connection with the great fidelity with which he executed the trust, gained him great applause, and made him a general favorite. He demonstrated his character to be sound, and that he was a man to be relied on.
He had now abandoned his warlike life, and, having built a house on the Canadian river, turned his attention to peaceable pursuits. He has persisted ever since in this mode of life, cultivated the soil, and lives in comfort. His stock of cattle and ponies is the largest in that region, and he has evidently discovered that it is to his interest to live at peace with his neighbors. His deportment is mild and inoffensive, and he enjoys the respect of those around him. The family of Tahchee consists of his second wife, a son, and a niece, whom he adopted in her infancy, and has reared with the tenderness of a parent.
This distinguished warrior has been engaged in more than thirty battles with the Osages and other tribes, and has killed, with his own hand, twenty-six of the enemy; but, with the exception of a slight scratch on the cheek, has never been wounded.