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History of the
Settlement and Indian Wars
of Tazewell County, Virginia.

By Geo. W. L. Bickley, M. D. (1852)


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Book III

Indian Wars.



I have thought proper to trace the history of the Indians, who have, since 1539, inhabited south-western Virginia.  These have been the Xualans, Shawanoes, and Cherokees, the latter of whom will not be noticed at length.  History, indeed, throws but little light on this interesting subject, yet, I imagine, more than is generally supposed.  All who have written upon this subject, seem to have depended much upon their own warped imaginations, to fill a vacuum which will ever exist, to some extent, in the history of the nations of the earth.  If I am not mistaken, however, I shall show that some important facts remain unnoticed, and which lead to important conclusions. 

Everything said with reference to the early history of Indians on this continent, is more or less connected with the discoverers of America, and, consequently, with the different conquering powers of Europe.  The only chronological information respecting the Indians who inhabited the continent in the sixteenth century, is derived from this source.

Previous to 1492, the great powers of Europe had directed their attention to discoveries in the East.  The Crusades, a war in which the combined forces of Christendom, sought to wrest from the hands of unbelievers the Holy City of Jerusalem, in which was the sepulcher of Christ, had made the Europeans somewhat acquainted with the manners and customs of the Asiatics.  The scanty trade of rich materials, brought by the caravans across the great desert, together with the account of India by Marco Polo, who visited China in the 13th century, and that of Sir John Mandeville, at a later period, had excited the mercantile spirit of Europeans, until they were completely engrossed in seeking for a passage to the East Indies.  In the midst of this excitement, Columbus conceived his great idea of sailing west, in order to discover the land so much desired.  The countries bordering on the Mediterranean sea, together with Portugal, France, and England, seem to have been most advanced in the art of navigation.

The discovery of the magnetic needle, and the consequent invention of the mariner's compass, in the 12th century, enabled the hardy navigator to extend his voyages to the Canaries and Azores in the broad Atlantic.  Yet owing to the state of geographical science, at this period, he dared not pass them.  He took all beyond these, as a vast body of unterminating water, which, after having been passed over a certain distance, would preclude the possibility of returning, for the convexity of the earth had by this time begun to gain some notoriety among those, who a century before, believed the earth to be vast plain.

Such was the state of navigation, and geographical knowledge, when Columbus came forward, in 1486, and entreated the Genoese government to send him on a voyage of discovery; or in other words, to search for a passage to the Indies, by sailing west.  With all the eloquence of a master mind, did he plead at the courts of Europe; but everywhere the same cold denial fell grating upon his ear, till finally, in 1492, just six years after he had made his first exertions at the courts of his native country, he prevailed on Ferdinand and Isabella, king and queen of Spain, to patronize him in a grand voyage of discovery.  A desire to christianize the heathen world, seems to have actuated Isabella to her praise-worthy exertions in favor of Columbus, for she pawned her jewels with a broker, in order to raise the means to fit out his squadron.  The sovereigns, being both zealous Catholics, gave orders to Columbus, to seek first the conversion of any nation he should find, and then open a traffic with them.  For this purpose, quite a number of priests offered their services, several of whom were accepted.  The fleet sailed, and Columbus discovered the West India isles; but when it was known that they were not the Indies proper, the appellation West was prefixed,  to distinguish them from India proper, now known as East Indies.  From this supposed discovery of India, the aborigines were called Indians; which mistake has never been corrected, nor has any considerable attempt to do so been made, so far as I am informed.  General custom has fastened it upon them, and as a race, they will most likely ever be known by it.  We might as well, however, and with the same propriety, call them Vinelanders, in respect to the alleged discoveries of the Northmen, as to call them Indians, because Columbus supposed he had discovered India.

When Columbus returned, he carried over with him various ornaments unknown to Europeans, and also many productions analogous to those of India proper, which had from time to time found their way into Europe.  The news of his arrival spread like wild-fire through the south of Europe, and great numbers of adventurers flocked around his standard (to use a military phrase), some eager to traffic with the natives, and others anxious to christianize the New World, which in its extent and resources, had been greatly overrated by Columbus and his followers.

The islands were soon overrun by adventurers, who, after having learned its real extent and resources, in many instances returned with such discouraging reports, that the New World began to lose its interest; the tide of emigration nearly ceased, and so few thought of seeking fortune in the Indies, that when the continent was reached, several years after, no great sensation was experienced in Europe.  That part discovered at this period, was what is now known as Central America, and which did not present as great inducements to the trader as were afterward evolved; yet the magnificence of its vegetable productions, the rarity of its flowering plants, its fishes, its numerous animals, and the supposed existence of valuable minerals, were sufficient to allure a few into a traffic with the natives, among whom were to be found members of the indomitable priesthood, eager to please heaven, by pleasing the pope.

A settlement was effected at Yucatan, and the ministry, spreading themselves over a good part of the Isthmus, bid fair to attain some important ends, which, no doubt, would have been accomplished but for their intolerant religious views.  Persuasion was found inadequate to convert the natives; the next, and to their minds, the most efficient means, was the merciless sword of religious persecution.  The motives of the infatuated priesthood were no doubt good, but acting upon a false principle in moral philosophy, they believed fear to be a higher principle than love, and hence, entirely failed in their object.

Had they been better acquainted with the aboriginal character, it is highly probably that they would have acted in quite a different manner.  Permanent conversion was of but little moment; the destruction of a stone or wooden god, was to them all-sufficient.  They seem to have thought that if the cross was once planted, all would be as fully convinced of the infallibility of the pope as themselves, and be as enthusiastic in the worship of the true God, through the sacred symbol of the cross, and Virgin, as they were.  I cannot but believe the labors of the priesthood were intended to effect a great good, but, at the same time, I cannot help pitying that blind fanaticism which could destroy an empire, to see a cross reared upon its ruins.

As the priesthood did not use arms, and were generally the only educated persons, they became the principal historians of the New world.  Their religious duties led them into an intimate correspondence with the aborigines, whose history fell exclusively into their hands.  The history of the natives, previous to this time, was certainly traditionary, but tradition, if not too old, is good authority when there is similarity among the people of an extended nation.  Now these fathers of the church, no doubt, conversed with men eighty years of age, and they with others of eighty; these two persons would be able to give him the history of one hundred and sixty years, with great accuracy (on such authority is the major part of this History and Indian wars of Tazewell).  This would take the historian back to 1340, a period, the history of which has not been sought after, as it is thought to be irretrievably lost.

But this history is mostly preserved, for the priesthood were careful to record it, together with descriptions of their manners, customs, countries, etc., which were sent to the Vatican, in the archives of which will be found more information upon this subject, than any have heretofore supposed to exist.  This is true, let the point of discovery be where it may.

In 1520, twenty-eight years after the discovery of the Islands by Columbus, Cortez overthrew the Mexican empire, the mineral treasures of which flowing into Spain, and from thence into other European countries, not only awakened the active imaginations of the French, but set in motion the energies of the more lethargic English nation.  All Europe, in a word, became crazed with fanciful dreams of immense wealth to be gathered upon the shores of the New Continent.

About this time, the light of religious liberty began to illume men's minds, and consequently lessened the sacerdotal empire of the pope, who, to meet his reverses in the Old World, pushed his movements in the New, with great energy, hoping, no doubt, that what he lost upon one hand, he would gain upon the other:  hence he urged the powers under his influence, to make sure their discoveries in America.

France soon began to colonize Canada, and certainly it is to be wished they had been the discoverers and settlers of the whole continent, for no nation, who made extensive discoveries, seems to have spilled so little blood in subduing the natives.  Had Mexico been overthrown by a French army, in place of a Spanish army, we should most probably have had many monuments of ancient Mexican glory, now standing, as indexes to the new nation of the Continent, by which we might know something of the character of the people, whose country we now possess.

It is true, that the French were actuated by the same religious zeal, but their love of art, and history, would most likely have prevented that sweeping destruction of manuscripts, monuments, temples, cities etc., which fell upon Anahuac. 

The intelligent French priest (for so I must term him), was afforded an easy channel of communication by the lakes and great rivers; hence we find them among all the nations residing near the lakes, Mississippi, or Ohio rivers and their branches.  To exterminate the race, amalgamation of species was thought preferable to war; and I am almost ready to say, would to God this system had been generally adopted.

The French fathers were industrious in collecting information respecting the Indians.  Many of these narratives found their way to the public libraries of France, but a greater portion to the archives of the Romish capital.  In the archives of the royal library, and those in the marine and colonial departments at Paris, will be found the following documents, copies of which should be secured, and placed in our own public libraries, that American historians might derive all possible assistance from them, in their researches upon Indian history:

1. Statistical Account of the Indians of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, by Gov. Keleric.
2. Keleric's Statistical Information of the Indians, from Mobile to Carolina.
3. A Memorial on the Rivers, Lands, and Indians of Missouri; a valuable document.
4. Letter from Gov. De Bienville, on the Indians; also a valuable document.
5. The 102d Document in the Second Portfolio; being a letter of advices by M. Paria, to the minister, on the Illinois and other Indians, together with remarks upon Indian warfare.
6. Bienville on the Indians living in the interior of Illinois and Ohio.
7. Bienville's Report on the Chicasaw Road on the headwaters of the Yazoo river.
8. Bienville's Account of the Wabash country.
9. M. De Ibberville on the Indians of America, their Manners and Customs.
10. Bienville on the Indians in the English Country, their Manners and Customs.
11. A letter from Father Gabriel Marest; very interesting.
12. Vandruille's Report on the Choctaws. 
13. De Artaguett's Defense of his Indian Wars --- a valuable paper.
14. M. Crozat on the Attempts of the English to seduce the Indians.
15. The 301st Doc. of the 6th Portfolio; being interesting details by M. Bienville, respecting various Indian Tribes, together with Letters from persons who had resided among them; Indian Speeches, etc.
16. Paria on the Indians and Missionaries among them.
17. Beauchamp on Indian Customs, etc.

But I cannot particularize farther; there are upward of six hundred of these documents, many of them throwing much light upon the North American Indians.

In the archives of the marine department of England are also many valuable documents upon the same subject.

In the public libraries of Portugal, are a few papers of merit, and many in the Spanish libraries, as also those of Vienna; but these have generally been known to exist, and hence have been well perused.  In the monasterial libraries, and in the archives of the Church at Rome will, however, be found more information upon this subject, than from any other source.  But until the Church will throw open its libraries, and archival collections for the inspection of the antiquarian, we shall be none the wiser for their existence.

By one of these documents, I learn that in 1539 Hernando De Soto landed at Tampa bay, in Florida, with order to form a settlement at some convenient place on the seashore, and to penetrate to the most western limits of Florida, said to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, and from the Gulf of Mexico on the south, to Virginia and Carolina on the north, a region embracing a great part of what is now known as the United States.

De Soto traversed the country in a northerly direction to the country of the Palachees, or as Coxe has it in his history of Louisiana, Appalachees, whose villages stood on the banks of the Withlacooche, in the present limits of Georgia.  From these villages he took a northerly route, till he struck the Santee not far from the present site of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina.  He then passed up the Saluda branch of the Santee, till he arrived in an uninhabited district.  Here he camped, and sent out his hunters to look for some Indian trail, which would, at least, direct them to a place where provisions might be obtained.  The hunters soon returned with a small party of Indians, who informed him that a powerful nation lived north of them, on the Hiwassee (now called Tennessee) river.

We are informed by Louis Hernandez De Biedma, in an account of this expedition which was drawn up and presented to the king and council of the Indies in 1544, and which has been lately discovered, that this nation was called Cafitachiqui and that it was governed by a queen.  Some with whom I have lately conferred upon this subject, are of opinion that Vasquez De Ayllon likewise visited the country of the Cafitachiquians, from the hatchets and other trinkets found in their village.  But these people informed De Soto, that De Ayllon did not penetrate far into the country, most of his soldiers having died of hunger; only fifty seven of upward of six hundred escaping to tell the dreadful tale.  De Biedma says: "we remained ten or twelve days in the queen's village, and then set off to explore the country.  We marched in a northerly direction eight or ten days, through a mountainous country, where there was but little food, until we reached a province called Xuala, which was thinly inhabited.  We then ascended to the sources of the great river which we supposed was the St. Esprit." (NOTE: See expedition of De Soto, by De Biedma - page 13.)  

Now it is evident that the queen's village was on the banks of the Tennessee, not far from the present site of Knoxville, if we reflect for a moment upon the previous route of De Soto, and that to have reached the sources of the Tennessee river, would have required such a course, and about the same length of time as that given by De Biedma; and if his account be true, De Soto and his party must have visited the counties of Tazewell and Washington, Va., as early as 1540

Richard Hacklyt (NOTE: Hacklyt's Ex. Her. De Soto - page 53) speaks of the same route and towns as those mentioned by De Biedma; but as he did not visit the country, and wrote merely for information, he is, of course, not as good authority as the one I have followed, and who was the appointed historian of the expedition.

I have been particular in referring to these old documents, because they exhibit, though rather imperfectly, the manners and customs of the natives before the influence of Europeans had made any impression upon them.  If a sufficient number of these be examined, and we take into account the condition and motives of the narrators, we shall be able to gather the precise representation of aboriginal America.

Whoever would speculate upon human action, can do no better than consult these documents.  In some instances he will perceive adventurers, impelled only by curiosity; while others are moved by the most philanthropic motives; and yet others, who sought only personal aggrandizement.  It may well be said, that religious zeal and love of gold discovered the New World.  To accomplish the former, when persuasion failed, the sword was used; and to satiate the latter, the silent grave was opened, as in Cafitachiqui, and the ornaments of the dead appropriated to living men.

These, then, being the principal objects of the discoverers, we are not to suppose that our information would be as ample as if they had been traveling, as did Baron Von Humboldt, to observe the manners and customs of men, and the phenomena of nature.

From what has been said, it is evident that the name of south-western Virginia, three hundred and twenty years ago, was Xuala; and that it was peopled by a hardy race, whose chief subsistence was the game abounding in their dense mountain-forests, and the fishes swimming in their clear mountain streams.  De Biedma says, "they were a hospitable race," though poor.  He tells us, as also other early writers, that those people living south of the Hiwassee, or Tennessee river, lived in log-houses, daubed with clay, and very comfortable during the winter months; but that during the summer they usually reposed in the open air, by fire, or in thickets, and that much of their time was spent in hunting.  And further, it is stated, that those of Xuala were, in addition to the chase, fond of manly exercises and war.

To supply the place of iron instruments of a warlike nature, sharp stones, slings, bows and arrows, and clubs were made and used.  The inhabitants of all the continent, and especially of the country south of the Potomac, lived in towns, each of which was furnished with a temple, a burial-place, and a mound, on which stood the house of the Cacique, or chief.  We are informed by De Biedma, Hacklyt, DeTonty, LaSalle, and others, that this was a general custom, and gave rise to those mounds which are now regarded as burial-places, and which are sometimes opened by the whites, who expect to find in them treasures of value.

This mound building leads to some important conclusions, and reminds us strongly of the Egyptian custom of building pyramids. (NOTE: Might not the natives have been originally from Egypt, having been driven thence after embracing the religion of the hebrews?) It is highly probable that the sizes of these mounds are an index to the power of the princes who had them built.

The town built by the Xualan, differed a little from that of more southern Indians, for they seem to have built a town which was at once a town and a fort.  The species of fort needed by the natives of Xuala, differed from what would now be needed by a people who had to defend themselves against the arms and engines of the nineteenth century.  The traces of many of these forts are now to be seen in south-western Virginia.  These cannot be Cherokee forts, though they captured the Xualans, and hence became masters of the country, for they do not build forts in the same manner; beside, the trees growing on some of them, prove, beyond doubt, that they have been evacuated three hundred years.  That they were towns as well as forts, is proved by the existence of many fragments of earthenware, etc., found on or around them, and from their shape and general location, they were certainly forts.

They were circular, varying in size from three hundred to six hundred feet in diameter.  An embankment of earth was thrown up five or six feet, and, perhaps, this mounted by palisades.  A few of these towns or forts, were built of stone, and sometimes trenches surrounded them.  A stone fort, of great size, stood in Abb's valley, in Tazewell county, Virginia, and has but lately been removed.  A large sassafras, which stood near the center of the walls, might, if proper observation had been made, have given some important chronological information, but which, alas! as is too often the case has been swept off, as if desirous to obliterate the last vestige of the race of red-men.

The remains of a remarkable fort are to be seen on the lands of Mr. Crockett, near Jeffersonville, having evident traces of trenches, and something like a drawbridge.  This fort has been evacuated, judging from the timber on it, over two hundred years.

The roads left by the Indians is another source of information, of which few writers have availed themselves.  I beg to refer the reader to a report of a company sent out by the French colony in Louisiana, to search for roads.  It is to be found in what is usually called Bienville's report, previously referred to.

The principal Indian trails in Tazewell, led through the Clinch valley, but after the whites began to settle, and the Indians had removed west, their trails all led from the Ohio river.  These were probably made by animals, in the first instance; afterward used by the Indians in their visits to their native hills, and have since become roads under the improving hands of the white man.

One of these trails led up the Indian ridge (see Map) till opposite the trace fork of Tug river; it then crossed over to that branch, and keeping into the lowest gaps of the hills, led into Abb's valley settlement.  Another, now much used by the whites, left the ridge and struck Tug river at the mouth of Clearfork creek; thence up it, till it fell over on a branch emptying into the dry fork of Tug river.  It then wound up that stream to its head, and passed through Roark's Gap.  This led into the Baptist valley settlement.  Another came up the La Visee fork of Sandy river, leading into the settlements in the western part of the county.  Those trails which passed through the county, always crossed the mountains at the very lowest gap.  At these places they have built small monuments of loose stones, piled up with great exactness on each other.  Most of these have suffered from the cupidity of the whites.  This custom of building stone pillars, reminds us of the custom so common among the Jews at an early period, of marking places where covenants had been made, by pilling up stones.

To recapitulate - the south-western portion of Virginia was visited in 1540, by Hernando DeSoto, who found the country occupied by the Xualans.  These were afterward conquered by the Cherokees, in whose possession the English found the country.  The Cherokees were driven out and the country taken possession of by the whites.  The country has been claimed by four civilized governments, viz: England, France, Spain, and its present owners.  The quality of game seems to have made the country desirable to the Indians, while its pure water, beautiful scenery, and rich soil seem to have captivated the whites.

There is still remaining another vestige of the Indians, which, if closely observed, might throw some light upon this obscure subject.  I refer to the vast collections of bones, or human skeletons, some of immense size, deposited in almost every cavern in this section.  It is to be earnestly hoped that some one will be curious enough, or be enough interested to examine this trace of Indian existence in ancient Xuala.  Time is passing so rapidly, and laying its blighting finger upon material things with such destroying effect, that there does not remain a day for suspended action.  "Now or never," must be the watchword of the historian.


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