Wata´gi

Militia Burn their First Village

Location


View Larger Map

Other maps: Bing, Google, MapQuest.
Coordinates: 35.2219, -83.3977.

Type: Stop
Tour: Cherokee
County: Macon

Access LogoFull

View the likely site of this Cherokee town’s mound from the shoulder of NC 28. A business is on the east side (right side if coming from Franklin) near the coordinates. Park on the shoulder between it and the houses to the north, somewhere you can see clearly into the field behind the business.

Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots

 
Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots

 

Description

Context

A faction of Cherokees attacked European-Americans along the border due to repeated treaty violations and threats by the Americans to invade. Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford’s part-time “militia” army marched to retaliate by destroying Cherokee villages. It includes around 2,400 men on horseback, 1,400 pack-horses, and a herd of cattle (see Davidson’s Fort for details).

The Mound

Look at the highest point of the farm field to the east.

An advance detachment of 1,000 men of Rutherford’s militia arrived at the Cherokee village of Wata´gi (pronounced “wah-TAH-gee”[1]) on Sunday, September 8, 1776. Dropping down from Cowee/Watauga Gap, they must have forded the Little Tennessee River somewhere nearby. It curves around the east and north sides of the modern fields. (You can drive through the town site later.)

Probably at or near the high point of the field is the town’s earthen mound, built hundreds of years earlier by natives of the Mississippian culture or ancestors of the Cherokees and topped by a wooden community building. Naturalist William Bartram had visited Wata´gi in May 1776. “‘Riding through this large town,'” he wrote, “‘the road carried me… up to the council-house, which was a very large dome or rotunda, situated on the top of an ancient artificial mound and here my road terminated. All before me on every side, appeared little plantations of young Corn, Beans, (etc.) divided from each other by narrow strips or borders of grass, which marked the bounds of each one’s property, their habitation standing in the midst…'”[a]

Photo of a green field with a rise in the middle and mountains behind
(AmRevNC photograph)

Like most of the ancient mounds adopted by Cherokee villages, this one was plundered and leveled by Americans starting in the 1800s. The council house was somewhere in this area. It is tempting to think the entire height is the mound and the slight rise within view was its summit, but that is a guess.

The town was warned by Cherokees fleeing Rutherford’s approach, so everyone had left. Its warriors were probably at the Black Hole gorge west of modern Franklin with many others, hoping to ambush the militia later.

The next day the rest of the army arrived. On Tuesday the 10th, a detachment of 600 was sent south to Nĭkwăsĭ´ (now Franklin), hoping to meet up with a South Carolina militia force that planned on meeting Rutherford there.[2] Meanwhile Rutherford’s men began destroying the crops here by trampling them with horses and livestock, and taking any valuables left behind. After camping overnight, the next day they march north to Cowee after setting all of the buildings ablaze.[3]

Town Site

There is no safe place to park by the main town site, but you can get a good view while driving. If you want to see it, read the description below and then follow the driving directions, unless you have someone to read to you!

Drive north (away from Franklin) to the first right turn, Riverbend Road. Turn right. The road curves left and then eventually begins a long curve to the right through the town site.

Wata´gi stretched along the banks of the river through its curve to the south.[4] Up the slope from the bottomlands on the left, you would have seen sturdy log cabins, round sweat lodges of vertical logs, farm fields, livestock pens, and at least one granary.

Photo of a green field backed by trees
(AmRevNC photograph)

Depending on which direction you are headed next, you can either turn around or simply stay on Riverbend, which eventually loops back to NC 28.


[1] Cucumber, Devin, Cherokee History, In-person interview, Cherokee, N.C., 8/27/2020.

[2] Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac, ‘Revolutionary Diary of William Lenoir’, The Journal of Southern History, 6.2 (1940), 247–59 <https://doi.org/10.2307/2191209>

[3] In addition to the other footnoted sources, “Stop” information comes from one of two guidebooks; NCpedia; the online essay for the relevant North Carolina Highway Marker; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources“).

[4] Marshall, Lamar, ‘A Cherokee Journey: Chronicles of History, Geography and Ecology’ <https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=aec262c784ea4902a26a865bfe7949b6> [accessed 15 April 2020].

[a] Quoted in: Reynolds, William R., The Cherokee Struggle to Maintain Identity in the 17th and 18th Centuries (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2015).

Black Hole | Cherokee Tour | Cowee Mound