Bloody Fellow – Cherokee diplomacy in a time of war (part 1 of 2)

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 27, 2016

The two diplomatic letters, or talks, as he called them, did not nearly express the Bloody Fellow’s true feelings about the state of affairs between the white settlers of the Cumberland and his own Cherokee people that September of 1792. But as a chief of the Five Lower Towns, it made tactical sense for him to extend the language of peace to Tennessee’s Governor William Blount.

Eastern Cherokee 1790s by Randy Martin /

Eastern Cherokee 1790s by Randy Martin /

He knew full well from the just completed council at Willstown that a three-pronged Cherokee attack on the Kentucky Road, the Walton Road, and on Nashville was imminent. The idea was to offer up this ruse to Blount, in the hope that it would forestall Blount’s suspicions, which might otherwise lead to a counter offensive.

The Bloody Fellow had not volunteered to write this missive, however. The war council assembled at Willstown [near today’s Ft. Payne, AL] had instead selected him to be their mouthpiece, because they assumed whatever he wrote would be believed by the whites.

He had been warmly embraced by none other than George Washington during a diplomatic visit to Philadelphia to air Cherokee grievances in the early months of that same year. Hadn’t Washington conferred upon him the title of ‘General’? The Bloody Fellow was perhaps the only member of his race to receive this honor prior to the Civil War. He had returned with his comrades to his people sporting a scarlet match coat with silver epaulets, broad silver lace and a shining silver star, and vowing eternal gratitude and loyalty to his Great White Father and benefactor.

The Bloody Fellow was not the least bit enthusiastic about this plan to invade. He had spoken forcefully at the Willstown council against the idea of attacking a much larger, better-armed force, but the younger Cherokee, Creek and Chickamauga (Lower Cherokee) braves had cast his views aside.

The Bloody Fellow certainly held no love for the American settlers in his heart; he’d lost his wife’s brother to the white man’s treachery just four years earlier. In 1788, a band of John Sevier’s men had killed Old Tassel, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, along with another unarmed, friendly chief, as they approached the whites under a flag of truce. The act was considered an atrocity by the Cherokee, and briefly brought all the Cherokee to support the hostile actions of the warriors following a Cherokee chief named Dragging Canoe, even though Old Tassel’s heir apparent Little Turkey was elected First Beloved Man by the general council of the Cherokee. 

In August that same year, Tennessean Joseph Martin, Brigadier General of the frontier militia, had led an army of five hundred in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the Five Lower Towns. However, Cherokee warriors had ambushed the white army at the pass of Lookout Mountain, forcing them back in disarray, with the Cherokees in hot pursuit.

General Joseph Martin, ca 1780. Portrait by Robert Kearfoot. via Wikipedia

General Joseph Martin, ca 1780. Portrait by Robert Kearfoot. via Wikipedia

That October, an army of 3,000 Cherokee, led by Bloody Fellow, attacked Gillespie’s Fort, below the mouth of the Little Tennessee River on the Holston. They demanded that the occupants surrender; when the demand was rejected, the Cherokees stormed the fort, killing 28 people, most of them women, and capturing others. Bloody Fellow took fifteen scalps in revenge for his brother in law’s death.

Bloody Fellow left a defiant note at the burning ruins for Sevier and Martin, saying that the killing of women and children was unintended:

“The Bloody Fellow’s talk is that he is now upon his own ground. He is not like you are; for you kill women and children, and he does not…you beguiled the head man (Old Tassel) that was your friend and wanted to keep peace; but you began it, and this is what you get for it. When you move off the land, then we will make peace…Five thousand men is our number.”

Bloody Fellow’s war captains John Watts, Kitegisky, and The Glass also signed the note. Watts had such a close attachment to Old Tassel, his uncle, that he was known as ‘Young Tassel.’

While Bloody Fellow was in Philadelphia, Dragging Canoe died, in March, 1792. John Watts was elected his successor as War Chief in May. Watts was a magnetic personality, an eloquent orator, and a man of proven bravery. The Cherokees flocked to his banner with even more enthusiasm than they had to Dragging Canoe. In addition, a large number of Creek warriors placed themselves under his command.

The Cherokees had long before this time discontinued using bow and arrows in active warfare. Although the bow, at short range, was probably more deadly than the defective guns handled by the settlers, the white man’s weapon was used whenever it could be procured.

That fact was unfortunate from the standpoint of the Cherokees, for it made them entirely dependent on outside sources for their ammunition.

Up to and during the American Revolution, the Cherokees secured their ammunition from the English. The close of the American Revolution would have ended the Indian wars by shutting off their supplies of powder and ball, but for one reason.

By the terms of the treaty which ended the Revolution, Spain was awarded Florida. Furthermore, Spain already controlled the Mississippi and the port at New Orleans. She regarded America’s southern and western settlements as a menace to her sovereignty over both regions, and was willing, even anxious, that they be destroyed. To that end, Spain supplied the Indians with unlimited ammunition, “to be had for the asking,” which enabled the Cherokees to carry on. Arming the Indians looked like a shrewd tactical move to Spain. Either it would drive the U.S. settlers out of an area Spain wanted to control, or it would force the settlers to become Spanish. There was no downside Spain could see to supplying the Indians with weapons — as long as the U.S. had no direct proof they were doing so.

In 1789 North Carolina ceded its western lands to Congress, which organized the ‘Territory South of the River Ohio,’ comprising the present Tennessee. William Blount, friend of Washington and member of the convention which had just framed the United States Constitution, was named Governor.

William Blount, by Washington Bogart Cooper / Tennessee Portrait Project

William Blount, by Washington Bogart Cooper / Tennessee Portrait Project

Governor Blount took up his duties in 1790. His first act was an attempt to end the Indian war by diplomacy. He announced that he would rectify the wrongs done the Indians. Hence, practically every chief of prominence, with the lone exception of Dragging Canoe, attended Blount’s Treaty of Holston in 1791.

At this assemblage, the Cherokees, led by Little Turkey, forcefully shifted their stance away from traditional diplomacy. They placed their emphasis on a sense of Cherokee power among those attending, instead of embracing the importance of a peaceful state of mind. The chiefs opened the treaty conference with the eagle tail dance. Blount thought the Cherokees were bestowing an honor not previously given to an American treaty participant. In fact, the Cherokees performed the eagle tail dance to inculcate a warlike spirit in the young and to symbolize victory.

The Indians had understood that Blount would remove white settlers from Indian land. They were bitterly disappointed when, instead of removing the settlers, he proposed to buy the land which had been wrongfully taken. (Blount was a land speculator with extensive holdings in the Tennessee region, and his use of treaty talks to advance his land interests quickly earned him a Cherokee name — the Dirt Captain.)

John Watts and Bloody Fellow, who spoke for the Cherokees, protested. Watts, overcome by the memory of the treacherous death of his uncle, withdrew from the treaty.

Blount offered the Cherokees some presents, and an annuity of $1000.00 for the land. “It would not buy a breech cloth for each member of my Nation!” Bloody Fellow replied, but signed the treaty, feeling himself pressured to do so.

This paltry annuity is what had prompted the Bloody Fellow (without consulting Blount further), to set out at the head of the delegation for Philadelphia, to attempt to secure better terms from President Washington. The effort resulted in an increase of the Cherokee annuity to $1500.00 per year.

—- to be continued

(sources will be listed in part 2)

Leave a Reply

6 + 8 =

We used to catch the cat on a trot line

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 26, 2016

“Us kids used to go down and we’d find a little hole, maybe big as this room, and these suckers had got in there, water was runnin’ into it, and the water’d get up and these suckers wouldn’t bite. You could take your hook and put a worm down there, and they’d swim all the way around it, same as a big ole bass. They had what we call white bass and speckled bass. Now, the speckled bass’d bite.

The Little River, Lookout Mountain, AL“But them white ‘uns would swim up thata way, they just ease up to it. You could take a worm and throw it down, the water was just clear as crystal, and it’d wiggle down on a rock, and these ole bass and suckers and things’d come up and swim over it two, three times, then directly ease down and pick it up. You could catch some pretty big catfish and oh, some five or six pound bass. We used to catch the cat on a trot line.

“Wasn’t but one place to have a boat down there, and that was what they called the Yonker hole. All them holes in that gulf, I can’t call ‘em all by name, but it used to be, when I was a kid, people’d know ‘em by a certain name. Like, old man Yonker lived right up on top of the canyon. And at the old Kean place, there used to be a ladder to go down them rocks to get in to that Yonker hole.

“Had a big ladder there that went off down the rock about twenty, thirty feet straight down, then they had a trail to get down. But old man Yonker lived on the Cherokee side and they called it the Yonker hole. It’s a big hole with water in it, and we used trot lines in it, and used to catch a lot of fish.”

C.A. Helms
Lookout Mountain, AL
b. early 1900s
interviewed at age 83


Yonker+hole Lookout+Mountain+AL bass+fishing appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

Leave a Reply

3 + = 7

The Indians nevertheless showed much contempt for the negro slaves

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 23, 2016

An article written about 1926 by Peter L. Livengood of Salisbury, PA, appearing in the ‘Meyersdale Republican’ that year, gives the following account of Grantsville, Maryland’s oldest inn: Little Crossings (still standing and now known as Penn Alps Restaurant & Craft Shop.)

On one occasion while Mr. and Mrs. George Matthews kept tavern at Little Crossings, they received advance notice from one of the stage companies then operating on the [National] pike that on a certain date thirty prominent Indians on their way to Washington to confer with “The Great White Father” would stop with them for dinner.

Little Crossings Inn, Grantsville Maryland

Little Crossings Inn at Grantsville, MD.

The notification was coupled with the request to have lots of beef and potatoes boiled for the Indians, and such other things as they might see fit to prepare. They were also notified to roast several turkeys for a party of prominent white people who were scheduled to dine at their house the same day.

Ample provisions were made for the two big dinner parties. The coaches carrying the Indians arrived on schedule time, but the coaches carrying the white people scheduled to eat dinner at Little Crossings were running late, and in cases of that kind the drivers had orders to keep their horses moving until the lost time was made up.

So on this occasion there was so much roast turkey for the guests who failed to stop that Mr. and Mrs. Matthews hardly knew what to do with it all. They accordingly decided to divide the toothsome birds with the Indians, who were delighted with the fine feast set before them.

At that time slavery was not yet abolished, and Mr. Matthews had two negro women whom he purchased from Jesse Tomlinson, who at that time conducted the tavern known as the Stone House, at the historic Little Meadows, about three miles east of Little Crossings. The slave women were both named Sarah, but after they came into the Matthews family, one of them was renamed, and thereafter went by the name of “Sook”.


While the Indians were delighted with the feast set before them, and could hardly be restrained by the interpreter in charge of them from tearing the roast turkeys to shreds with their fingers in their eagerness to devour them, they nevertheless showed much contempt for the negro slaves and refused to receive any food from their hands.

The attitude of the aboriginal Americans peeved Sook and Sarah exceedingly, and they were excused from further duty in serving the Indians. The latter, however, showed due gratitude and friendliness toward the white people for the services rendered them.

Chief Black Hawk, Sauk tribe

Black Hawk, or Black Sparrow Hawk (Sauk Makataimeshekiakiak (Mahkate:wi-meši-ke:hke:hkwa), “be a large black hawk”, (spring 1767 – October 3, 1838) was a chief and warrior of the Sauk American Indian tribe.

Mrs. Ellen Glotfelty, of Salisbury, says her recollection of the incident as related her in after years by her mother, is that there was a very prominent chief among the Indians entertained. In all probability the chief was Blackhawk, who with other Indians during the Jackson administration went to Washington to confer with the “Great White Father” about certain wrongs for which they sought satisfaction and redress.

Mrs. Glotfelty does not distinctly remember the name of the chief. She clearly recollects, however, of often hearing her parents relate how the Indians were dressed when en route to Washington, and the contrast between their apparel on the going trip and the return trip. There was only one squaw in the party, and all were dressed in the customary garb of their tribe while en route to Washington, and that consisted of little more than a blanket wrapped about the body in a somewhat ingenious way.

When they returned from Washington, the male Indians were dressed in suits of broadcloth, while the squaw was clad in a beautiful dress gaily decorated with glittering beads.


Mrs. Glotfelty says her mother often told her of the rivalry between the stage coach companies and their dashing drivers, in striving to give the best service and the fastest transportation. Her mother personally knew a stage driver who was knocked from his seat and killed while racing over the picturesque high-peaked stone bridge across the Casselman River at Little Crossings, by the side-swiping of the vehicles. The accident caused great excitement at the time, but did not discourage other daring Jehus from taking desperate chances to beat a rival driver to the end of his run.

online at

2 Responses

  • Deborah Kay Wilt Harvey says:

    My grandfather Hilary Freeman Wilt was a cofounder of the Improved Order of the Redmen in 1950’s, of the Black Hawk Tribe. I am trying to join my tribe. Could you tell me how or to whom I report to?

  • Nandekook says:

    Many Indians showed disdain for Blacks because it was taught to them by Whites who were highly critical of Native’s friendly behavior towards Blacks. This was dangerous for Whites who were nearly outnumbered by the Blacks alone in the South. They had to create a division. This was the case in many regions of North America because Blacks and Natives intermaried early on

Leave a Reply

+ 2 = 3

The Laurel Creek Murders, part 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 22, 2016

When the fire had died, the neighbors and relatives who went through the smoking ruins of the cabin were met with a most gruesome sight: the charred bodies of Betty and Lydia and two of the children. Betty had apparently been decapitated. The investigation, led by detective A.C. Hufford of Bluefield, WV, aided by Robert Bailey, concluded that a local man, Howard Little from Bull Creek, WV– just a short distance north of Laurel Creek– had committed the murders and had acted alone.

Howard Little was believed to be the killer based upon the testimony of his wife Matilda, and some rather strong circumstantial evidence: namely, a lantern which belonged to the victims which was found on Little’s property. Little had recently suffered some injuries coincidentally and too near in time to the crime. He had also allegedly borrowed a pistol of the same caliber as that used to kill George Meadows, and had done so only a week or so before the murders. It was also discovered that he had planned on leaving the county shortly before he was captured. Finally, Little was in possession of a large sum of cash at the time of the fire.

Howard Little and his wifeHoward Little was taken into custody and transferred to the jailhouse in Lebanon for his own safety by a posse of specially-appointed police constables, as there had been rumors that he might be lynched.

The trial began on November 18, 1909, and concluded three days later. After testimony was heard from his wife and the evidence was presented, the jury came back with a guilty verdict. Howard Little was convicted of the murders on Laurel Creek and sentenced to death. He was electrocuted in Richmond on January 7, 1910.

In two letters purported to be written by Little after the crime, he makes no admission of guilt or protestation of innocence. “After he was arrested for the murder of the Justus family, Grandpa Howard always maintained his innocence,” says fuzzypanda68, “and even while he was tortured to get him to admit to the crime, he still claimed to be innocent. In the book that was written, it says they used Chinese torture techniques on him, like depriving him of water, and placing his head between two blocks and hanging a bucket of water over his head, letting it drip one drop at a time between his eyes.”

Muriel Oehme of Maryland, another Howard Little descendant, has also gone on record to say that Matilda was fed up with his womanizing, and that was her motive for testifying against him at the trial. Their estrangement may have been going on for nearly four years when the crime occurred.

Betty’s land was passed on to her children in common and they, in turn, sold their interest in it to Betty’s oldest son, Daniel, who purchased it for $150.00, just a little over a dollar an acre. Every one of the children of Elizabeth Justus signed this document by mark. The timber rights, however, still belonged to the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company.

From the Baker family side:

and from Little family side:

9 Responses

  • EK says:

    I am a descendent of Howard Littles. I have always heard the stories about my great-great-grandpa, and according to my family he was innocent. I was hoping somebody could send me some information so I can find out for myself?

  • Deloris Strader says:

    Hi I am also a descendent of Howard littles, my grandfather was Robert Lee littles, son of Howard Littles, I have heard this story many times and I also belive he was innocent. My mother is now in her 80’s but she knows that Howards wife was seeing someone, anyway there is a lot of stuff about this case. I would love to get the answer if I could to your questions, just ask them and I will ask my mother. Sincerely D Strader

  • Agnes Lovelace says:

    The Robert Bailey in this story was my Grandfather. He was a federal marshall at that time. I remember that he was sure that Howard Little was a guilty man.

  • Nell McCoin says:

    I am apparently a descendant of the murdered people.
    I was told the story a little differently. According to my mother Mr Little and a few other men killed the family and burned their bodies. He said he tried to save the baby, but the baby crawled back into the fire. I was told that he confessed. If he didn’t, maybe he was innocent. Maybe he is just one of many who were framed.

  • Howard Little was my great grand father my grandpa was his son. Grant Little. Roberts brother


  • I have heard many stories on the murdering of the Meadow family, which was a horrific crime. Howard Little was my great grandfather and I have read many letters that he wrote to a family member while in jail and he still claimed his innocence and said he was framed. We all can read the clippings and just imagine what happened, but only one person actually knows what happened that night and that is GOD.

  • B WEISS says:

    Mr. Little was my Great Grandfather. My mom was Robert Little’s daughter.

  • Danny Coleman says:

    Mr.Little was my great grandfather.My moms mother was his daughter Edna Coleman Littles. I’ve heard a lot of stories down through the years.I don’t know if he did it or not.Mom and her mom thought he was innocence.I hope he didn’t for his sake.

Leave a Reply

6 + 1 =

The Laurel Creek Murders, part 1

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 21, 2016

On the night of September 21st, 1909, Howard Little allegedly came to visit Elizabeth E. Baker Justus and her extended family in Laurel Creek, VA and asked if he could spend the night. The family knew him and quite naturally opened their home to him. By nine o’clock, all six family members were asleep. Then, using a pistol, a knife, and a hatchet (Betty kept the hatchet next to her bed for protection), Little is said to have dispatched the lot of them, set the cabin on fire and made good his escape.

Who was Howard Little and why would he commit such a heinous deed? Robert M. Baker, great-great-great grandson of Betty Baker, in his telling of this story, maintains that in July 1909 Betty Baker had been paid $1,300 ($1,650 according to her) by Little, an agent for the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company in Hurley, VA, for the sale of some timberland (or perhaps it was for the rights to the timber on her 150 acres on Laurel Creek), the implication being that the September visit was a bungled petty theft that ended as non-premeditated murder.

Elizabeth E. Baker JustusA woman identifying herself only as ‘ of Lahoma’ (Oklahoma?) counters this version: “I was told that Grandpa Howard ran moonshine for a living. He would run it through the mountains from Bull Creek, WV to Laurel Creek and Guesses Fork VA and back, carried by pack mules late at night to avoid the law. Late one night, he was jumped by some Justus boys, who allegedly beat him, stole his moonshine, and took what money he had on him. In retaliation, he went to their home…”

Betty had several hundred dollars in a metal milk pail hidden beneath the hearth in her house. She had a hundred dollars saved for each of her children. This was in addition to the money she had received from Howard Little, and it was not found by the killer or killers. If the sums are correct, Betty had almost $2,500.00 hidden in various places on her property. Detectives determined that some of the money from the sale of her timber rights had been taken during the commission of the crime, but not all of it was missing.

Down the holler about three hundred yards lived Baker relatives Sennit Justus and his wife Lilabelle—Lillie. On that September night Lillie claimed she heard two gunshots and then saw the orange glow of flames from the Baker house. She ran up the holler to the cabin and could see the bodies of Betty, daughter Lydia, and two of the boys lying on the floor in the flames.

Sam Justus, another Baker relative and neighbor, claimed that he was the first to arrive at the cabin as it burned. He saw that the youngest child, Lafayette, was still alive and tried to carry him away from the burning cabin, then ran to get help. The boy managed to fall or climb back down to the burning house where he too was consumed by the fire, the sixth and last victim. George Meadows, Lydia’s husband, was found shortly afterward outside near the fence where he had crawled after being shot twice.

to be continued…

From the Baker family side:

and from Little family side:

2 Responses

  • Susie Justus Grimmett says:
    January 29, 2015 at 2:07 am
    I have heard many stories on the murdering of the Meadow family, which was a horrific crime. Howard Little was my great grandfather and I have read many letters that he wrote to a family member while in jail and he still claimed his innocence and said he was framed. We all can read the clippings and just imagine what happened, but only one person actually knows what happened that night and that is GOD.

  • Anonymous says:

    this article left out a few things like Bloodhounds took the posse to a man’s home in the opposite direction of Howard little this man must have had a good Alibi because they arrested Howard Littles DOGS DO NOT LIE

Leave a Reply

9 + 7 =

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2016 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive