MURDER OF CHIEF DOUBLEHEAD, HIWASSEE, AUGUST 15, 1807
The following is the testimony of Colonel Phillips relating to the death of Doublehead, Highwassee, August 15, 1807, in National Archives, RG75, Records of the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee, M-208, Roll 3:
Chief Doublehead was a brother of Chief Old Tassel, as well as Pumpkin Boy. After the signing of the Treaty of Hopewell in 2785, delegates from Congress were trying to keep the peace between the Cherokees and squatters on their lands. In June 1788, Old Tassel was killed by a renegade settler by the name of Kirk while under a flag of truce and war became unavoidable. Old Tassel’s death united the Cherokees under Little Turkey, including Chckamaugas under Dragging Canoe, who split from the other Cherokee tribes some earlier. In May 1792, John Watts succeded Dragging Canoe as War Chief with Doublehead as his second in command. In September 1893, Watts and Doublehead led a campaign against the white settlers. A great atrocity was perpetrated on this campaign. Doublehead, his brother Pumpkin Boy, and their nephew Bench (Bob Benge) ambushed Captain Ovarall, a known Indian fighter, and a companion named Burnett near Dripping Spring in Kentucky. After they killed and scalped the two men, the Indians drank their whiskey, cut strips off the dead men, then roasted and devoured their flesh. At some time, Pumpkin Boy was killed on this campaign. John Sevier launched a campaign against the Cherokee towns and after a battle at Etowah, forced the Cherokees to sue for peace. Although another Treaty was signed in 1794, Brigadier General James Robertson had to tell Major James Ore to lead another campaign against the Chciamaugas before peace was restored.
In 1796, Chief Doublehead had become the Speaker for the Cherokee Nation and became the chief spokesman for all negotiations with the Federal government. There were 3 cessions of Cherokee lands in 1798 and it was common knowledge that Doublehead had prospered as a result. By 1804, he had become a prosperous land owner with about two dozen slaves. The Secretary of War, Dearborn, in fact, had given instructions that all agents were to deal specifically with Doublehead on the assumption he could be bribed. In 1805, Dearborn and Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs acquired several valuable tracts of land with the promise that two tracts at the mouth of the Clinch and Hiwasee Rivers be exclusively for Doublehead’s use. To add fuel to the fire, Doublehead had also leased several tracts at Muscle Choals to white farmers from a treaty he signed in December 1806.
By the this time, a Cherokee faction led by James Vann, Major Ridge, and Alexander Saunders decided Doublehead should die for his crimes. Vann had a family score to settle. Doublehead had married a sister to Vann’s wife and had treated her brutally, beating her to death while she was pregnant.
Therefore, the three men decided to execute the traitor in August 1807, when the Cherokees collected the annual annuity from the Federal agent. However, on the way, Vann fell ill and could not continue. On August 9, 1807, Ridge and Saunders arrived at McIntosh’s Tavern on the Hiwassee and waited for an opportunity. Doublehead had been playing ball 3 miles away where he had killed a man called Bone-Polisher who had become abusive. Therefore, he didn’t arrive until after dark, half drunk. Suddenly, Ridge blew out the candle in the Tavern and fired a shot at Doublehead which shattered his jaw. Having thought they killed him, they slipped out into the dark.
However, they soon learned the tavernkeeper had moved the wounded Chief to his house and then again to the loft of a Mr. Black, who taught in Gideon Blackburn School. By then, two men from Bone Polisher’s clan had joined them and together they rushed the room where Doublehead lay. As they approached, the wounded chief sprang up, drew a dirk, and tried to draw a pistol but was caught up in the sheet around him. Both Ridge and Saunders leveled their guns at him but misfired. Doublehead then grappled with Ridge but Saunders drove his tomahawk into Doublehead’s skull so hard that it took two hands and a foot to pry it loose. After the killing, most of the Cherokees felt it was justified and his relatives were not forced by clan responsibility to exact revenge. This led to the abolition of clan revenge at the Council of Broostown on September 11, 1808. However, James Vann was killed in 1809 possibly for his part in the execution.