History Editor Leslie Barker Thomas Digs Deep Into The Rich and Exciting Cultural Past with This Ongoing Series by looking at Tsi-yu Gansini
We often wonder how various persons of American Indian heritage got their names. In Cherokee culture, the grandmother is usually the first person to name a child. And as in any culture, children often also had a nickname. I myself had two “Sparkle Puss” and “Susie Q,” neither of which I could tell you how they relate.
The original Shawnee had been located near Augusta Georgia, but successive battles drove them to Kentucky and the Ohio Valley. A story relates how as a young Shawnee boy, the son of Atakullakulla which means “Little Carpenter” in English, wanted to accompany his father into battle. Atakullakulla had refused his son permission to go, but the boy slipped out of his home and hid in a dugout canoe on the trail that the warriors would be taking. When the father learned his son was insistent upon going, the warriors teased the boy and the father said if he could carry the canoe across to the next body of water he could come.
The boy began dragging the canoe and the warriors encouraged him calling out, “Tsi-yu Gansini,” which translated means– Canoe (tsi’ yu), He is Dragging It (gunsini). Hence the young boy became known from then on as Dragging Canoe. Dragging Canoe (1732 – 1792) grew into a fierce warrior and a dedicated Cherokee Patriot. His enemies gave him many nicknames including Dragon and Savage Napoleon.
Over the course of his lifetime Dragging Canoe saw much of the original Cherokee lands signed away through treaties and land cessions. Where once the territories of the Cherokee went as far north and east as Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia, they had been reduced to lands that later became Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. In the 1770’s it became increasingly unsettling to Dragging Canoe that many of the elderly Chiefs had given in to these land cessions.
Richard Henderson, an American pioneer and merchant was attempting to create a colony called Transylvania at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. He had already purchased the lands lying between the Cumberland River, Cumberland Mountains, Kentucky River, and lands situated south of the Ohio River. In 1772 the North Carolina land that Henderson was interested in had been surveyed and officially placed in the hands of the Cherokee Tribe. When the Chiefs gathered to discuss trading away these valuable hunting grounds to what was known as the Transylvania Company of 1775, the six-foot tall Dragging Canoe stood up to condemn the trade. “Whole Indian nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man’s advance…We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to have settled upon Cherokee land…Finally the whole country, which the Cherokees and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of Ani-Yunwiya, “the real people,” will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness.” He intimated that only men too old to hunt or fight would give in to these concessions, but as for him, he would take his young warriors and fight.
Dragging Canoe’s troop of warriors broke from the general Cherokee tribal government and settled in the Chickamauga River basin forming a sub-tribe known as the Chickamauga Cherokee.
By 1778 the Transylvania Company claims were declared void as the purchase of land from Native Americans had been reserved by the government in the Proclamation of 1763 (the British, the governments of Virginia and North Carolina, and, later, the United States, all forbade private purchase of land from Indians).
Dragging Canoe and his warriors went on to fight in the Revolutionary War on the side of the British. He is considered by many to be the most significant leader of the Southeast, and provided a significant role model for the younger Tecumseh, a member of a band of Shawnee living with the Chickamaugas and taking part in their wars. Dragging Canoe died March 1, 1792 in Running Waters, TN. In traditional Cherokee style he was buried in a sitting position, his possessions heaped around him.
Visit the Gilmer County Historical Society
Historic Tabor House & Civil War Museum
138 Spring Street, Ellijay, Georgia 30540
Open Thursday–Saturday 10am to 2pm
Leslie Barker Thomas is a resident of Ellijay and
the President of the Gilmer County Historical
Society, President, Georgia Chapter Trail of Tears
Association and Communication Chair Cartecay UMC.
“When history is erased, people’s moral values are also erased.” –Ma Jian