Cherokee Leader Junaluska Saves Andrew Jackson
Junaluska – great leader of the Cherokee and friend to Andrew Jackson.
It's hard to imagine what North Carolina and the rest of the East Coast must have looked like when the Cherokee were the stewards of the land. When virgin forests of enormous Chestnut, Oak and Poplar, the height and breadth never before or since seen, stretched unbroken from the border of Canada to the peninsula of Florida. Early settlers to the area claimed that a squirrel could travel from coast to coast and never touch the ground. Pristine fish filled streams and rivers flowed cold, pure and unencumbered through the great forests and emptied into an abundant sea. Elk, mountain buffalo, deer and bear roamed the land and waterfowl covered the waters.
This is the land that greeted Junaluska in 1776 when he was born into the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in the mountains of North Carolina. Throughout his early years and into his adult life Junaluska exhibited traits of leadership and, when the time came, assumed leadership of his band. The Cherokee were a prosperous and intelligent people that governed themselves democratically by way of the counsel house where the people gathered and made decisions by a show of hands.
By the time of the War of 1812, also known as the Creek War, the Cherokee had allied themselves with the new Americans and befriended, army commander and the future president, Andrew Jackson. When the Great Creek Tribe, who had allied with the British, began reeking havoc in northern Alabama, Junaluska recruited 800 Cherokee and headed South to aid Jackson in the war. Jackson's army, which included future Texas Governor, Sam Houston and frontier legend Davy Crockett, along with Junaluska trapped the Creek at a place called Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River in the summer of 1814.
The Creek, numbering some 1000, had taken up a position on a large peninsula that jutted out into the river. It was a formidable position, with the river protecting the rear and sides and the entrance barricaded with earth and logs, it made a frontal assault treacherous for Jackson and his men. Junaluska took his men across the river and took up positions across from the rear of the peninsula to block an escape, in canoes, down the river. The battle raged throughout the day, with both sides taking loses, until darkness and the inability to see the target ended the fight.
During the night Junaluska, being battle savvy, took it upon himself and ordered a group of his men to swim the river and collect the canoes of the Creek and bring them back across the river. During the early morning of the next day Junaluska and his men paddled silently across the river and hid along the bank of the peninsula. The following morning, when Jackson resumed the fight, Junaluska attacked from the rear completely catching the Creek by surprise. Caught in a cross fire the Creek had little chance and was soon defeated.
Of the 1000 Creek warriors only 30 survived the battle and were taken prisoner. Later in the afternoon, as Jackson was questioning the prisoners, A warrior grabbed a knife and lunged for Jackson. Junaluska, seated nearby, tackled the assailant and wrestled the knife away, saving the life of Andrew Jackson. After the battle it's reported that Jackson told Junaluska that “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the east.”
A few short years later Junaluska would have reason to recall those words with bitterness when Jackson, friend of the Cherokee and who owed his life to Junaluska, ordered all Indians east of the Mississippi removed to Oklahoma. During the trek to Oklahoma, known to the Cherokee as the trail of tears, Junaluska stated that if he had known, he would have killed Jackson himself at Horseshoe Bend.
In 1842 Junaluska walked from Oklahoma and returned to his ancestral home in the mountains of North Carolina. The Government, finally recognizing his heroism, duty and loyalty, granted him citizenship in the land his people had tended for a thousand years. They also granted him a track of land in what is now Robbinsville, in Graham County, North Carolina. Junaluska died in 1858 and was buried on a hill above the town where, in 1910, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to his memory.
The lone grave is marked with a huge stone. The script on the bronze plaque, bolted to the great native stone, says in part: “Here lie the bodies of the Cherokee Chief, Junaluska, and Nicie, his wife. Together with his warriors he saved the life of General Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and for his bravery and faithfulness North Carolina made him a citizen and gave him land in Graham County.”