Robbins: Author examines some of Chattanooga's earliest residents and visitors

Robbins: Author examines some of Chattanooga's earliest residents and visitors

July 14th, 2019 by Mickey Robbins in Opinion Columns
Hernando De Soto / Library of Congress Photo

Hernando De Soto / Library of Congress Photo

Photo by Library of Congress

(First in a series)

Dr. James Livingood, historian and author, wrote in " Chattanooga, An Illustrated History, 1980" about the area's "First Residents and Visitors." Below are excerpts.

"One June day in 1540 the first [European] wayfarer arrived in the area. Headed by the hardy Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto, they traveled cross-country with horses, gunpowder, and tools of iron. Their emperor, Charles V, [had] the southeastern part of the United States incorporated into the map of his vast European holdings with the idea of examining this colonial prize more closely at a future date. But this Spanish influence was ephemeral.

"Years passed. Then almost simultaneously two other European powers sent scouts to trade with the natives and to challenge the Spanish claim to the land. In 1663 the English king granted the colony of Carolina to court favorites; the tract awarded extended to the Pacific Ocean, with present-day Chattanooga and Los Angeles both within its borders.

"Meanwhile, the French sent their boatmen, soldiers, and priests south along the Mississippi Valley from their Canadian base; soon they established St. Louis, New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile. It immediately became clear that the Tennessee Valley would develop into an area of contact, rivalry, and conflict. But the difficult waters of Muscle Shoals and the Narrows kept the adversaries at arm's length during the early colonial wars. Locally the issue revolved around which of the rivals controlled the Indians who, at least for a time, held the balance of power.

"Gradually the English, who offered the better and cheaper variety of trade goods, gained the loyalty of the Cherokee. The major link in this relationship was the Carolina traders, Scots associated with the Charles Town [Charleston, S.C.] fur traders. Many of these adventurers took up residence with the Indians, married into the tribe, and sired a mixed-blood generation. They were welcomed as full-fledged members of the Indian nation. In addition to their business affairs, they informally represented the Crown as roving diplomats of the backwoods. Some became skilled linguists, geographers, and informed strategists in times of conflict.

"The Cherokee, of Iroquois lineage, numbered some 18,000. They lived in the Unaka [Great Smoky] mountains, with only one group of villages on the western or Tennessee side: these, the Overhill Cherokee, dwelled along the Little Tennessee, Hiwassee, and Tellico rivers. However, by 1715 they controlled all of the Tennessee country, having driven away the Creeks, Shawnee and Yuchi tribes. From this vast hunting ground they sent furs and thousands of deerskins to the European markets through the Carolina traders.

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"Throughout this boundless land the redmen moved not only by the river but over the traces and trails originally engineered by the buffalo who scented the easiest way. A number of major routes ran through the local region supported by a network of minor trails. The Great Indian Warpath drew traffic from the east, passing locally by Ooltewah over South Chickamauga Creek to Citico Creek and on around Lookout Mountain. Another, the Chickamauga path, made it possible for braves to journey from north Georgia on to Kentucky by way of the summit of the Cumberland Plateau; another from the south pointed northward from Chattanooga to the east of Walden's Ridge. One more major route from Middle Tennessee to Florida passed through the local area with portions called the Nickajack Trace.

"By the mid-18th century French and English thrusts for territory began to clash in the valley of the Tennessee; in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) both imperial rivals along with the Indians were caught in war's vast web. The British built Fort Loudoun on the Little Tennessee River as the Empire's westernmost defense post. The miserable treatment of the Indians at the hands of the British resulted in the surrender of the fort to the redmen.

"The Cherokee notified the French at New Orleans of their triumph and invited them to take possession of the abandoned fort. Boats loaded with stores and gifts started for the area but did not get beyond the mountain gorge in the Cumberlands. Here the French halted and disposed of their cargo, providing an explanation for the marking on old maps of an "Old French Store" near Chattanooga. So the French flag fluttered for the last moment. When peace came in 1763, the entire region east of the Mississippi River officially became English territory. The Union Jack now flew without challenge: the Chattanooga country and all of the Cherokee lands were a part of Britain's vast empire."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins is an investment adviser with Patten and Patten.

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