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Red Bird (Dotsuwa) and the Cherokee History of Clay County, Kentucky

Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, Ph.D.

continued p. 1, 2, 3

 

Lewis Collins

About fifty-years after Red Bird's murder, Lewis Collins published History of Kentucky. Much of Collin's 1847 book reiterates the myths and sterotypes about the Indigenous people of Kentucky first introduced in John Filson's 1788 The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke. Collin's publication is largely devoted to Kentucky "Indian Fighters," which most of the counties, cities, and towns are named after. Red Bird is an exception (e.g., Red Bird, Bell County [later changed to Beverly], Red Bird, Whitley County, and the Red Bird River). In consideration of this immunity, Collins wrote:

 Red Bird fork and Jack's creek, from two friendly Indians bearing those names, to home was granted the privilege of hunting there; they were both murdered for the furs they had accumulated, and their bodies thrown into the water (Collins 1847).

Unfortunately, Collins confused the names of Red Bird's killer, Jack, with Red Bird's friend, Will. Because Collins' book serves as the foundation for all Kentucky history books that follow, his mistake became accepted as historical fact, which has been told and written over and over again for more than 150 years.

 

The Reverend Dr. John Jay Dickey Diary

About a hundred years following Red Bird's murder, the Reverend Dr. John Jay Dickey, a Methodist minister, moved to southeastern Kentucky to help establish schools such as Lees Junior College in Jackson, Breathitt County, and Sue Bennett College in London, Laurel County. In the autumn of 1898, he was assigned service in several churches in Clay County including Fogertown, Hayden, Manchester, Paces Creek, and Wyatts Chapel. He was very interested in local family oral histories, which he recorded in his diary of more than 6,000 handwritten pages (Wilson 1978).

Three of Dickey's diary entries are specifically related to the murder of Red Bird. While each testimony contains a bit of truth, it is clear that they have been influenced by the distortions in Collins' initial 1847 book, and its revised edition (Collins and Collins 1874). Kentucky schoolteachers used the book in their history classes.

On February 2, 1898, John Jay Dickey recorded the testimony of Captain Byron, in Manchester, Clay County, Kentucky.

 The Indian chief for whom Red Bird Creek in Clay County was named was (probably) a Cherokee from Tennessee or North Carolina. Like others of his race, he was a great hunter and allured by the game in this remote region he finally took up his residence on the creek that bears his name at the mouth of Jack's Creek in this county. He came to his death by the avarice of the "pale face." There lived with him a crippled Indian named Willie. This man dressed the skins, which Red Bird brought to their wigwam and looked after the culinary department of their house. Some hunters from North Carolina, greedy and unscrupulous, came to the wigwam and murdered Willie. They then secreted themselves and awaited the return of the brave chief who had long before buried his tomahawk and for years had been living in peace with the white man, and as he approached his crude castle the bullet of an assassin laid him in the dust. They threw his body into a hole of water nearby which is still called "Willie's Hole," and from which John Gilbert and others took him and buried him. One tradition is that he was sitting on the bank of a creek fishing when he was shot and that he fell into the creek (Dickey 1898a).

On July 12, 1898, John Jay Dickey recorded the testimony of Abijah Gilbert, in Clay County, Kentucky.

 Red Bird was killed by some hunters below the mouth of Big Creek and thrown into a hole of water. I do not know whether my father helped bury him or not. I have heard my father talk about Red Bird but I do not remember anything definitely now. There was no justification for the murder of Red Bird. The hunters quarreled with him about furs and killed him out of greed. He had an Indian with him, called Jack, who escaped (Dickey 1898b).

Also on July 12, 1898, John Jay Dickey recorded the testimony of John R. Gilbert, in Clay County, Kentucky.

 I was born in Clay County, Kentucky, September 18, 1841. I am a son of Abijah and Martha Gilbert. I knew my grandfather, John Gilbert well. I used to be with him a great deal. When I was 14 years old, he and I were passing the mouth of Hector's Creek. He said here in this bottom, just above the mouth of this creek is where Red Bird was killed. Red Bird and his companion, Jack, were asleep. A party of white men came along. A young man in the party had lost his father by the Indians and he had taken a vow that he would kill the first Indian he should meet. This was the first chance. He took the tomahawk of these sleeping Indians and with it killed them and then threw them in the river. He said he came along a short time after the murder was committed and saw their bodies. I think he helped bury them, though I do not remember. He told me the name of the young man who killed them. It was a queer name but I do not remember. He said Red Bird was a peaceable man and should not have been killed (Dickey 1898c).

 

Roy White

Roy White was the editor and publisher of the Manchester Guardian. Fascinated with the area's history, White wrote a series of articles for the county newspaper between May and December 1932 (Wilson 1978). Although much of White's information came from the Clay County Court Order Books A (1807 to 1815) and B (1815 to 1832), it is clear that his references to the murder of Red Bird are a recycling of Collins (1847) and Collins and Collins (1874) publications.

On May 27, 1932, White wrote:

 Red Bird is supposed to have been named for a friendly Indian by that name who (sic) lived thereon. Two creeks that empty into Red Bird some ten miles apart were originally called Jack's Upper and Jack's Lower Creeks, also named for a friendly Indian. Legend has it that both Red Bird and Jack were murdered for the furs, which they accumulated (White 1932).

On May July 29, 1932 Roy White wrote:

 At the time he (John Gilbert Sr.) moved to Clay County and settled, there had been no white man in that part of the state. The country was then settled by many hostile Indians and shortly after he located there an Indian chief know as Red Bird was killed and Red Bird River was named after this Indian chief. 9 The name of this Indian Chief "Red Bird" is referred to in A.B. Gilbert's letter, supra (White 1932).

 

The Red Bird State Historic Marker

Not long after World War II, Kentucky State Route 66 was dug across the narrow patch of ground in front of the rockshelter where Red Bird and Will were murdered. Because of the wet underlying shale, and its close proximity to the river, this portion of the road experienced seasonal landslides. To solve the problem, the Kentucky Department of Highways dug deeply into the shale immediately in front of the shelter. The traditional Cherokee symbols originally engraved at eye level, were left hanging more than twenty feet above State Route 66.

Fill from the highway excavations was used to make a small parking area between the shelter and river. In 1966, the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Department of Highways erected a bronze State Historic Marker (Number 908) in the parking lot. While the purpose of the marker was to honor Red Bird, the text contains Collins' (1847) original error, which was recycled by Collins and Collins (1874), White (1932), and others, including myself. The marker reads:

 

 

 Figure 8. The Kentucky State Historic Marker at its original location in front of the rockshelter on the Red Bird River, which was located along a path that extended from his cabin at the mouth of Jack's Creek. From K. B. Tankersley's Kentucky Cherokee: People of the Cave.

 CHIEF RED BIRD was a legendary Cherokee Indian for whom this fork of the Kentucky River is named. He and another Indian, Jack, whose name was given creek to the south, were friendly with early settlers and permitted to hunt in area. Allegedly they were killed in battle protecting their furs and the bodies thrown into river here. The ledges bear markings attributed to Red Bird.

 

Preservation Efforts

After the dedication of the State Marker, Fred Coy and Thomas Fuller (1969) examined petroglyphs at Red Bird's murder site and gravesite. They concluded that the petroglyphs were quite different than any of those previously reported in the Commonwealth. The historic nature of the petroglyphs is evident in their sharply incised straight lines (Coy and Fuller 1969, Coy et al, 1997). They were likely carved with a sharp metal instrument such as a knife or tomahawk blade, rather than a ground-stone or flaked-stone tool.

 Figure 9. Closeup of traditional Cherokee symbols and what may be the oldest known example of Sequoyah's writing in the rockshelter thought to be Red Bird's grave site. Note figures "1818" which may be his date of death. From K. B. Tankersley's Kentucky Cherokee: People of the Cave.

 Figure 10. A closeup of the traditional Cherokee symbols and what may be the oldest known writing of Sequoyah in the rockshelter thought to be the grave site of Red Bird. From K. B. Tankersley's Kentucky Cherokee: People of the Cave.

 
 

 Figure 11. Traditional Cherokee symbols for the Deer and Bear clans in the rockshelter located along the Red Bird River on a path that extended from Red Bird's cabin on the mouth of Jack's Creek. The photo was taken prior to the rockshelter's destruction by the construction of SR 66. The petroglyphs have been always been attributed to Red Bird. From K. B. Tankersley's Kentucky Cherokee: People of the Cave.

 Figure 12. Traditional Cherokee symbols for the Chickamauga people, the story of their origin, and the Bird and Bear clans in the rockshelter located along the Red Bird River on a path that extended from Red Bird's cabin on the mouth of Jack's Creek. The photo was taken prior to the rockshelter's destruction by the construction of SR 66. The petroglyphs have been always been attributed to Red Bird. From K. B. Tankersley's Kentucky Cherokee: People of the Cave.

 
 

In 1989, the grave of Red Bird, known as the Red Bird River Shelter Petroglyphs site, 15Cy52, was added to the National Register of Historic places (#89001183). In 2003, the murder site of Red Bird, known as the Red Bird River Petroglyph site, 15Cy51, was also added to the National Register of Historic places (#89001182). Both sites are federally listed as religious and ceremonial sites.

Riverbank erosion and seasonal landslides of the underlying shale continued into the 1990s. Following subsequent road improvements, a significant portion of the petroglyph bearing cliff-face at Red Bird's murder site detached and fell to the ground. The State Marker was re-located to the campus of the Big Creek Elementary School, south of its original location on State Route 66. The rock containing the petroglyphs was moved to a park in Manchester, where it is currently protected beneath a pole building.

When photographs of the petroglyphs taken when they were in place at the rockshelter site are compared to those on the rock in Manchester today, it is evident beyond a reasonable doubt that many of the traditional Cherokee symbols have been modified. Followers of the late Barry Fell, a self-proclaimed "epigraphic" expert, interpret the now modified petroglyphs as the inscriptions of ancient Greek Christians, a throwback to Filson's 1788 argument that the Cherokee Nation has no valid claim to Kentucky because it was originally settled by an ancient white race that greatly predated them. Such interpretations are examples of pseudoscience and scientific fraud (see Ball 2006 and Feder 1999).

Cherokee descendants of Red Bird frequently monitor the gravesite, as they have since his murder, and regularly pay homage to their ancestor in prayer ceremony. Recently, descendants found that the sites where Red Bird and Will were murdered and buried have sustained damage by grave robbers. Both sites are currently protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), signed into federal law (25 U.S.C. 3001) by President George Bush Sr. on November 16, 1990. Under NAGPRA, it is a felony with substantial prison time to desecrate either site. Unfortunately, even this level of crime and punishment has not deterred grave robbers and vandals.

 

Descendants

The 1797 letters of John Sevier clearly state that one of the Cherokees murdered was Will. He was most likely the Long Hair Clan Cherokee, William Emory Jr., whose history in southeastern Kentucky is well documented in the Draper manuscripts because of his repeated encounters with Daniel Boone. Like Robert Benge, Will was European in appearance with pale skin and red hair, and spoke fluent English. It is quite possible that John Livingston and Edward Miller were actually out to kill Will because of his similar history, physical appearance, and personality resemblances to Benge. Although a man by the name of George Powell claimed to have killed Will in Bedford County, Pennsylvania at a place he was known to frequent, it was never substantiated (Anonymous 1971).

The identity of Red Bird is perhaps best documented in the family histories of his descendants. While many families in Clay County claim Red Bird as an ancestor, two families, more than any others, have long oral traditions, which tie them to Red Bird—Brock and Sizemore. Indeed, it is almost impossible to attend a Pow Wow in the southeastern United States and not find a Brock or Sizemore either dancing in the circle or sitting at the drum signing. Like so many Cherokee living in Kentucky, Red Bird's children intermarried with Anglo families, generation after generation.

The family surname, Brock, in Cherokee is Quagi, which is made up of two sounds from the syllabary—qua and gi—spoken as qua-gee. The Cherokee word for the color red is gigagei, spoken as gee-gah-gay-ee, and the word for bird is tsisqua, spoken as jee-s-qua. Linguistically, it is interesting that the Brock surname in Cherokee contains the basis for both the words red and bird.

The Brock family is listed on both the 1898-1914 Dawes Roll of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the 1924 Baker Roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee—their Final Rolls. Brocks on the Baker Roll include:

Minnie Brock (enrollment number 306)
Ruby Brock (enrollment number 307)

Brocks on the Dawes Roll include:

Walter James Brock (enrollment 16910)
Susan E. Woodall-Brock (enrollment 16911)
George Brock (enrollment 16912)
Gleason K. Brock (enrollment 16913)
James C. Brock (no enrollment number)
Hugh Brock (no enrollment number)
Mary M. Keith-Brock (enrollment 12588)
Joseph C. Brock (enrollment 12589)
Lula G Brock (enrollment 12590)
Mary M. Brock (enrollment 12591)
Delilah Brock (enrollment 13833)

Some of the Brocks moved westward during eighteenth century. Mahala Susan Brock from Clay County, considered a child of Red Bird, married Edward Callahan. Their daughter Zelphia Callahan married Roger Cornett. Their son Samuel Cornett married Lucretia Pigg, the daughter of John Pigg and Lucretia Payne (Wilson 1978). Lucretia Pigg died about 1886 of smallpox when they were living in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Their daughter Savannah Miller (nee Cornett) was living in Texas at the time she applied for enrollment in the Cherokee Nation on September 24, 1908. Her enrollment application states:

 I am 59 years old. I claim my Indian blood through my father, Samuel Cornett. My father died in 1870 in the Cherokee Nation. He was 68 years old at the time of his death (Showing family bible pages). Samuel Cornett was born December 27, 1802, in Clay County, Kentucky. He lived in Kentucky until after his marriage, and went to Missouri after the births of three or four of his children. I was born in Missouri, but I was next to the youngest child. I have heard my mother say that my brother William Cornett, who was born May 9, 1833, was born in Missouri, and John Cornett, born November 29, 1835, was also born in Missouri as were the rest of us children. My father got his Indian blood through his mother, Susan Brock. I can tell nothing about Susan Brock other than she lived in Kentucky and she died there. She was said to be a full blood Indian. She never got any money or lands from the Government on account of her Indian blood. My father went to Tahlequah in 1869 to have his Indian rights recognized, but he did not get his claim fully established.

Samuel Cornett went to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1869 to claim his Cherokee blood through his Clay County grandmother, Mahala Susan Brock. Unfortunately, another enrollment document submitted by another family member mistakenly listed Samuel Cornett's grandparents as Andrew and Malinda Lockhart, even though he listed his grandmother correctly as Susan Brock. This discrepancy is the reason he was denied Cherokee enrollment and entitlements. Nonetheless, members of the Brock family remained in the Cherokee Nation and were later fully enrolled through marriage.

Jesse Brock, Mahala Susan Brock's brother, remained in Kentucky. Annie Walker Burns, a well-known Appalachian historian, recorded firsthand Elijah Brock's testimony about Jesse Brock.

 Jesse Brock was the first settler on Wallins Creek, Kentucky. He was about three-quarter Indian, and had so much Indian blood in him, that he had no trouble living among the Indians who were thickly settled in the mountains when he first came, raised his family among them, hunted along with them, with no trouble whatever (Walker-Burns n.d.)

It is important to emphasize that blood quantum terms such as full blood, three-quarter blood, half-blood, and quarter-blood were based on physical appearance and not DNA. Brocks that remained in Kentucky frequently intermarried with the Saylor's and both families uphold and proudly celebrate their Cherokee heritage.

The Sizemore family of Clay County also has a long oral family tradition of their kinship ties to Red Bird. Although there is not a single Sizemore on either the Baker or Dawes Cherokee Final Rolls, many members of the Sizemore family applied for enrollment on the Eastern Cherokee Roll of 1909, known as the Guion Miller Roll. While all of their applications were rejected, others submitted to the Choctaw and Creek Dawes Final Roles were accepted. Indeed, Martha Sizemore and Alex Sizemore are listed on the Choctaw Final Roll. Ten Sizemores are listed on the Creek Final Roll:

Cumseh Sizemore (no enrollment number)
Dave Sizemore (no enrollment number)
David Sizemore (no enrollment number)
Elenor Sizemore (no enrollment number)
Lindey Sizemore (no enrollment number)
Lucy Sizemore (no enrollment number)
Nicey Sizemore (enrollment number 9064)
Sam Sizemore (no enrollment number)
Stephan Sizemore (enrollment number 1668)
William Sizemore (enrollment number 8962)

The Creek and Clay County Sizemore connection is quite old and well documented. In January 1822, the Clay County Court was informed that a man named Pickney from Alabama came to the home of James Sizemore and dropped off his five year-old mixed-blood Creek son named George. His mother was a Creek named Anny (White 1932). Five years earlier, 1817, about the time of George's conception, Major General Pickney presented and liquidated the Creek treaty at Fort Jackson, Alabama. One year later, on December 8, 1818, Author Sizemore testified in the Claims of Friendly Creeks Paid Under the Act of March 3, 1817. Four years after that, Pickney shows up in Clay County at the home of James Sizemore with a Creek child name George.

Today, it is the fervent hope of both the Sizemore and Brock families that Red Bird's memory, as well as the places where he was murdered and buried are treated with dignity and respect. They are sacred places.

 

References

Anonymous 1971. The Kernel of Greatness—An Informal Bicentennial History of Bedford County, Educational Pamphlet. Bedford County Heritage Commission.

Ball, Donald B 2006. Scribbles, Scratches, and Ancient Writing: Pseudo-Historical Archaeology in the Ohio Valley Region. Ohio Valley Historical Archaeology 21:1-29.

Bush, William 1807. Clay County Surveyor's Office Entry dated June 10, 1807, p. 1. Manchester.

Collins, Lewis. History of Kentucky. 1847.

Collins, Lewis, and Richard H. Collins 1874. History of Kentucky.

Coy, Fred E. and Thomas G. Fuller 1969. Red Bird River Petroglyphs, Clay County, Kentucky. Southeastern Archaeological Conference 10:27-31.

Coy, Fred E., Thomas C. Fuller, Larry G. Meadows, and James L. Swauger 1997. Rock Art of Kentucky. The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington.

Dickey, John Jay, 1898a, February 2, Diary record testimony of Captain Byron, in Manchester, Clay County, Kentucky.

Dickey, John Jay, 1898b, July 12, 1898, Diary record testimony of Abijah Gilbert, in Clay County, Kentucky.

Dickey, John Jay, 1898c, July 12, Diary record testimony of John R. Gilbert, in Manchester, Clay County, Kentucky.

Draper, Lyman Copeland, 1851. Drapers Life of Boone and Boone Papers. Draper Manuscripts Collection.

Feder, Kenneth L. 1999. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries. Mayfield Press, Mountain View.

Filson, John 1784. The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke.

King, Duane H. 1976. Benge's Axe, Journal of Cherokee Studies 1:Fall:107-109.

Mooney, James 1900. Myths of the Cherokee. Bureau of American Ethnography, Nineteenth Annual Report, Washington D.C.

Neely, Sharlotte 1991. Snowbird Cherokees: People of Persistence. University of Georgia Press, Athens.

Perdure, Theda 1998. Cherokee Women, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Rafinesque, Constantine 1824. Ancient History or Annals of Kentucky.

Sevier, John 1796a. Letter of April 2, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Warriors Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1796b. Letter of July 7, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Warriors Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797a. Letter of January 12, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Warriors Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797b. Letter of February 10, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Warriors Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797c. Letter of February 14, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Honorable Mr. William Blount. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797d. Letter of March 5, Knoxville, Tennessee, to John Watts and Other Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797e. Letter of March 17, Knoxville, Tennessee, to His Excellency Governor Garrard. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797f. Letter of March 19, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Sherriff (sic) of Hawkins County. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797g. Letter of March 28, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Warriors Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Sevier, John 1797h. Letter of March 30, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Silas Dinsmore. John Sevier Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Starr, Emmett 1972. History of the Cherokee Indians: Old Families and Their Genealogy, University of Oklahoma Foundation, Norman.

Summers, L. P. 1903. History of Southwest Virginia 1746-1786, Washington County 1777-1870, J. L. Hill Printing Co., Richmond.

Tanner, Helen Hornbeck 1978. Cherokees in the Ohio Country, Journal of Cherokee Studies 3:2:95-103.

Walker-Burns, Annie n.d. Testimony of Elijah Brock. Unpublished manuscript.

White, Roy 1932. A History of Clay County, Kentucky. The Manchester Guardian. Issues May to December.

Wilson, Jess 1978. When They Hanged the Fiddler. Possum Trot University Press, Manchester.

 

END OF ARTICLE FROM SEPTEMBER 2006 APPALACHIAN QUARTERLY

 Following pages used by permission of Kenneth B. Tankersley, Ph.D., anthropologist, Natural History Unit, BBC, Northern Kentucky University

 Yahoo Falls by Kenneth B. Tankersley

 Kentucky's Native Past, by Kenneth B. Tankersley

 Kinship Notes, by Kenneth B. Tankersley

NOTES: Kentucky Treaties, by Kenneth B. Tankersley

 Cherokee Syllabary, by Dr. Tankersley

 Kinship & Brock Cherokee Nation Enrollment, by Dr. Tankersley

 

 

 

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