Nancy Ward . . . how a “dime novel” became a Cherokee religion.

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

It is an inspiring story taught to many generations of school children around the United States.  During the past 20 years, the pioneer role of this Cherokee lady in promoting feminism and the right of women to serve in combat roles in the military, have been the subject of a legion of dissertations, theses and books authored by professors around the United States.  The event is presented as fact on state historical markers in both Georgia and Tennessee. It is an important exhibit at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in North Carolina and one of the “highlights” of the outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills.”  Several songs have been written in this lady’s honor.  “Nanyehi – The Story of Nancy Ward” is now a musical play being performed around the nation. 

There is a Nancy Ward Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  There are several institutions and schools named after Nancy Ward, plus a large Descendants of Nancy Ward Society.

Until a team of University of Oklahoma professors traveled to Dixie in 2008, absolutely no one challenged any detail of this Cherokee lady’s official biography.  Since then the oligarchs of academia in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina have squelched discussion of what these professors found out, evidently for fear of being cut off from Cherokee casino funds.  You will never trust another American history book after learning the truth.

Nancy Ward becomes a Beloved Woman. Note the “choir robe” dress!

Saint Nancy Ward as a religion

Becky Hobbs’s and Nick Sweet’s interpretive story of Nanyehi is a world-class musical production. As one of her descendants, the story of Nancy Ward is both inspirational and deeply personal to me. The stirring compositions, riveting dialogue and modern choreography make this a must-see piece of musical theater. Cherokee Nation history enthusiasts and theater fans will be mesmerized with Becky’s wonderful creation.”

Bill John Baker, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief

Now Georgia bureaucrats wouldn’t lie, would they?

Here are the facts that you will find in a legion of trustworthy history books and online references . . . and even a Georgia historical marker:

In 1754, a brave band of about 500 Overhill Cherokee warriors traveled 112 miles southward through hostile Upper Creek territory to attack the great Muskogee-Creek town of Taliwa on the Etowah River, near the present day town of Ball Ground, GA.   The initial attack drove Taliwa’s 2,000 cowardly warriors and their families out of the town, but they took refuge in woods behind the town. Four attacks by the brave, outnumbered Cherokees failed to dislodge the cowardly Creeks hiding behind the trees.

Sixteen year old, full-blooded Cherokee, Nanyehi of the Wolf Clan was granddaughter of the great Cherokee chief, Attakulakula and the wife of the great Cherokee warrior, Kingfisher. They had two children, Catherine and Five Killer.  She fought beside him in the Battle of Taliwa.  When she saw her husband cruelly shot down by the evil Creeks in the fourth attack, she picked up his musket.  Like a modern day Joan of Arc, she led the fifth attack on the 2,000 cowardly Creeks and they were driven away.  All of North Georgia was won for the Great Cherokee Nation that day, making it safe for truth, justice, the American Way and the slavery of Africans. 

For her bravery at the Battle of Taliwa, Nanyehi was named a Beloved Woman at the age of 18. After the first Anglo-Cherokee War ended in 1763, Nanyehi married her first cousin, an Irish Indian trader, named Bryant Ward.  They had several more children, before he died or moved on to another woman.  This is not clear.

You are probably wondering how the full-blooded Cherokee lady of noble birth as presented in the play could marry a white first cousin?  They had the same white grandfather. She was at most ½ Cherokee, which means that she probably much less percentage, Native American. Most of the Cherokee women, married by whites, were already of mixed heritage because of two centuries of contact with Europeans.

In 1776, Nancy Ward saved the life of Mrs. William (Lydia Russell) Bean, a Wautauga, Tennessee settler, who had been tommyhawked and was about to be either scalped or burned at the stake.  While nursing Mrs. Bean back to health, she learned about keeping cattle and weaving.  Soon thereafter, Nancy started the first cattle herd among the Cherokees and was one of the first Cherokees to own African-American slaves.  That part of the story is left out of the play!

After the American Revolution, the Chickamauga Cherokee War raged across the landscape of what is now Tennessee.  On several occasions, Nancy was said to have warned white settlers and soldiers of pending Cherokee attacks.   She died in 1822, or possibly 1824 . . . beloved by her Cherokee people and whites alike.

Intermission:  Why 19th century Southerners hated the Creeks so much

  • Creek men averaged a foot taller than European men and they bathed every day.
  • The Creeks gave sanctuary to runaway slaves.
  • Creek women were equal in all things, including the right to vote and hold political offices.
  • The Creeks were uppity, plus were better at math and surveying than whites.
  • During the Redstick War, the white soldiers were getting whipped by the Redstick Creek minority, until the United States Army was doubled by the addition of Cherokee, Friendly Creek, Uchee and Choctaw volunteers. General Jackson’s life was saved twice by Native Americans, once by a Uchee, another time by a Cherokee. If not killed already, Jackson would have probably lost the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, if Junaluska’s Cherokees had not swam across the river to cut loose the Redstick canoes and attack the village from the rear.

The Creek Indians were a savage people.  They were so ignorant that they refused to acknowledge the inherent superiority of the White Race. Georgia is blessed to be rid of them.”

George D. Smith, DD (Georgia Historian ~ 1913)

A mission to get the facts

During the summer of 2008, a delegation of University of Oklahoma law and history professors traveled to the Southeast to investigate colonial archives and treaties.  At least one of the professors, a judge, was fluent in Muskogee.  They intensively studied the early archives of the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.  Because of the enormous distance between the colonial capital of New Bern and the Cherokees, North Carolina officials had very little contact with the Cherokees until after the American Revolution.

Evidently, I was not the only one, who was confused about the conflicts between “official history” in Dixie and the archival evidence.  Among their many discoveries, here is what they learned relevant to the life of Nancy Ward:

1. There was no Battle of Taliwa.  There was never a Creek town named Taliwa, anywhere in the Southeast.  In the South Carolina and Georgia Colonial archives, there is no record of ANY Cherokee victory over the Creeks in either 1754 or 1755.  The Muskogee Creeks never lived in Northwest Georgia.  It was Upper Creek, Chickasaw, Kansa and Apalachicola territory. For that matter, no Creek town contained anything close to 2,000 warriors in the 1700s.

The Cherokees lost every war they fought after 1738 and were only kept from extermination by the indigenous Southeastern tribes, through the repeated intervention of British authorities.  The Cherokees made no territorial gains of Creek land through warfare, after the Creek Confederacy was formed in 1717 . . . period.

2.  During 1754, as tensions mounted between France and Great Britain, British authorities in South Carolina and Georgia persuaded all divisions of the Cherokees and all but one province of the Creek Confederacy to sign a peace treaty.  The Creek tribal town of Koweta refused to sign the treaty, but British authorities assumed the peace was a done deal, since Koweta would have no chance in a war against the entire Cherokee Nation.  Both tribes were asked to supply warriors to fight the Indian allies of the French, if war began.  The Cherokees agreed in principal to this request.  The Creeks refused since they were friends with the Shawnees and on good terms with the small French garrison at Fort Toulouse in present day southeastern Alabama.  The Creeks would only fight the French, if they invaded Creek territory.

3.  After the Green Corn Festival of 1754, an army composed solely of soldiers from Koweta launched a blitzkrieg against the Cherokees, first targeting those territories that had been lost to the Cherokees between 1715 and 1717.  The Cherokees were defeated in every battle. 

Soon all Cherokee towns in villages south of the Snowbird and Nantahala Mountains in North Carolina had been burned.  The Cherokees had suffered immense casualties.   The important Cherokee town of Quanasee was captured and burned by an “army” of teenage Koweta girls, who were following their boyfriends around North Carolina on a lark.

The Oklahoma professors found a flurry of letters between the leaders of South Carolina and Georgia concerning the catastrophe occurring in North Carolina.  It was feared that within a few months, the Koweta army would also devastate the Overhill Cherokee villages. The Cherokees would cease to exist as a tribe and would be unable to furnish warriors to fight the French.

4.  In response to British pleas to halt hostilities, the Koweta launched another blitzkrieg into the Nantahala and Snowbird Mountains, where Cherokee refugees were hiding.  They captured six Cherokee chiefs.  The chiefs and other captives were marched south to Koweta The chiefs were burned at the stake along the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

Upon learning of this disaster, the Cherokee dispatched a large delegation of leaders to Charleston to beg that an army of Redcoats be dispatched to drive the Koweta army out of the North Carolina Mountains.  South Carolina was sympathetic, but Georgia was adamant against the idea.  It would result in the colony being wiped off the maps. . . probably much of South Carolina too.

Principal Chief Malachi of Koweta settled the colonial leaders’ indecision.  He dispatched a commando squad composed of mixed-blood Creek warriors, who were fluent in English.  They wore European clothing as they slipped into Charleston unnoticed.   The Koweta commandos killed 25 Cherokee chiefs on the streets of Charleston and left notes referencing the massacre of 32 Creek leaders at Tugaloo in December 1715. 

British officials got the message.  If Creek commandos could easily get away with murdering Cherokee chiefs on the streets of Charleston, British officials were even more vulnerable.  The Brits pressured the Cherokees to surrender their lost lands and sign a peace treaty.  The region south of the Snowbird Mountains in North Carolina contained few Cherokees for the next ten years. Quanasee was permanently abandoned.

 In 1755, the Creeks were at peace with the Cherokees, who were licking their substantial wounds.  The Upper Creeks continued to occupy all of Northwest Georgia and Southeastern Tennessee, south of the Hiwassee River until after the American Revolution.

Horse manure on the historical markers

Georgia state historical markers contain three different versions of “How the Cherokees captured all of North Georgia.”   None of them contain any true facts whatsoever.

1.  A state marker at Neels Gap in Union County says that a great battle was fought between the Cherokees and the Creeks in the early 1700s on the slopes of Blood Mountain and Slaughter Gap.   The Cherokees won and the skeletons of all the dead Creek warriors cover the mountainside.

FACTS:  Archaeologists have found no evidence of a battle here.  Upper Creeks continued to own and occupy Union County until 1785, when it was given as hunting territory to the Cherokees via a secret treaty with on the Cherokees that the Creeks knew nothing about.  In fact, there are still many Upper Creek descendants living in the county along Coosa Creek and near Coosa Bald.  Coosa is the Anglicized name of the Upper Creeks.

2.  A state maker in downtown Ball Ground, GA states that the Cherokees won all of North Georgia in a game of Native American stickball played there in a Cherokee village. 

FACTS: No map of the Cherokee Nation ever showed a village or ball field, where Ball Ground is located.  However, there are pre-European Period mounds in and around Ball Ground.  The town was in Creek territory until 1786, when it was given as hunting territory to the Cherokees via a secret treaty with on the Cherokees that the Creeks knew nothing about. The earliest Cherokee villages show up on the Etowah River around 1790, but not at Ball Ground.

3.  Another state historic marker on the southeast side of the town Ball Ground (shown above) labels a town with mounds that was abandoned around 1600 AD as the site of the Battle of Taliwa in 1755. 

FACTS: Surely, someone in the Georgia State bureaucracy would have figured out that all of North Georgia could not have been captured three times . . . even if the Creeks were nasty, evil people, who didn’t love slavery!  Dr. Arthur Kelly, who excavated the “Taliwa” site, known as 9CK1, was a very famous archaeologist and his report on the dig is readily available.

4. Books and tourist pamphlets, published in North Carolina, state that the Cherokees won all of North Georgia at a battle fought with the Creeks at Track Rock Gap in Union County, GA.  They state that the stone agricultural terraces and building ruins there mark the burials of THOUSANDS OF CREEK WARRIORS killed in the battle.

How could such diametrically opposite accounts of history survive the scrutiny of literally hundreds of thousands of academicians and school teachers for over two centuries?   For that matter, why didn’t the Muskogee-Creek Nation raise objections to these historic markers and publications long ago?  While the Oklahoma Creeks still remain silent, the Eastern Creeks are raising a heckuva fuss about this false history!

You will learn in Part Two that the Nancy Ward Myth began as a dime novel, sold by one of her distant relatives four years after her death.  What followed was a comedy of errors and ignorance. 


    1. All of Dr. Joshua Piker’s Books and professional papers are excellent sources for 18th century Creek history. My favorite is “The Four Deaths of Acorn Whistler.” “The Early History of Franklin County, GA talks about Nancy Ward’s life in Georgia and her returning frequently to visit her kin in Georgia.
      However, there are three other credible sources that should have been a wake up call that the Battle of Taliwa was BS. The 1755 John Mitchell Map of North America labels the lower half of the Cherokee Nation as “Desserted Cherakee Settlements” with about 32 crossed denoting burned out Cherokee villages. William Bartram’s book, “Travels . . . ” mentions that in 1776 when he heard that the Cherokees were planning to attack the British settlements on the frontier, he raced southward to the Tallulah River, “where beyond lay the safety of the Creek Nation. The Tallulah River is the boundary between Rabun County and Habersham County, GA today. Finally, the official 1784 map of Georgia shows virtually all of Northern Georgia as being “Territory of the Muskogee Creek Confederacy.”


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