April 18, 2005

Nancy Ward, (Nanye-hi) Cherokee (ca. 1738-ca. 1824)


From the English rendition of Nanye-hi, “One Who Goes About,” named from the mythological Spirit People, Nancy Ward was a major Cherokee figure of the Southern frontier who became an almost legendary person due largely to her queenly manner and resolute personality. Nanye-hi was born into the Wolf clan about 1738 at Chota, near Fort Loudon, Tennessee. Her father was Fivekiller, a Cherokee-Delaware man, and her mother was Tame Deer (sometimes recorded as Tame Doe) the sister of Attakullakulla, known popularly as Catherine.

In her youth, Nanye-hi had the nickname Tsistunagiska, “Wild Rose,” from the delicate texture of her skin which was likened to rose petals.

She married Kingfisher, a Cherokee of the Deer clan, and showed her mettle early. In a skirmish against the Creek forces at the Battle of Taliwa in 1755, she aided her husband as he was firing from behind a bulwark, chewing on the bullets to make them more deadly; he was killed and she seized his musket, continuing the fire. Her participation was credited by the Cherokee with helping to turn the tide of battle in their favor, and she was given the title Ghighau (or Agigau), “Beloved Woman.” This title traditionally gave her a lifetime voice in the tribal councils, as well as the power to pardon condemned captives.

Yet Nancy Ward was not a bloodthirsty person. She went behind her people’s backs to warn the settlers in the Holston and Watauga Valleys that they were going to be attacked by the pro-British Cherokee.

When the Whites mounted a devastating counterattack, her home was among those spared. She followed the same pattern in 1780, although this time she met the White attackers and urged them to talk peace with the Cherokee chiefs. They refused to halt their advance, however, and went on to defeat the Indians.

The “queenly and commanding” Nancy Ward took an active role in the peace talks of the 1780’s continually exhorting the two groups to friendship and peaceful coexistence.

Although there were many on both sides who thought Nancy Ward’s ideas were foolish and even dangerous, there were few, if any of either race who did not respect her.

As more and more settlers came into eastern Tennessee, Nancy Ward apparently became disenchanted with her views on friendship with Whites. She advised the Cherokee Council of 1817 not to cede any more tribal lands to them, but they rejected her counsel, and within a few years she and many other Cherokee people were forced to move away from their homes.

Nanye-hi married Briant (Bryant) Ward, a White trader, and moved to Womankiller Ford, on the Ocowee River, where she conducted a well-known inn for many years. The inn prospered and she became a wealthy person before her death in the Spring of 1824.

Nancy Ward had three children: Catherine, Fivekiller, and Elizabeth. For many years after her death she was the center of many legends known for her friendship, beauty, power, and wisdom.

Even today, Nancy Ward is remembered with deep affection by the Cherokee people.

Native American Women
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