Usannah Town on Little Tennessee River

Usannah Town of the Middle Cherokees
The Middle Towns from Nikwasi northward. Note Usannah across the river and downstream from the major town of Cowee.


Usanah was a small Cherokee settlement that was located about two miles northwest of Cowee Town, a major British trading center located in the Middle Towns. The history of Usanah is closely connected to Cowee Town where white traders resided off and on for a century. [1] The traders operated pack horse trains which brought domestic goods such as cloth, blankets, cooking, hoes and axes. Rifles were coveted by the Indians for use in warfare and for the procurement of deer hides and furs. Powder and shot were constantly in short supply and many letters between local chiefs and the governor of South Carolina contained pleas for these items. The Middle Towns were broken into three divisions by the British Board of Trade in 1751. One division identified Cowee as the center which would service three other towns in addition to itself. These were Usanah, Alijoy, [2] and Cowitchee [3], located 2 miles northwest of Usanah.

Usanah was described as a town or village in 1761 and by 1800 appears to have devolved to scattered family farmsteads or plantations. The town was located on the east side of the Little Tennessee River at a crossroads.  One path, the more important, was the north fork of the Charles Town Trading Path. This path originated at modern Clayton, Georgia which was called “the Dividings” and the site of Stecoah Old Town. It ascended the Blue Ridge at Rabun Gap and followed the Little Tennessee River to its junction with the Tuckasegee River. Along its way it passed through Cowee and Usanah Towns. The second path crossed the Little Tennessee River at McCoy Ford, passed through Usanah and continued northeasterly across the Cowee Mountains to Kituwah and Tuckaleechee Towns. [4] These towns were located on the Tuckasegee River.  Kituwah was a sacred mother town.

McCoy bridge was built at the site of McCoy Ford, which served the Cherokees as a more direct connection to Ayoree Town than by traveling through Cowee Town.  It was common practice that when the streams were too high too ford, travelers camped near the ford while waiting for the water level to fall. The path from Usanah to Ayoree is described by Captain Christopher French in 1761. From this fording place at the mouth of Bradley Creek the towns and villages of Burning Town, Cowitchee, Alijoy as well as Ayoree.

Usanah was located at a crossroads of paths connecting the Out Towns on Tuckasegee River and the Valley Towns. [5] Of particular interest is a path connecting Usanah to Kituwah and Tuckaleegee on the Tuckasegee River. The path crossed the Cowee Mountains following Bradley or Lakey Creeks or perhaps along Polecat Ridge which divides the two drainages. Lakey Creek waters a fertile bottom land for about two miles from the Cowee Mountains to its mouth at the Little Tennessee River and less half a mile downstream from the mouth of Bradley Creek. Sometime after 1800, a white man named Jonathan Blythe lived near the mouth of Lakey Creek close to a Cherokee named Wolf who applied for a 640 acre reserve in 1819. 



May 24 th, 1751

Usanah or Tarsalla was assigned by the British Board of Trade to be included in a group of four towns that would be served by a trading house and traders residing in Cowee Town. The principle trader was James May. The four towns were Cowee, Tarsalla, Coweechee and Elejoy. [6]

July 28 th, 1756

Trader James Beamer [7] wrote Captain Raymond Demere that Cowee Town had 100 gun men and though “…though I can’t be so exact but shall be as near as I can…” that Torsaler had about 30 gun men, Burningtown about 40, Ellejoy 100.

February 21 st, 1757

Ensign Bogges communicated a letter that listed Tosarlay with 30 gun men.

1761 John Stuart Map

Indian agent John Stuart map [8] identifies a major trail between “Ousana” and Kittoa on the Tuckasegee. The path crossed the Cowee Mountains, Alarka Creek and appears to follow Kirkland Creek to its mouth just west of Kituwah or Governer’s Island. A chart of towns lists Usanah as having 45 gun men. This would translate into a population of near 200. Nearby Cowee had 130 gun men, Cowitchee 50, Burning Town 60, Allejoy 60, Ayoree 100, Watauga 95, and Nikwasi 120. Stuart’s figures indicate that there were at least 830 Cherokee families living on the Little Tennessee River in a 17 mile stretch as the crow flies from near Franklin to the Needmore area.

1761 Lt Col James Grant Expedition

Captain Christopher French and James Grant both recorded the burning of Usanah Town.  French stated that Usanah Town was two miles and across the river from Cowee Town. The map of the expedition locates the town at or near modern Bradley Creek. The army camped just south of the town.

Captain Christopher French Logistics 1761 Grant Expedition1

Tuesday, 26 th June 2

General at six, march’d about Eight, & at ½ past Ten reach’d Cowhee, about three Miles. This is pleasantly situated upon the River.  We halted & destroyed a great quantity of Corn, & cut down fruit Trees.  We then cross’d the River (which was deep) & reach’d Ussanah about two Miles. This is a small village, & by much the worst we had seen.  One of the Catawbas (the same who kill’d the old Sqwa at Noukassi) killed our Sqwa for the Sake of her Scalp.  At night an Indian attempted to sieze one of the Sentries of the light Infantry advanc’d Guard, & got off unhurt.  

Wednesday 17 th June

General at six, march’d at Eight & at ½ past Ten reach’d Coweeschee (2 miles] a small town upon the same River, but on the other side of it.  This day Capt Kennedy with the Indians, went to Tuchalalant, or Burning Town (2 miles) which they Burned, & then return’d to camp.

Sunday 21 st June

General at Six, burn’d the Town of Coweeshee (it lies in a valley surrounded by high mountains) & then march’d to Ussaneh where we encamp’d. Here are abundance of wild mulberries, Rasberries, & straw berries.  


Captain Christopher French: “An Account of the Towns in the Cherokee Country With Their Strengths and Distance:” 3

“Ussanah – is two miles to the N. ward of Cowhee and upon the opposite bank of the river, the road to it is hilly, & in some places commanded.  This Village contains about 45 Gun Men.”

By contrast, French recorded the warrior-power of the surrounding towns as:

Ussanah 40 gun men in a village

Cowee 130 gun men and largest of the towns

Ayoree 100 gun men

Cowitchee  50 gun men

Burningtown 60 gun men on a creek 1.5 miles from the river


French chart titled: Account of miles march’d this campaign, Places, Days march distances from Charles Town 4


5 miles from Ayoree to Ussanah Town

2 miles from Ussanah Town to Cowitchee Town

3 miles from Cowee Town to Ussanah Town [note that this mileage contradicts other places which say 2 miles]

3 miles Watogi to Cowee Town

5 miles Cowee to Cowitchee via Ussannah Town (the best route)

2 miles Cowitchee to Burningtown

7 miles Cowitchee to Allejoy


From Grant’s letter describing the expedition. 5

1761 June 7th. The troops moved from the camp near Fort Prince George at five in the morning without tents or baggage except bearskins, blankets and liquor. Six hundred horses loaded with flour bags were divided into 15 brigades which with the ammunition stores and other pack horses were distributed in the line of march in the best manner that could be thought of for their protection. The River of Keowee was deep and rapid, the passage of it took much time, and as the roads afterwards were very bad we with difficulty and late in the day got to Scony [?] Old Town about 15 miles from the Fort…

“We proceeded in the morning to Cowhee the most considerable Town in the middle settlements, the corn was destroyed, but the Town was saved as it was intended to form a camp there for some time on our return. We marched to Ussanah where the country shared the same fate as in every other place.”


1776 Rutherford Expedition

The American Invasion of Little Tennessee River – General Griffith Rutherford, September, 1776

A second military invasion of the McCoy Bridge site area occurred when the American Revolutionary forces under  General Griffith Rutherford invaded and destroyed every Cherokee town in their path including those that were previously burned about 15 years earlier.

Rutherford’s  Expedition

From mid-July to late August, General Rutherford called for volunteers and amassed supplies at Davidson’s Fort (presentday Old Fort) at the eastern foot of the Blue Ridge. By September, his force amounted to 1,971 privates, 80 light-horsemen, 350 pack horse drivers, 35 pack horse masters, and an undefined number of officers, a total of approximately twenty-five hundred troops. They carried enough provisions for 40 days in the field.  Many books are available which detail the swath of destruction that was left in the wake of this campaign. 

1781 Purcell Map

The 1781 Purcell map [9] shows Usannah Town and a path leading to the Lower Cherokee Town of Little Keewehee [10] which was located about thirteen miles southeast of Highlands, North Carolina.


The Burning of Cowee Town

“By the preliminary treaty of Paris, November 30, 1782, the long Revolutionary struggle for independence was brought to a close, and the Cherokee, as well as the other tribes, seeing the hopelessness of continuing the contest alone, began to sue for peace. By seven years of constant warfare they had been reduced to the lowest depth of misery, almost indeed to the verge of extinction. Over and over again their towns had been laid in ashes and their fields wasted. Their best warriors had been killed and their women and children had sickened and starved in the mountains. Their great war chief, Oconostota, who had led them to victory in 1780, was now a broken old man, and in this year, at Echota, formally resigned his office in favor of his son, The Terrapin. To complete their brimming cup of misery the smallpox again broke out among them in 1783.

Deprived of the assistance of their former white allies they were left to their own cruel fate, the last feeble resistance of the mountain warriors to the advancing tide of settlement came to an end with the burning of Cowee town, and the way was left open to an arrangement. In the same year the North Carolina Legislature appointed an agent for the Cherokee and made regulations for the government of traders among them.” [11]



Treaty of Hopewell November 28, 1785

Signed by 37 chiefs and principle men.


Middle Towns Cherokee Head Men 1785

Unsuokanail, Buffalo White Calf of New Cussee, his x mark, [L. S.]   (Nikwasi)

Kostayeak, or Sharp Fellow  [or Sharp Arrow]     Wataga, his x mark, [L. S.]    (Watauga)

Chonosta, of Cowe, his x mark, [L. S.]    (Cowee)


Resolutions of the National Council of the Cherokee Chiefs, April 4th-10th, 1804 [12]

Resolved, that the [deleted: Blacksmiths] [added: Mechanics] in the nation including the Public Blacksmith may reside at the following places viz. one at Cowee, one at Tusquitee, One at High tower, one Powdermaker at Hightower also one wheelwright- these except the Public Blacksmith are to be paid by the nation or by those who employ them.


Oostantutake [13] and Wolf broke a contract with Paul Paulsun over building of a mill.

Letter dispatched from Indian Agency in Tennessee under Return Jonathan Meigs:

January 1, 1810

To the Honourabe chiefs of cowee

talke of the Cherokee nation

we as the complainants to you honours to assert to you that I did contract and agree with an Indian the name of wolf and Eastinaker [14] to build a mill which I did agreable to contract and they was to give me a mare and colt for the Same and other the work was don they gave me up the mare and colt and I started to come in to the whites with the two said Indians and on the road they drew their knifes on me and took the mare and colt by horse from me and went beak. I come on in to the whites settlement I must Let your honours know that if you will Send me the mare and colt there will be no more of it if not I shall prosead to git my Right and that in a Short time and that you may depend on.

January 1st 1810 – Paul Paulsun [15]


Wolf  took a reserve in 1819.  Jonathan Blythe had a mill in Cowee Valley by 1819. This is the only mill recorded in the 1820 Love Survey. 


Big Bear and Sharp Fellow

In addressing the Paulson incident, Big Bear and Sharp Fellow sought advice from Indian agent Return Jonathan Meigs on how to establish laws to regulate tribal business deals with the whites including the breaking of contracts.

“Two chiefs from the upper reaches of the Little Tennessee River wrote to Meigs in February 1811 that they had met with the other headmen in the valley at the town of Cowee to try to pass laws to punish stealing.  ‘As we are Blind as to how to make laws,” said Big Bear and The Sharp Fellow, they wanted Meigs advice on their first efforts to bring order to the new way of life in their part of the nation. They had been inspired by the regulator law of the National Council in 1808 but as yet had organized no lighthorse patrol in their district.  A bilingual Cherokee had written out their laws for Meigs’s approval.  The first dealt with the theft of livestock: “Any person stealing a horse shall Receive one hundred lashes on there Bere [bare] Back; a Cow, fifty, or a hog, twenty-five; a Corn [hoe?] 5; any small article, 10.’ The poor had not much to steal from each other, but what little they had was all the more important.”[16]

1815 Appeal to President James Madison from Big Bear, Tuckaleechee Town[17]

To James Madison from Yona Equa, 31 December 1815

Tuckaleechee   December 31st. 1815


General Love [Thomas Love] seeing the way we were impos on by our white neighbours advised us to apply to you to appoint some person who might see us done justice and settle any disputes that might arise betwine us and our white neighbors As Colo. Meigs lived at too great a distance, in consequence of this we Wrote a petition from [Cowee] signed by the headmen of twenty towns and sent it by mail from Waynesville To this we have never yet received any answer, and not knowing whether you have ever received it, I have thought fit to write and send it by my own people so that I might be sure you would receive it, and in this my people from Eastanauly upwards have agreed in what I now write. We wish you to appoint some person to act as agent for this part who will have Justice done to us. The whites are settling our land without our consent and contrary to our treaties made with you. The great spirit first gave us this land The whites came and begged some of it. We gave it to them and at several times since we have sold them more until we have but a small part left and to be deprived of this by force we think hard and hope you will have Justice done in this Case. Also when we receive our annuity at Colo. Meigs’s we think we do not get our share the lower part of the nation getting nearly the whole. We wish to have our part delivered near to this place. Our part may be known by taking the number of people in each district. I send this by two of my headmen (viz) George and Junaluskee and hope you will use them well and giving them something clever will return an answer to me by their hands. In hopes that will be favorable I remain your real friend

Yona Equa his mark
or Big Bear


Usanah in Jurisdiction of Cowee Town Council House

According to correspondence written between Return Jonathan Meigs in 1810, the chiefs or head men at the council house at Cowee were considering tribal laws pertaining to contracts between Cherokees and whites.  This proposal arose after two Cherokees broke a contract with a white man named Paul Paulsun (or Paulson) in 1809 where said Paulsun built a mill for two Cherokees, one named Wolf and another Estinaker which was likely Ammacher who lived close to Wolf. See section on Reservees 1820.



There were three principal chiefs in the Out and Middle Towns by 1816 when the rumors that a land cession was in the works in which these towns had no representation. At this time in history, the Lower Towns or Chickamauga Towns by definition included North Alabama, North Georgia and Chattanooga area of Tennessee. 

Big Bear exercised much authority during this time and was evidently considered a powerful chief. It appears from numerous letters that he was the head chief with other chiefs or head men under him. 

Since Standing Turkey resided at Cowee Town, he must have been the Cowee chief which would have had jurisdiction over Usanah.

December 1816 Message from the Cherokee Valley Chiefs 11

Message from the Valley Cherokee Towns by Sickatowee. 18th Dec. 1816

Dear Friends and Brothers

We gladly imbrace the _______of writing to you to let you know that we the valley chiefs have set here a Tusquity [?[ Town Creek and know [now] has sends to you to assist us in going to see our great father.  We have agreed to send six of our men to the fedral sitty [federal city]

Their names are:

The big _______

Silketowee [Sickatowee]

The _______


Chunalushah [Junaluska]

Artha (Otter?]

These are the men that big beare sends from this part of the nation and the Old Sharp Fellow and Kenne cunna [Standing Turkey] these are three main chiefs


1817 – 1819 Treaties – Ammacher Reserve

Ammacher applied for a 640 acre tract of land that included the Bradley Creek area believed to be Usanah Town. Much of his reserve was 3rd rate land and the most valuable portion was that which would be adjacent to modern Highway 28. It is very likely that his house was located near the motorcycle sales shop near the McCoy Bridge.  There is a branch located there from a spring uphill from the store. This site was surveyed by Robert Love in 1820 and platted as District 10, Section 1. The 175 acres was listed as third rate as it contained no river bottom land. It is also possible that Thomas Brown built a house on the Ammacher house site.

The Cherokee Land Sales Book records that Thomas Brown purchased this tract in 1821 from the State of North Carolina.

Browns still lived at or near the area in 1829 when the road was reviewed and altered by the Macon County Road Court. The WG Williams Army shows a Morrison living at or near the site in 1837-38.


Macon County Road Court viewed and marked out alterations in the road from the “Liberty Pole” at the town square in Franklin to the junction with the Tuckasegee River. This road was constructed on the old Cherokee trail along the Little Tennessee River and eventually used in the 1838 Removal.

[1] SC Indian Journals 1710-1765, Travels of William Bartram Travels 1776 

[2] Located about 7 miles north of Cowee on the west side of the Little Tennessee River

[3] Located 2 miles northwest of Usanah on the west side of the Little Tennessee River at or near Deans Island.

[4] 1761 John Stuart map

[5] See Chronology of Events, 1761 John Stuart map,

[6] South Carolina Indian Journals, McDowell, 1750-1754, p 86

[7] South Carolina Indian Journals, McDowell, 1754-1765, p 151

[8] NC State Archives, MC.183.C522.1761s, ca. 1761, A Map of the Cherokee Country. Drawn by Capt. John Stuart. Copy of original in the British Library, London

[9] NC State Archives, MC.150.1781p, A New Map of the Southern District of North America. Prepared by Joseph Purcell for Lt. Col. Thomas Brown, superintendent of Indian Affairs for George III.

[10] Little Keewehee or Little Keowee later spelled as the modern name Cheohee.  This town was very close to Tomassee.

[11] See documents in Virginia State Papers, III, pp. 234, 398, 527, 1883.  Ramsey, Tennessee, p. 280, 1853

[12] Galileo Digital Library, Southeastern Native American Documents,  Document PAO201,

[13] Oostantutake took a reserve on Tellico Creek, Wolf on Lakey Creek in 1819. In 1816, an Outanakar signed a letter written or dictated by Big Bear.

[14] probably Oostantutake or Ammacher, who took a reserve in 1819 near Wolf

[15] Notes: Paulson bondsman July 25, 1798, Wilkes Co. NC, to Joseph Dickson and Mary Murphey.  A Paul Paulson who married Jane Harvey first identified in Bedford/Campbell Co, VA and in Rowan Co, NC 1761

[16] Big Bear and Sharp Fellow to Return J. Meigs, February 1, 1811, M-208.  Quote from William McLaughlan in Cherokee Renascence, p 175

[17] “To James Madison from Yona Equa, 31 December 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives (, ver. 2013-08-02). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of James Madison. It is not an authoritative final version.

From the National Archives (NARA) to Western North Carolina

Cherokee History Buried in Dusty Archives
Eight years of pouring through these original books and 100,000 archives stored in vaults across the Eastern United States
The essence of the archives are published in abstracted online Story Maps

From the Southeastern Heritage Research Center

SE Heritage Archive Research Team: (left to right) Paige Tester, Anthropologist, Western Carolina University; Lamar Marshall, Research Director, Southeast Heritage; Anita Finger-Smith, Cherokee Genealogy Services; Robin Swayney, Researcher, EBCI Tribal Member, Museum of the Cherokee

Southeast Heritage has several departments working simultaneously to bring upload Cherokee historic geography, events, genealogy, and ecology to this website. Here are some of the highlights of the ongoing process:

(1) Pouring through over 100,000 existing documents including old surveys, maps, journals, affidavits, and court testimonies to glean the gems of the past. Summarizing and cataloging the finds.

(2) Graphic reproduction of original documents and maps and new graphics to illustrate these historical finds.

(3) The incorporation of the latest technologies consisting of hardware, software and applications including ESRI ArcGIS, Adobe, Microsoft, Mapping, Scanning, Drafting, and Web interface connecting the network of workflow.

(4) Partnering with Eastern Band individuals and departments to exchange ideas, information, and protocol that protects sensitive information and expands on the culturally significant heritage of the Cherokee Indians and their connections to Native North America long before European colonization.