Yonaguska or (Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi) "Drowning Bear" ᏲᏄᎬᏯᏍᎩ, Principal Chief

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Yonaguska or (Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi) "Drowning Bear" ᏲᏄᎬᏯᏍᎩ, Principal Chief's Geni Profile

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Yonaguska or (Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi) "Drowning Bear" ᏲᏄᎬᏯᏍᎩ, Principal Chief

Birthplace: Cherokee Nation, NC
Death: Died in Qualla Boundary, NC
Immediate Family:

Husband of Ni-gu-da-yi and So-gi-ni
Father of Tsu-nu-lv-hv-s-gi; William Holland Thomas, Principal Chief and Jennie (Che-gail-a-teh) Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi

Managed by: Private User
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About Yonaguska or (Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi) "Drowning Bear" ᏲᏄᎬᏯᏍᎩ, Principal Chief

1817-19 Reservations 1: August 03, 1819, #213, at the Governor's island, 16 in family

1817-19 Reservations 2: Reservation released to North Carolina

1835 Census roll: Haywood Co, NC, 2m18-, 1m18+, 3f16-, 2f16+

1848 Mullay roll: #484 [of Cherokees who were in NC at time of ratification of Treaty of New Echota on May 23, 1835 and who did not remove to the west]

Aka (Facts Pg): Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi

Translation: Yo-na = Bear, A-gv-ya-s-gi = He is drowning

NC History Project:

Yonaguska (1760?-1839)

By Troy L. Kickler, North Carolina History Project

Considered by many to be the last great chief of the Cherokee, Yonaguska (also known as Drowning Bear) consistently cooperated with the United States government and later in life warned against the effects of “the black drink” on the Cherokee. Yonaguska ensured that the Treaty of 1819 was observed and his people recognized as North Carolina citizens. As a result, the United States did not remove Yoganuska’s followers from their home in the North Carolina mountains.

Undoubtedly understanding the technological and numerical superiority of the United States military, Yoganuska always discouraged waging war against the United States. In 1811, for instance, he refused to join forces with Tecumseh and the British.

In 1819, he and the heads of approximately 50 families signed a treaty with the United States and officially withdrew from the Cherokee Nation. As citizens of North Carolina and the United States, each head of household received 640 acres on a reservation located where the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee rivers flowed together.

During the 1820s, land speculators, with the help of alcohol, convinced many Oconaluftee Cherokee to sell their lands. At this time, Yonugaska was reported to have been an alcoholic, but after recovering from an illness and what some have called a trance, the chief gathered his followers, including his adopted son William H. Thomas (a 14-year-old white boy) and recounted the unfortunate history of the Catawba and discussed ways in which to improve his people’s happiness and state of life. That day he declared, “The Cherokee must never again drink whisky” and ordered a temperance pledge to be drafted. The Oconaluftee agreed to never imbibe liquor again, and if they did, risk enduring the lash.

But Yonaguska is most noteworthy for resisting peacefully the U.S. government’s attempt to remove his people to Oklahoma. In 1835 at the New Echota convention, Cherokee chiefs discussed the cessation of land to the U.S. But Yonaguska was noticeably absent, for he had always opposed removal of Cherokee. Instead, the chief dispatched Thomas to Washington, D.C. to lobby for Oconaluftee interests and be a watchdog for government dealings with any Cherokee. Meanwhile, Thomas persuaded other Cherokee chiefs to recognize the Oconaluftee land claims in the Treaty of 1819 and the North Carolina citizenship of Yonaguska’s followers. As a North Carolinian and American citizen, Yoganuska helped the United States Army after the removal in locating fugitive Cherokee in the mountains.

In the end, Yonaguska’s temperance reform helped his followers keep their land, and his and Thomas’s diplomacy kept the Oconaluftee from being forcibly removed.

Mount Yonaguska (6,150 ft.) is located on Haywood-Swain County line.


Cherokee History and Culture, “Yonaguska,” http://www.cherokee-nc.com/history.php?Name=Yonaguska (accessed 14 September 2006); Theda Perdue, “Yonaguska (or Drowning Bear),” in William S. Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography 6 vols. (Chapel Hill, 1979-91), North Carolina Gazetteer: A Dictionary of Tar Heel Place (Chapel Hill, 1968).

From wikipedia (adapted from Cherokee tourism site http://www.cherokee-nc.com)

Chief Yonaguska, who was also known as Drowning Bear (the English approximtion of his name), was a figure of persistence and endurance in the story of the Cherokee. Yonaguska challenged Rev. Schermerhorn to explain the terms of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota that a handful of Cherokee had signed. He is also the only chief who remained in the hills to rebuild the Eastern Band with others who had escaped or eluded the soldiers. His adopted son, William Thomas, the only white chief the Cherokee ever had, would carry on Yonaguska’s work to establish what is now the Qualla Boundary. During his life, however, Yonaguska was also a reformer and a prophet, a leader who recognized the power of the white man’s liquor and early on realized the lengths to which settlers would go to take over Cherokee lands.

Yonaguska was born about 1759, some 40 years after English traders introduced the “black drink,” or rum, to his people in the North Carolina mountains. He was described as strikingly handsome, strongly built, standing 6 feet 3 inches (1.9 m), with a faint tinge of red—due to a slight strain of white blood on his father’s side—relieving the brown of his cheek. Like many dedicated reformers, Yonaguska’s resolve was strengthened by first-hand experience—he had been addicted to alcohol most of his life. When he was 60 years old and critically ill, Yonaguska fell into a trance. Certain that the end had come, his people gathered around him at the Soco townhouse and mourned him for dead. At the end of 24 hours, however, Yonaguska awoke to consciousness and spoke to his people, among whom was his adopted son William Holland Thomas, a 14-year-old white boy who was destined to succeed him as chief and become the only white man ever to serve as chief of the tribe. When the chief addressed his people, he relayed a message from the spirit world: “The Cherokee must never again drink whiskey. Whiskey must be banished.” He then had Will Thomas write out a pledge: “The undersigned Cherokees, belonging to the town of Qualla,” it read, “agree to abandon the use of spirituous liquors.” Yonaguska then signed it, followed by the whole council and town. Preserved among Thomas’ papers, the pledge is now in the archives of the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University. From the signing of the pledge until his death in 1839 at the age of 80, whiskey was almost unknown among the Cherokees. And when any of his people broke the pledge—few did while he was alive—Yonaguska enforced the edict with the whipping post and lash.

Yonaguska was the first among his people to perceive the white man’s takeover of their mountain kingdom. As a boy of 12, he had such a vision and spoke of it, but no one paid any attention to him. As a young man, he had witnessed the havoc wreaked among his people when Gen. Griffith Rutherford and his North Carolina militia burned 36 Indian towns in 1776. Throughout the early 1800s Yonaguska was repeatedly pressured to induce his people to remove to the West. He firmly resisted every effort, declaring that the Indians were safer from aggression among their rocks and mountains and that the Cherokee belonged in their ancestral homeland. After the Cherokee lands on the Tuckasegee River were sold as part of the Treaty of 1819, Yonaguska continued to live on 640 acres (2.6 km2) set aside for him in a bend of the river between Ela and Bryson City, on the ancient site of the Cherokee town of Kituhwa. As pressure increased for Indian removal, Yonaguska became more determined than ever to remain in his homeland, rejecting every government offer for removal west. He refused to accept government assurances that his people would be left alone in the promised western lands. In the course of his life, he had seen settlers push ever westward. Yonaguska knew that nothing short of complete control would ever satisfy them. “As to the white man’s promises of protection,” he is said to have told government representatives, “they have been too often broken; they are like the reeds in yonder river—they are all lies.”

When the Gospel of St Matthew was translated into Cherokee and published, Yonaguska insisted on it being read to him first before allowing its circulation. Yonaguska's comment on Matthew was:[1]

   "Well, it seems a good book - strange that the white people are no better, after having had it so long."

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Establishing The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after the removal of all but a handful of mountain Cherokee to the West, Yonaguska gathered those left about him and settled at Soco Creek on lands purchased for them by his adopted son, Will Thomas. As a white man, Thomas could legally hold a deed to the lands and allow the Cherokee to live on them.


Shortly before his death in April, 1839, Yonaguska had himself carried into the townhouse at Soco where, sitting up on a couch, he made a last talk to his people. The old man commended Thomas to them as their chief and again warned them against ever leaving their own country. Then wrapping his blanket around him, he quietly lay back and died. Yonaguska, the most prominent chief ever of the Eastern Band, was buried beside Soco Creek, about a mile below the old Macedonia mission, with a crude mound of stones to mark the spot.


  1. Kephart, Horace (1936). The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains;. Ithaca, N.Y.: The Atkinson Press. LCC E99.C5 K4.  LCCN 36-280 p31


Most of the genealogical information on Drowning bear's descendants is from the online genealogy of James Hicks, called Cherokee Lineages, at http://www.genealogy.com/users/h/i/c/James-R-Hicks-VA/index.html

His address:

James R Hicks

8047 Gatehouse Rd

Falls Church, VA 22042

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Yonaguska or (Yo-nu-gv-ya-s-gi) "Drowning Bear" ᏲᏄᎬᏯᏍᎩ, Principal Chief's Timeline