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Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ) Principal Chiefs and Uka: Eastern, Western and Keetoowah

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  • Moytoy, of Tellico (c.1687 - 1741)
    ---------------------------------------------- CURATOR's NOTE: Please read the following update by Kathryn Forbes, a Cherokee genealogical expert: The ‘Am-a-do-ya Moytoy’ tree [often] starts with a...
  • Path Killer II (c.1764 - 1841)
    Path Killer II There is some confusion about the identities of Cherokee men named The Path Killer or Pathkiller who lived in the early 1800s. It appears that there may have been three (or possibly mo...
  • Chief James Ti-ka-lo-hi Vann (1765 - 1809)
    Wives: Betsey (Elizabeth, Polly (Mary) and Peggie (Margaret Ann) were wives of Chief James Vann and were full sisters to Sally Scott (Mrs. George McDonald). George McDonald was an uncle of Chief John R...
  • "Standing Turkey" Cunne Shote Ku-na-ga-do-ga, First Beloved Man (1738 - 1838)
    Old Frontiers , by John P Brown, pg. 46; " Old Hop had a nephew, also named Standing Turkey, an active warrier who at his uncle's death served a short time as his successor. It was the younger Standing...
  • Samuel Smith, Chief (1876 - d.)
    Smith became chief of the Nighthawk Keetowahs (ᎩᏚᏩ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ) on April 7, 1919 .

Chiefs (and Uka) of The Cherokee (Eastern, Western and Keetoowah)

(Please note the same name may be listed in more than one list)

by Marvin Caulk March 5, 2011

Early leaders

Before 1794 the Cherokee had no standing national government. Various leaders were appointed by mutual consent of the towns to represent the nation to British, sometimes French, and later American authorities. The title the Cherokee used was First Beloved Man, "Beloved Man" being the true translation of the title "Uku", which the English translated as "Chief", and his only real function was to serve as focal point for negotiations with Europeans.

  1. Charitey Hagey of Tugaloo (1716-1721)
  2. Wrosetasatow of Keowee (1721-1729)
  3. Long Warrior of Tanasi (1729-1730)
  4. Moytoy of Great Tellico (1730-1741)
  5. Amouskositte of Great Tellico (1741-1753)
  6. Kanagatucko of Chota (1753-1760)
  7. Standing Turkey of Chota (1760-1761)
  8. Attakullakulla of Tanasi (1761-1775)
  9. Oconostota of Chota (1775-1781)
  10. Savanukah of Chota (1781-1783)
  11. Corntassel of Chota (1783-1788)
  12. Little Turkey (1788-1794)
  13. opposed by Hanging Maw (1788-1794)


Old Settler Chiefs

A list of the Principal Chiefs of the Western Cherokee, before the Constitution of 1839.

Chiefs of the Cherokee Old Settlers

  1. Col. John Bowles, 1795 – 1813
  2. Takatoka, 1813 – 1818
  3. Tahlonteskee, 1818 – 1819
  4. John Jolly, 1819 – 1838
  5. John Rogers, 1838 – 1839
  6. John Looney, 1838 – April 22, 1839 and July 1839 – September 1839, when the Old Settler (Western) Cherokee signed an agreement with the Eastern Cherokee, and the Cherokee Nation’s 1839 Constitution was signed into agreement

Chiefs of the Early Times

Cherokee Nation Chiefs in Early Times (partial list) These Chiefs served in the Cherokee Nation East. Historically, there were tribal town chiefs, and then Principal Chiefs whose jurisdiction encompassed all tribal towns and districts. The following were considered Principal Chiefs.

  1. Moytoy, 1730 – 1760
  2. Atakullakulla, 1760 – 1775
  3. Oconostota, 1775 – 1780
  4. Hanging Maw, 1780 – 1792
  5. Little Turkey, 1792 – 1801
  6. Black Fox, 1801 – 1811
  7. Pathkiller, 1811 – 1827
  8. Charles Renatus Hicks, 1827
  9. William Hicks, 1827 – 1828
  10. John Ross 1828 – 1839 (prior to being elected under the 1839 Constitution in Indian Territory)

Constitutional Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation

  1. John Ross, 1827 – 1866
  2. William P. Ross, 1866 – 1867
  3. Lewis Downing, 1867 – 1872
  4. William P. Ross, 1872 – 1875
  5. Charles Thompson, 1875 – 1879
  6. Dennis Bushyhead, 1879 – 1888
  7. Joel Bryan Mayes, 1888 – 1891
  8. Colonel Johnson Harris, 1891 –1895
  9. Samuel H. Mayes, 1895 – 1899
  10. T.M. Buffington, 1899 – 1903
  11. William C. Rogers, 1903 – 1907 (served until 1917 in various capacities)
  12. W.W. Keeler, 1971-1975 (served since 1949, as named by U.S. Presidents. .
  13. Ross Swimmer, 1975-1985
  14. Wilma Mankiller, 1985-1995
  15. Joe Byrd, 1995-1999
  16. Chadwick “Corntassel” Smith, current, elected 1999

Chickamauga/Lower Cherokee (1777-1809)

In 1777, Dragging Canoe and a large body of Cherokee seceded from the tribes which had signed treaties of peace with the Americans during the American Revolution. They migrated first to the Chickamauga (now Chattanooga, Tennessee) region, then to the "Five Lower Towns" area —further west and southwest of there —in order to continue fighting (see Chickamauga Wars). In time, their numbers became a majority of the nation, due to both sympathy with their cause and the destruction of the homes of the other Cherokee who later joined them. The separation, which was never truly complete, ended at a reunification council with the Cherokee Nation in 1809.

  1. Dragging Canoe (1777-1792)
  2. John Watts (1792-1802)
  3. Doublehead (1802-1807)
  4. The Glass, or Ta'gwadihi (1807-1809)

Cherokee Nation West (1810-1839)

Originally along the St. Francis and White Rivers in what was first Spanish Louisiana and later Arkansas Territory, the Western Cherokee eventually migrated to Indian Territory after the Treaty of Washington in 1828. They named their capital there Tahlontiskee. John Jolly died while the Latecomers were arriving and John Looney succeeded automatically. Looney was deposed by the council and replaced with Brown with a view toward putting the Cherokee Nation West in a better position vis-a-vis the Ross party. After the murders of Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot (Treaty party members who supported the Old Settlers) in June 1839, the council had a change of heart about resisting Ross' autocratic demands and desposed Brown, replacing him with Looney. A sizable faction of the Old Settlers refused to recognize Looney and elected Rogers in his stead, but their efforts to maintain autonomy petered out the next year.

  1. The Bowl (1810-1813)
  2. Degadoga (1813-1817)
  3. Tahlonteeskee (1817-1819)
  4. John Jolly (1819-1838)
  5. John Looney (1838-1839)
  6. John Brown (1839)
  7. John Looney (1839)
  8. John Rogers (1839-1840)

Civil War Era Chiefs

Both factions of the Cherokee Nation attempted to conduct business during the War Between the States. Here's the men who led them. During the Civil War years, the Cherokee Nation divided into Northern and Southern factions. The National Council was dismissed and John Ross was in Philadelphia. Both sides attempted to conduct business when necessary. Temporary Chiefs were chosen to lead. For a time, Stand Watie assumed the title of Chief for the Southern Cherokees.

Union Chiefs

Major Thomas Peggs, 1862 – 63

Smith Christie, 1863

Lewis Downing, 1864 – 66

Confederate Chiefs

John Spears

Samuel McDaniel Taylor

Stand Watie

Chief for a Day

Appointed (by the President of the U.S.) principal chiefs for a day at a time to sign documents, among other such duties:

  1. Andrew Bell Cunningham, Chief for 17 days: November 8 – 25, 1919
  2. Edward M. Fry, Chief for 1 day: June 23, 1923
  3. Richard B. Choate, Chief for 1 day: 1925
  4. Charles J. Hunt, Chief for 1 day: December 27, 1928
  5. Oliver P. Brewer, Chief for 1 day: May 26, 1931
  6. William W. Hastings, Chief for 1 day: January 22, 1936
  7. Jesse B. Milam, Chief for 1 day, April 14, 1942 and also for 6 years from May 18, 1943 until May 8, 1949
  8. William W. Keeler, Chief for 22 years: July, 1949 until August 1971 when he was elected by the Cherokee people and served until 1975 under that capacity.

Cherokee Nation East (1794-1839)

Little Turkey was elected First Beloved Man of the Cherokee (the council seat of which was shifted south to Ustanali near what is now Calhoun, Georgia) in the aftermath of the assassination by frontiersmen of Corntassel and several other leaders. Hanging Maw of Coyatee, listed above, claimed the title as his right by tradition, he being headman of the Upper Towns, and was recognized as such by many Cherokee as well as the U.S. government. Little Turkey was finally recognized as "Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation" by all the towns after the end of the Chickamauga Wars when the Cherokee established their first nominal national government.

  1. Little Turkey (1794-1801)
  2. Black Fox (1801-1811)
  3. Pathkiller (1811-1827)
  4. Big Tiger (1824-1828); principal chief of the faction of those in the Nation following Whitepath's teachings inspired by the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake.
  5. Charles R. Hicks (1827), de facto head of government from 1813
  6. William Hicks (1827-1828)
  7. John Ross (1828-1839)
  8. William Hicks (1833-1835), elected principal chief of the faction supporting emigration to the west.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (1824-present)

Nimrod Jarret Smith (1837-1893). He was 5th Principal Chief of the Eastern Band and a Confederate Civil War veteran of the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders.

  1. Yonaguska (1824-1839)
  2. William Holland Thomas (1838-1869)
  3. Salonitah, or Flying Squirrel (1870-1875)
  4. Lloyd R. Welch (1875-1880)
  5. Nimrod Jarrett Smith (1880-1891)
  6. Stillwell Saunooke (1891-1895)
  7. Andy Standing Deer (1895-1899)
  8. Jesse Reed (1899-1903)
  9. Bird Saloloneeta, or Young Squirrel (1903-1907)
  10. John Goins Welch (1907-1911)
  11. Joseph A. Saunooke (1911-1915)
  12. David Blythe (1915-1919)
  13. Joseph A. Saunooke (1919-1923)
  14. Sampson Owl (1923-1927)
  15. John A. Tahquette (1927-1931)
  16. Jarret Blythe (1931-1947)
  17. Henry Bradley (1947-1951)
  18. Jarret Blythe (1955-1959)
  19. Osley Bird Saunooke (1951-1955)
  20. Jarret Blythe (1955-1959)
  21. Olsey Bird Saunooke (1959-1963)
  22. Jarret Blythe (1963-1967)
  23. Walter Jackson (1967-1971)
  24. Noah Powell (1971-1973)
  25. John A. Crowe (1973-1983)
  26. Robert S. Youngdeer (1983-1987)
  27. Jonathan L. Taylor (1987-1995)
  28. Gerard Parker (1995)
  29. Joyce Dugan (1995-1999)
  30. Leon Jones (1999-2003)
  31. Michell Hicks (2003-present)

United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (1939-present)

  1. John Hitcher (1939-1946)
  2. Jim Pickup (1946-1954)
  3. Jeff Tindle (1954 – 1960)
  4. Jim Pickup (1960 – 1967)
  5. William Glory (1967 - 1979)
  6. James L. Gordon (1979 – 1983)
  7. John Hair (1983 – 1991)
  8. John Ross (1991 – 1995)
  9. Jim Henson (1996 – 2000)
  10. Dallas Proctor 2000 – 2004
  11. George Wickliffe 2005 – present

Other Notable Cherokees

Major George Lowery

An influential man, both before and after the Removal. Assistant Chief under John Ross' administration. Lowery was the Second Chief (Assistant Chief) of the Eastern Cherokee, and was a cousin of Sequoyah. He served as Assistant Chief nder Principal Chief John Ross from 1843 until 1851. He was born at Tuhskegee on the Tennessee River about 1770, and died October 20, 1852 at the age of 82. He is buried in Tahlequah City Cemetery. Lowery is credited with many accomplishments in his life, and fought in the War of 1812 and was a member of two Cherokee Constitution Conventions (1827 and again in 1839).


Black Coat

The Second Chief of the Western Cherokee, or Old Settlers. He was a delegate in charge of the Cherokees who went to Washington with Sam Hosutin in December 1831.


Joseph Vann

Vann, born February 1, 1789, was the first Assistant Chief of the Cherokee Nation under the new 1839 Constitution, serving with Principal Chief John Ross. His brother, Andrew Vann also spent time serving as an assistant chief, completing Joseph’s term. Jospeh resigned from office. Another brother, David, served as treasurer of the Cherokee Nation. He was also related to Principal Chief Lewis Downing through his mother’s side.

Other Chiefs and Uku will be added as they are identified

Adding Profiles

Please contact;

Marvin Caulk, (C) or Private User

To add a sourced Chief or Uka to this project.