The Nickajack Expedition was the last great battle of the Chickamauga wars. It was fought from late summer to fall of 1794 between American frontiersmen and the Chickamauga Cherokee. The military expedition was a decisive success for the American settlers of the Southwest Territory and surrounding regions, eventually becoming known as the “Last Battle of the Cherokee”.
Following a 1777 peace treaty between Native Americans and the American settlers of the Overhill settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains during the American War of Independence, followers of the Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe (who opposed the peace), separated from the tribe and relocated to what is today southeastern Tennessee, near the borders with Georgia and the area later known as Alabama. They were joined by groups of Shawnee and Creek at this new settlement, which had been established along Chickamauga Creek –which became their namesake. The Chickamauga Cherokee engaged in ongoing raids against American settlers, often with British and Spanish military aid. Shortly after the conclusion to the war, they again moved, this time west of Lookout Mountain, using Nickajack Cave as a stronghold. Violence between the two sides continued unabated for decades.
Not withstanding the December 1791 Treaty of Holston between Territorial Governor William Blount and most Cherokee tribes, settlers in the “Cumberland Region” (especially around the Nashville area) still feared for their lives, having come under increasing attacks from the Chickamauga and their allies to the south. By 1792, Blount was engaged in continuing peace negotiations with the Chickamauga. However, when the sons of Colonel Anthony Bledsoe and Major General George Winchester were killed in 1794, Blount finally sanctioned military action.
Governor Blount appointed Major James Ore to head an expedition against the Chickamauga, or “Lower Cherokee” as they had come to be known. Col. John Montgomery commanded the territorial militia, and Col. William Whitley of Kentucky (whose state had been the subject of many attacks launched from this area by the Cherokee) commanded his 6th Regiment of militia. They singled out two Chickamauga villages, Nickajack Town and Running Water Town, as the objects of attack, as these villages were the source of many of the raiding parties. However, finding their locations and a method of attack was problematic for the American force.
The armies finally came against Nickajack Town in mid-August, but found only a hundred or so warriors present. Many of the villagers had heard of the army’s approach and had fled to Running Water Town before Ore’s men could reach the village. Warriors from Running Water Town were on their way to Nickajack to investigate the activity and encountered the fleeing villagers along the way. The Nickajack group merged with the Running Water group, and together they proceeded back to engage the Americans.
By this time the militias had begun a pursuit of the fleeing villagers. The two sides met at “the Narrows” along the Tennessee River and engaged in battle. It proved to be a disaster for the Chickamauga. They were quickly routed, and managed to wound only three Americans, killing none. The armies quickly destroyed both villages, leaving seventy dead. It was reported that Col. Whitley personally shot a warrior out of a moving canoe at some distance after some of his men had failed to make the deadly shot.
Coupled with other military victories which followed quickly upon their defeat at Nickajack Town and Running Water Town, the Chickamauga were resigned to sign several treaties favorable to the Americans, including the Treaty of Tellico.