Cry of the Hawk

The Yahoo Falls Massacre


"Big Jake" Troxell, was a half-breed Delaware Warrior from Pennsylvania who had been sent by the personal staff of President Washington to sway the Cherokee away from the Spanish and to ally with the New Americans. But after seeing the inhumane treatment the new settlers inflicted on the Indians in southeast Kentucky and northern Tennessee, Big Jake ended up joining the Cherokee instead.

Chief Doublehead's daughter was the beautiful Princess Cornblossom. She and Jake fell in love and were married. When the Chief was assassinated, the Princess became the leader of her tribe. In the forty years since Boone and forty others had built the first fort on the Kentucky River, the depredations in the war between natives and settlers had only gotten worse. Cornblossom, a skilled warrior, believed that the future of her people lay in education and assimilation with the white settlers.  In the summer of 1810, she began to lead a group to the Sequatchie Valley near Chattanooga, Tennessee. They would be safe there, enrolled as members of a Presbyterian school for Indians.  Her tribe was to meet at the rockhouse beneath Yahoo Falls to begin their migration south.

Having learned of this meeting, the local Franklinites under Hiram Gregory, decided to exploit the opportunity. Hiram 'Big Tooth' Gregory and a band of hardened Indian fighters from some of the counties to the southwest crossed into Cherokee territory on horseback, gathering at what is now Flat Rock Kentucky, before heading into the Yahoo Falls area. Jake Troxell was being realistic when he figured that likely as not, there would be trouble. He was already guarding the landward approach to the falls with a few other longhunters and a small group of Chickamauga warriors.

Shortly after midnight on August 10th, Hiram Gregory's men approached. A young Indian in Jake's line bolted. this was a runner who tried to warn the people gathered under the rock shelter to scatter, but the boy was immediately shot down. Big Jake and the front guard were quickly overpowered and scalped. The Indian fighters rapidly advanced to the falls area. Lining themselves along the edge of the bluff surrounding the large opening below, they began firing from all sides on the children now trapped directly underneath them. Those who were in the valley away from the falls hid and escaped. 100 children and some old men, pregnant women, and mothers huddled underneath the falls. Big Tooth and his men worked their way down toward the floor of the rock house on the two side paths while gunners up top kept their prey trapped. The Natives had a few hatchets but no other weapons. A woman warrior named Standing Fern, daughter-in-law of Cornblossom, bravely rushed the paths with a few others in a desperate attempt to stop the murder. They were soon killed but managed to take out a few of their attackers.

Some of these Kentucky Indian fighters had fought alongside Governor John Sevier, an infamous Indian killer, who is credited with having coined 'nits make lice'; the same phrase used by Colonel Chivington, summarizing a certain mindset before the massacre at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864.  Although the tragic butchery at Yahoo falls was not unique or extraordinary in the history of  western settlement, most Americans know nothing about it and very little about other similar events. Such genocidal actions continued for most of the nineteenth century. Gregory's men killed elders, raped women and younger female children of all ages, and cut bellies open.  Altogether, they senselessly murdered and scalped over 100 Chickamaugan Cherokee women and children that had begged for their lives.

Later that morning, Cornblossom who was travelling behind with a separate party, approached the great rockhouse with her children. As they came closer to the falls area, it is said a hawk flew above them and lit in a nearby tree in a way that told the Princess something was wrong. The Cherokee were especially sensitive to the spirit power expressed in birds. The party anxiously pushed onward to get the children to the falls and safety. Arriving at the entrance area, she found Jake and the front guards brutally scalped. Leaving the children there with some women, Cornblossom, her son War Chief Peter Troxell, Red Bird, and their party of warriors rushed to the Falls where some of Gregory's gang still going at it. Cornblossom screams to her warriors to kill these animals. Peter Troxell died underneath the falls and his mother suffered an agonizing gunshot injury.

Two days later this wound ended Cornblossom's life.  It is said that her last words were,  "We Are Not Conquered Yet ... Remember My Children .... Remember My People".

This massacre essentially destroyed the Chickamaugan Cherokee from southwest Kentucky to Knoxville. With no powerful leaders left in Kentucky and the Cumberland Plateau, many Cherokee decided to leave the area in fear of the whites, while others sought isolation by hiding in the hills. The settlers who comprised the Kentucky and Tennessee militias considered this affair the last of the resistance movement of the Kentucky and northern Tennessee Cherokees. This was the year Captain Black Fox finally decided to move his people to Arkansas where, hopefully, they could pursue a new life in peace.

But one who would not ever leave the region was Little Jake, youngest son of Jake and Cornblossom. He had arrived with his mother late that morning and helped kill a few of Gregory's men. It was an experience he would never forget. Little Jake grew up and became a famous renegade, terrorizing settlers in the Big South Fork area for years.