By 1800 the Cherokee Nation was probably the most integrated tribe in America. Of course a preponderance of citizens were full-blood, but there were also a significant number of mixed blood Cherokees. And interestingly, most were integrated with citizens from Scotland. One well known example of a mixed blood was John Ross, Principal Chief for 40 years, but only 1/8th Cherokee. Ross’ ancestry can be traced to William Shorey, a Scotch trader who married a full-blood Cherokee woman named Ghigooie and they had two children, so the lineage began. John Ross not only didn’t look like a Cherokee, he could barely speak the language and never did master Sequoyah’s syllabary. But Ross endeared himself to the tribe because he believed in a unified Cherokee Nation that would remain in Georgia. As a result he was strongly supported by full-blood Cherokee citizens.
On closer examination of history there are several reasons regarding “why” the two nationalities were compatible and perhaps even destined to intermarry. In 1740, James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, led a combination of Indian warriors and Georgia militia against the Spanish in northern Florida. The Cherokee warriors were very impressed with the fighting skills of the kilted Scotsmen and their broad swords and friendships developed. But there were other traditions and factors of compatibility that were revealed as more Scottish traders settled in the region. Both were proud, independent people with warrior societies. Scots were fierce opponents in war, descendants of Vikings who settled in Scotland and who believed death was pre-destined. They lived in the most mountainous section of the British Isles, similar to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Cherokee and Scots were divided into clan societies, seven clans among the Cherokee and over 100 in Scotland. Clans composed the political system of both nations. The Scottish Martinmas Fair, a feast honoring St. Martin, the patron saint of beggars and the poor was held in autumn. The Green Corn Festival celebrated by the Cherokee at the beginning of the corn harvest was marked by dancing, feasting and religious activities. And finally, both cultures practiced the unusual ritual of passing new born babies through the smoke of a campfire to purify them. All of these similarities and customs were circumstances that improved the compatibility of members of the two cultures.
The marriages resulting from the relationships that developed also produced surnames that betrayed the families’ identity with the Cherokee. Adair, Bell, Rogers, Ross, Downing, Drew, and Hicks were among those that masked the fact that the families were bi-racial. At least one family name change occurred that did not involve marriage. Buck Watie changed his name to Elias Boudinet because his namesake asked him to. Interestingly, at least one prominent family name gave no indication of nationality because it was a nick name…Bushyhead. But surnames, Scotch or otherwise, don’t convey the contributions they made. For example, that family not only produced one of the most beloved ministers in the Cherokee Nation, Jesse Bushyhead, but also a two term Cherokee chief, his son Dennis served as chief from 1879 to 1887.
The Bushyhead nickname became iconic among the Cherokee and it evolved over time. Captain John Stuart, born in Inverness, Scotland, migrated to the British colony of South Carolina in 1748 where he worked as a merchant. His familiarity with Indians led to being appointed as superintendent of the Indian department. His diplomacy with the tribes was so successful, when the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, most native leaders in the region, including the Cherokee, supported the British. Stuart became known among the Cherokee as Oo-na-du-to or “Bushyhead” because of his heavy growth of blonde hair. Soon after their marriage, Stuart’s wife Susannah gave birth to a son John Stuart, Jr. who the Cherokee also called Bushyhead. Thus, the family surname was ingrained within the Nation. John, Jr married Nancy Foreman, a half-blood Cherokee and in 1804, the couple welcomed a son, Jesse, into the family and he became the most well known of the family.
As a young man, Jesse, was educated at Candy’s Creek Mission School and, as an adult became closely associated with a Baptist missionary, the Reverend Evan Jones. Jones would preach his sermon in English and Jesse would translate. Shortly thereafter, in 1833, Jesse himself became an ordained minister. Although he was not active in Cherokee politics, Jesse opposed removal to the west, further endearing him to many fellow tribesmen. However, when removal became evident he also volunteered to lead a contingent of 950 to the new nation. Tragically during the journey, one of his sisters drowned. Arriving near present day Westville in February, 1838, he was instrumental in founding the Baptist Mission church which still remains today. Later, he would be selected as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. Dennis Bushyhead served as chief from 1879 to 1887.
Historically, surnames did not define the contributions that many citizens, full or mixed blood, made to the ultimate development of the Cherokee Nation. What they did indicate was how integrated the Cherokee were at the turn of the 19th century.
Bruce Howell is an author and retired educator. His work includes 1806, an exploration of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. He resides on Grand Lake with his wife, Kay.