Chief Junaluska of the Cherokees: A Story from the NOAC Coffeehouse

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A statue of Chief Junaluska stands outside the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska Conference Center

This is one of the stories shared at the NOAC Coffeehouse, submitted by Willard “Duly” Dulabaum:

Chief Junaluska was born around 1775 in North Carolina, near present day Dillard, Ga. A few days after his birth, he was given his original name when the cradle-board holding him fell over. He was called “Gu-Ka-Las-Ki” or” Gulkalaski” in the Cherokee language, meaning “one who falls from a leaning position” (1). A couple more revisions to his name followed into adulthood. He married Ni-suh, and had three children, boys Jim-my and Sic-que-yuh, and daughter Na-lih. He became a leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians residing in and around western North Carolina. He would go on to fight alongside Andrew Jackson and save his life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, a so-called “unsung hero of the greatest Indian battle in history” (2).

At one point, Chief Junaluska reportedly had sent word to Tecumseh that the Cherokee would not join an Indian confederacy against the whites. So when the Creek Indians in Alabama fought with the British in the War of 1812, the Cherokee raised an army to oppose them. Chief Junaluska personally recruited over 100 men for the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and commanded 500 (2). Further, he assumed strategic leadership to help secure the decisive and famous victory near the end of the war. It was there that he tripped a prisoner of war who was lunging at Jackson with a knife.

When the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was over, Andrew Jackson was reported to have told Chief Junaluska: “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the east” (1, 2). But in a few years, Jackson was in the White House and set about to remove all the Cherokee to new homes in the West, in what would be called the Great Removal. At that point, Chief Junaluska was said to have second thoughts about having saved Jackson’s life.

During the infamous “Trail of Tears” in 1838, Chief Junaluska and others of the Cherokee Nation were incarcerated for a time, and then were among over 5,000 who were led over 800 miles in bands of 1,000 or more to land in Oklahoma, which was considered much less desirable. Chief Junaluska broke away once, leading a group of 50, but was captured. However, after a short time in what is now Oklahoma, he returned to the mountains of his birth by 1842, walking all the way! In 1847 the state legislature of North Carolina conferred upon him the right of citizenship and granted him a tract of land at what is now Robinsville. He died there in 1858 and was buried with his second wife (1) on a hill above the town where the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to his memory.

A bronze plaque bolted to a great hunk of native stone replaced the earlier, traditional Cherokee pile of stones. It reads, in part: “Here lies the bodies of the Cherokee Chief, Junaluska, and Nic-ie, his wife. Together with his warriors he saved the life of General Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and for his bravery and faithfulness North Carolina made him a citizen and gave him land in Graham County.”

He has been memorialized by Lake Junaluska, Junaluska Creek, Junaluska Gap, Junaluska Ridge, the Junaluska Salamander, and Mount Junaluska (now known as North Eaglenest Mountain). And Brethren who attend the National Older Adult Conference gather around his statue before and after each session at the Lake Junaluska Assembly, where he appears regularly in group photographs and may even find a new future in “selfies.”

Sources: (1) Wikipedia, and (2) Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee website.

— Willard “Duly” Dulabaum is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, and a member at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A plaque that stands with the statue of Chief Junaluska of the Cherokees, placed in front of the Stuart Auditorium at the Lake Junaluska Conference Center in North Carolina.
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