by (Mrs.) Sarah Smith, Historian
The Intruders: Pre-1816 Settlers on Chickasaw Reservation Land
Part II of II. Continued from Part I, A Brief Summary of Giles’ Earliest Settlements and Historical Land Boundaries
Over one-third of what became Giles County in 1809 was still reservation land — ceded by the Cherokees in 1805, but still claimed by the Chickasaws until 1816. (1) Nevertheless, and not surprisingly, the 1805 treaty resulted in a rash of new white settlements, including many that spilled over into the Chickasaw lands to the west, a goodly part of what was then Giles County, and also most of what became Limestone County, Alabama in 1810.
Some or all of these settlers may have failed to understand the complexities of the treaties (as was later claimed by many), confused by James Bright’s poorly-executed survey in 1806-1807, which resulted in both a Congressional Reservation line that was too far to the east and a Tennessee-Alabama land boundary too far to the north. (ibid.)
Irrespective of whether the settlers were truthful in their claims of ignorance as to their legal status, they also had no reason to believe that they would not ultimately be supported by the federal government. American settlers, from early Colonial times right into the 20th century (remember the Sooners!), were often several steps ahead of the government treaty negotiators, with land cessions often being “after the fact.” Both civil and military government had always tended to turn a blind eye toward illegal white settlements in the colonies — particularly subsequent to the Indian support of the British during the Revolutionary War.
The federal government, however, was finding it difficult to negotiate new treaties with the Indians while failing to enforce old treaties, and shortly after taking office on Mar 4th, 1809, President James Madison sent urgent orders to Col. Return J. Meigs, an Indian agent at Hiwawassee garrison (present-day Kingston, Roane County, Tennessee) to expel the “Chickasaw land squatters.” President Madison’s motives may have also included hopes of weakening the alliance between the Indians and the British, but in any event, on 13 Apr 1809, Meigs notified the War Department that he and 30 men with one or two officers would leave Hiwassee on Sunday, April 16th, to effect the removal of the “intruders.” Meigs’ group then traveled 170 miles to Simms Settlement on the Elk River where, on May 27th, they removed 93 squatters from that locale, and a total of 166 overall. (2)
According to McCallum’s History of Giles, the soldiers did much more than just “remove” the settlers. He refers to forays beginning in 1809 and through 1811, led by U. S. Soldiers from Fort Hampton who “acted very rascally; cut down the corn with large butcher knives, threw down and burned fences and houses and forced the settlers back over the line…”
Goodspeed’s History of Giles also references the removals, stating “A number of the early settlers located on the Indian lands, cleared away the cane and undergrowth, built log cabins and began cultivating the soil. Complaints being made to the Government, the United States soldiers stationed at Fort Hampton, on Elk River, about four miles above its mouth, were sent to drive out the settlers. The soldiers burned the settlers’ houses, threw down their fences and destroyed their crops, and succeeded in driving the people across the reservation line.”
Goodspeeds states further that “After the soldiers returned to the fort, the settlers returned to their ruined homes, rebuilt their houses and fences, and planted their crops, only to be again driven out as soon as word was received at the fort of their presence on the forbidden territory. This destruction of property and crops by the Government soldiers occurred during the years 1809-11, and was a great hardship to the settlers, many of whom held grants for the disputed lands they occupied.”
That these settlements included land in Giles county cannot be disputed: McCallum states that “It is believed the first permanent settlement in the County was made on Elk River near the mouth of Richland Creek; and in the neighborhood of Prospect by emigrants from East Tennessee who came down the Tennessee River in boats to the mouth of the Elk, and thence up Elk…” adding that this settlement was by a a group of east Tennessians who had removed to Hunt’s Springs (now Huntsville), Madison County following the 1806 treaty…” McCallum also identifies other settlements, stating that among the locations where the U. S. Army did their “… villainous work of removal and destruction …”, naming West of Campbellvill [sic], Weakly Creek, Shoal Creek and West of Prospect. He also noted that Senator Felix Grundy, in a speech to the United States Senate in 1812, “urged the early extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands West of Maury and Giles, embracing the Western and South-western part of Giles, and to the Mississippi River…”
Among those that named by McCallum are “…William CROWSON and his four sons, and his son-in-law, VINCENT, with their families, who came about February, 1807, and settled the west side of Richland Creek, and near the mouth of it and raised corn in 1807,” and other early settlers on the Elk River, whom he states included James FORD, James WILLIAMS, Thos. DODD, Simon FOY, and Thomas and William KYLE, the McKINNEYS, “old man HUNNICUT,” and John TUCKER, all of whom, he states, settled on the Elk in 1807. He also adds that James and William PRICE “came about 1808 and settled on the east side of Richard Creek near the mouth at what was called “lower Elkton,” and that “John and Lewis NELSON came about 1809 and settled a few miles northeast of Prospect. John NELSON settled where his widow now lives, and Lewis NELSON in the same neighborhood…”
None of these names have been located in early land records as yet, quite likely because all were residing “beyond the pale.” At any event, by 1809, the Elk River and surrounding area was dotted with settlements and, among those rounded up by Return J. Meigs’ federal soldiers in the late Spring of 1809 were a number of men from Giles, including the above-named Thomas DODD, Simon FOY, William KYLE and Roland McKENNEY (See 1809 Intruders List).
All four of these men, and more, had already returned to Elk River by no later than September 1810 when they were among over 400 signers on an Elk River Intruders Petition, which proclaimed that an estimated 2,250 settlers were by then residing on the Chickasaw reservation lands (this petition also shows that at 49 of the 93 settlers removed by the soldiers on 27 May 1809 from Simms Settlement, including five widows, had already returned to the area).
[Note — this article is incomplete. The author gave permission to the former coordinator to revise and continue but that was never done.]
1 The Chickasaw and Their Cessions, Frederick Smoot, TNGenWeb
Early Land of Giles, 1783-1805, S. Smith, Giles County, TNGenWeb
Chickasaw Cessions, The State of Tennessee and the Federal Government…)
Settlers And Intruders On Cherokee Indian Lands, 1801-1816 by Janell Swearingen, 1989