TAHCHEE AND HIS KNIFE

By

James Batson

       

 

 

Figure 1, TAHCHEE

Charles Bird King painted the portrait of Tahchee in Washington City during February and March of 1837. This picture is a copy of a lithograph from the History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall. The original portrait was destroyed in a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865. Photo courtesy of J Logan Sewell

 

 

Figure 2, Waist of Tahchee

This view reveals Tahchee’s Bowie knife is sheathed with a portion of the handle encased. There is also a hint of the hilt edge being wrapped with a white metal. If Tahchee’s waist is about 16 1/2 inches wide and the artist sized the knife by proportion, then the total length of the sheathed knife is about 14 1/2 inches. 

 

Figure 3, Rare Coffin Hilt Bowie Knife

Marked with a figure of a crown over ALPHA over GRAVELY & WREAKS over NEW-YORK. The blade is etched ‘Arkansas Toothpick’ along with elaborate floral etching. The blade is 8 1/2 inches long with a German silver bound rosewood grip. Total length of knife is 14 1/4 inches. Sanson & Harwell, Norfolk St. Sheffield, England, made this knife. Photos courtesy of Dick Ulbrich

 

Figure 4, American Made Classic Coffin Handle Bowie Knife

The knife has a 14 1/8 inch overall length, a 9 1/8 inch blade, and a walnut handle with a silver wrap.  The knife in the sheath is an approximate size & likeness to the one in Tahchee’s sash.

 

Figure 5, The Carrigan Knife

An American made Classic Coffin Handle Bowie Knife exhibited in the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock. According to family tradition, James Black made this knife in Washington, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Historic Arkansas Museum

 

Figure 6, American Made Classic Coffin Handle Bowie Knives

Acquired by Bowie Knife Collectors Bill Wright (top knife} and Jack Royce (bottom knife). Photo courtesy of Bill Wright

 

Side Bar

 

Cherokee Delegation

Captain William Dutch or Tahchee was a member of the Western Cherokee delegation. They came to Washington City with the Eastern Cherokees led by Chief John Ross. Andrew Jackson would not see the Cherokees and Martin Van Buren, who was inaugurated as President on 4 March 1837, would not undo anything that Jackson had done. President Andrew Jackson had forced a treaty on the Cherokee that was signed by Major Ridge and Elias Boudinot who thought it was best for the Eastern Cherokee Nation to join their brothers in Oklahoma. Captain William Dutch was 47 years old. He visited Washington City in 1840 and again when he signed the Treaty of 1846 that finally united the Western and Eastern Cherokee Nations.

 


 

15 March 2005

 

TAHCHEE AND HIS KNIFE

By

James Batson

 

 

 

The first thing you notice when viewing this likeness of Tahchee is not the knife but his eyes. In 1833 A P Chouteau wrote “Dutch (Tahchee) is looked upon as the most sagacious and daring war Captain in the Cherokee Nation west of the Mississippi...Dutch may be known, by a slight description among a thousand warriors, by his remarkable black, keen, restless eyes.”  You wonder how many victims saw those eyes flash before they received a deathblow.

James Hall described Tahchee as: “He is five feet eleven inches high, of admirable proportions, flexible and graceful in his movements, and possesses great muscular power and activity; while his countenance expresses a coolness, courage, and decision, which accord well with his distinguished reputation as a warrior.”

A Classic Guardless Coffin Hilt of a Bowie Knife with a large escutcheon plate protrudes from what appears to be an unadorned rawhide pouch sheath. William R Williamson wrote, “The knife’s coffin shaped handle represents this design in the pure form.”  This is the first known image of such a knife.

 Tahchee was born in 1790 at Turkey Town on the Coosa Riv­er in what is now Centre Alabama. This Cherokee Village is now inundated by Weise Lake. His father, Skyuko, a Cherokee Chief signed Cherokee Treaties with the United States in 1791, 1794, and 1806.

In 1795, Tahchee, his mother and Uncle Thomas Taylor journeyed down the Ten­nessee River into the Ohio and down to the St Francis River that was in Spanish Ter­ritory but now is in Arkansas.  They join the Cherokees who had settled there in 1785-1790 on a tract of land given to them by the King of Spain. Chief Duwali known as John Bowles or ‘the Bowle’ may have led this party. The encroachment of the white settlers, the lack of game and the changes to the Cherokee's traditional way of life with the peace treaty of 1794 were the primary reasons for the exodus.

These Western Cherokees resisted being civilized and loved the hunt and the old ways.  They were called ‘Chickamaugans’. In 1776 they followed Dragging Canoe and settled on Chickamauga Creek east of Lookout Mountain near what is now Chattanooga Tennessee.

 

Robert Abels’ Bowie knife & Picture

 

In the 1960’s, Robert Abels owned an antique Bowie Knife similar to the knife worn by Tahchee. He photographed the pictured Sheffield made "Arkansas Tooth Pick" over the old lithograph of Tahchee. He used this picture as a cover to two small size booklets of his collection of Bowie knives and as a full page in "Classic Bowie Knives" published in 1967. Every serious Bowie Knife collector has a copy of the Old Lithograph of Tahchee.

This knife was made for Gravely & Wreaks (G&W) in Sheffield, England. One may expect that it could be a copy of an early Bowie Knife that originated in the United States. The first known G&W ad placed on May 23, 1836 begins: "NEW CUTLERY ESTABLISHMENT, No. 9 ASTOR HOUSE, NEW YORK" advertised "ELEGANT BOWIE & HUNTING KNIVES". Another G&W ad placed July 11, 1836 lists: "ARKANSAS, TEXAS and HUNTERS knives... butcher, cartouche and scalping knives".

Bill Worthen, Curator of Historic Arkansas Museum, found these ads in the New York Herald newspaper.

G&W were tenants of John Jacob Astor in the Astor House. Astor, the Fur Titan, provided A P Chouteau with Indian Trade Goods. Auguste Pierre Chouteau owned a Trading Post at the three Forks of the Arkansas River above Fort Gibson in Oklahoma. These goods were transported from St Louis via the Missouri and Osage Rivers and by pack trains and Wagons.  Steamboats on the Arkansas River also delivered goods to the trading post located near present day Chouteau Oklahoma.

Tahchee left Ft Gibson in December 1836. He did not go through New York. The G&W Arkansas Knives and Indian Trade Knives were available in New York in July. Chouteau may have stocked a Sheffield made "Arkansas Tooth Pick" with his stock of butcher, cartouche, and scalping knives purchased from G&W. Tahchee could well afford the knife. Was there time for the knife to be transported from New York to the Three Forks of the Arkansas?

 

Early American Made Bowie Knives

An unmarked Bowie Knife thought to be made in Southwest Arkansas circa 1829-1837 is shown here and on page 142 of “The Antique Bowie Knife Book” by Adams, Voyles & Moss. The authors wrote, “In tracing of the ancestry of the Bowie knife, this one dates from the early beginning of the style.  The deceiving appearance is that this knife fit’s the hand like few others, and feels right there-like a good Bowie is supposed to.” The Carrigan Bowie Knife and the Coffin Handle Bowie Knives owned by Bill Wright and Jack Royse have 6-inch blades and are made by the same hand with identical materials, style and skill of the larger knife.

Tahchee Moves to Texas, 1825-1831

Possible James Black and James Bowie Connections

In 1824 Cherokee Agent Edward DuVal prevailed on the Cherokees residing south of the Arkansas River to move north of the River onto Cherokee lands.  According to Duval, “the Dutch and his party refused to go and he frequently, and publicly told me, in the most explicit manner, that they never again meant to join the main body of the Nation: that they intended to go in the other direction and settle somewhere, beyond the Red River, within the Spanish provinces.  They remained at their village, about 20 miles South of the Arkansas, until late in the autumn of 1825”.  Dutch’s village was located about three miles west of present day Danville, Arkansas on Dutch Creek. He hunted the Fource Valley and Dutch Creek Mountain that was named after him.

Dutch moved south of the Red River above the mouth of the Kiamichi River that is North of present day Paris Texas. On the evening of July 18, 1826 while leading a horse stealing raid, Dutch with reckless daring darted in among a number of Osage within a few feet of Colonel A P Chouteau’s trading post, killed and scalped an Osage man. He eluded pursuit and reached the Red River with horses and the scalp. Tahchee loved horses; he bred and trained them. The Osage plains horses were swifter, fleeter and superior to the woodland horses of the Cherokee.

In 1825 and 1826 James Black lived on Little River east of Dutch’s village.  He then moved back to Washington, Arkansas.  An Isaac Pennington lived in Washington in 1828 and 1829 and an Isaac Pennington traded with the Cherokees in 1835 as a partner with Holland Coffee. He was also associated with A P Chouteau. It is more likely that Tahchee got his knife made by a blacksmith in southwest Arkansas than from a vendor selling Sheffield knives in New York.

In 1828 the Cherokee were forced out of Arkansas into the Cherokee Nation now located in Oklahoma. And Tahchee moved to Bowles‘ settlement in Texas, 6 miles south of the Sabine River near Kilgore Texas about 45 miles north of Nacogdoches near Trammels Trace. Trammels Trace, an old Indian Trail, ran from Nacogdoches to the Red River at Fulton Arkansas through Washington Arkansas where James Black resided.

In the spring of 1829, Dutch led a War Party that attacked a Tawakoni village located on the Brazos River near Waco Texas. During the bloody fight three young Cherokees fell into a snare of the enemy and:

“Dutch mounted his horse which was of a beautiful dark bay color with black legs, mane and tail, which he had raised, sired by a wild stud taken from the Grand Prairie. He was a finished horse, in form, of a noble carriage & well trained.  Dutch’s object was to bring back the young men... He was advancing rapidly when the young men were destroyed.  When another of the enemy detached himself in a slow gallop in another direction.  Dutch gave chase for some distance, when the horseman suddenly turned back to escape to his friends & lead Dutch to the snare. With us it was a time of awful suspense.

Dutch also let his horse out & the chase was for life or death.  He overtook him before the rescue of his friends & knocked him off his horse with the barrel of a rifle with such violence that it peeled his scalp from the lower part of his head to the top.” From “The Cherokee War Path” written by John Ridge in Washington City in 1836 as narrated by John Smith and published in Chronicles of Oklahoma.

Dutch lived with his band of Cherokee in Texas until late in 1831. With the help of the tribe living in Oklahoma, he moved back into Cherokee Nation. John Smith, Edwards, Ignatius, N. and Ogden Chisholm and forty other men with their horses were employed for ninety-five days in removing Dutch’s party to the mouth of the Canadian.  Here Dutch built a handsome plantation surrounded by an extensive settlement of Cherokees.

James Bowie traveled through Nacogdoches on his way to and from San Antonio. He made numerous trips from 1828 through 1831. On horseback he traveled down Trammels Trace near Tahchee’s village more than once.  I think that Tahchee and James Bowie knew each other. I would like to think that Tahchee traded one of his fine horses for one of James Bowie’s knives. Anyway, we know that James Bowie traveled a lot by horseback and had an eye and a need for a horse like Tahchee’s.

 

Epilog

In the summer of 1834 Captain William Dutch was hired by the US Government as a guide, scout and hunter for the Dragoon Expedition to the Comanche country. In 1835 he represented the Cherokees in the signing of the peace treaty with the plains Indians at Camp Holmes.

This distinguished warrior has been engaged in more than thirty battles with the Osages and other tribes and has killed with his own hand, twenty-six of the enemy; but, without the exception of a slight scratch on the cheek, has never been wounded.

One of the last of the old settlers, the renown Dutch after a brief illness died on November 12 of 1848 at his home at the mouth of the Canadian River on Dutchess Creek near present day Texanna, Oklahoma.

 

References

Indians and Pioneers by Grant Forman, 1930

The Cherokees and Their Chiefs by Stanley W Hoig, 1998

Fort Gibson by Brad Agnew, 1980

The Texas Cherokees by Dianne Everett, 1990

Territorial Papers

Chronicles of Oklahoma