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Chief “Di’Wali” Bowles: The Muscle Shoals Massacre

Chief Bowles

Di’wali, “Bowl”, also known in history as “John Bowles,” was born around 1756 in the Cherokee town of Little Hiwasee, located in the western edge of what is now North Carolina. He was the son of “Trader Bowles, of Scotland,” a trader with the Cherokee, and full-blood Cherokee mother, Oo-Yo-Sti-Otiyu. Emmet Starr, the renown Cherokee historian, described Bowles as “decidedly Gaelic in appearance, having light eyes, red hair, and somewhat freckled.” U. S. Senator John H. Reagan from Texas, described Bowles as having “a manly appearance, magnificent specimen of manhood … his eyes were gray, his hair was a dirty, sandy color, and his was an English head.” And, according to Dorman H. Winfrey, “most Texans having contact with Chief Bowles considered him highly intelligent; James T. de Shields, author of many Indian articles, describes his as “a man of unusual sagacity.” In old age, Bowles retained a good physique; he was “vigorous and strong” with “manly bearing.” He maintained erect posture while walking and riding; Reagan says Bowles always carried himself with “dignity.””

The Cherokees are coming--Chikamauga Wars

Before the revolution, the colonists treated the Cherokee as savages, coveting their land, and disrespected their rights and culture. Having been long-time trading partners with the British, who had treated them fairly and equitably, the Cherokee fought on the side of the British during the revolution. Little is written about Bowles’s early days, but he apparently fought gallantly with Chief Dragging Canoe in the American Revolution. He was known at that time as Colonel Bowles.

Dragging Canoe and his “Chickamauga” warriors were fierce fighters and won many battles during the revolution. After Dragging Canoe suffered what was probably a heart attack while celebrating in a victory dance, Bowles became the chief of the Cherokee town of Running Water on the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals. Much has been written, though, about an incident that came to be known as “the Muscle Shoals Massacre.” Here is an excerpt from an old children’s book, “Sal-o-quah”, by Reverend F. R. Goulding. The account agrees so favorably with other eye-witness accounts, that it may have been an actual event related to him in his childhood:

Trade Boat

“We went to Tellico, received the share of money due to our town, and were returning home, when our provisions fell short, and we stopped to hunt. We made our camp at the head of the Big Shoals on the Tennessee River; you white people know them as the Muscle Shoals.

“While we were encamped there, several boats loaded with white people and negroes, men, women, and children, came and landed near us. They were movers to some place down the Mississippi River. The boats were under the command of two white men, named Stewart and Scott, who not only calculated on making money by moving the families, but had provided themselves with trinkets for trading with any Indians they might meet on the way. Learning that the red men ashore were abundantly supplied with money, they invited them into the boats, treated them to all appearance very hospitably, and supplied them so well with liquor that they became intoxicated. It is said that “a fool and his money are soon parted;” the proverb is certainly true of a drunken Indian, for as soon as he is drunk, he feels rich, and wants to buy everything.

“The moment the liquor had taken effect, Stewart and Scott displayed their wares, and tempted the Indians to buy. In a few hours, all the money ashore had passed into the hands of these white men, and there remained with the Indians only a few worthless trinkets, which they had been induced to buy at the rate of twelve dollars for a string of glass beads, sixteen dollars for a little looking-glass with gilt edges, and thirty dollars an ounce for vermilion and other showy paints. When the Indians became sober, and saw how they had been treated, they went aboard the boats, returned what they had purchased, and demanded a return of the money. But Stewart and Scott only laughed at them, saying that they were not children, to make a bargain one moment and fly from it the next. The Indians argued that the act was not theirs, but the whisky’s; and insisted on all being restored as before the trade, offering to pay for the whisky, which had been given them, at the rate of four dollars per gallon, which was probably ten times more than it cost. Stewart and Scott, however, would listen to no arguments, and peremptorily ordered them to leave the boats.

“They did so, but collected on the river bank, and began to load their rifles, resolved that, at whatever cost, the money should be refunded. At this juncture, General Bowls, hoping to quiet the feelings of his people, took with him Scossity and several other men of tried courage and coolness, went with them aboard the boats, earnestly warned the white men of the coming danger, and tried to persuade them to avoid it by undoing the wrong they had done. Instead of heeding them, these two men seized their boat-poles, rushed upon the red men, killed one of them by a blow upon the head, and another by piercing his breast with the iron-headed pole. The survivors hastily retreated to land, and, though excited almost beyond self-control, they strove most earnestly to restrain the exasperated multitude. But all in vain. The blood of their butchered brothers was before their eyes, and deadly rifles were in their hands. In less than a minute, Stewart and Scott lay stretched upon the deck, killed at the first fire, and soon every other white man aboard shared the same fate.

“The women and children were left undisturbed; and one of them afterward testified that, even during the horrors of the massacre, the noncombatants were treated with respect and kindness.

“The story is told of Scossity, that while the women and children were bewailing their slaughtered friends, whose bodies lay upon the deck, his heart was so touched by the sight of a woman weeping bitterly over the bloody remains of her husband and son, that he went to her, and with the corner of her apron wiped her eyes, saying, in a gentle tone, “I sorry.””

The survivors, the women, children, and slaves, were escorted by Bowles and his men down the river and eventually made their way safely to New Orleans. Winfrey states:

“Women and children on the boats, however, were not harmed and were guided to their destination in New Orleans. A member of the party is quoted as speaking of the “kindness and courtesy with which she and all the white ladies and children were treated by Bowles and his party.”

“As soon as the Muscle Shoals massacre was known, the Cherokee called a general council to draw up a memorial to the United States government disowning the act of Chief Bowles and his followers. The memorial stated that the Cherokee would assist in the arrest of Bowles. A commission appointed by the United States government investigated the incident and cleared Chief Bowles and the participating Cherokee. Evidently there had been justification in what took place in Muscle Shoals.”

Rev. Cephus Washburn

Reverand Cephas Washburn was an early missionary to the Cherokees. This is his account from his book, “Reminiscences of the Indians.”

“Afraid of what his tribe would think about the massacre, since the Cherokee Indians were supposed to be abiding by a treaty of amity with the whites, Bowles and his band headed down the Tennessee River in the boats, taking the women and children, slaves, and booty with them. They traversed the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the mouth of the St. Francis River in present Missouri.

“After arriving at the St. Francis, Bowles ordered his warriors to put the women and children in boats and send them downriver to New Orleans. He gave each woman a slave and sent four strong black men to look after them. He provided them with food and gave them what personal belongings they could take.

“Bowles and his warriors then continued up the St. Francis to await results. The Cherokees on the Tennessee went into council immediately after the massacre and drew up a memorial to the United States government stating that they had had nothing to do with the killings. They placed the entire blame on Bowles and his followers and disowned the group. They said that they were abiding by the treaty with the government and would help find and arrest Bowles.

“When Bowles learned that he was in disfavor with many of the Chickamauga Cherokees, he decided to make his home in the French territory of Missouri. He liked the climate there. Game was plentiful, and he felt that the French would protect him and his followers. He settled on the St. Francis and made it his home for several years. In time other Cherokees joined him there.

“Washburn concluded his narrative by saying that the whole matter of the massacre was investigated by the government of the United States and that the Cherokees were fully justified. According to Wasburn the property was confiscated and declared by treaty to belong justly to the perpetrators of the massacre.”

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