Historic Origins of the Tsali Legend and “Unto These Hills”

Tsali historic highway markerOn November 25, 1838, the Cherokee Indian known as Tsali was executed.

Part of group that refused to leave North Carolina after Cherokee leaders signed a treaty ceding their tribal lands to the United States, Tsali, his family and a few friends had gone into hiding in the spring of 1838. Though accounts differ on the specifics, it’s clear that Tsali and his group were captured by federal troops on November 1.

Tsali and several in his group managed to escape shortly after being captured, and somehow in that process, three soldiers were hurt or killed. Though it wasn’t clear that Tsali was responsible for the deaths of the soldiers, and a federal commander in the area, Colonel William S. Foster, maintained that Tsali wasn’t responsible, two Cherokee allies of U.S. troops caught Tsali and executed him.

Foster issued a proclamation in support of the Indians who killed Tsali and allowed them to say in the area. Eventually these groups would be recognized as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Tsali’s story remains a folk legend in area and is dramatized in the play Unto These Hills, which is produced in Cherokee every summer.

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