This historical marker stands in Athens, Tennessee. I took the photo in 2006 when we stopped there on our way north for a wedding (I discovered it just now in my photo library). I post it here as a followup to a recent post about romantic Indian legends.
It all started at a place called Fort Loudoun in the days when the French claimed the majority of the land that was to become Tennessee.
In 1754 war broke out between the French and English in a battle over the ownership of the Ohio Valley. Each side attempted to win aid from the various Indian tribes.
The Cherokee Nation, because of an agreement made with George II in 1730, first sided with the English. Actually it didn’t mean a thing to them whom they fought for or against. War, to the Cherokee, was a kind of vocation – an intrinsic part of their lifestyle that they enjoyed. They loved fighting and would go off on the warpath at the drop of a feather.
In the meantime, other tribes sided with the French. Some of these tribes were the very ones the Cherokee had fought throughout the years, and they harbored bitter feelings of revenge. Cherokee villages were raided by rival tribes loyal to the French while Cherokee warriors were out fighting for the English.
The raids caused the Overhill Cherokees to demand that the English build a fort to protect their women and children while the braves were out fighting. In 1757 the English from the South Carolina colony built Fort Loudoun, located at the mouth of the Tellico River, on the south bank of the Little Tennessee.
In the meantime the war was going badly for the French, and in desperation they began telling the Cherokee that the English, if they were the victors, planned to settle Indian land, build forts and cabins, and drive out all the game. The French, on the other hand, reassured the Indians that they only wanted to trade and were not interested in settlement.
In 1759 the panicky Cherokee raided English settlements, killing and scalping settlers. Then the Indians laid siege to Fort Loudoun and starved the English garrisoned there into surrender.
When the English soldiers attempted to leave the fort, they were ambushed by the Indians.
One wounded officer staggered into an Indian village. The chief took pity on him, and the old man’s daughter, Nocatula, nursed him back to health. Why the officer, given the belligerent mood of the Indians at the time toward the English, was given sanctuary is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, the officer was given the Indian name of “Connestoga” and accepted into the tribe.
Patients often fall in love with their nurses, and Connestoga was no exception. With the old chief’s blessings, the white convert married Nocatula.
But the marriage was star-crossed from the beginning. Much ill feeling still existed among certain Indians toward the white man. War chiefs like Dragging Canoe were whipping up frenzied hatred among the tribes, and the new bridegroom was regarded with more than passing suspicion.
One warrior decided that he would solve the problem of the white man himself. Not only did he hate the whites, but he, too, was in love with Nocatula. By ridding himself of his rival, he would kill two birds with one stone.
The jealous man saw his chance one day and plunged a knife deep into Connestoga’s chest. Then he fled.
As Connestoga lay dying, Nocatula declared her undying love for her husband. Then she took her own knife and plunged it into her own breast.
The old chief was deeply saddened at the loss of his daughter and son-in-law. Luckily, the murderer had not escaped the village, and when he was returned – and according to the Cherokee right of blood revenge – the old chief killed the man himself.
Then the chief buried his daughter and her husband. In Connestoga’s hand he placed an acorn. In his daughter’s, he placed a hackberry.
Fed by the bodies beneath the ground, these two seeds grew into healthy trees and thrived for over 150 years. But as all living things do, they eventually died.
Two more trees were planted over the graves to replace them. But then something odd happened. The two substitutes died a short time later for no reason. The legend is told that the spirits of Connestoga and Nocatula rejected the surrogates as unworthy, and killed them both.
Today only stumps of the original oak and hackberry remain, planted over two centuries ago by a sad old Indian chief who wanted to symbolize the everlasting love between his daughter and the white man she loved enough to die for.
I confess that I find this story increasingly difficult to believe as I read through it….