American Indian Biography: Attakullakulla, Cherokee Chief

Cherokee chief John Ross

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Ask some non-Cherokees to name some prominent historical Cherokee leaders and there are three names which frequently come up: (1) John Ross, the chief who led the Cherokee during the first half of the nineteenth century, (2) Sequoia, the genius who created Cherokee writing, and (3) Wilma Mankiller, the well-known twentieth century chief. There are, however, many other prominent Cherokee historical figures and there were powerful chiefs before John Ross. One of these was Attakullakulla.  

Attakullakulla was born into a prominent Cherokee family. During his youth he was trained by the elders to assume a position of responsibility. As an adult he became well-known for skills at oratory, diplomacy, and negotiation.

In 1730, Attakullakulla was among the Cherokee leaders who were taken to England to meet with King George. At that time, he was the head warrior of Tassatchee and was known by the name of Oukah Ulah (also spelled Ookounaka and Oukandekah). The English, blissfully unaware of Cherokee government, simply assumed that he was the “King” of the Cherokees.

Upon meeting King George, the Cherokee presented him with a number of gifts, including the “crown of Tannasee” (a crown made from opossum tails), scalps from their enemies, and five eagles’ tails.

During their four months in England, the Cherokee were grandly entertained, taken to fairs, and given gifts. They also competed with the King’s archers and were entertained by plays which included sham fights and acrobats. They also negotiated a treaty of friendship and trade with the English.

After his return from England, Attakullakulla maintained a strong friendship with the English. When the French approached the Overhill Cherokee towns in 1736 to open the doors for peace and trade, Attakullakulla refused to attend the meeting.

In 1738, Attakullakulla was captured by the Ottawa who were French allies. He spent more than six years as a captive.

In 1753, the governor of Carolina called for a meeting with the Cherokee for the purpose of concluding a treaty of peace between the Cherokee and the Creek. Attakullakulla informed the governor that when he had met with King George in England that the king had asked him to avenge the English lives taken by the Creek. When the governor tried to insist that he now spoke for the king, Attakullakulla simply told him that he would go to England again and meet with the king. Attakullakulla’s personal experience with the king plus his knowledge of the treaties with England enabled him to negotiate a favorable agreement with the governor.

In 1755, the governor met with 506 Cherokee chiefs, headmen, and warriors in Saluda near the present-day Greenville, South Carolina. Attakullakulla stood before the group with a bow in one hand and a sheaf of arrows in the other and acted as the principal spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation. The English accounts of the meeting describe Attakullakulla as having “the dignity and graceful action of a Roman or Grecian orator, and with all their ease and eloquence.”

At the meeting Attakullakulla presented a child to the governor saying:

“I have brought this child that when he grows up he may remember our agreement this day and tell it to the next generation that it may be known forever.”

Attakullakulla also asked that the proceedings of the meeting be written down so that it could be kept forever. In this way, he acknowledged both the Cherokee oral tradition and the English practice of writing.

Attakullakulla then gave the governor some earth and some corn and asked that they be sent to the king as a symbol of Cherokee recognition of English authority. Then he raised the bow and quiver over his head and told the governor that this is all the Cherokee have for their defense. He then asked for guns and powder so that they could fight those who were enemies of the English.

Following the meeting, Attakullakulla became the most powerful Cherokee leader of the time and through his influence he held the Cherokee to their ties with England. To demonstrate Cherokee loyalty to England, Attakullakulla with Cherokee war leader Oconostota led a series of raids against the French and their Indian allies on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

In 1759, Attakullakulla, Oconostota, and other Cherokee leaders met with the Governor of North Carolina. While they were originally met with peace, the leaders were soon imprisoned and forced to sign a new treaty under duress.  

In 1760, Old Hop, the Cherokee Beloved Man (supreme chief) died. Instead of Attakullakulla, Standing Turkey was named as the new Beloved Man. Attakullakulla’s support of the English had eroded his support among the Cherokee. The Cherokee then went to war against the English traders and colonists.

The following year, the Cherokee sought peace with the English. Attakullakulla served as one of the primary negotiators for the new treaty.

During the next 20 years, Attakullakulla helped negotiate numerous treaties and agreements with the English. As a result of these treaties, the land controlled by the Cherokee shrank as the English hunger for land seemed to be endless.

Attakullakulla died around 1780 (he was about 80 years old) and the leadership of the Cherokee passed to a younger generation including Dragging Canoe (Attakullakulla’s son) and Bloody Fellow.  


  1. I am researching my wifes tree.her line goes from amatoya moytoy is her 9th
    greatgrand father.I have been trying to find en rollment numbers ,no luck.
    surnames in her tree are……………..kirkland ,branton.clark.collins ,lee ,english
    godwin ,hughes ,dozier ,wallace ,heltons ,powell,owl,barnes, odom,moytoy
    fivekiller,and more.she has cherokee ,shawnee,choctaw..I have not been able to find all of it but still looking…..where do I need to apply?…..THANKS
    TOM SCOTT mtscott

  2. Is there any proof that the Chief died around 1780? Other documents online show he died in 1777. My 4th Great Grandmother is Margaret “Noisy Waters” and assume she was fathered by the chief but she wasn’t born until around 1780. Thanks

    • My DNA thru lines of grand parents show that Margaret Noisy Water was my 4th ggrandmother as well. I do not have proof of his birth or death, but his info came up as well. So, no matter the years, they are so close I believe what Ancestry is saying about our distant relatives. She married John Setzer or Setser and they had a son named Harmon. That is my lineage. I just read on google a bunch of stuff about him and other chiefs before him and after, but did not pay attention to dates.

    • Margaret Noisy Water Attakullakulla is my 5th great grandmother! I’m looking for information on her as well.

    • Dear Harriet, I too am looking for information about Noisy Waters. I believe I’ve made an error in my ancestry tree and that others have now copied this error. Where did you first learn of Noisy Water? margaret Jane Setzer Shell.

      • Wendy, What is the error you have made in your ancestry tree? Margaret Jane Setzer Shell is my 4th great grandmother and I am searching for information on her. I have been told she is the daughter of Dragging Canoe but cannot find any proof of this.

  3. Attakullakulla was my great grandfather and I am related to moytoy as well. white owl raven
    Dragging canoe and Nancy ward are my ancestors as well I am trying to prove my lineage to the Cherokee..

    • Dragging Canoe is the only child of Attakullakulla. I believe my family tree is wrong and that many have copied the error. How did you learn about Jane Setzer Shell who was also known as Noisy Water? Thanks, Wendy in Baltimore

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