Historic Profile: Goingsnake remembered as great orator, leader
When the 13 groups of Cherokees began their forced journey to Indian Territory, a Cherokee man named Goingsnake joined the John Benge-led group, which left on Sept. 28, 1838, from northern Alabama.
William Shorey Coodey, who was present at the departure, wrote to a friend describing what he saw: “At length the word was given to move on. I glanced along the line and the form of Goingsnake, an aged and respected chief whose head eighty summers had whitened, mounted his favorite pony, passed before me and led the way in silence. At this very moment a low sound of distant thunder fell upon my ears. The sun was unclouded, and no rain fell. I almost thought it a voice of divine indignation for the wrongs done my poor and unhappy countrymen, driven by brutal power from all they loved and cherished in the lands of their fathers to gratify the cravings of avarice.”
The caravan was ready to move. The wagons were aligned. The mood was somber. Another eyewitness reported that, “there was a silence and stillness of the voice that betrayed the sadness of the heart.”
Behind the Benge group, the makeshift camp where some had spent three months of a Tennessee summer was already ablaze. There was no going back.
In early January 1839, the Bench group arrived in Indian Territory and Goingsnake settled at Ward Branch, a few miles southwest of Cincinnati, Ark., and about six miles north of present Westville, Okla., where he built his cabin.
Goingsnake was born around 1758 near the present Tennessee/North Carolina boundary that meets Notteley Reservoir, Georgia. He was known to be a great orator and political leader and was a town chief.
In 1814, he was among the 700 Cherokees who fought against the Muscogee Creek Indians with Gen. Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, along with future Principal Chief John Ross, Sequoyah, White Path and others.
In 1808, the Cherokee Nation in the East was divided into eight districts. Goingsnake was a representative from the Amohee District located in southeastern Tennessee and received $1 per day while serving on the National Council. At the time, Pathkiller was the chief, and a young John Ross was National Committee president.
In 1827, Ross was elected chief and Goingsnake was elected Speaker of the Council and developed the reputation as being one of Ross’s “right hand men.” As speaker Goingsnake signed the Act of Union between the Cherokee Nation and the Western Cherokees on July 12, 1839.
This was Goingsnake’s last recorded political service. He was 81 years old at that time. Shortly thereafter, Goingsnake stepped down and a new speaker was elected.
The following year, districts were divided and named in the new Cherokee Nation, and one (now part of Adair County) was named for Goingsnake. When he died, he was buried in front of his cabin. Later a street in Tahlequah was also named after him.
Although the date of his death is not known, the grave site was later marked with a tombstone bearing the inscription: “Chief Going Snake, Famous Cherokee Orator, Born 1758.”Sources: Cherokee.org
Conley, Robert, “A Cherokee Encyclopedia,” pages 103, 104, University of New Mexico Press