Dick Taylor’s Ridge
Editor’s Note: The excellent piece below was contributed by Historical Society member Bill Mitchell, a skilled amateur historian who grew up with a view of Taylor (or Taylor’s if you please!) Ridge. Bill has a special appreciation for the history and the beauty of our Chattooga County environs. The original version of this piece appeared as part of a series of history topics featured in The Summerville News in 2013 in commemoration of the 175th anniversary of Chattooga County’s creation in 1838.
Place of a Thousand Vivid Memories
In spring and summer, the ridge is a hundred shades of green. When the sky turns gray in winter, or under the silver light of a full moon, it looms in surly blues and purples. Come October, the ridge explodes in an autumnal spectrum of reds and yellows, oranges and umbers. In every season, it draws our eyes upward. It is the site of desperate battles, the safekeeper of lost silver mines, a place of moonshiners’ hollows and hunters’ tall tales. For those of us who grew to adulthood in its shadow, it is a place of a thousand vivid memories. It will always pull at our spirits and summon us home.
On maps and in news accounts of recent years it bears the name Taylor Ridge. But on other maps, now yellowing with age, and in the vocabulary of old-timers, it is Taylor’s Ridge. The possessive form of the name is important to us because that is how we have known the ridge from our earliest recollections of the place, even if we may not be entirely sure who “Taylor” was, or why this is his ridge in the first place. But Taylor’s Ridge it is, and has been (it turns out) for over two hundred years.
Richard Taylor (or Dick Taylor to his friends) was a Cherokee of mixed heritage, born on February 10, 1788 in what is now Monroe County, Tennessee, but was then part of the Cherokee Nation. Both his British and his Cherokee relatives were of some prominence. Among his British ancestors was Lieutenant Charles Tayler. Lieutenant Tayler had been commander of Fort Prince George, located along the Cherokee Path, the trade route connecting the South Carolina colony to Cherokee territory. On the Cherokee side, Dick Taylor is said to have been descended from Nancy Ward, heroine of the 1755 Battle of Tali’wa, in which the Cherokee defeated the Creeks and laid claim to a swath of territory including what is now Chattooga County. In that battle, Ward took up the rifle of her fallen husband and fought with such ferocity that she rallied the Cherokee to victory. Her status among the Cherokee was such that she was given the title of “Ghigua” or “Ghi-ga-u” (“honored woman”) which allowed her to participate in councils that decided the fate of captives.
Richard Taylor, Warrior: Jackson and the Red Sticks
Dick Taylor must have grown to manhood in a cultured home. He was literate in English, at a time when literacy was an unusual thing on the American frontier. It is not clear where he learned his letters, since he was born too early to have taken advantage of the schools later founded by various missions to the Cherokee. It is likely he was schooled at home.
Taylor’s skill with language seems to have made him something of a commodity. By the time he was a teenager he was serving as an interpreter for Indian agents and in later life he became a diplomat for the Cherokee people. But before Dick Taylor was a diplomat he was a warrior.
In 1813, a faction of Creek Indians known as the Red Sticks was stirred to action by the words of Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader who hoped to unite all Indians along the American frontier in a campaign to drive encroaching American settlers from their lands. The War of 1812 was then under way, and the Red Sticks began to receive support and arms from British forces garrisoned at Pensacola (at that time in Spanish territory). On August 30, 1813 a band of Red Sticks attacked American settlers at Fort Mims, on the east bank of the Alabama River just a few miles north of Mobile. In the gruesome massacre that ensued, the Creeks slaughtered some 500 of the settlers taking shelter there. Neither women nor the young were spared, and the bodies of the slain were mutilated in horrible ways, so as to intimidate and terrorize others who might think of encroaching on Creek lands.
Americans along the frontier did not react with the fear the Red Sticks intended, but responded
instead with outrage and fury. The personification of that fury was Andrew Jackson, who assembled a militia and marched south from Tennessee to exact vengeance. The Cherokee, eager to cement their friendship with the Americans, and always willing to make war on their traditional enemies the Creeks, contributed some 500 to 800 warriors (accounts vary) to fight alongside Jackson’s men. Among them was Dick Taylor, then 25 years old, a hulking mountain of a man, and captain of a company of Cherokee troops.
The decisive battle of the Creek War occurred at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama. The Creek defenders there had barricaded themselves on a spit of land nearly encircled by a horseshoe-shaped riverbend. Jackson’s militia, by then reinforced with regular soldiers of the US 39th Infantry, arrayed themselves across the neck of the horseshoe, cutting off any retreat by land. Jackson sent the Cherokee and 700 mounted riflemen to the opposite bank of the river to surround the Creeks and cut off any retreat by water.
The Cherokee themselves were not willing to play such a passive role. While the Creeks were being bombarded by Jackson’s cannoneers, three Cherokees swam the river and stole their enemy’s canoes, which the Cherokee then used to ferry their warriors across the river for an assault on the Creeks’ rear. This proved to be a decisive action in the battle. When Jackson, to his surprise, heard gunfire at the rear of the Creeks’ position, and realized that a Cherokee attack was underway, he seized the opportunity to launch his own assault against the Creek breastworks. The Creeks, now surrounded and fighting on all sides, found themselves in an impossible position. More than 800 of the Red Stick Creek warriors were killed that day, and the Creeks as a fighting force were crushed.
After the war, in 1816, Dick Taylor was part of a Cherokee delegation to Washington along with his uncle, John Walker. Also part of this delegation were the noted Cherokee leaders John Ross and Major Ridge, along with several other Cherokees, as well as Col. Return J. Meigs, the U.S. agent to the Cherokee. The delegation was described by a reporter as comprising “…men of cultivation, nearly all of whom had served as officers of the Cherokee forces with Jackson and distinguished themselves…by their bravery.”
While in Washington, the Cherokee delegation was quite a hit on the social circuit, and Taylor and his companions were much sought after as party guests. Dick Taylor and Major Ridge are said to have entertained one group of society ladies with a bawdy song in Cherokee – so bawdy that when asked to translate the lyrics, they demurred, revealing only that it was a song about love and whiskey.
The Washington that Taylor saw for the first time was still scarred from a war that had seen the city invaded, overrun, and torched by the British. The White House, which had been burned by British Canadians during the war, was still under reconstruction, forcing President James Madison into temporary residence in a nearby townhome.
In council with President Madison, the Cherokee sought pensions for those of their nation who had been wounded during the war, and reparations for damages done to Cherokee property by passing troops. Coincidentally, Andrew Jackson was in town too, by now as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and he was pursuing an entirely different agenda: the removal of all Indians to the western side of the Mississippi River.– even those Cherokee who had fought so valiantly and so well at his side against the Creeks.
Madison lent a sympathetic ear to the Cherokee, and agreed to an award of $25,000.00 to the Cherokee for their property damage claims (a sizeable sum at the time – Jackson is said to have been outraged at the amount). In return, the Cherokee agreed to allow full access through their territory on what came to be known as the Federal Road, which connected Savannah and Augusta through the Cherokee territory to the Tennessee River.
Dick Taylor, Entrepreneur
To the great fortune of Dick Taylor, the Federal Road passed through a gap in northwest Georgia between White Oak Mountain and the ridge that now bears Taylor’s name. Just north of the gap it intersected with the Alabama Road (now Highway 151) and there at the intersection Taylor established a roadside inn and tavern. On maps, the place would be shown variously as “Taylor’s Gap” or simply “Taylor’s” and it would become a center of social life as well as commerce. And it is on these early maps that we begin to see the ridge running southwest from the inn labeled as Taylor’s Ridge. No doubt it took this name because weary travelers saw the ridge as a landmark, the sight of which informed them that they would soon be able to stop and rest at Taylor’s inn.
In addition to the inn, Taylor operated a grist mill and a saw mill, and kept a farm. The inn, an impressive log structure, sat on a rise overlooking the Chickamauga Creek, near the spot now occupied by the Waffle House at Ringgold on Highway 151. From there Taylor had a commanding view of what became a fairly impressive empire. By the time of the 1835 Cherokee census, Taylor had 16 slaves and 100 acres under cultivation. His son Thomas Fox Taylor had another nine slaves, making a total of 25 for the extended family.
A Moravian missionary in the area records that Taylor once sought to sell an adult male slave and thereby separate that slave from his family. The missionary chastised Taylor for this thoughtlessness, and Taylor responded by offering to sell the slave to the missionary. Apparently taken aback by this reply, the missionary nevertheless did manage to raise the funds to cover purchase price for the slave and thereby keep him near his loved ones. Despite Taylor’s crassness on this occasion, he was in some ways an enlightened slave owner for his day. In later years, in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), it is known that the children of his slaves were educated – in defiance of the law then forbidding it.
At his home in Taylor’s Gap, Dick Taylor grew prosperous and gained influence among the Cherokee. As a token of his influence and family connections, he kept with him an ornate silver pipe which had been given to the Cherokee by George Washington decades earlier as a token of friendship.
By 1831 Taylor’s name appears as one of the 32-member Cherokee General Council. By 1832, he was President of the National Committee of the Cherokee. But these were troubled times for Taylor’s people. Now Andrew Jackson was president, and Jackson was proceeding forcefully with his efforts to remove the Cherokee from their territory in the east and ship them beyond the Mississippi. In 1830, Congress had passed the Indian Removal Act, and Jackson had signed it into law. The Indians fought in the courts and through diplomacy but ultimately to no avail.
Through this turmoil, Taylor continued to serve in a leadership role. He also served from time to time in a diplomatic role, participating in an 1831 mission to Washington which sought to limit Georgia’s ever more insistent efforts to exercise sovereign control over the Cherokee territory. An article in the New York Observer at the time describes Taylor this way: “Taylor is a large, portly man of a bland, open countenance, which seems shaded with an expression so deeply pensive, if not sad, as to indicate that but little hope for the fortunes of his country lingers around his heart. The experience of 45 years (for that is his age) in this dishonest and delusive world, may contribute to the somber cast of his feelings, a characteristic which is by no means so conspicuous in his younger brethren.”
The Removal and Starting Over
The tone of the article was prescient. In 1832 and 1833, the state of Georgia conducted land lotteries, by which it purported to give to lottery winners title to land in Georgia belonging to the Cherokee. Following the lottery, Colonel William N. Bishop of the Georgia Guard appeared at Dick Taylor’s door for the purpose of putting the property at Taylor’s Gap into the possession of one Colonel Zachariah B. Hargrove (a land speculator who was later one of the founders of Rome, Georgia). Taylor now suffered the indignity of being forced to pay rent to Hargrove until such time as he could make arrangements to move across the state line to property he owned in Tennessee.
By 1835, the Cherokee had split into factions: a group led by Major Ridge, who saw removal as inevitable, and sought only to bargain for the best possible terms, and a group led by John Ross who would oppose removal to the very end. Taylor cast his lot with the Ross party, but it was no use. On December 19, 1935 at the Cherokee capital of New Echota a group of chiefs acting under the auspices of the Ridge Party purported to enter into a treaty setting forth the terms of removal. Ross’s loud and strenuous objections to the legitimacy this treaty would prove to be futile, and in 1838 the Cherokee who had not yet removed to the west of their own accord were rounded up into stockades and prepared for a forced journey west.
As the first parties of Cherokee were forcibly marched west, reports came back that they were suffering horrific mortality rates along the way. In light of this unsettling news, General Winfield Scott agreed to allow John Ross and his lieutenants to take charge of the process. Ross and his men formed the Cherokee into thirteen parties of roughly 1000 persons each, and began the westward journey.
The party led by Dick Taylor departed on September 20, 1838, and comprised 1,029 emigrants. The removal took place during one of the harshest winters on record, and a letter from Thomas Clarke, Jr to John Ross dated December 28, 1838 indicated that Taylor’s party was stranded between the icy Tennessee and Ohio rivers and was in dire condition. Through Ross’s efforts, a requisition of additional clothing was made for the party and they ultimately completed their journey. Taylor arrived in the west with 944 Cherokees, having recording 55 deaths and 15 births along the way. (The remaining emigrants lost along the way are presumed to have deserted the party.)
After removal, Dick Taylor remained active in Cherokee politics, and he and his family continued to earn their livings in the hospitality business, now in the settlement of Tahlequah, in what would become Oklahoma. Here, his second wife, Susan, was the proprietor of the National House, a two-storied hotel that was one of the first brick buildings in the town and quickly became its social hub. Dick Taylor died on June 15, 1853 at the age of 65. The old statesman and innkeeper was buried in the Tahlequah Cemetery, where his tombstone may still be found today.
The last physical structure in Georgia marking Dick Taylor’s time here was his home, the old log inn. After the removal, it held its ground against changing times for three more decades, until the advent of the Civil War. In February, 1864, the old Taylor place was burned to the ground by a detachment of Union cavalry.
Today, all traces of Dick Taylor’s inn have been swept away. The grist mill is gone, the sawmill gone, not a stick remains. “Taylor’s Gap” is gone from maps and from memory, replaced by Ringgold Gap. The last vestige of the big man left to us here is his name attached to that ridge we love so well. And if some of us continue to call it Taylor’s Ridge, using the possessive form in spite of what maps may say, forgive us, for it seems only right that Dick Taylor should be left some claim of possession here (however nominal and inchoate) and a place of honor in our memories.
The author wishes to give special thanks to Jemima Shirley at the Old Stone Church in Ringgold for her kind assistance in researching this article. Additional information on Richard Taylor may be found at the Old Stone Church and at the State Archives in Morrow.