Friday, June 17, 2016

From the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files: Pathkiller and Blair’s Ferry

Among the thousands of debt disputes, railroad damages, and estate settlement cases that we house in the Library & Archives Tennessee Supreme Court Records Collection, one particular case stands out. It involves a man known as Pathkiller, the last heredity chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Hereditary chiefs were those who inherited their titles and responsibilities according to the history and cultural values of their communities. A full-blooded native American, Pathkiller served as the Cherokees' leader from 1811 until his death in January of 1827. Pathkiller was among the Cherokee warriors who played a pivotal role at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, bringing an end to the Creek War in 1814.

This Supreme Court case centered around a land dispute between Pathkiller and James Blair of Loudon County. In 1819, Pathkiller took advantage of a provision in the Calhoun Treaty and claimed a reservation of 640 acres that included the area known as Blair’s Ferry. Blair’s Ferry was on the Tennessee River in Loudon County. James Blair had already occupied and developed the land and operated the ferry when Pathkiller staked his claim. Blair countersued against Pathkiller's claim in order to regain title to the land. Thus began a lengthy court battle that continued even after both of the principal parties died.

A drawing in the case file of the disputed 640 acres of land in Loudon County, Tennessee.

The original case began in 1821 in Roane County when Pathkiller took action against James Blair, ordering him off the land. Following that trial, the court awarded judgement in favor of Pathkiller, giving him full possesion of the disputed land. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted an appeal filed by Blair, however the higher court upheld the lower court’s decision.

Tennessee Supreme Court case file: Pathkiller’s lessee v. John Blair & James Johnston, 1835.

James Blair died in 1826 and Pathkiller died the following year. Upon their deaths, Blair’s sons John and Wily continued battling for the property rights against Pathkiller’s daughter, Sarah, and her husband, James T. Gardenhire. After years of litigation, the Tennessee Supreme Court ultimately decided in favor of the Blairs, claiming that Pathkiller’s sale of the land to the Gardenhires had made his reservation claim null and void. The parties ultimately reached a compromise, and the Gardenhires agreed that they would “remove and give up all of said 640 acres with the ferry, and to remove any tenants that may be in possession of any part of the said tract…”

A report by Hugh Lawson White on the case requested by the Tennessee General Assembly, 1829.

Blair’s Ferry Storehouse was erected shortly after the legal battle and still stands today in Loudon County.

A photograph of Blair’s Ferry Storehouse from The Loudon County Herald, March 1974.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Records Project holds many more fascinating cases just like this one. These records can be a valuable tool for understanding our state’s rich history.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

No comments:

Post a Comment