Takatoka (whose name is spelled various ways in records of the time and in later histories) was one of the leaders of the Cherokee nation in Arkansas during the early years of the nineteenth century. He led warriors in battle against the Osage living in Arkansas, and he also represented the Cherokee in meetings and in negotiations with the U.S. government.
Details of Takatoka’s early life are not available, but he was estimated to be around sixty-five years old when he met with Christian missionary Cephas Washburn in 1820. Takatoka was evidently a member of the group led by Tahlonteskee that crossed the Mississippi River to settle in the Missouri Territory, as encouraged by the U.S. government. The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–1812 prompted this group to leave the St. Francis River valley and move to the land between the Arkansas and White rivers. Takatoka is mentioned as a leader, along with Tahlonteskee, in descriptions of a raid upon the Osage in August 1817. His name also appears as early as 1805 in letters that describe visitors to the St. Francis settlement who helped fight the Osage.
After Tahlonteskee died in 1819, Takatoka was one of the principal leaders of the Cherokee in Arkansas. His name is included among the signers of a letter to President James Monroe in August 1819, imploring that the government keep its promise to allow the tribe “clear opening to the setting of the sun”—in other words, no western border to their land. He was also a prominent leader in a peace-seeking mission that traveled to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in 1819, striving to end the conflict between Cherokee and Osage groups. On the other hand, he continued to lead the Cherokee in raids upon the Osage, which succeeded largely because they occurred in the fall when many Osage warriors were hunting buffalo farther west. Takatoka was the leader of a village on the Illinois Bayou, which served as the capital of the west Cherokee nation from 1813 to 1824.
Although other Cherokee leaders responded positively to the Dwight Mission, which sought to bring European civilization (including Christianity) to the various tribes living in Arkansas, Takatoka expressed hostility toward it and spoke resentfully about it, calling its supporters among the Cherokee the “breeches and pantaloons party.” In spite of this attitude, Takatoka had learned to read and write by his later years. He also continued to feud with the Osage, describing them as liars and untrustworthy. In the summer of 1823, Takatoka led fifty to sixty Cherokee to a new settlement on the Kiamichi River in present-day Oklahoma, where they established a village, but they returned to Arkansas later that same year.
When the Arkansas Cherokee reorganized their structure of leadership in September 1824, Takatoka was elected vice president of the group. John Jolly, the brother of Tahlonteskee, was elected president. The next month, Takatoka represented the west Cherokee nation in a meeting of various tribes—including Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, Choctaw, and others—held at Kaskasia, Illinois. Takatoka was chosen to be part of a delegation to travel to Washington DC to meet with the U.S. government to describe legally the tribal lands, but he died en route, at the home of Pierre Menard in Illinois, of an unspecified illness. By 1828, federal decisions forced the Cherokee to leave Arkansas and settle farther west.
For additional information:
Conley, Robert J. Cherokee. Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Center Publishing, 2002.
Hoig, Stanley W. The Cherokees and their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.
King, Duane H. “Cherokee in the West: History since 1776.” In Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 14, Southeast, edited by William C. Sturtevant and Raymond D. Fogelson. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2004.
Logan, Charles Russell. “The Promised Land”: The Cherokees, Arkansas, and Removal, 1794–1839. Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1997.
Northrup, Beverly Baker. “We Are Not Yet Conquered”: The History of the Northern Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.
Susan Martinez Heinritz
Little Rock, Arkansas
Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture