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By Marshall McClung
Much of the history and heritage of Graham County is deeply rooted among the Cherokee. One of the most interesting and probably the oldest Cherokee in Graham County was Cheesesquire. Several variations in spelling his name are found including Cheesesguaw, Cheesequire, and Chesquah. The spelling on his gravestone is Cheesesquire. Some local Cherokee say the name means 'tredbird."
Cheesesquire was said to have been 137 years old in 1880. The actual date of his death is lost in history. Cheesequire lived near the Ground Squirrel community near the point where Ground Squirrel Branch entered the Cheoah River. This site is now under the waters of Santeetlah Lake. Sam Shope said that members of the Orr family told him that when their ancestors moved into the Ground Squirrel community in the early 1800's that Cheesesquire was living there then and was an "old gray-headed man. Cheesesquire operated a blacksmith shop there.
Cheesesquire would repair cooking utensils for people, repairing holes in pots and pans with some type of metal that he would melt and patch the holes with.
Cheesesquire would take a trip every so often and be gone about three days and nights. When he returned, he would have a sack of what looked like rocks. From this he would "melt down" the material used for his repairs to their pots and pans. There is speculation as to what this metal was. Some think it was silver or perhaps brass. No one knows for sure where Cheesesquire dug this material as he would never allow anyone to go with him. Some think he traveled to the Slickrock Creek area.
Cheesesquire is said to have always gone barefoot the year around. He told of playing Indian stickball in a large grassy field where the present day city of Knoxville, Tennessee is located. He told of seeing large herds of buffalo near where Robbinsville is now located.Dow Hooper is said to have taken a photograph of Cheesesquire. Photographs in that time period were taken and then transferred to tintypes. Mary Howell of Robbinsville did a drawing of Cheesesquire perhaps from an old photograph that appears in a volume of "Tennessee Ancestors" in a section entitled "Mystery of the Cherokee Indian Chiefs" . Also in this book is a photograph of Nathan Kirkland known by the Cherokee as Ni-di-ni- Gi-gi-li-ni. The men in both photographs appear very similar. Both are seated in a chair holding a cane, and both are barefoot. They are wrapped in a blanket, have leg wrappings, and similar head dresses. In addition, their facial features are similar.
Are Cheesesquire and Nathan Kirkland the same person? Many researchers and some descendants think so. The Cherokee were said to often have several names and that it was not unusual for them to have a Cherokee name and a "white man's" name.
The cause and date of Cheesesquire's death remain a mystery as does much about him. It is said that some of the Orr family found him lying dead in the woods one day near where he is buried and that he appeared to have died from natural causes. A Cherokee version of his death is that some people came in the night, took him from his bed and dragged him into the woods. They attempted to learn the location where he dug the metal he used and when he would not tell, that they killed him and left his body in the woods where the Orr's found it.
Cheesesquire's grave is located a few miles north of Robbinsville and is on private property. His gravestone is inscribed:
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These pages are from the people of Graham County, North Carolina.
For additional information on Graham County Adventures
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina