Chief Red Bird

Historical Marker # 908 in Clay County remembers Chief Red Bird, a Cherokee leader and the namesake of the Red Bird River, a tributary of the Kentucky River.

The late eighteenth century was a period of conflict between the increasing numbers of whites who settled in what became Kentucky and the Native Americans who had lived and hunted in the region for centuries. While a number of pioneers settled in Kentucky as early as the mid-1770s, others waited to make the move until the threat of American Indian attacks subsided.

The treaty that resolved the Revolutionary War voided the Proclamation of 1763, which had prohibited colonists' trans-Appalachian settlement. But, many Indians—often allied with the British during the Revolutionary War—were distressed by the increased encroachment. When a United States force defeated Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 1794) in what would become Indiana, even more white settlers moved into Kentucky. With most of the land in the more valuable bluegrass region already claimed, the new migrants often settled in the mountain valleys in the eastern part of the state.

In the southern Appalachian Mountains, many of the Native Americans, especially the Cherokee, slowly began to intermarry and acculturate to white ways. Some, however, refused and continued to terrorize white settlements. When treaties were made with certain bands of Cherokees, some accepted the terms while others did not.

In the late 1790s, Red Bird, a Cherokee Indian, and his friend Will, made their home in what became Clay County, Kentucky. The men hunted the mountain valleys and lived peaceably among white settlers. Around 1796, two Tennessee men, John (Jack) Livingston and Edward (Ned) Miller, murdered Red Bird and Will, probably partly in reprisal for two earlier attacks by other local Cherokees that had left some of Livingston's family dead and others captive.

Tennessee governor John Sevier wrote a series of letters to the Cherokees in 1796-1797, apologizing for the murders, and thus the violation of previous treaties. Sevier also communicated with Kentucky governor James Garrard that Livingston and Miller would be extradited to Kentucky if caught in Tennessee, but Sevier doubted the men could be located. Apparently Livingston and Miller were never captured or tried for the murder of Red Bird and Will.