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robfergusonjr

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William Holland Thomas was a white first-generation born American. He was a businessman, planter, and author; agent and attorney of the eastern Cherokee; member of the North Carolina state senate; railroad & wagon road builder; commander of Thomas' Legion (69th North Carolina Regiment); and friend and benefactor of the Cherokee.

William was born on February 5, 1805 at Waynesville, North Carolina. His father was Richard Thomas. Richard fought during the American Revolution in the 11th Virginia Regiment. In 1776, Richard became a prisoner of war until 1777. His mother was Temperance Calvert Strother. Both parents were born in England and crossed the Atlantic prior to the American Revolution. William's father drowned when William was a baby.

When William was a child, he became intrigued with the Cherokee who lived near his western North Carolina home. It was about this time he was named "Wil-Usdi" by the Cherokee. "Wil-usdi" means Little Will in the Cherokee language. In 1817, at twelve, he was adopted by a Cherokee man by the name of Yonaguska. Yonaguska means "Drowning Bear" in the Cherokee mother tongue.

In 1818, Felix H. Walker accepted William's committment to work for Walker's business--the Soco Creek trading post. William learned about dealing, trading, inventory keeping, and other duties associated with a trading post. Most of his customers were Cherokees whom brought in furs, hides, and herbs.

In the early 1820s, Felix H. Walker had sent law books as compensation for William's services. He read law which helped the Cherokee. William was appointed attorney for the Cherokee during the removal years and was instrumental setting up Yonaguska's Indians a Cherokee reserve in the mountains of North Carolina.

In the late 1830s, Yonaguska's Indians gave service to General Winfield Scott. Scott knew of William's influence on the Cherokee and soon asked for assistance for tracking Tsali and his renegade Indians. After Tsali was found, Scott ordered that Yonaguska's Indians not to be disturbed/removed. Yonaguska's Cherokee Indian decendents would later form today's Eastern Band of Cherokee.

In 1849, Yonaguska died with his death the leadership soon passed to William. William, a member of the Democratic party, was elected in 1848. He served nearly fifteen years as a state senator.

In the summer of 1862, William mustered two Indian companies--companies A & B. Over 200 men enrolled. By fall, William had a Regiment of white and Indian men totaling 1,125. They enforced conscription. They also engaged in battle. One particular battle was at Baptist Gap where Lieutenant Astoga Stoga (an Indian) was killed.

The surrender was on May 10, 1865 at Waynesville, North Carolina. Yet, William was still defiant. He went into the town with "his biggest and best warriors all painted and feathered off in good old style."

At the age of 88, William, while instituted (likely for dementia), died on May 10, 1893 at Burke County, North Carolina.

Sources: Between Two Fires, American Indians in the Civil War, Laurence M. Hauptman, 1995; Rebel Chief, The Motley Life of Colonel William Holland Thomas, C.S.A., 2004; Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-'65., Walter Clark, ed., 1901; Thomas' Legionweb site: http://www.thomaslegion.net/

Biographer: ROBERT BRUCE FERGUSON, 2017
 
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robfergusonjr

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Mar 15, 2014
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THOMAS' LEGION
U.C.V. CAMP SUO-NOO-KEE
4th BRIGADE, NORTH CAROLINA


cherokeeindiansthomaslegion.jpg
Front Row (l. to r.) Young Deer, Unknown, Phesant, Chief David Reed, Sevier Skitty. Back Row (l. to r.) Rev. Bird Saloneta, Dickey Driver, Lt. Col. W.W. Stringfield (Thomas’ NC Legion), Lt. Suatie Owl, Jim Kegg, Wesley Crow, Unknown, & Lt. Calvin Cagle (5th NC Cavalry).
 
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