Chief Atohi

Chief Atohi was a Cherokee warrior. According to Cherokee custom, he married Mary’s white mistress, Calista, whom he had captured during an Indian raid. Then, he bought Mary, a black slave to be his wife’s domestic servant. Mary was just 14 years old. She was scared and had no idea of what it was like to be a domestic servant. Her mistress told her what to do.

Calista wasn’t unkind to the girl because she knew what it was like to be held or taken against her will. She was 16 when she was captured by Chief Atohi and she too had been very scared. She cried and wanted to run away but was afraid of what would happen if she tried to. For four years after her captivity she was constantly in danger of her life by refusing to become Atohi’s wife. Self-preservation, was the only reason why she yielded to her captor’s demands to marry him. She bore him three children.

Calista was both repulsed and fascinated by Atohi, much like one’s reaction to a snake. It was a beautiful but dangerous and deadly creature. Such was her husband who was tall, olive skinned with thick black long hair, hazel eyes because he was a half-breed. He was ruggedly handsome with a robust body and very dangerous. He was like a savage beast which could not be tamed.

She pined for her family and home and wished fervently that she would be restored to them. She wanted to return home but could not for fear that she would be forced to leave her children behind. She prayed earnestly about her impossible situation.

Then, one day a man named, Walter Payne traveled to Cherokee country to meet with a federal Indian Agent to discuss Calista’s return. Apparently, her family, devastated by her capture and after trying for years to find her and secure her safe return, had hired him to track her down and rescue her. It was the agent’s opinion that she would not be willing to leave Atohi because she had three fine children by him and was well satisfied with her situation. Payne, however, wasn’t convinced. In his mind, he wondered which white woman would be satisfied with such a situation. He asked that both Atohi and Calista be brought to the agency.

Payne asked Calista, “Miss Hamilton, do you wish to visit your friends in Kentucky?”

“Yes,” she answered. “If I’m allowed to take my children with me.”

The Indian agent then addressed Atohi. “Are you willing to allow Calista Hamilton, the woman whom you call your wife to go with her children to see her friends in Kentucky?”

His answer was, “No. If my children are taken away I shall look upon them as if they were dead.”

Calista’s heart sank. “Mr. Payne, I cannot go to Kentucky to see my friends because I simply cannot leave my children.” With that, she got up, excused herself and quickly left the office.

Atohi stood up and before he walked out, he said to the two men, “Since it was I who saved her life when she was taken, I believe that it is within my rights to keep her as my wife.”

Payne and the Indian agent watched him go. There was nothing they could do. However, Calista’s family refused to give up and a year later, they made arrangements for her and the children to visit them. Atohi agree to this arrangement on the condition that on the condition that his family would return to Cherokee country. Once the agreement was made, Calista and the children left with an abundance of clothes, money, a black slave and hired servant. Mary was left behind.

When it became clear to Atohi that Calista and the children were not returning, he went berserk. He ranted for days about the white devils and how he shouldn’t have trusted them. For a long time, he refused to believe that Calista chose not to return to him. Then, he began to berate himself for allowing all three of the children accompany her. He should have sent the oldest with her and kept the two younger ones with him and then she would have had to come back.

Mary was terrified. How she wished that the Mistress had taken her with her instead of leaving her there. What was to become of her now? Was Atohi going to sell her?

She got her answer when one night, he went into her and announced, “My wife is gone and I need a woman to satisfy my needs. You’ll have to do.” And before she could do or say anything, he dragged her over to the bed and pushed her down on top.

After hauling his trousers down, he pushed up her skirt, ripped her legs apart, moved between them and thrust himself into her, making her scream in pain. She almost passed out. Tears ran down her face as he relentlessly and savagely violated her. When, it was over, he got off her, pulled up his trousers and left her lying there.

When she managed to get up from the bed, she made her way to the river where she washed herself. Then, she returned to the camp. She knew that what just happened was the first of many such encounters. Her nightmare had just begun.

Atohi hated debasing himself with Mary but he couldn’t help it. She aroused in him an insatiable hunger, something he hadn’t experienced with Calista. The more he took her, the more he wanted her. And he hated her and himself for that. He wanted to stop having relations with her but he couldn’t. Maybe he should sell her. He would get a good price for her. No, he decided he couldn’t sell her. She belonged to him.

“Why do you mate with her if it defiles you?” Waya, one of his men, asked him.

“Desire is a very strong force, Waya. Once it gets a hold of you, you’re like the fish we trap. Even a mighty warrior like me cannot fight against it. Desire is more powerful than love. I loved my wife but that love is nothing compared to the desire I feel for my black concubine.”

Night after night, he went into her. Mary lay there, motionless while he violated her. His fingers gripped her legs, hurting them while he moved his hips fast and furiously against her. How she wished for death. It would be preferable to this. In death, she would be free. Free…

“Waya, I’m going to take me another wife,” Atohi announced one evening.

“Which one of our women will you take as wife?” Waya asked.

“None of them. I shall take my black concubine as wife.”

“But you can’t.”

“I can do whatever I want. I am Chief Atohi. If I want to take six wives, I will take six wives and no one can stop me. However, I don’t want six wives, I just want one and I have decided that it shall be Mary.”

Unknown to them Mary had overheard them and was horrified. She decided that she was going to run away. She would rather take her chances out there in the unknown than to remain there and become Atohi’s second wife. The next night after he had been in to her, she waited until she was sure that no one was awake and she made her escape.

When Atohi discovered that she was gone, he went ballistic. He got his horse and went looking for her. Her leaving him was far worse than Calista’s desertion and betrayal. He would not rest until he found her. And when he did, he would whip her mercilessly and then make her his wife.

He never found her. Apparently, something had spooked his horse, probably a snake and it threw him. They found him lying at the foot of a tree in the forest with his neck broken. They took his body back with them to prepare it for burial.

It was Waya who found Mary. She hadn’t gotten very far. He spoke kindly to her. She didn’t want to return with him because of Atohi. “Chief Atohi is dead,” he told her.

She stared at him in shock. “Dead?”

“Yes.” He explained what had happened to Atohi.

Mary broke down and cried, not because she was sorry that he was dead but that she was free of him. Waya put his arm around her shoulders and led her to his horse. He lifted her unto it and then mounted it. They slowly made their way back.

A couple of weeks after she returned to the camp, Mary discovered that she was pregnant. Since her mixed-race child was born to a slave, he inherited her slave status. And although, Waya and she later fell in love, they were forbidden to marry because in 1824, the Cherokee National Council passed a law prohibiting marriage between the Cherokee and their slaves. They lived as common-law and had five children which they raised with the son she had for Atohi.

This story is fiction but was inspired by the true story of Cherokee warrior, Shoe Boots who married Calinda, a young white female who was captured during an Indian raid in Kentucky in 1792. Shoe Boots purchased a young enslaved girl named Doll in South Carolina who was placed under the supervision of his white wife as a domestic servant. When his wife and children abandoned him after an arranged family visit to Kentucky in 1804, Shoe Boots took 16-year-old Doll as his concubine. According to him, he debased himself when he took her because he was upset over losing his white wife.

Sources: The Ties that Bind: the Story of a Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom; UC Press; Wikipedia;

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