June 27, 1943


By Russell Orr

Tellico Plains, the mountain village headquarters of Tennessee's big annual wild boar and bear hunt, and where the Outdoor Writers Association America are holding their summer meeting this week end is probably the scene of more glamorous and romantic history than any other spot in the Southern Highlands. It was the capital of the Cherokee Nations and was located in the center of the expansive Cherokee hunting grounds which included the great Smoky Mountains and the vast Cherokee National Forest where the hectic wild bear hunt is not held each autumn.

Probably the most spectacular chapter in the history of the Cherokees has to do with their all but forgotten attempt to establish an empire, including all the Indian people, for the purpose of driving all white men back to Europe and bringing about universal peace among red men.

The strange part of this fantastic plan is that it was conceived and almost carried out by Christian Priber, an Englishman, who made his way to Tellico Plains in 1735 and sold the tall Chief Moytoy on his bold scheme. One of Moytoy's descendants, Lloyd Matoy, is the state game warden of the area. He is one of the principal supervisors of the big autumn hunt and is one of the finest specimens of mountain men in East Tennessee.

The story of how Priber went from Charleston, S. C., to Tellico Plains and set up his empire is best told by Herbert Ravenel Sass in his book, "Hear Me, Chiefs." Sass relates: "He founded an empire, crowned an emperor, and made himself prime minister. He shook his fist at the Great Powers of Europe and told them to get out of America or he would throw them out. More than that, he began his great task of remaking the world." "In the heart of the American wilderness with red Indians as his helpers and with an Indian girl as his mate, he laid the foundations for that ideal state of which he had dreamed for 20 years , that happy republic where perfect liberty and equality would prevail and no man would be richer than his neighbor, that new and glorious commonwealth which would be a light and an example to all the nations of mankind. How Priber go to Great Tellico nobody knows. There was peace at the time between the Charleston English and the Cherokee Nations, but there were wandering war parties of other tribes to be reckoned with always, and at best, the lovely wilderness paths were beset with many perils." "More than five hundred miles of almost unbroken forest had to be traversed and the lofty mountain barrier of the Unakas and Smokies had to be climbed or circumvented.

"Possibly Priber went alone an down through by good luck; more likely, he attached himself during most of the journey to the pack-horse train of some trader bound for the Indian lands. All that is certain is that he reached Great Tellico, with his box of books, his bottle of ink, his smile and his dreams. And after a while strange things began to happen. The queer little man with a quick smile and bright , observant eyes and appeared defenseless and alone, among the warlike Cherokees beyond the Unaka mountains. How Priber had done it nobody knew, but somehow he had gained the favor of Moytoy of Tellico, most powerful of the chiefs. He had become as much of an Indian as the red men themselves. He had stripped of his European clothes and assumed the dress of an Indian' he had been adopted into the tribe as a great beloved man: and had married a warrior's daughter. Learning the Cherokees; language with marvelous ease, he had become their counselor and teacher.

Among other things he had taught them the proper use of weights and measure and especially, of steelyard to the great inconvenience of the English traders, many of whom were exceedingly canny business men. Worst of all, he was preaching among the Indians the most pernicious doctrine that could possibly be imagined-namely that they must cede no more of their lands to the white man but must hold on jealously to every foot of the soil that was rightfully theirs. Soon ran the stories brought down from te inner wilderness by the hunters and traders.

Then one day the English governor in Charleston received a letter which probably surprised him as much as any letter he had ever received in his life. It was an official communication dispatched from Great Tellico, capital of the Cherokee Nation and , in effect, it informed His Excellency the Governor, politely but firmly, that the sooner he and his English got out of American the better, because America belonged to the Indians and the Indians intended to keep it. the letter was signed "Christian Priber, Prime Minister."

"He had by them--through his good works among them and through his marriage to the Indians girl whose heart he had won---established himself firmly in the confidence of the Cherokees. "In deference in the redmen's taste for stately ceremonial he had devised an impressive new ritual for the crowning of the emperor and a variety of imposing titles for the other chiefs who constituted the nobles of the court, reserving for himself the title of secretary of state, or prime minister. "He planned to set up in America 200 years ago a civilization strikingly like that proposed for Soviet Russia--minus the bloodshed and terror. It would have been a Utopia if his government had been allowed to survive on this continent, but it would have spelled the end to the colonization dreams of England and the English have never allowed any one to stand in their way when bent on opening up a new country.

The English tried many tricks on Priber to get him out of the way and to put a stop to his empire building. It took them six years to lure him far enough away from his headquarters so that they could ambush him and kill him. That was the end of the republic of paradise.