Atta Kul Kulla
Peace Chief of the Cherokee Nation
Atta Kul Kulla (c. 1715-1780) was the Peace Chief of the powerful Cherokee Nation from 1758 until his death. Called the “most important Indian of his day,” Atta Kul Kulla was a skilled and sophisticated diplomat. His policies and actions are still controversial, but he did unite his people and lay the foundation for the long-term survival of the Cherokee Nation on a continent that was rapidly filling up with European immigrants.
In 1775, Atta Kul Kulla played a key role in the famous land transaction known as the Transylvania Purchase. The Cherokees were depleted after a war with the Chickasaw. In return for much-needed arms and ammunition, he made the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with the Transylvania Land Company, headed by Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina, who used the agreement to claim purchase of what is now Kentucky.
Unlike Henderson, Atta Kul Kulla did not regard the treaty as a sale. The legislatures of North Carolina and Virginia termed the treaty illegal and annulled it, but Virginia still used it to claim state ownership. Kentucky was lost to the Cherokee forever and sold to a flood of settlers from the east.
Atta Kul Kulla died around 1780, but the unity and sense of identity he had forged allowed the Cherokee to prosper until the 1830s, when the U.S. government forcibly removed them to the west from their homelands in the southeast. Atta kul kulla’s legacy is that Cherokees still seek and cherish the separate identity he did so much to establish.
Information provided by Kentucky Chataqua and the Kentucky Humanities Council.