Ever since I was a young girl growing up in Bartlesville, OK, I dreamed that one day I could pay tribute to my 5th-great grandmother, Nancy Ward, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee. After many years of writing songs, recording albums, and performing all over the world, that day has come! I have written 17 songs, and have co-written the script with Nick Sweet, for a musical based on her life. At long last, Nancy Ward’s voice will be heard!
Her birth name was Nanyehi, which means, "she who walks among the spirit people." On the day she was born, a white wolf appeared on the horizon. This was very significant to the Cherokee people, as "white" was the color that symbolized "peace," and Nanyehi was born into the Wolf Clan, one of the most prominent of the seven Cherokee clans. She was born in approximately 1738, in Chota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, in an area that is now eastern Tennessee. She accompanied her husband, Kingfisher, to war against the Creek Indians in the 1755 Battle of Taliwa. As she knelt by his side, chewing the bullets to make them more deadly, Kingfisher was killed. Nanyehi took his rifle and led the Cherokee to victory. She was honored as a "war woman" and was given the right to sit on the War Council, and deemed the leader of the Women’s Council. She was also granted a power not even given to the Chiefs. She could determine the fate of captives, whether they be killed, enslaved, released, or adopted into the tribe. Nanyehi then used her powerful position of War Woman to promote peace between the Cherokee and the white settlers, the British, the French, and other tribes. After years of leading her people, tending to the wounded and caring for the many orphans, she was elevated to the highest position a woman could have, that of “Ghigau,” or “Beloved Woman.” She was given a shawl of white swan feathers, which remained a symbol of her authority the rest of her life. Her second husband was Bryant Ward, a trader in Cherokee country of Irish descent. She became known as “Nancy Ward” to the American settlers. She played one of the most important roles in American history.
Nanyehi entered the spirit world in 1822. Witnesses say that a white light rose from her chest, swirled around the room, took the form of a swan, and flew out the window toward her beloved Chota.