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William Holland Thomas
|Birth name||William Holland Thomas|
February 5, 1805|
Near Mount Prospect, North Carolina
|Died||May 10, 1893
Morganton, North Carolina
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
||Confederate States of America Army|
|Years of service||1861–1865 (CSA)|
|Commands held||Thomas' Legion|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
|Other work||Chief of the North Carolina Cherokee|
William Holland Thomas (February 5, 1805 – May 10, 1893) was the son of Temperance Colvard (Thomas) and Richard Thomas, who died before he was born. He was raised by his mother on Raccoon Creek outside present-day Waynseville, North Carolina. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to Felix Walker's store and trading post. There he learned to speak Cherokee and was befriended and later adopted by the chief/headman of the local Cherokees, Yonaguska. He was later adopted into the tribe as a whole. Although it was later claimed by his daughter, Sarah Thomas Avery, that he was principal Chief after Yonaguska's death (in Sara Thomas Avery, "William Holland Thomas," North Carolina University Magazine May 1899), it has since been shown that he was not the Chief. Flying Squirrel aka Saunooke was, in fact, the head Chief of the Qualla Cherokee (later known as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
Thomas became a successful merchant and was a lifelong ally of the Eastern Cherokee. In 1819, Yonaguska had made the prescient decision to separate his group from the authority of the Cherokee Nation. The Qualla Cherokee became "citizenized" (they were under the authority of the state of North Carolina, but without the full rights of white citizens). In 1830, Will Thomas became the agent/attorney for the Qualla Cherokee. As the U.S., under President Andrew Jackson, pushed for full removal of the Native peoples of the Southeast, Will Thomas helped the North Carolina Cherokees resist removal by buying land for them. After a Cherokee man named Tsali (aka Charley) and his sons killed soldiers who had rounded them up for removal, Will Thomas was an intermediary between the Qualla Cherokees the U.S. Army and helped find Tsali's hiding place. After the Cherokees executed Tsali, the Qualla Cherokee were granted the right to remain on their ancestral lands. The state of North Carolina, however, would continue to try and remove them, and Thomas represented the tribe in resisting those efforts. While it was his adopted father, Yonaguska, who planned and prepared the way for the Qualla Cherokees to remain east, Will Thomas worked in support of his adopted father's plan for decades after Yonaguska's death. With his own funds and those provided by the Cherokee, he bought land in North Carolina to be used by the Cherokee. Much of this property is now included in Qualla Boundary, the territory of the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee.
During the Civil War, Thomas served as a colonel in the Confederate States Army. He led Thomas' Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders
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