Meaning of the name
His Cherokee name, according to Mooney, was "Aganstata," which he translated as "groundhog-sausage" (agana = groundhog, and tsistau = "I am pounding it"—as in pounding meat in a mortar). It appears as "Oconastota" (with two 'a's) on his grave marker at the site of Chota. Chota had been the chief town of Overhill Cherokee for a time.
Oconostota may have been a son of Moytoy of Tellico, and was born around 1704, one of eleven children. The identity of Oconostota's first wife is a mystery, although she was of the Paint Clan. Their daughter, Nionne Ollie, married his cousin Attakullakulla, his predecessor as First Beloved Man. Some sources claim Nionne Ollie was a Natchez refugee who was adopted as the daughter of Oconostota's wife (as the Cherokee were a matrilineal society, inheritance and descent went through the mother's clan.) Some Natchez or Natchers lived in the Upper South prior to relocating farther south.
After the death of his first wife, Oconostota invited Lucy Ward (a former lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England whom he had met in 1730), to join him in Chota. They were married and had one daughter, Lucy Ward II. Oconostota married a third time after Lucy Ward died in 1758, but the identity of his third wife is unknown.
Oconostota became the First Beloved Man of the Cherokee following the death of his cousin Attakullakulla, sometime around 1775-1777. (He was sometimes called "Stalking Turkey", a fact which caused confusion in identifying Oconostota versus his uncle, Kanagatucko, "Standing Turkey".) His tenure was fraught with warfare and struggle, which culminated in 1780 in the destruction of Chota and Tanasi by American revolutionary forces during the rebellion against the British and their alliles. Oconostota was believed to have died in either 1782 or 1783. He was buried with his hands on his chest holding a broadsword pointing down his body.
During the archaeological digs at the site of Chota prior to the Tellico Reservoir impoundment, the remains of Oconostota were found. They were identified by a pair of reading glasses which he owned which were buried with him. Oconostota's remains were re-interred at Chota in the portion raised by TVA (which includes the site of the council house). A gravestone now marks the site.
- Klink, Karl, and James Talman, ed. 'The Journal of Major John Norton (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1970), p.42
- Litton, Gaston L. "The Principal Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation", Chronicles of Oklahoma 15:3 (September 1937) 253-270. (accessed August 28, 2006).
- Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee, (1900, reprint 1995).
- Kelly, James C. "Oconostota", Journal of Cherokee Studies 3:4 (Fall 1978), 221-238.