Watie's Cherokee name was Degataga, meaning "standing together as one," or "he stands." He also was known as Isaac S. Watie. Watie was the son of Oo-watie (David Uwatie) and the part-English Susanna Reese. He attended Moravian Mission School at Springplace, Georgia. He served as a clerk of the Cherokee Supreme Court and Speaker of the Cherokee National Council prior to removal.
As a member of the Ridge-Watie-boundinot faction of the Cherokee Nation, Watie supported removal to the Cherokee Nation to the West, and signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. The anti-removal Ross Party believed the treaty was in violation of the opinions of the majority of the tribe and refused to ratify it. In defiance of Principal Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokees, the treaty was approved and the Indians Nation moved. Watie, his family, and many other Cherokees moved to the Cherokee Nation, West (present-day Oklahoma), in 1837 and settled at Honey Creek. Those Cherokees (and their slaves) who remained on tribal lands in the East were forcibly removed by the U.S. government in 1838 in a journey known as the "Trail of Tears", during which thousands died.
The Ross Party targeted Stand and Buck Watie and the Ridge family for assassination. Following the murders of his uncle Major Ridge, cousin John Ridge, and brother Elias Boundinot (Buck Watie) in 1839, and his brother Thomas Watie in 1845, Stand Watie assumed the leadership of the Ridge-Watie-Boundinot faction and was involved in a long-running blood feud with the followers of John Ross. He also was a leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle, which bitterly opposed abolitionism.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Watie quickly joined the Southern cause. He was commissioned a Colonel on July 12, 1861, and raised a regiment of Cherokees for service with the Confederate army. After Chief John Ross and the Cherokee Council decided to support the Confederacy (to keep the Cherokee United), he organized a regiment of cavalry. In October 1861, he was commissioned as a Colonel in the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles. Although he fought Union troops, he also used his troops in fighting between factions of the Cherokee, as well as against the Creek and Seminole and others who chose to support the Union. After Ross fled Indian Territory, Watie was elected principal chief of the Confederate Cherokees in August 1862.
A portion of Watie's command saw action at Oak Hills (August 10, 1861) in a battle that assured the South's hold on Indian Territory and made Watie a Confederate military hero. Afterward, Watie helped drive the pro-Northern Indians out of Indian Territory, and following the battle of Chustenahlah, he commanded the pursuit of the fleeing Federals, led by Opothleyahola, and drove them into exile in Kansas. Although Watie's men were exempt from service outside Indian Territory, he led his troops into Arkansas in the spring of 1861 to stem a Federal invasion of the region.
Joining with Major Gen. Earl Van Dorn's command, Watie took part in the battle of Pea Ridge. On the first day of fighting, the Confederate Cherokees, which were on the left flank of the Confederate line, captured a battery of Union artillery before being forced to abandon it. Following the Union victory, Watie's command screened the Confederate withdrawal.
Watie, or troops in his command, participated in 18 battles and major skirmishes with Union troops during the war, including Cowskin Prairie (April 1862), Old Fort Wayne, Webber's Falls (April 1863), Fort Gibson (May 1863), Cabin Creek, and Gunter's Prairie (August 1864). In addition, his men were engaged in a multitude of smaller skirmishes and meeting engagements in Indian Territory and neighboring states. Because of his wide-ranging raids behind Union lines, he tied down thousands of Union troops that were badly needed in the East.
Watie's two greatest victories were the capture of the Union steam boat USS J.R. Williams on June 15, 1864, and the seizure of $1.5 million worth of supplies in a Union wagon supply train at the 2nd battle of Cabin Creek on September 19, 1864.
Watie was promoted to Brigadier General on May 6, 1864, and given command of the 1st Indian Brigade, which contained 2 regiments of Mounted Rifles and 3 battalions of Cherokee, Seminole and Osage infantry. These troops were based south of the Canadian River, and periodically crossed the river into Union territory. His force reportedly fought in more battles west of the Mississippi River than any other unit. Watie was the only Native American on either side of the Civil War to rise to the rank of Brigadier General. At Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nations' area of Oklahoma Territory, Watie surrendered the last significant Confederate army, becoming the last Confederate general in the field to surrender.
After the war, Watie served as a member of the Southern Cherokee delegation during the negotiation of the Cherokee Reconstruction Treaty of 1866. Afterwards, he abandoned public life and returned to his old home along Honey Creek.
After the war, Watie became a tribal leader and served as a member of the Southern Cherokee delegation during the negotiations for the Cherokee Reconstruction Treaty of 1866 and initiated efforts to rebuild tribal assets. Afterwards, he abandoned public life and returned to his old home along Honey Creek. He and his nephew, Elias C. Boudinot, were arrested for evading taxes on income from a tobacco factory, and were plantiffs in the Cherokee Tobacco Case of 1870, which negated the 1866 treaty provision establishing tribal tax exempt status. As a result of this case, Congress officially impeded further treaties with Indian tribes, delegating Indian policy to acts of Congress or executive order.
Watie married 4 times, the first 3 before tribal relocation to the west. His fourth marriage in 1843, to Sarah Caroline Bell, produced 5 children. He is buried in Polson Cemetery in Oklahoma, near southwest Missouri.