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From the top, L-R: John Ross; Colonel Elias Cornelius Boudinot; Samuel Smith; Lilly Smith; Walini; Marcia Pascal; Lillian Gross; William Penn Adair; Thomas M. Cook
Total population
(Eastern Band: 13,000+,Cherokee Nation: 288,749, United Keetoowah Band: 14,300)[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States
( North Carolina, Oklahoma)
English, Cherokee
Christianity, Kituhwa, Four Mothers Society,[2] Native American Church[3]

The Cherokee (; Cherokee Ani-Yunwiya (ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ) are a North Carolina and South Carolina). They speak an Iroquoian language. In the 19th century, historians and ethnographers recorded their oral tradition that told of the tribe having migrated south in ancient times from the Great Lakes region, where other Iroquoian-speaking peoples were.[4]

By the 19th century, white settlers in the United States called the Cherokee one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" because they had adopted numerous cultural and technological practices of European American settlers. The Cherokee were one of the first, if not the first, major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens. Article 8 in the 1817 treaty with the Cherokee stated Cherokees may wish to become citizens of the United States.[5] According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Cherokee Nation has more than 314,000 members, the largest of the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.[6] In addition, numerous groups claiming Cherokee lineage, some of which are state-recognized, have members who are among those 819,000-plus people claiming Cherokee ancestry on the US census.

Of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) have headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The UKB are mostly descendants of "Old Settlers," Cherokee who migrated to Arkansas and Oklahoma about 1817. They are related to the Cherokee who were forcibly relocated there in the 1830s under the Indian Removal Act. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is on the Qualla Boundary in western North Carolina, and are descendants of those who resisted or avoided relocation.[7] In addition, there are numerous Cherokee heritage groups throughout the United states, such as the satellite communities sponsored by the Cherokee Nation.


  • Name 1
  • Origins 2
  • Early cultures 3
  • History 4
    • 17th century: English contact 4.1
    • 18th century 4.2
      • Scots (and other Europeans) among the Cherokee in the 18th century 4.2.1
    • 19th century 4.3
      • Acculturation 4.3.1
      • Removal era 4.3.2
        • Trail of Tears
        • Eastern Band
      • Civil War 4.3.3
      • Reconstruction and late 19th century 4.3.4
  • Culture 5
    • Cultural institutions 5.1
    • Marriage 5.2
    • Ethnobotany 5.3
  • Language and writing system 6
  • Treaties and government 7
    • Treaties 7.1
    • Government 7.2
  • Modern Cherokee tribes 8
    • Cherokee Nation 8.1
    • Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians 8.2
    • United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians 8.3
    • Relations among the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes 8.4
  • Contemporary settlement 9
  • Membership controversies 10
    • Tribal recognition and membership 10.1
    • Cherokee Freedmen 10.2
  • Notable historical Cherokee people 11
  • See also 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15


The Cherokee's name for themselves is Ani-Yunwiya (ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ), which means "Principal People."

Many theories—though none proven—abound about the origin of the name "Cherokee". It may have originally been derived from the Choctaw word Cha-la-kee, which means "those who live in the mountains", or Choctaw Chi-luk-ik-bi, meaning "those who live in the cave country."[8] The earliest Spanish rendering of the name "Cherokee," from 1755, is Tchalaquei.[9] Another theory is that "Cherokee" derives from a Lower Creek word, Cvlakke ("chuh-log-gee").[10] The Iroquois in New York have historically called the Cherokee Oyata’ge'ronoñ ("inhabitants of the cave country").

Tsalagi (ᏣᎳᎩ) is sometimes misused as a name for the people; Tsalagi is actually the Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ) word for the Cherokee language.[11]


There are two main theories of Cherokee origins. One is that the Cherokee, an Iroquoian-speaking people, are relative latecomers to Southern Appalachia, who may have migrated in late prehistoric times from northern areas, the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee nations and other Iroquoian-speaking peoples. Another theory is that the Cherokee had been in the Southeast for thousands of years.

Researchers in the 19th century recorded conversations with elders who recounted an oral tradition of the Cherokee people's migrating south from the Great Lakes region in ancient times.[4] They may have moved south into Muscogee Creek territory and settled at the sites of mounds built by the Mississippian culture. During early research, archeologists mistakenly attributed several Mississippian culture sites to the Cherokee, including Moundville and Etowah Mounds.

Pre-contact Cherokee are considered to be part of the later Mississippian Culture-period (800 to 1500 CE), local women developed a new variety of maize (corn) called eastern flint corn. It closely resembled modern corn and produced larger crops. The successful cultivation of corn surpluses allowed the rise of larger, more complex chiefdoms with several villages and concentrated populations during this period. Corn became celebrated among numerous peoples in religious ceremonies, especially the Green Corn Ceremony.

Early cultures

Much of what is known about pre-18th-century Native American cultures has come from records of Spanish expeditions. The earliest ones of the mid-16th-century encountered people of the

  • Cherokee Nation, official site
  • Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, official site
  • United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, official site
  • Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee, NC
  • Cherokee Heritage Center, Park Hill, OK
  • Smithsonian Institution – Cherokee photos and documents
  • Historical Sound Files of Cherokee Stomp Dance
  • Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center – Genealogy and Culture
  • Cherokee article, Oklahoma Historical Society Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
  • Cherokee Indians in FamilySearch Research Wiki for genealogists

External links

  • Doublass, Robert Sydney. "History of Southeast Missouri", 1992, pp. 32–45
  • Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Dragging Canoe". Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 176–189. (Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 1977).
  • Finger, John R. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the 20th century. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8032-6879-3.
  • Glenn, Eddie. "A league of nations?" Tahlequah Daily Press. January 6, 2006 (Accessed May 24, 2007)
  • Halliburton, R., jr.: Red over Black – Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut 1977 ISBN 0-8371-9034-7
  • Irwin, L, "Cherokee Healing: Myth, Dreams, and Medicine." American Indian Quarterly. Vol. 16, 2, 1992, p. 237.
  • McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • Mooney, James. "Myths of the Cherokees." Bureau of American Ethnology, Nineteenth Annual Report, 1900, Part I. pp. 1–576. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Perdue, Theda. "Clan and Court: Another Look at the Early Cherokee Republic." American Indian Quarterly. Vol. 24, 4, 2000, p. 562.
  • Perdue, Theda. Cherokee women: gender and culture change, 1700–1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-8032-8760-0.
  • Pierpoint, Mary. "Unrecognized Cherokee claims cause problems for nation." Indian Country Today. August 16, 2000 (Accessed May 16, 2007).
  • Rollings, Willard H. "The Osage: An Ethnohistorical Study of Hegemony on the Prairie-Plains." (University of Missouri Press, 1992)
  • Sturtevant, William C., general editor and Raymond D. Fogelson, volume editor. Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast. Volume 14. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2004. ISBN 0-16-072300-0.
  • Wishart, David M. "Evidence of Surplus Production in the Cherokee Nation Prior to Removal." Journal of Economic History. Vol. 55, 1, 1995, p. 120.


  1. ^ "Pocket Pictorial." Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2010: 6 and 37. (retrieved June 11, 2010)
  2. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 613
  3. ^ Minges, Patrick, "Middle and Valley Towns in Western North Carolina." Cherokee Prayer Initiative Journal. 1999 (retrieved June 11, 2010)
  4. ^ a b  
  5. ^ Charles Kappler (1904). "INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES Vol. II, Treaties". Government Printing Office. Retrieved January 29, 2013.  Note: Article 8 in the 1817 treaty as quoted, is mostly about certain land use rights (East of the Mississippi [river]), which might be retained by certain "Indians" if they met certain conditions -- namely, if they [quote] "wish to become citizens of the United States". However, in so doing, Article 8 implies that such "Indians" (living East of the Mississippi [river]) who "wish to become citizens of the United States", could (would be allowed to) become citizens of the United States. It seems to (be worded so as to) anticipate a future (after 1817) in which lands West of the Mississippi [river] would remain (territories of, or) outside the boundaries of, the United States.
  6. ^ "The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010" (PDF). Census 2010 Brief. February 1, 2002. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  7. ^ Cherokee Indians. The Trail of Tears and the Creation of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.. Retrieved 3 June 2014
  8. ^ Cherokee Indian Tribe. Access Genealogy. (September 21, 2009)
  9. ^ Charles A. Hanna, The Wilderness Trail, (New York: 1911).
  10. ^ Martin and Mauldin, "A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee."Sturtevant and Fogelson, p.349
  11. ^ "Cherokee: A Language of the United States".  
  12. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 132
  13. ^ Finger, 6–7
  14. ^ Mooney
  15. ^ a b c Irwin 1992.
  16. ^ Mooney, p. 392.
  17. ^ David Landy, "Tuscarora", Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Cengage Learning Website, Houghton Mifflin Company, accessed January 12, 2010.
  18. ^ a b  
  19. ^ Glottochronology from: Lounsbury, Floyd (1961), and Mithun, Marianne (1981), cited in The Native Languages of the Southeastern United StatesNicholas A. Hopkins, .
  20. ^ Conley, A Cherokee Encyclopedia, p. 3
  21. ^ Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee p. 31.
  22. ^ Lewis Preston Summers, 1903, History of Southwest Virginia, 1746–1786, p. 40
  23. ^ Gallay, Alan (2002). The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670–1717. Yale University Press.  
  24. ^ Timberlake, Henry. "Memoirs of Henry Timberlake". London 1765, pp. 49-51. 
  25. ^ Vicki Rozema, Footsteps of the Cherokees (1995), p. 14.
  26. ^ Oatis, Steven J. (2004). A Colonial Complex: South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680–1730. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.  
  27. ^ Brown, John P. "Eastern Cherokee Chiefs", Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 16, No. 1, March 1938. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  28. ^ Rozema, pp. 17–23.
  29. ^ "Watauga Association", North Carolina History Project. . Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  30. ^ Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Scared Formulas of the Cherokee, p. 83. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900).
  31. ^ "New Georgia Encyclopedia: Chief Vann House". September 23, 2005. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  32. ^ "New Echota Historic Site". June 5, 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  33. ^ "New Georgia Encyclopedia: Cherokee Phoenix". August 28, 2002. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  34. ^ Rollings (1992) pp. 187, 230–255.
  35. ^ Rollings (1992) pp. 187, 236.
  36. ^ Logan, Charles Russell. "The Promised Land: The Cherokees, Arkansas, and Removal, 1794–1839." Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. 1997 . Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  37. ^ Doublass (1912) pp. 40–2
  38. ^ Rollings (1992) p. 235.
  39. ^ Rollings (1992) pp. 239–40.
  40. ^ Rollings (1992) pp. 254–5, Doublass (1912) p. 44.
  41. ^ Rollings (1992) pp. 280–1
  42. ^ Wishart, p. 120
  43. ^ Wishart 1995.
  44. ^ """New Georgia Encyclopedia: "Worcester v. Georgia (1832). April 27, 2004. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  45. ^ "Treaty of New Echota, Dec. 29, 1835 (Cherokee – United States)". Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  46. ^ "Cherokee in Georgia: Treaty of New Echota". June 5, 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  47. ^ Georgia Historic Marker, New Echota, 1958
  48. ^ "Books by Alex W. Bealer"., 1972 and 1996. Retrieved March 27, 2011. 
  49. ^ Theda Purdue, Native Carolinians: The Indians of North Carolina, pg. 40
  50. ^ "Tsali." History and culture of the Cherokee (North Carolina Indians). (March 10, 2007)
  51. ^ "Will Thomas." History and culture of the Cherokee (North Carolina Indians). (March 10, 2007)
  52. ^ "Treaty with the Cherokee, 1866." Oklahoma Historical Society: Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Vol. 2, Treaties. (retrieved January 10, 2010)
  53. ^ Qualla History. . Retrieved September 15, 09.
  54. ^ The Museum of the Cherokee Indian. . Retrieved September 15, 09.
  55. ^ "Announcement of the founding of the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts in Cherokee", Southwestern Community College (retrieved Nov 24, 2010)
  56. ^ "New Letterpress Arrives at OICA", The One Feather (retrieved Nov 24, 2010)
  57. ^ "OICA is gone, but not really", The One Feather (retrieved Mar 18, 2013)
  58. ^ "Cherokee Heritage Center". Retrieved March 10, 2007. 
  59. ^ a b Perdue (1999), p. 176
  60. ^ Perdue (1999), pp. 44, 57–8
  61. ^ Yarbough, Fay (2004). "Legislating Women’s Sexuality: Cherokee Marriage Laws". Journal of Social History 38 (2): 385–406 [p. 388].  
  62. ^ Daniel E. Moerman (2009). Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Timber Press. pp. 52–53.  
  63. ^ Broyles, Patrick J. (2004), Blue Wild Indigo, retrieved 2007-06-19 
  64. ^ Hamel and Chiltoskey, Paul B., and Mary U. (1975). Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C.:  
  65. ^ .Hydrangea arborescensMrs. M. Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
  66. ^ .Hydrangea arborescensPlants for a Future:
  67. ^ "". USDA. 
  68. ^ Native American Ethnobotany Database by D. Moerman
  69. ^ Taylor, Linda Averill 1940 Plants Used As Curatives by Certain Southeastern Tribes. Cambridge, MA. Botanical Museum of Harvard University (p. 60)
  70. ^ Morand, Ann, Kevin Smith, Daniel C. Swan, and Sarah Erwin. Treasures of Gilcrease: Selections from the Permanent Collection. Tulsa, OK: Gilcrease Museum,2003. ISBN 0-9725657-1-X
  71. ^ a b c "Cherokee syllabary". 1998–2009. Retrieved May 14, 2009. 
  72. ^ This constitution was approved by Cherokee Nation voters in 2003 but was not approved by the BIA. The Cherokee Nation then amended their 1975 constitution to not require BIA approval. The 1999 constitution has been ratified but the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court is currently deciding what year the 1999 constitution officially went into effect. Constitution of the Cherokee Nation. (pdf file). Cherokee Nation. Retrieved March 5, 2009.
  73. ^ Perdue, p. 564.
  74. ^ Perdue, pp. 564–565.
  75. ^ Perdue, p. 566.
  76. ^ Constitution of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Law Center. (retrieved January 16, 2010)
  77. ^ Associated, The (July 13, 2009). "Cherokee Nation likely to appeal BIA decision | Indian Country Today | Archive". Indian Country Today. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  78. ^ Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., Smoky Mountain Host of North Carolina (retrieved 1 July 2014)
  79. ^ Leeds, George R. United Keetoowah Band. Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. (retrieved October 5, 2009)
  80. ^ Oklahoma Office of Indian Affairs. Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. 2008:36
  81. ^ "New Times - San Luis Obispo - Cover Story - Photographic license". Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  82. ^ "Cherokee Ancestry Search – Cherokee Genealogy by City". Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  83. ^ Cherokee Nation Registration.
  84. ^ Enrollment. United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees. (retrieved October 5, 2009)
  85. ^ We the People: American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United State PDF, Census 2000 Special Reports, United States Census Bureau
  86. ^ Glenn, Eddie. "A League of Nations?" Tahlequah Daily Press. January 6, 2006 (retrieved October 5, 2009)
  87. ^ Glenn 2006.
  88. ^ Official Statement Cherokee Nation 2000, Pierpoint 2000.
  89. ^
    • Act of Congress Roll, 1854
    • (Pre-convention – 1999) Oral and Written Testimonies
    • Cherokee Census Rolls, a follow-up
    • Chapman Roll Eastern Cherokees, 1851
    • Treaty with the Cherokee, 1817
  90. ^ "Freedman Decision" (PDF). Retrieved March 10, 2007. 
  91. ^ Cherokee Constitutional Amendment March 3, 2007.
  92. ^ "Nash, et al v. Cherokee Nation Registrar" (PDF). 
  93. ^ Gavin Off, "Judge grants Cherokee citizenship to non-Indian freedmen", Tulsa World, January 14, 2011.
  94. ^ "The Case of Ned Christie", Fort Smith Historic Site, National Park Service. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  95. ^ Carter JH. "Father and Cherokee Tradition Molded Will Rogers". Archived from the original on November 10, 2006. Retrieved March 10, 2007. 
  96. ^ "Sequoyah", New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 3, 2009.


See also

  • William Penn Adair (1830–1880), Cherokee senator and diplomat, Confederate colonel.
  • Attakullakulla (ca. 1708 – ca. 1777), diplomat to Britain, headman of Chota, chief
  • Bob Benge (ca. 1762–1794), warrior of the Lower Cherokee during the Chickamauga Wars
  • Elias Boudinot (Galagina) (1802–1839), statesman, orator, and editor, founded first Cherokee newspaper, Cherokee Phoenix
  • Ned Christie (1852–1892), statesman, Cherokee Nation senator, infamous outlaw[94]
  • Admiral Joseph J. Clark (1893–1971), United States Navy, highest ranking Native American in the US military, awarded the Navy Cross.
  • Doublehead, Taltsuska (d. 1807), a war leader during the Chicamauga Wars, led the Lower Cherokee, signed land deals with US
  • Dragging Canoe, Tsiyugunsini (1738–1792), general of the militant Cherokee during the Chickamauga Wars, principal chief of the Chicamauga or Lower Cherokee
  • Franklin Gritts, Cherokee artist taught at Haskell Institute and served on the USS Franklin
  • Charles R. Hicks (d. 1827), veteran of the Red Stick War, Second Principal Chief to Pathkiller in early 17th century, de facto Principal Chief from 1813–1827
  • Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010), first female Principal Chief of the Cherokees
  • Junaluska (ca. 1775–1868), veteran of the Creek War, who saved President Andrew Jackson's life
  • Oconostota, Aganstata (Beloved Man) (ca. 1710–1783), war chief during the Anglo-Cherokee War,
  • Ostenaco, Ustanakwa (ca. 1703–1780), war chief, diplomat to Britain, founded the town of Ultiwa
  • Major Ridge Ganundalegi or "Pathkiller" (ca.1771–1839), veteran of the Chickamauga Wars and the Red Stick War, signer of the Treaty of New Echota
  • John Ridge, Skatlelohski (1792–1839), son of Major Ridge, statesman, New Echota Treaty signer
  • John Rollin Ridge, Cheesquatalawny, or "Yellow Bird" (1827–1867), grandson of Major Ridge, first Native American novelist
  • Clement V. Rogers (1839–1911), US Senator, judge, cattleman, member of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention
  • Will Rogers (1879-1935), entertainer, roper, journalist, and author[95]
  • John Ross, Guwisguwi (1790–1866), veteran of the Red Stick War, Principal Chief in the east, during Removal, and in the west
  • Sequoyah (ca. 1767–1843), inventor of the Cherokee syllabary[96]
  • Nimrod Jarrett Smith, Tsaladihi (1837–1893), Principal Chief of the Eastern Band, Civil War veteran
  • Redbird Smith (1850–1918), traditionalist, political activist, and chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowah Society
  • William Holland Thomas, Wil' Usdi (1805–1893), non-Native but adopted into tribe, founding Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, commanding officer of Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders
  • Tom Threepersons (1889—1969), Cherokee lawman from Vinita, Indian Territory
  • James Vann (ca. 1765–1809), Scottish-Cherokee, highly successful businessman and veteran of the Chickamauga Wars
  • Nancy Ward, Nanye-hi (ca. 1736–1822/4), (Beloved Woman), diplomat
  • Stand Watie, Degataga (1806–1871), signer of the Treaty of New Echota, last Confederate general to cease hostilities in the American Civil War as commanding officer of the First Indian Brigade of the Army of Trans-Mississippi.

This includes only Cherokee documented in history. Contemporary notable Cherokee people are listed in the articles for the appropriate tribe. For self-identified people of Cherokee heritage, see List of Self-identified people of Cherokee ancestry.

Notable historical Cherokee people

On March 3, 2007 a constitutional amendment was passed by a Cherokee vote limiting citizenship to Cherokees on the Dawes Rolls for those listed as Cherokee by blood on the Dawes roll, which did not include partial Cherokee descendants of slaves, Shawnee and Delaware.[91] The Cherokee Freedmen had 90 days to appeal this amendment vote which disenfranchised them from Cherokee citizenship and file appeal within the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, which is currently pending in Nash, et al. v. Cherokee Nation Registrar. On May 14, 2007, the Cherokee Freedmen were reinstated as citizens of the Cherokee Nation by the Cherokee Nation Tribal Courts through a temporary order and temporary injunction until the court reached its final decision.[92] On January 14, 2011, the tribal district court ruled that the 2007 constitutional amendment was invalid because it conflicted with the 1866 treaty guaranteeing the Freedmen's rights.[93]

In 1988, the federal court in the Freedmen case of Nero v. Cherokee Nation held that Cherokees could decide citizenship requirements and exclude freedmen. On March 7, 2006, the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeal Tribunal ruled that the Cherokee Freedmen were eligible for Cherokee citizenship. This ruling proved controversial; while the Cherokee Freedman had historically been recorded as "citizens" of the Cherokee Nation at least since 1866 and the later Dawes Commission Land Rolls, the ruling "did not limit membership to people possessing Cherokee blood".[90] This ruling was consistent with the 1975 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, in its acceptance of the Cherokee Freedmen on the basis of historical citizenship, rather than documented blood relation.

The Cherokee freedmen, descendants of African American slaves owned by citizens of the Cherokee Nation during the Antebellum Period, were first guaranteed Cherokee citizenship under a treaty with the United States in 1866. This was in the wake of the American Civil War, when the US emancipated slaves and passed US constitutional amendments granting freedmen citizenship in the United States.

Cherokee Freedmen

Other remnant populations continue to exist throughout the Southeast United States and individually in the states surrounding Oklahoma. Many of these people trace descent from persons enumerated on official rolls such as the Guion-Miller, Drennan, Mullay and Henderson Rolls, among others. Other descendants trace their heritage through the treaties of 1817 and 1819 with the federal government which gave individual allotments to Cherokees. State recognized Tribes require varying levels of genealogical proof that applicants are of Cherokee descent. Current enrollment guidelines of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma have been approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Such facts were pointed out by Cherokee citizens of CNO during the Constitutional Convention held to ratify a new governing document. The document that was eventually ratified by a small portion of the electorate. However, the tribe does not have the power to change it's membership procedures and maintain federal recognition. Any changes to the tribe's enrollment procedures must be approved by the Department of Interior. Under 25 CFR 83 the Office of Federal Acknowledgment is required to first apply it's own anthropological, genealogical, and historical research methods to any request for change by the tribe. It then forwards it's recommendations to the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs for consideration.[89]

While most Mount Tabor residents returned to the Cherokee Nation following the death of John Ross in 1866, today there is a sizable group that is well documented but outside that body. It is not actively seeking a status clarification. They do have treaty rights going back to the William Penn Adair and Clement Neely Vann. Descendants of the Texas Cherokees and the Mount Tabor Community joined together to try to gain redress from treaty violations, stemming from the Treaty of Bowles Village in 1836. Today, most Mount Tabor descendants are in fact members of the Cherokee Nation. Only some 800 are stuck in limbo without status as Cherokees. Many of them still reside in Rusk and Smith counties of east Texas.

Following the adoption of the Cherokee constitution in 1976, TCAB descendants whose ancestors had remained a part of the physical Mount Tabor Community in Rusk County, Texas were excluded from citizenship. Their ancestors did not appear on the Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes, registered under the Dawes Commission. However, most if not all TCAB descendants did have an ancestor listed on either the Guion-Miller or Old settler rolls.

One exception to this may be the Texas Cherokees. Before 1975, they were considered a part of the Cherokee Nation, as reflected in briefs filed before the Indian Claims Commission. At one time W.W. Keeler served not only as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, but at the same time held the position as Chairman of the Texas Cherokee and Associated Bands (TCAB) Executive Committee.

Over 200 groups claim to be Cherokee nations, tribes, or bands.[86] Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller has suggested that some groups, which he calls Cherokee Heritage Groups, are encouraged.[87] Others, however, are controversial for their attempts to gain economically through their claims to be Cherokee. The three federally recognized groups assert themselves as the only groups having the legal right to present themselves as Cherokee Indian Tribes and only their enrolled members as Cherokee.[88]

In 2000 the U.S. census reported 875,276 people self-identified as Cherokee Indian;[85] however, only approximately 316,049 people are enrolled in the federally recognized Cherokee tribes.

The three Cherokees tribes have differing requirements for enrollment. The Cherokee Nation determines enrollment by lineal descent from Cherokees listed on the Dawes Rolls and has no minimum blood quantum requirement.[83] Currently, descendents of the Dawes Cherokee Freedman rolls are members of the tribe, pending court decisions. The Cherokee Nation includes numerous members who have African-American, Latino, Asian, European-American, and other ancestry. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians requires a minimum one-sixteenth Cherokee blood quantum (genealogical descent, equivalent to one great-great-grandparent) and an ancestor on the Baker Roll. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians requires a minimum one-quarter Keetoowah Cherokee blood quantum (equivalent to one grandparent), and the UKB does not allow members that have relinquished their membership to re-enroll in the UKB.[84]

Tribal recognition and membership

Membership controversies

See also the Albuquerque Cherokee Nation Township (Cherokee Nation) about the Cherokee community of Albuquerque, NM.

Cherokees are most concentrated in Oklahoma and North Carolina, but some reside in the US West Coast, due to economic migrations caused by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, job availability during the Second World War, and the Federal Indian Relocation program during the 1950s–1960s. Cherokees constitute over 2% of population of three largely rural communities in California–Covelo, Hayfork and San Miguel, one town in Oregon and one town in Arizona. Destinations for Cherokee diaspora included multi-ethnic/racial urban centers of California (i.e. the Greater Los Angeles and SF Bay areas), and they usually live in farming communities, by military bases and other Indian reservations.[82]

Dorothea Lange's famous photograph, Migrant Mother, that epitomized the Great Depression, features Florence Owens Thompson (Cherokee)[81] and her three children

Contemporary settlement

The United Keetoowah Band tribal council unanimously passed a resolution to approach the Cherokee Nation for a joint council meeting between the two Nations, as a means of "offering the olive branch", in the words of the UKB Council. While a date was set for the meeting between members of the Cherokee Nation Council and UKB representative, Chief Smith vetoed the meeting.

The administrations of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation have a somewhat adversarial relationship. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians interacts with the Cherokee Nation in a unified spirit of Gadugi.

The Cherokee Nation participates in numerous joint programs with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It also participates in cultural exchange programs and joint Tribal Council meetings involving councilors from both Cherokee Tribes. These are held to address issues affecting all of the Cherokee People.

Relations among the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes

[80] The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians formed their government under the

Flag of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians

United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians

Attractions include the Oconaluftee Indian Village, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual. Founded in 1946, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is country’s oldest and foremost Native American crafts cooperative.[78] The outdoor drama Unto These Hills, which debuted in 1950, recently broke record attendance sales. Together with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel, Cherokee Indian Hospital and Cherokee Boys Club, the tribe generated $78 million dollars in the local economy in 2005.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, led by Chief Michell Hicks, hosts over a million visitors a year to cultural attractions of the 100-square-mile (260 km2) sovereign nation. The reservation, the "Qualla Boundary", has a population of over 8,000 Cherokee, primarily direct descendants of Indians who managed to avoid “The Trail of Tears”.

Flag of the Eastern Band Cherokee

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

The Cherokee Nation supports the Cherokee Nation Film Festivals in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and participates in the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The CN hosts the Cherokee National Holiday on Labor Day weekend each year, and 80,000 to 90,000 Cherokee Citizens travel to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, for the festivities. It publishes the Cherokee Phoenix, the tribal newspaper, published in both English and the Sequoyah syllabary. The Cherokee Nation council appropriates money for historic foundations concerned with the preservation of Cherokee Culture.

The CN has constructed health clinics throughout Oklahoma, contributed to community development programs, built roads and bridges, constructed learning facilities and universities for its citizens, instilled the practice of Gadugi and self-reliance in its citizens, revitalized language immersion programs for its children and youth, and is a powerful and positive economic and political force in Eastern Oklahoma.

The modern Cherokee Nation, in recent times, has experienced an almost unprecedented expansion in economic growth, equality, and prosperity for its citizens. The Cherokee Nation, under the leadership of Principal Chief Bill John Baker, has significant business, corporate, real estate, and agricultural interests. The CN controls Cherokee Nation Entertainment, Cherokee Nation Industries, and Cherokee Nation Businesses. CNI is a very large defense contractor that creates thousands of jobs in eastern Oklahoma for Cherokee citizens.

During 1898–1906 the federal government dissolved the former Cherokee Nation, to make way for the incorporation of Indian Territory into the new state of Oklahoma. From 1906 to 1975, structure and function of the tribal government were not clearly defined. In 1975 the tribe drafted a constitution, which they ratified on June 26, 1976,[76] and the tribe received federal recognition. In 1999, the CNO changed or added several provisions to its constitution, among them the designation of the tribe to be "Cherokee Nation," dropping "of Oklahoma." According to a statement by BIA head Larry Echohawk the Cherokee Nation is not the historical Cherokee tribe but instead a "successor in interest." The attorney of the Cherokee Nation has stated that they intend to appeal this decision.[77]

The Cherokee Female Seminary was built in 1889 by the Oklahoma Cherokees.
Cherokee Nation Historic Courthouse in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Flag of the Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Nation

Modern Cherokee tribes

After being ravaged by smallpox, and pressed by increasingly violent land-hungry settlers, the Cherokee adopted a European-American Representative democracy form of government in an effort to retain their lands. They established a governmental system modeled on that of the United States, with an elected principal chief, senate, and house of representatives. On April 10, 1810 the seven Cherokee clans met and began the abolition of blood vengeance by giving the sacred duty to the new Cherokee National government. Clans formally relinquished judicial responsibilities by the 1820s when the Cherokee Supreme Court was established. In 1825, the National Council extended citizenship to the children of Cherokee men married to white women. These ideas were largely incorporated into the 1827 Cherokee constitution.[73] The constitution stated that "No person who is of negro or mulatto [sic] parentage, either by the father or mother side, shall be eligible to hold any office of profit, honor or trust under this Government," with an exception for, "negroes and descendants of white and Indian men by negro women who may have been set free."[74] This definition to limit rights of multiracial descendants may have been more widely held among the elite than the general population.[75]

1794 Establishment of the Cherokee National Council and officers over the whole nation
1808 Establishment of the Cherokee Lighthorse Guard, a national police force
1809 Establishment of the National Committee
1810 End of separate regional councils and abolition of blood vengeance
1820 Establishment of courts in eight districts to handle civil disputes
1822 Cherokee Supreme Court established
1823 National Committee given power to review acts of the National Council
1827 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation East
1828 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation West
1832 Suspension of elections in the Cherokee Nation East
1839 Constitution of the reunited Cherokee Nation
1868 Constitution of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
1888 Charter of Incorporation issued by the State of North Carolina to the Eastern Band
1950 Constitution and federal charter of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
1975 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
1999 Constitution of the Cherokee Nation drafted[72]


The Cherokee have participated in at least thirty-six treaties in the past three hundred years.


Treaties and government

Tsalagi: Nigada aniyvwi nigeguda'lvna ale unihloyi unadehna duyukdv gesv'i. Gejinela unadanvtehdi ale unohlisdi ale sagwu gesv junilvwisdanedi anahldinvdlv adanvdo gvhdi.[71]
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)[71]

The following table is an example of Cherokee text and its translation:

Other examples of borrowed words are kawi (ᎧᏫ) for coffee and watsi (ᏩᏥ) for watch (which led to utana watsi (ᎤᏔᎾ ᏩᏥ) or "big watch" for clock).

Many words, however, have been borrowed from the English language, such as gasoline, which in Cherokee is ga-so-li-ne (ᎦᏐᎵᏁ). Many other words were borrowed from the languages of tribes who settled in Oklahoma in the early 20th century. One example relates to a town in Oklahoma named "Nowata". The word nowata is a Delaware Indian word for "welcome" (more precisely the Delaware word is nu-wi-ta which can mean "welcome" or "friend" in the Delaware Language). The white settlers of the area used the name "nowata" for the township, and local Cherokees, being unaware the word had its origins in the Delaware Language, called the town Amadikanigvnagvna (ᎠᎹᏗᎧᏂᎬᎾᎬᎾ) which means "the water is all gone from here", i.e. "no water".

Because of the polysynthetic nature of the Cherokee language, new and descriptive words in Cherokee are easily constructed to reflect or express modern concepts. Examples include ditiyohihi (ᏗᏘᏲᎯᎯ), which means "he argues repeatedly and on purpose with a purpose," meaning "attorney." Another example is didaniyisgi (ᏗᏓᏂᏱᏍᎩ) which means "the final catcher" or "he catches them finally and conclusively," meaning "policeman."

Sequoyah's syllabary in the order that he originally arranged the characters.

The Cherokee speak a Southern Iroquoian language, which is polysynthetic and is written in a syllabary invented by Sequoyah (ᏍᏏᏉᏯ).[70] For years, many people wrote transliterated Cherokee or used poorly intercompatible fonts to type out the syllabary. However, since the fairly recent addition of the Cherokee syllables to Unicode, the Cherokee language is experiencing a renaissance in its use on the Internet.

Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary

Language and writing system

Plants used in traditional Cherokee herbalism include [66] Virginia Iris,[67] and Jeffersonia diphylla used in an infusion for treating dropsy and urinary tract problems, it was also used as a poultice for sores and inflammation.[68]Triodanis perfoliata is taken as a liquid compound of root for dyspepsia from overeating, and take an infusion of roots taken and use it as a bath for dyspepsia.[69] The Cherokee have multiple uses for Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium ssp. obtusifolium, please see that article for a full list.


In the late nineteenth century, the US government put new restrictions on marriage between a Cherokee and non-Cherokee, although it was still relatively common. A European-American man could legally marry a Cherokee woman by petitioning the federal court, after gaining approval of ten of her blood relatives. Once married, the man had status as an "Intermarried White," a member of the Cherokee tribe with restricted rights; for instance, he could not hold any tribal office. He remained a citizen of and under the laws of the United States. Common law marriages were more popular. Such "Intermarried Whites" were listed in a separate category on the registers of the Dawes Rolls, prepared for allotment of plots of land to individual households of members of the tribe, in the early twentieth-century federal policy for assimilation of the Native Americans.

It was unusual for a Cherokee man to marry a European-American woman. The children of such a union were disadvantaged, as they would not belong to the nation. They would be born outside the clans and traditionally were not considered Cherokee citizens. This is because of the matrilineal aspect of Cherokee culture.[59] As the Cherokee began to adopt some elements of European-American culture in the early 19th century, they sent elite young men, such as John Ridge and Elias Boudinot to American schools for education. After Ridge had married a European-American woman from Connecticut and Boudinot was engaged to another, the Cherokee Council in 1825 passed a law making children of such unions full citizens of the tribe, as if their mothers were Cherokee. This was a way to protect the families of men expected to be leaders of the tribe.[61]

Before the 19th century, polygamy was common among the Cherokee, especially by elite men.[59] The matrilineal culture meant that women controlled property, such as their dwellings, and their children were considered born into their mother's clan, where they gained hereditary status. Advancement to leadership positions were generally subject to approval by the women elders. In addition, the society was matrifocal; customarily, a married couple lived with or near the woman's family, so she could be aided by her female relatives. Her oldest brother was a more important mentor to her boys than was their father, who belonged to another clan. Traditionally, couples, particularly women, can divorce freely.[60]


The Cherokee Heritage Center, of Park Hill, Oklahoma hosts a reproduction of an ancient Cherokee Village, Adams Rural Village (including 19th-century buildings), Nofire Farms, and the Cherokee Family Research Center for genealogy.[58] The Cherokee Heritage Center also houses the Cherokee National Archives. Both the Cherokee Nation (of Oklahoma) and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, as well as other tribes, contribute funding to the CHC.

In 2007, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians entered into a partnership with Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University to create the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts (OICA), to emphasize native art and culture in traditional fine arts education, thus preserving traditional art forms and encouraging exploration of contemporary ideas. Located in Cherokee, OICA offered an associate's degree program.[55] In August 2010, OICA acquired a letterpress and had the Cherokee syllabary recast to begin printing one-of-a-kind fine art books and prints in the Cherokee language.[56] In 2012, the Fine Art degree program at OICA was incorporated into Southwestern Community College and moved to the SCC Swain Center, where it continues to operate.[57]

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., of Cherokee, North Carolina is the oldest continuing Native American art co-operative. They were founded in 1946 to provide a venue for traditional Eastern Band Cherokee artists.[53] The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, also in Cherokee, displays permanent and changing exhibits, houses archives and collections important to Cherokee history, and sponsors cultural groups, such as the Warriors of the AniKituhwa dance group.[54]

Cultural institutions


By the late 19th century, the Eastern Band of Cherokee were laboring under the constraints of a segregated society. In the aftermath of Reconstruction, conservative white Democrats regained power in North Carolina and other southern states. They proceeded to effectively disfranchise all blacks and many poor whites by new constitutions and laws related to voter registration and elections. They passed Jim Crow laws that divided society into "white" and "colored", mostly to control freedmen. Cherokee and other Native Americans were classified on the colored side and suffered the same racial segregation and disfranchisement as former slaves. They also often lost their historical documentation for identification as Indians, when the Southern states classified them as colored. Blacks and Native Americans would not have their constitutional rights as US citizens enforced until after the Civil Rights Movement secured passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, and the federal government began to monitor voter registration and elections, as well as other programs.

Map of present-day Cherokee Nation Tribal Jurisdiction Area (dark blue)

The Curtis Act of 1898 dismantled tribal governments, courts, schools, and other civic institutions. For Indian Territory, this meant abolition of the Cherokee courts and governmental systems. This was seen as necessary before the Oklahoma and Indian territories could be admitted as a combined state. In 1905, the Five Civilized Tribes of the Indian Territory proposed the creation of the State of Sequoyah as one to be exclusively Native American, but failed to gain support in Washington, D.C.. In 1907, the Oklahoma and Indian Territories entered the union as the state of Oklahoma.

The US government also acquired easement rights to the western part of the territory, which became the Oklahoma Territory, for the construction of railroads. Development and settlers followed the railroads. By the late 19th century, the government believed that Native Americans would be better off if each family owned its own land. The Dawes Act of 1887 provided for the breakup of commonly held tribal land into individual household allotments. Native Americans were registered on the Dawes Rolls and allotted land from the common reserve. The US government counted the remainder of tribal land as "surplus" and sold it to non-Cherokee individuals.

After the Civil War, the US government required the Cherokee Nation to sign a new treaty, because of its alliance with the Confederacy. The US required the 1866 Treaty to provide for the emancipation of all Cherokee slaves, and full citizenship to all Cherokee freedmen and all African Americans who chose to continue to reside within tribal lands, so that they "shall have all the rights of native Cherokees."[52] Both before and after the Civil War, some Cherokee intermarried or had relationships with African Americans, just as they had with whites. Many Cherokee Freedmen have been active politically within the tribe.

William Penn (Cherokee), His Shield (Yanktonai), Levi Big Eagle (Yanktonai), Bear Ghost (Yanktonai) and Black Moustache (Sisseton).

Reconstruction and late 19th century

Watie was elected Principal Chief of the pro-Confederacy majority. A master of hit-and-run cavalry tactics, Watie fought those Cherokee loyal to John Ross and Federal troops in Indian Territory and Arkansas, capturing Union supply trains and steamboats, and saving a Confederate army by covering their retreat after the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862. He became a Brigadier General of the Confederate States; the only other American Indian to hold the rank in the American Civil War was Ely S. Parker with the Union Army. On June 25, 1865, two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Stand Watie became the last Confederate General to stand down.

Stand Watie, the leader of the Ridge Party, raised a regiment for Confederate service in 1861. John Ross, who had reluctantly agreed to ally with the Confederacy, was captured by Federal troops in 1862. He lived in self-imposed exile in Philadelphia, supporting the Union. In Indian Territory, the national council of those who supported the Union voted to abolish slavery in the Cherokee Nation in 1863, but they were not the majority slaveholders and the vote had little effect on those supporting the Confederacy.

The American Civil War was devastating for both East and Western Cherokee. The Eastern Band, aided by William Thomas, became the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders, fighting for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.[51] Cherokee in Indian Territory divided into Union and Confederate factions, with most supporting the Confederacy.

Cherokee confederates reunion in New Orleans, 1903.

Civil War

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and some of the state-recognized tribes in surrounding states.

Cól-lee, a Band Chief, painted by George Catlin, 1834
Eastern Band

In 1827, Sequoyah had led a delegation of Old Settlers to Washington, D.C. to negotiate for the exchange of Arkansas land for land in Indian Territory. After the Trail of Tears, he helped mediate divisions between the Old Settlers and the rival factions of the more recent arrivals. In 1839, as President of the Western Cherokee, Sequoyah signed an Act of Union with John Ross that reunited the two groups of the Cherokee Nation.

In keeping with the tribe's "blood law" that prescribed the death penalty for Cherokee who sold lands, Ross's son arranged the murder of the leaders of the "Treaty Party". On June 22, 1839, a party of twenty-five Ross supporters assassinated Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. The party included Daniel Colston, John Vann, Archibald, James and Joseph Spear. Boudinot's brother Stand Watie fought and survived that day, escaping to Arkansas.

Two years later President Martin Van Buren ordered 7,000 Federal troops and state militia under General Winfield Scott into Cherokee lands to evict the tribe. Over 16,000 Cherokee were forcibly relocated westward to Indian Territory in 1838–1839, a migration known as the Trail of Tears or in Cherokee ᏅᎾ ᏓᎤᎳ ᏨᏱ or Nvna Daula Tsvyi (The Trail Where They Cried), although it is described by another word Tlo-va-sa (The Removal). Marched over 800 miles (1,300 km) across Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas, the people suffered from disease, exposure and starvation, and as many as 4,000 died.[47] As some Cherokees were slaveholders, they took enslaved African Americans with them west of the Mississippi. Intermarried European Americans and missionaries also walked the Trail of Tears. Ross preserved a vestige of independence by negotiating for the Cherokee to conduct their own removal under U.S. supervision.[48]

John Ross gathered over 15,000 signatures for a petition to the U.S. Senate, insisting that the treaty was invalid because it did not have the support of the majority of the Cherokee people. The Senate passed the Treaty of New Echota by a one-vote margin. It was enacted into law in May 1836.[46]

A small group known as the "Ridge Party" or the "Treaty Party" saw relocation as inevitable and believed the Cherokee Nation needed to make the best deal to preserve their rights in Indian Territory. Led by Treaty of New Echota, stipulating terms and conditions for the removal of the Cherokee Nation. In return for their lands, the Cherokee were promised a large tract in the Indian Territory, $5 million, and $300,000 for improvements on their new lands.[45]

Cherokee beadwork sampler, made at Dwight Mission, Indian Territory, 19th century, collection of the Oklahoma History Center.
Jackson ignored the Supreme Court's ruling, as he needed to conciliate Southern sectionalism during the era of the

In 1831 Georgia militia arrested Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that American Indian nations were "distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights," and entitled to federal protection from the actions of state governments that infringed on their sovereignty.[44] Worcester v. Georgia is considered one of the most important dicta in law dealing with Native Americans.

The Cherokee brought their grievances to a US judicial review that set a precedent in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.

Andrew Jackson said the removal policy was an effort to prevent the Cherokee from facing extinction as a people, which he considered the fate that "the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware" had suffered.[42] But, there is ample evidence that the Cherokee were adapting modern farming techniques. A modern analysis shows that the area was in general in a state of economic surplus and could have accommodated both the Cherokee and new settlers.[43]

During the first decades of the 19th century, Georgia focused on removing the Cherokee's neighbors, the Washington. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the forcible relocation of American Indians east of the Mississippi to a new Indian Territory.

Chief John Ross, ca. 1840
Trail of Tears

A group of Cherokee traditionalists led by Di'wali moved to Spanish Texas in 1819. Settling near Nacogdoches, they were welcomed by Mexican authorities as potential allies against Anglo-American colonists. The Texas Cherokees were mostly neutral during the Texas War of Independence. In 1836, they signed a treaty with Texas President Sam Houston, an adopted member of the Cherokee tribe. His successor Mirabeau Lamar sent militia to evict them in 1839.

The Cherokee, eventually, migrated as far north as the Missouri Bootheel by 1816. They lived interspersed among the Delawares and Shawnees of that area.[37] The Cherokee in Missouri Territory increased rapidly in population, from 1,000 to 6,000 over the next year (1816–1817), according to reports by Governor William Clark.[38] Increased conflicts with the Osage Nation led to the Battle of Claremore Mound and the eventual establishment of Fort Smith between Cherokee and Osage communities.[39] In the Treaty of St. Louis (1825), the Osage were made to "cede and relinquish to the United States, all their right, title, interest, and claim, to lands lying within the State of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas..." to make room for the Cherokee and the Mashcoux, Muscogee Creeks.[40] As late as the winter of 1838, Cherokee and Creek living in the Missouri and Arkansas areas petitioned the War Department to remove the Osage from the area.[41]

In 1802, the federal government promised to extinguish Indian titles to lands claimed by Alabama and Mississippi. To convince the Cherokee to move voluntarily in 1815, the US government established a Cherokee Reservation in Arkansas.[36] The reservation boundaries extended from north of the Arkansas River to the southern bank of the White River. Di'wali (The Bowl), Sequoyah, Spring Frog and Tatsi (Dutch) and their bands settled there. These Cherokees became known as "Old settlers."

Before the final removal to present-day Oklahoma, many Cherokees relocated to present-day Arkansas, Missouri and Texas.[34] Between 1775 and 1786 the Cherokee, along with people of other nations such as the Choctaw and Chickasaw, began voluntarily settling along the Arkansas and Red Rivers.[35]

Tah-Chee (Dutch), A Cherokee Chief, 1837

Removal era

In 1827, the Cherokee Nation drafted a Constitution modeled on the United States, with executive, legislative and judicial branches and a system of checks and balances. The two-tiered legislature was led by Major Ridge and his son John Ridge. Convinced the tribe's survival required English-speaking leaders who could negotiate with the U.S., the legislature appointed John Ross as Principal Chief. A printing press was established at New Echota by the Vermont missionary Samuel Worcester and Major Ridge's nephew Elias Boudinot, who had taken the name of his white benefactor, a leader of the Continental Congress and New Jersey Congressman. They translated the Bible into Cherokee syllabary. Boudinot published the first edition of the bilingual 'Cherokee Phoenix,' the first American Indian newspaper, in February 1828.[33]

In 1819, the Cherokee began holding council meetings at New Town, at the headwaters of the New Echota, after the Overhill Cherokee principal town of Chota.[32] Sequoyah's syllabary was adopted. They had developed a police force, a judicial system, and a National Committee.

Cherokee National Council building, New Echota

Around 1809 Sequoyah began developing a written form of the Cherokee language. He spoke no English, but his experiences as a silversmith dealing regularly with white settlers, and as a warrior at Horseshoe Bend, convinced him the Cherokee needed to develop writing. In 1821, he introduced Cherokee syllabary, the first written syllabic form of an American Indian language outside of Central America. Initially his innovation was opposed by both Cherokee traditionalists and white missionaries, who sought to encourage the use of English. When Sequoyah taught children to read and write with the syllabary, he reached the adults. By the 1820s, the Cherokee had a higher rate of literacy than the whites around them in Georgia.

The Cherokee allied with the U.S. against the nativist and pro-British substantial house, developed a large plantation and ran a ferry on the Oostanaula River. Although he never learned English, he sent his son and nephews to New England to be educated in mission schools. His interpreter and protégé Chief John Ross, the descendant of several generations of Cherokee women and Scots fur-traders, built a plantation and operated a trading firm and a ferry at Ross' Landing (Chattanooga, Tennessee). During this period, divisions arose between the acculturated elite and the great majority of Cherokee, who clung to traditional ways of life.

In 1806 a Nashville. His son 'Rich Joe' Vann developed the plantation to 800 acres (3.2 km2), cultivated by 150 slaves. He exported cotton to England, and owned a steamboat on the Tennessee River.[31]

The Cherokee organized a national government under Principal Chiefs Little Turkey (1788–1801), Black Fox (1801–1811), and Pathkiller (1811–1827), all former warriors of Dragging Canoe. The 'Cherokee triumvirate' of James Vann and his protégés The Ridge and Charles R. Hicks advocated acculturation, formal education, and modern methods of farming. In 1801 they invited Moravian missionaries from North Carolina to teach Christianity and the 'arts of civilized life.' The Moravians and later Congregationalist missionaries ran boarding schools, and a select few students were educated at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions school in Connecticut.

Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. He encouraged the Cherokee to abandon their communal land-tenure and settle on individual farmsteads, facilitated by the destruction of many American Indian towns during the American Revolutionary War. The deerskin trade brought white-tailed deer to the brink of extinction, and as pigs and cattle were introduced, they became the principal sources of meat. The government supplied the tribes with spinning wheels and cotton-seed, and men were taught to fence and plow the land, in contrast to their traditional division in which crop cultivation was woman's labor. Americans instructed the women in weaving. Eventually Hawkins helped them set up blacksmiths, gristmills and cotton plantations.

Portrait of Major Ridge in 1834, from History of the Indian Tribes of North America.

The Cherokee lands between the Tennessee and Chattahoochee rivers were remote enough from white settlers to remain independent after the Chickamauga Wars. The deerskin trade was no longer feasible on their greatly reduced lands, and over the next several decades, the people of the fledgling Cherokee Nation began to build a new society modeled on the white Southern United States.


19th century

By contrast, a large portion of the settlers encroaching on the Native American territories were Scots-Irish, Irish from Ulster of Scottish descent, a group who also supported the Revolution. But Scots-Irish also comprised Loyalists in the backcountry; for example, Simon Girty).

Notable traders, agents, and refugee Tories among the Cherokee included John Stuart, Henry Stuart, Alexander Cameron, John McDonald, John Joseph Vann (father of James Vann), Daniel Ross (father of John Ross), John Walker Sr., John McLemore (father of Bob), William Buchanan, John Watts (father of John Watts Jr.), John D. Chisholm, John Benge (father of Bob Benge), Thomas Brown, John Rogers (Welsh), John Gunter (German, founder of Gunter's Landing), James Adair (Irish), William Thorpe (English), and Peter Hildebrand (German), among many others. Some attained the honorary status of minor chiefs and/or members of significant delegations.

The traders and British government agents dealing with the Southern tribes in general, and the Cherokee in particular, were nearly all of Scottish extraction, especially from the Highlands. A few were Scots-Irish, English, French, even German (see Scottish Indian trade). Many of these men married women from their host people and remained after the fighting had ended; some fathered children who would later become significant leaders among the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast.[30]

Scots (and other Europeans) among the Cherokee in the 18th century

Dragging Canoe and his band settled along Chickamauga Creek near present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they established 11 new towns. Chickamauga Town was his headquarters and the colonists tended to call his entire band as the Chickamauga. From here he fought a guerrilla war against settlers, which lasted from 1776-1794. These are known informally as the Chickamauga wars, but this is not an historians' term. The first Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse, signed November 7, 1794, finally brought peace between the Cherokee and Americans. In 1805, the Cherokee ceded their lands between the Cumberland and Duck rivers (i.e. the Cumberland Plateau) to Tennessee.

In 1776, allied with the Shawnee led by Second Cherokee War. Overhill Cherokee Nancy Ward, Dragging Canoe's cousin, warned settlers of impending attacks. Provincial militias retaliated, destroying over 50 Cherokee towns. North Carolina militia in 1776 and 1780 invaded and destroyed the Overhill towns. In 1777, surviving Cherokee town leaders signed treaties with the states.

In 1771–1772, North Carolinian settlers squatted on Cherokee lands in Tennessee, forming the Watauga Association.[29] Daniel Boone and his party tried to settle in Kentucky, but the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, and some Cherokee attacked a scouting and forage party that included Boone’s son. The American Indians used this territory as a hunting ground; it had hardly been inhabited for years. The conflict sparked the beginning of what was known as Dunmore's War (1773–1774).

From 1753 to 1755, battles broke out between the Cherokee and Muscogee over disputed hunting grounds in Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbade British settlements west of the Appalachian crest, as his government tried to afford some protection from colonial encroachment to the Cherokee and other tribes. The Crown found the ruling difficult to enforce with colonists.[28]

After the Anglo-Cherokee War, bitterness remained between the two groups. In 1765, Henry Timberlake took three of the former Cherokee adversaries to London to help cement the newly declared friendship.

Political power among the Cherokee remained decentralized, and towns acted autonomously. In 1735 the Cherokee were estimated to have sixty-four towns and villages, and 6,000 fighting men. In 1738 and 1739 smallpox epidemics broke out among the Cherokee, who had no natural immunity. Nearly half their population died within a year. Hundreds of other Cherokee committed suicide due to their losses and disfigurement from the disease.

In 1721, the Cherokee ceded lands in Attakullakulla, to London, England. There the Cherokee delegation signed the Treaty of Whitehall with the British. Moytoy's son, Amo-sgasite (Dreadful Water), attempted to succeed him as "Emperor" in 1741, but the Cherokee elected their own leader, Cunne Shote (Standing Turkey) of Chota.[27]

In January 1716, Cherokee murdered a delegation of Ball Ground, Georgia, with the defeat of the Muscogee.

The Cherokee gave sanctuary to a band of Shawnee in the 1660s. But, from 1710 to 1715 the Cherokee and Chickasaw, allied with the British, fought Shawnee, who were allied with the French, and forced them to move northward.[25] Cherokee fought with the Yamasee, Catawba, and British in late 1712 and early 1713 against the Tuscarora in the Second Tuscarora War. The Tuscarora War marked the beginning of a British-Cherokee relationship that, despite breaking down on occasion, remained strong for much of the 18th century. With the growth of the deerskin trade, the Cherokee were valuable trading partners, since deer-skins from the cooler country of their mountain hunting-grounds were of a better quality than those supplied by lowland tribes that were neighbors of the English colonists.

18th century

"They that can afford it wear a collar of wampum, which are beads cut out of clam-shells, a silver breast-plate, and bracelets on their arms and wrists of the same metal, a bit of cloth over their private parts, a shirt of the English make, a sort of cloth-boots, and mockasons (sic), which are shoes of a make peculiar to the Americans, ornamented with porcupine-quills; a large mantle or match-coat thrown over all complete their dress at home..."[24]
"The Cherokees are of a middle stature, of an olive colour, tho' generally painted, and their skins stained with gun-powder, pricked into it in very pretty figures. The hair of their head is shaved, tho' many of the old people have it plucked out by the roots, except a patch on the hinder part of the head, about twice the bigness of a crown-piece, which is ornamented with beads, feathers, wampum, stained deers hair, and such like baubles. The ears are slit and stretched to an enormous size, putting the person who undergoes the operation to incredible pain, being unable to lie on either side for nearly forty days. To remedy this, they generally slit but one at a time; so soon as the patient can bear it, they wound round with wire to expand them, and are adorned with silver pendants and rings, which they likewise wear at the nose. This custom does not belong originally to the Cherokees, but taken by them from the Shawnese, or other northern nations.

American colonist Henry Timberlake described the Cherokee people as he perceived them in 1761:

Virginian traders developed a small-scale trading system with the Cherokee in the Piedmont before the end of the 17th century; the earliest recorded Virginia trader to live among the Cherokee was Cornelius Dougherty or Dority, in 1690.[21][22] The Cherokee sold the traders Indian slaves for use as laborers in Virginia and further north.[23]

In 1657, there was a disturbance in Virginia Colony as the Rechahecrians or Rickahockans, as well as the Siouan Manahoac and Nahyssan, broke through the frontier and settled near the Falls of the James, near present-day Richmond, Virginia. The following year, a combined force of English and Pamunkey drove the newcomers away. The identity of the Rechahecrians has been much debated. Historians noted the name closely resembled that recorded for the Eriechronon or Erielhonan, commonly known as the Erie tribe. This Iroquoian people had been driven away from the southern shore of Lake Erie in 1654 by the powerful Iroquois Five Nations in 1654. The anthropologist Martin Smith theorized some remnants of the tribe migrated to Virginia after the wars (1986:131–32). Few historians suggest this tribe was Cherokee.[20]

17th century: English contact


Linguistic analysis shows a relatively large difference between Cherokee and the northern Iroquoian languages. Scholars posit a split between the groups in the distant past, perhaps 3500–3800 years ago.[18] Glottochronology studies suggest the split occurred between about 1,500 and 1,800 BCE.[19] The Cherokee have claimed the ancient settlement of Kituwa on the Tuckasegee River, formerly next to and now part of Qualla Boundary (the reserve of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) in North Carolina, as the original Cherokee settlement in the Southeast.[18]

Other historians hold that, judging from linguistic and cultural data, the Tuscarora people migrated South from other Iroquoian-speaking people in the Great Lakes region in ancient times. In the 1700s, the Tuscarora left the Southeast and "returned" to the New York area by 1722 because of harsh warfare in the southern region. The Tuscarora were admitted by the Iroquois as the Sixth Nation of their political confederacy.[17]

Unlike most other Indians in the American Southeast at the start of the historic era, the Cherokee spoke an Iroquoian language, an indication of migration from another area. Since the Great Lakes region was the core of Iroquoian-language speakers, scholars have theorized that the Cherokee migrated south from that region. This is supported by the Cherokee oral history tradition. According to the scholars' theory, the Tuscarora, another Iroquoian-speaking people who inhabited the Southeast in historic times, and the Cherokee broke off from the major group during its northern migration.

Another major source of early cultural history comes from materials written in the 19th century by the didanvwisgi (ᏗᏓᏅᏫᏍᎩ), Cherokee medicine men, after Sequoyah's creation of the Cherokee syllabary in the 1820s. Initially only the didanvwisgi adopted and used such materials, which were considered extremely powerful in a spiritual sense.[15] Later, the syllabary and writings were widely adopted by the Cherokee people.

Researchers have debated the reasons for the change. Some historians believe the decline in priestly power originated with a revolt by the Cherokee against the abuses of the priestly class known as the Ani-kutani.[15] Ethnographer James Mooney, who studied the Cherokee in the late 1880s, was the first to trace the decline of the former hierarchy to this revolt.[16] By the time of Mooney, the structure of Cherokee religious practitioners was more informal, based more on individual knowledge and ability than upon heredity.[15]

The American writer hereditary and priestly, was responsible for religious activities, such as healing, purification, and prayer. A second group of younger men, the "red" organization, was responsible for warfare. The Cherokee considered warfare a polluting activity, and warriors required purification by the priestly class before participants could reintegrate into normal village life. This hierarchy had disappeared long before the 18th century.

Some of this work was not translated into English and made available to historians until the 20th century, and alternative views had developed related to limited understanding by English colonists of historic Native American cultures in the Southeast. In addition, the dominance of English colonists in the Southeast led to a discounting of Spanish sources for some time. [14]

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