World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Cherokee history

Kituwa Mound, location of the Cherokee mother town in North Carolina

Cherokee history draws upon the oral traditions and written history of the Cherokee people, who are currently enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, living predominantly in North Carolina and Oklahoma.


  • Origins 1
  • Early culture 2
  • 16th century: Spanish contact 3
    • 17th century: English contact 3.1
  • 18th century history 4
  • 19th century 5
    • Removal era 5.1
      • Treaty party 5.1.1
      • Trail of Tears 5.1.2
      • Eastern Band 5.1.3
    • Civil War 5.2
    • Reconstruction and late 19th century 5.3
  • Notable Cherokees in history 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9


There are two prevailing views about Cherokee origins. One is that the Cherokees are relative latecomers to Southern Appalachia. The other theory is that they have been there for thousands of years.

Some historians believe that Cherokees came to Appalachia as late as the 13th century. Over time they moved into Muscogee Creek territory and settled on the sites of Muscogee mounds.[1] Several Mississippian sites have been misattributed to the Cherokee, including Moundville and Etowah Mounds but are in fact Muscogee Creek. Pisgah Phase sites are associated with precontact Cherokee culture, and historic Cherokee villages featured artifacts with iconography from the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.

The other possibility is that Cherokee people have lived in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee for a far longer period of time. During the late Green Corn Ceremony.

One account recorded in the late 18th century speaks of a "Moon-eyed people" who had lived in the Cherokee regions before they arrived. The group was described in 1797 by Colonel Leonard Marbury to Benjamin Smith Barton. According to Marbury, when the Cherokee arrived in the area they had encountered a "moon-eyed" people who could not see in the day-time.[2]

Early culture

Prior to the 17th century, Cherokees lived in western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee

Much of what is known about pre-19th century Cherokee culture and society comes from the papers of American writer Ani-kutani( "Aní-" is a prefix referring to a group of individuals, while the meaning of "kutáni" is unknown).[3][4]

Ethnographer James Mooney, who studied the Cherokee in the late 1880s, first traced the decline of the former hierarchy to this revolt.[5] By the time of Mooney, the structure of Cherokee religious practitioners was more informal, based more on individual knowledge and ability than upon heredity.[4]

Another major source of early cultural history comes from materials written in the 19th century by the didanvwisgi (Cherokee:ᏗᏓᏅᏫᏍᎩ), Cherokee medicine men, after Sequoyah's creation of the Cherokee syllabary in the 1820s. Initially only the didanvwisgi used these materials, which were considered extremely powerful.[4] Later, the writings were widely adopted by the Cherokee people.

Unlike most other Indians in the American southeast at the start of the historic era, the Cherokee spoke an Iroquoian language. Since the Great Lakes region was the core of Iroquoian language speakers, scholars have theorized that the Cherokee migrated south from that region. However, some argue that the Iroquois migrated north from the southeast, with the Tuscarora breaking off from that group during the migration. Linguistic analysis shows a relatively large difference between Cherokee and the northern Iroquoian languages, suggesting a split in the distant past.[6] Glottochronology studies suggest the split occurred between about 1,500 and 1,800 B.C.[7] The ancient settlement of Kituwa on the Tuckasegee River, formerly next to and now part of Qualla Boundary (the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), is often cited as the original Cherokee settlement in the Southeast.[6]

16th century: Spanish contact

The first known Cherokee contact with Europeans was in late May 1540, when a Spanish expedition led by United States Supreme Court held that Cherokee Native Americans were entitled to federal protection from the actions of state governments. Worcester v. Georgia is considered one of the most important decisions in law dealing with Native Americans.

Despite the Indian Territory in 1838–1839, a migration known as the Trail of Tears or in Cherokee ᏅᎾ ᏓᎤᎳ ᏨᏱ or Nvna Daula Tsvyi (Cherokee: The Trail Where They Cried). This took place during the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The harsh treatment the Cherokee received at the hands of white settlers caused some to enroll to emigrate west.[23] 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.

On June 22, 1839, Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot were assassinated by a party of twenty-five extremist Ross supporters that included Daniel Colston, John Vann, Archibald Spear, James Spear, Joseph Spear, Hunter, and others. Stand Watie fought off the attempt on his life that day and escaped to Arkansas.

Eastern Band

George Catlin, 1834.

Some Cherokees were able to evade removal, and they became the East Band of Cherokee Indians. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Civil War

The American Civil War was devastating for both East and Western Cherokees. Those Cherokees aided by William Thomas became the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders, fighting for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.[25] Cherokees in Indian Territory split into Confederate and Union factions.

Reconstruction and late 19th century

Group of Cherokee, Yankton, and Sisseton 1909.

As in southern states, the end of the Civil War brought freedom to enslaved African Americans held by Cherokee. By an 1866 treaty with the US government, the Cherokee agreed to grant tribal citizenship to freedmen who had been held by them as slaves. 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 were active politically within the tribe.

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. Native Americans were registered on the Dawes Rolls and allotted land from the common reserve. This also opened up later sales of land by individuals to people outside the tribe.

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

The Curtis Act of 1898 advanced the break-up of Native American government. For the Oklahoma Territory, this meant abolition of the Cherokee courts and governmental systems by the U.S. Federal Government. This was seen as necessary before the Oklahoma and Indian territories could be admitted as states.

By the late 19th century, the Eastern Band of Cherokees 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, but the Native Americans were included on the colored side and suffered the same racial segregation and disfranchisement as former slaves. Blacks and Native Americans would not regain their rights as US citizens until the Civil Rights Movement and passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.

Notable Cherokees in history

  • Attakullakulla (ca. 1708-ca. 1777), diplomat to Britain, headman of Chota and 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 the first Cherokee newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix
  • Ned Christie (1852–1892), statesman, Cherokee Nation senator, infamous outlaw[26]
  • Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark (1893–1971), United States Navy, highest ranking Native American in the US military
  • Doublehead, Taltsuska (d. 1807), war leader during the Chickamauga wars, led the "Lower Cherokee", signed land deals with the U.S.
  • Dragging Canoe, Tsiyugunsini (1738–1792), general during the 2nd Cherokee War, principal chief of the Chickamauga (or "Lower Cherokee")
  • Franklin Gritts, Cherokee artist who taught at Haskell Institute and served on the USS Franklin
  • Charles R. Hicks (d. 1927), Second Principal Chief to Pathkiller in the early 17th century, de facto Principal Chief from 1813–1827
  • Junaluska (ca. 1775–1868), veteran of the Creek War, who saved future president, Andrew Jackson's, life
  • Oconostota, Aganstata (ca. 1710–1783), "Beloved Man", 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, signer of the Treaty of New Echota
  • John Ridge, Skatlelohski (1792–1839), son of Major Ridge, statesman, New Echota Treaty signer
  • Clement V. Rogers (1839–1911), Cherokee senator, judge, cattleman, member of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention
  • Will Rogers, Cherokee entertainer, roper, journalist, philosopher and author[27]
  • John Ross, Guwisguwi (1790–1866), Principal Chief in the east (during the Removal) and in the west
  • Sequoyah (ca. 1767–1843), inventor of the Cherokee syllabary[28]
  • Nimrod Jarrett Smith, Tsaladihi (1837–1893), Principal Chief of the Eastern Band, Civil War veteran
  • William Holland Thomas, Wil' Usdi (1805–1893), a non-Native, but adopted into the tribe; founding Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  • James Vann (ca. 1765–1809), Scottish-Cherokee, highly successful businessman and veteran
  • Stand Watie, Degataga (1806–1871), signer of the Treaty of New Echota, last Confederate general to surrender in the American Civil War
  • Moses Whitmire (ca. 1848-1884), Trustee for the Cherokee Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation and who brought suit on September 26, 1891 on behalf of the Cherokee nation against the United States Government to protect the rights and citizenship of the Cherokee under the Treaty between the United States Government and the Cherokee Nation, of July 19, 1866. This was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and judgement was awarded in the amount of $903,365 to the Cherokee Nation on March 18, 1895.

See also


  1. ^ a b Brown, John P. "Eastern Cherokee Chiefs." Chronicles of Oklahoma. Vol. 16, No. 1, March 1938. (retrieved 21 Sept 2009)
  2. ^ Barton, Benjamin Smith (1797). New views of the origin of the tribes and nations of America. p. xliv. 
  3. ^ "Who Were the Aní-Kutánî? An Excursion into Cherokee Historical Thought".  
  4. ^ a b c Irwin 1992.
  5. ^ Mooney, p. 392.
  6. ^ a b c  
  7. ^ Glottochronology from: Lounsbury, Floyd (1961), and Mithun, Marianne (1981), cited in The Native Languages of the Southeastern United StatesNicholas A. Hopkins, .
  8. ^ Charles Hudson (1998). Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms. University of Georgia Press. pp. 190–199.  
  9. ^ Mooney
  10. ^ Hill, 65
  11. ^ Hill, 66–67
  12. ^ Conley, A Cherokee Encyclopedia, p. 3
  13. ^ Mooney, p. 32.
  14. ^ Drake, Richard B. (2001). A History of Appalachia. University Press of Kentucky.  
  15. ^ Gallay, Alan (2002). The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670–1717. Yale University Press.  
  16. ^ Vicki Rozema, Footsteps of the Cherokees (1995), p. 14.
  17. ^ Oatis, Steven J. A Colonial Complex: South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680–1730. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8032-3575-5.
  18. ^ Rozema, pp. 17–23.
  19. ^ "Watauga Association". North Carolina History Project. (retrieved 21 Sept 2009)
  20. ^ Logan, Charles Russell. "The Promised Land: The Cherokees, Arkansas, and Removal, 1794–1839." Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. 1997 (retrieved 21 Sept 2009)
  21. ^ Wishart, p. 120.
  22. ^ Wishart 1995.
  23. ^ Perdue (2000), p. 565.
  24. ^ "Tsali." History and culture of the Cherokee (North Carolina Indians). (2007-03-10)
  25. ^ "Will Thomas." History and culture of the Cherokee (North Carolina Indians). (2007-03-10)
  26. ^ "The Case of Ned Christie", Fort Smith Historic Site, National Park Service, accessed 3 February 2009.
  27. ^ Carter JH. "Father and Cherokee Tradition Molded Will Rogers". Archived from the original on 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2007-03-10. 
  28. ^ "Sequoyah", New Georgia Encyclopedia, accessed 3 January 2009.


  • Conley, Robert J. A Cherokee Encyclopedia. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8263-3951-5.
  • Halliburton, R., jr.: Red over Black – Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, U.S.A, 1977, ISBN 0-8371-9034-7
  • Hill, Sarah H. Weaving New Worlds: Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8078-4650-3.
  • Irwin, L, "Cherokee Healing: Myth, Dreams, and Medicine." American Indian Quarterly. Vol. 16, 2, 1992, p. 237.
  • 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.
  • Wishart, David M. "Evidence of Surplus Production in the Cherokee Nation Prior to Removal." Journal of Economic History. Vol. 55, 1, 1995, p. 120.
In June 1830, a delegation of Cherokees led by Chief Ross brought their grievances about tribal sovereignty over state government to the US Supreme Court in the

Cherokees were displaced from their ancestral lands in northern Georgia and the Carolinas in a period of rapidly expanding white population. Some of the rapid expansion was due to a Andrew Jackson said removal policy was an effort to prevent the Cherokee from facing the fate of "the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware".[21] However there is ample evidence that the Cherokee were adapting modern farming techniques, and a modern analysis shows that the area was in general in a state of economic surplus.[22]

Chief John Ross, ca. 1840

Trail of Tears

Among the Cherokee, John Ross led the battle to halt their removal. Ross' supporters, commonly referred to as the "National Party," were opposed by a group known as the "Ridge Party" or the "Treaty Party". The Treaty Party signed the Treaty of New Echota, stipulating terms and conditions for the removal of the Cherokee Nation from the lands in the East for lands in Indian Territory.

Treaty party

John Ross became the Principal Chief of the tribe in 1828 and remained the chief until his death in 1866.

In 1815, the US government established a Cherokee Reservation in Arkansas.[20] The reservation boundaries extended from north of the Arkansas River to the southern bank of the White River. The Bowl, Sequoyah, Spring Frog and Tatsi (Dutch) and their bands settled there. These Cherokees became known as "Old Settlers."

Removal era

Facing removal, the Lower Cherokee were the first to move west. Remaining Lower Town leaders, such as Young Dragging Canoe and Sequoyah, were strong advocates of voluntary relocation.

The seat of the Upper Towns was at Ustanali (near The Ridge (formerly known as Pathkiller) and Charles R. Hicks, the "Cherokee Triumvirate", as their dominant leaders, particularly of the younger more acculturated generation. The leaders of these towns were the most progressive, favoring acculturation, formal education, and modern methods of farming.

The Cherokees organized a national government led by Principal Chiefs Little Turkey (1788–1801), Black Fox (1801–1811), and Pathkiller (1811–1827).

Tah-Chee (Dutch), A Cherokee Chief, 1837. Published in History of the Indian Tribes of North America.

19th century

Dragging Canoe and his band, however, moved to the area near present day Chattanooga, Tennessee, establishing 11 new towns. Chickamauga was his headquarters and his entire band was known as the Chickamaugas. From here he fought a guerrilla-style war, the Chickamauga Wars (1776-1794). The Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse, signed 7 November 1794, ended the Chickamauga wars..

In 1776, allied with the Shawnee and led by Washington District and North Carolina in the Second Cherokee War. An Overhill Cherokee, Nancy Ward (a niece of Dragging Canoe), warned settlers of the impending aggression. European-American militias retaliated, destroying over 50 Cherokee towns. In 1777, most of the surviving Cherokee town leaders signed treaties with the states.

In 1769–72, predominantly Virginian settlers squatting on Cherokee lands in Tennessee, formed the Watauga Association.[19] In "Kentuckee", Daniel Boone and his party tried to create a settlement in what would become the Transylvania colony, but the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, and some disgruntled Cherokee attacked a scouting and foraging party that included Boone’s son. This sparked the beginning of what was known as Dunmore's War (1773–1774).

[18] From 1753 to 1755, battles broke out between the Cherokee and Muscogee over disputed hunting grounds in

Political power among Cherokees remained decentralized with towns acting autonomously. In 1735 the Cherokee were estimated to have sixty-four towns and villages and 6000 fighting men. A significant interaction between European and American peoples was embodied in the assimilation of Gottlieb Priber into Cherokee society, a German radical who advocated for a trans-tribal region-wide Indian confederation to oppose European colonization of Native land. In 1738 and 1739 smallpox epidemics broke out among the Cherokee, who had no natural immunity. Nearly half their population died within a year. Many —possibly hundreds —of the Cherokee people also committed suicide due to disfigurement from the disease.

In 1721, the Cherokee ceded lands to Attakullakulla, traveled with Cuming back to London, England. 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 Cherokees elected their own leader, Standing Turkey of Chota (or, sometimes, Echota).[1]

In January 1716, a delegation of Muscogee Creek leaders was murdered at the Cherokee town of Ball Ground, Georgia) resulting in the defeat of the Muscogee.

The Cherokees 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 north.[16] Cherokees fought, along 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 an English-Cherokee relationship that, despite breaking down on occasion, remained strong for much of the 18th century.

Three Cherokee diplomats in London, 1765

18th century history

Of the southeastern Indian confederacies of the late 17th and early 18th centuries (Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, etc.), the Cherokee were one of the most populous and powerful. They were relatively isolated by their hilly and mountainous homeland. A small-scale trading system was established with Virginia in the late 17th century. In the 1690s, the Cherokee had founded a much stronger and important trade relationship with the colony of South Carolina, based in Charles Town. By the 18th century, this overshadowed the Virginia relationship.[15]

There were two more groups of towns often listed as part of the three: the Out Towns, whose chief town was Kituwa on the Tuckaseegee River, considered the mother town of all Cherokee; and the Valley Towns, whose chief town was Tomotley on the Valley River (not the same as the Tomotley on the Little Tennessee River). The former shared the dialect of the Middle Towns and the latter that of the Overhill (later Upper) Towns.

The Overhill Towns were located across the higher mountains in present eastern Chota, Tellico, and Tanasi. These terms were created and used by Europeans to describe their changing geopolitical relationship with the Cherokee.[6]

The Middle Towns were located in present western North Carolina, on the headwater streams of the Tennessee River, such as the upper Little Tennessee River, upper Hiwassee River, and upper French Broad River. Among several chief towns were Nikwasi and Joara, first recorded in the late 16th century during Spanish settlement there with the establishment of Fort San Juan.

During the early historic era, Europeans wrote of several Cherokee town groups, usually using the terms Lower, Middle, and Keowee was one of the chief towns, as was Tugaloo.

The character and events of the early trading contact period have been pieced together by historians' examination of records of colonial laws and lawsuits involving traders. The trade was mainly deerskins, raw material for the booming European leather industry, in exchange for European technology "trade goods", such as iron and steel tools (kettles, knives, etc.), firearms, gunpowder, and ammunition. In 1705, traders complained that their business had been lost and replaced by Indian slave trade instigated by Governor James Moore of South Carolina. Moore had commissioned people to "set upon, assault, kill, destroy, and take captive as many Indians as possible". When the captives were sold, traders split profits with the Governor.[13] Although colonial governments early prohibited selling alcohol to Indians, traders commonly used rum, and later whiskey, as common items of trade.[14]

Needham departed with a guide nicknamed 'Indian John' while Arthur was left behind to learn the Cherokee language. On his journey, Needham engaged in an argument with 'Indian John', resulting in his death. 'Indian John' then tried to encourage his tribe to kill Arthur but the chief prevented this. Arthur, disguised as a Cherokee, accompanied the chief of the Cherokee tribe at Chota on raids of Spanish settlements in Florida, Indian communities on the east coast, and Shawnee towns on the Ohio River. However, in 1674 he was captured by the Shawnee Indians who discovered that under his disguise of clay and ash he was a white man. The Shawnee did not kill Arthur but alternatively allowed him to return to Chota. In June 1674, the chief escorted Arthur back to his English settlement in Virginia. By the late 17th century, colonial traders from both Virginia and South Carolina were making regular journeys to Cherokee lands, but few wrote about their experiences.

In 1673, two Englishmen, James Needham and Garbiel Arthur were sent to Overhill Cherokee county in 1673 by fur-trader Occaneechi Indians, who were serving as middlemen on the Trading Path. The two colonial Virginians probably did make contact with the Cherokees. However, Wood called them Rickohockens in his book on the expedition. The map accompanying the book, showed the Rickohockens occupying all of present day southwestern Virginia, southeastern Kentucky, northwestern North Carolina and the northeastern tip of Tennessee.

The first Anglo-Cherokee contact was in 1654. English settlers in Virginia fought the Powhatan Confederacy, and 600 Cherokees settled in abandoned Powhatan lands in Virginia. The English colonists and Cherokees fought, with the Cherokees emerging victorious but eventually moving away.[12]

These Cherokee accompanied Sir Alexander Cumming to England in 1730.

17th century: English contact

A second Spanish expedition came through Cherokee country in 1567 led by Juan Pardo. Spanish troops built six forts in the interior southeast. They visited the Cherokee towns Nikwasi, Estatoe, Tugaloo, Conasauga, and Kituwa, but ultimately failed to gain dominion over the region and retreated to the coast.[11]

[10] Diseases brought by the Spaniards and their animals decimated the Cherokee and other Eastern tribes.[9]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.