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Cherokee Indians

Cherokee Tribe: Meaning unknown, but possibly from Creek tciloki, “people of a different speech.” The middle and upper dialects substitute l for r. Also called:

Cherokee Connections. The Cherokee language is the most aberrant form of speech of the Iroquoian linguistic family.

Cherokee Location. From the earliest times of which we have any certain knowledge the Cherokee have occupied the highest districts at the southern end of the Appalachian chain, mainly in the States of Tennessee and North Carolina, but including also parts of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Virginia. (See also Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.)

Cherokee Villages

There were anciently three Cherokee dialects which probably corresponded in some measure to the three groups of towns into which early traders and explorers divided the tribe. These groups, with the towns belonging to each according to the Purcell map, but following as far as possible the Handbook (Hodge, 1907,1910) orthography, are as follows:

Lower Settlements:

Middle Settlements:

Over-the-Hills and Valley Settlements, or Overhill Settlements:

Besides the above, the following settlements are given by Mooney and other writers:

Cherokee History

There seems to have been a Cherokee migration legend something like that of the Creeks according to which the tribe entered their historic seats from some region toward the northeast.

In 1510 De Soto seems to have passed through only one town that has a Cherokee name, but Pardo in 1566 learned of another, Tanasqui, which has a Cherokee appearance and may have given its name to Tennessee River. Continuous contact between the Cherokee and the Whites began after Virginia was settled, when traders from that colony commenced to work their way into the Appalachian Mountains. Contact became more intimate with the founding of the Carolina colonies, and a contingent of 310 Cherokee joined Moore in his attack on the Tuscarora in 1713. In 1730 Sir Alexander Curving staged a personal embassy to the Cherokee and afterward took seven of the Indians to England with him. In 1738 an enemy more serious even than White men made its first appearance in this tribe, namely smallpox, which cut down their numbers by nearly 50 percent. In 1755 the Cherokee won a great victory over the Abihka Creeks, who forthwith withdrew from the Tennessee River. Relations with the Whites were upon the whole friendly until 1759 when the Indians refused to accede to the demand of the Governor of South Carolina that a number of Indians including two leading chiefs be turned over to him for execution under the charge that they had killed a White man. He had asked also to have 24 other chiefs sent to him merely on suspicion that they entertained hostile intentions. War followed, and the Indians captured Fort Loudon, a post in the heart of their country, August 8, 1760, after having defeated an army which came to relieve it. The year following, however, the Indians were defeated on June 10, by a larger force under Col. James Grant, who laid the, greater number of the Middle Cherokee settlements in ashes, and compelled the tribe to make peace. In 1769 they are said to have suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Chickasaw at the Chickasaw Oldfields. On the outbreak of the American Revolution they sided with the British and continued hostilities after its close down to 1794. Meanwhile parties of Cherokee had pushed down Tennessee River and formed new settlements near the present Tennessee Alabama boundary. Shortly after 1800 missionary work was begun among them, and in 1820 they adopted a regular form of government modeled on that of the United States. In the meantime large numbers of them, wearied of the encroachments of the Whites, had crossed the Mississippi and settled in the territory now included in the State of Arkansas. In 1821 Sequoya, son of a mixed-blood Cherokee woman by a White man, submitted a syllabary of his own devising to the chief men of the nation, and, on their approval, the Cherokee of all ages set about learning it with such zeal that in a few months numbers of them were able to read and write by means of it. In 1822 Sequoya went west to teach his alphabet to the Indians of the western division, and he remained among them permanently. The pressure of the Whites upon the frontiers of the Eastern Cherokee was soon increased by the discovery of gold near the present Dahlonega, Ga., and after a few years of fruitless struggle the nation bowed to the inevitable and by the treaty of New Echota, December 29, 1835, sold all of their territories not previously given up and agreed to remove to the other side of the Mississippi to lands to be set apart for them. These lands were in the northeastern part of the present Oklahoma, and thither the greater part of the tribe removed in the winter of 1838-39, suffering great hardships and losing nearly one-fourth of their number on the way. Before the main migration took place one band of Cherokee had established themselves in Texas where they obtained a grant of land from the Mexican government, but the Texas revolutionists refused to recognize this claim although it was supported by Gen. Sam Houston. In consequence, the Cherokee chief Bowl was killed in 1839, along with many of his men, and the rest were expelled from the State. At the time of the great migration, several hundred Cherokee escaped to the mountains where they lived as refugees until in 1842, through the efforts of William H. Thomas, an influential trader, they received permission to remain on lands set apart for their use in western North Carolina, the Qualla Reservation, where their descendants still reside. The early years of the reestablished Cherokee Nation west of the Mississippi were troubled by differences between the faction that had approved removal and that which had opposed it. Afterward the tribal life was entirely disrupted for a few years by the Civil War. In 1867 and 1870 the Delaware and Shawnee were admitted from Kansas and incorporated into the nation. March 3, 1906, the Cherokee government came to an end, and in time the lands were allotted in severalty, and the Cherokee people soon became citizens of the new Stat of Oklahoma.

Cherokee Population. Mooney (1928) estimates that in 1650 there was a total Cherokee population of 22,000. In 1715 a rather careful estimate, yet in all probability too low, gave a total of 11,210 (Lower Cherokee 2,100; Middle 6,350; Upper 2,760), including 4.000 warriors and distributed among 60 villages. In 1720 two estimates were made, of 10,000 and 11,500 respectively, but in 1729 the estimate jumps to 20,000, with 6,000 warriors, distributed in 64 towns. In 1755 a North Carolina estimate gives 5 divisions of the tribe and a total of 2,590 men. In 1760 we find a flat figure of 2,000; in 1761, about 3,000. Even before this time the Cherokee are supposed to have lost heavily from smallpox, intoxicants, and wars with the colonists, but at the time of their forced removal to the west in 1838 those in their old country had increased to 16,542. Those already in the west were estimated at about 6,000. The Civil War interfered with their growth but in 1885 they numbered 19,000, about 17,000 being in the west. In 1902 there were officially reported in the west 28,016 persons of Cherokee blood, including all degrees of admixture, but this includes several thousand persons repudiated by the tribal courts. The Census of 1910 returned 31,489 Cherokee, 29,610 of whom were in Oklahoma, 1,406 in North Carolina, and the rest scattered in 23 other States. In 1923 the report of the United States Indian Office gave 36,432 Cherokee “by blood” in Oklahoma, and 2,515 in North Carolina: total 38,947. In 1930, 45,238 were returned: 40,904 in Oklahoma, 1,963 in North Carolina, and the rest in more than 36 other States. In 1937 the number of eastern Cherokee was given as 3,327.

Connection in which they have become noted. The Cherokee tribe is one of the most famous in all North America:

  1. On account of its size and strength and the prominent part it played in the history of our country.
  2. From the fact that the invention of the Cherokee alphabet by Sequoya was the only case of the adoption of a system of writing without immediate White prompting in the annals of our Indians.
  3. From the perpetuation of numerous place names from Cherokee sources and of the name itself in counties in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, and places in some of these States and California, Kentucky, and Arkansas; in Colbert County, Ala.; Cherokee County, Iowa; Crawford County, Kans.; Lawrence County, Ky.; and the name of stations in Louisville, Ky.; Swain County, N. C.; Alfalfa County, Okla.; and San Saba County, Tex. There is a Cherokee City in Benton County, Ark.; Cherokee Dam at Jefferson City, Tenn.; and Cherokee Falls in Cherokee County, S. C. Several prominent Americans were descended from this tribe, including Senator Robert Owen and Will Rogers.