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Native American LegendsNATIVE AMERICAN LEGENDS

Cherokee - Westward on the Trail of Tears

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The Cherokee tribe was the first to inhabit what is now the eastern and southeastern United States before most of them were forcefully moved to the Ozark Plateau. One of the tribes referred to by Native Americans as the Five Civilized Tribes, various Cherokee bands played an important role in colonial America and in United States history.

 

The name Cherokee is an old pronunciation of Tsalagi, which is the name for the Cherokee in the Creek language. The name which the Cherokee originally used for themselves is Aniyunwiya, meaning "principal people. The Cherokee speak an Iroquoian language and had a system of writing their own language, developed by Sequoyah.

 

 

 

Evidence indicates that the Cherokee migrated in prehistoric times from present-day Texas or northern Mexico to the Great Lakes area. However, wars with the Iroquois and Delaware tribes, who controlled those lands, pushed the Cherokee southeast to the mountains and valleys of the southern part of the Appalachian chain. They eventually settled in modern Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

The Cherokee economy, like that of other Southeast tribes, was based primarily on agriculture, growing corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and tobacco. Deer, bear, and elk were hunted with bows and arrows. Smaller game, such as raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and turkeys, were hunted with long cane-stem blowguns that propelled wood-and-feather darts. For fishing, hooks and lines, spears, and traps were used. Wild plant foods, including roots, greens, berries and nuts were also gathered for another source of nutrition.

The Cherokee women wore skirts woven from plants, while the men wore breechcloths or leggings. The men would paint their skin and decorate it with tattoos. The women would sew feathers into light capes made of netting.

The Cherokee were divided into seven matrilineal clans who lived in numerous permanent villages, typically placed along rivers and streams. Cherokee families typically had two dwellings: rectangular summer houses with cane and clay walls and bark or thatch roofs, and cone-shaped winter houses with pole frames and brushwork covered by mud or clay. The Cherokee crafted pottery as well as baskets.

 

The Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, first encountered them in the Appalachians in 1540. By 1715 smallpox had reduced the Cherokee population to about 11,000.

 

During the British and French struggle for control of colonial North America, the Cherokee provided warriors in support of the British, but revolted against them in 1760 in the Cherokee War under Chief Oconostota.  During the American Revolution tribal members aided Great Britain with sporadic attacks on outlying settlements, as the pioneers continually encroached upon Cherokee lands.

 

In 1785 a number of bands negotiated a peace treaty with the United States, but Cherokee resistance continued for a decade thereafter. In 1791 a new treaty reconfirmed the earlier one; part of Cherokee territory was ceded to the United States, and the permanent rights of the tribe to the remaining territory were established. Between 1790 and 1819, several thousand of the tribe began to leave their lands, becoming known as the Chickamauga. Led by Chief Dragging Canoe, the Chickamauga made alliances with the Shawnee and engaged in raids against colonial settlements, aided by the British.

 

John Ross was an important figure in the history of the Cherokee tribe. His father emigrated from Scotland prior to the Revolutionary War and his mother was a quarter-blood Cherokee woman. He began his public career in 1809. Still permitted under the Constitution at that time, the "Cherokee Nation" was founded in 1820, with elected public officials. The Cherokee established a republican governmental system modeled on that of the United States, with an elected principal chief, namely John Ross, a senate, and a house of representatives. In 1827 they drafted a constitution and incorporated as the Cherokee Nation. John Ross remained the chief until his death.

 

Meanwhile, valuable gold deposits were discovered on tribal lands in northwestern Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern North Carolina.

 

In 1819 Georgia appealed to the U.S. government to remove the Cherokee from Georgia lands and when the appeal failed, attempts were made to purchase the territory. In retaliation, the Cherokee Nation enacted a law forbidding any such sale on punishment of death.

 

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John Ross, first Chief of the Cherokee Nation

John Ross, first Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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