Cherokee – Westward on the Trail of Tears

Once the Cherokee reached Indian Territory tensions ran high and the suspension of the Cherokee Blood Law was ignored. On June 22, 1839, after the adjournment of a tribal meeting, some of the prominent signers of the Treaty of New Echota were assassinated, including the drafter of the Blood Law, Major Ridge, along with John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. This started 15 years of civil war amongst the Cherokee.

 

Cherokee Nation Map

Cherokee Nation Map

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), after great internal conflict, the tribe sided with the Confederacy; where Stand Watie became a Confederate general.

Other Cherokee in western North Carolina served as part of Thomas’ Legion, a unit of approximately 1,100 men of both Cherokee and white origin, fighting primarily in Virginia, where their battle record was outstanding. Thomas’ Legion was the last Confederate unit to surrender in North Carolina, at Waynesville on May 9, 1865.

A postwar treaty with the United States freed the black slaves belonging to tribal members in Indian Territory. Under the General Allotment Act of 1887, uncompromisingly resisted by the Cherokee, plots of tribal land were forcibly allotted to individual members. Surplus lands not assigned to Cherokee individuals were parceled out by the federal government, and in 1891 the tribe’s western land extension, the Cherokee Strip or Cherokee Outlet, was sold to the United States; in 1893 it was opened, mostly to non-Indian settlers, in a famous land run.

The Cherokee government was dissolved, and its people became U.S. citizens when Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907. In this action, the Oklahoma Cherokee lost their right to elect their own chiefs who were from there and were appointed by Presidents until 1970 when the Cherokee regained their right to elect their own government via a Congressional Act signed by President Nixon. W. W. Keeler was the first elected chief of the Oklahoma Cherokee. Keeler, who was also the President of Phillips Petroleum, was succeeded by Ross Swimmer, Wilma Mankiller, Joe Byrd, Chad Smith, and Bill John Baker who is currently the chief of the Oklahoma Cherokee.

Federally recognized tribal headquarters of the Keetowah Band of Cherokee are in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, while the Eastern Band of Cherokee are headquartered at Cherokee, North Carolina. State-recognized Cherokee tribes have headquarters in Georgia and Alabama. Other groups of Cherokee organizations are located in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and other locations in the United States.

Trail of Tears DVD

Trail of Tears DVD

They remain one of the largest tribes

in the United States, and many Americans of all backgrounds claim Cherokee ancestry.

The old ways, including traditional crafts, are most strongly preserved by the Eastern Band, some of whom continue to live on the Qualla Reservation in North Carolina. The quality of North Carolina Cherokee basketry is considered to be equal to or better than that of earlier times. Farming, forestry, factory work, and are sources of income for eastern Cherokee.

In 1984 the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians met in a joint council for the first time in a century and a half. Since then these two groups have held a joint council every two years. Smaller Cherokee groups without federal recognition live in a number of Southern states.

In the 2000 U.S. census about 281,000 people identified themselves as Cherokee only; an additional 448,000 people reported being part Cherokee. The Cherokee language is spoken by an estimated 12,000 to 22,000 people.

 

Contact Information:

Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee
PO Box 1915
Cummings, Georgia 30020

Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma
P.O. Box 948
Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74465

 

Cherokee woman and child

Cherokee woman and child

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2017.

Also See:

Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation

Sequoyah – Inventor of Written Cherokee

The Cherokee Trail of Tears

Five Civilized Tribes

One Man’s Tribute to the Trail of Tears

 

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