The Cherokee Indians
The Cherokee Indians were one of the four civilized tribes in the United States during colonial times. The Cherokee people were interested in the white men and their ways, and even using some of the new men?s ways.
The Cherokee played an important role in Colonial American history with help from Sequoyah and learning the ways of white men.
The Cherokee were originally located in the southeast United States. This area included: the western sides of the Carolinas, the northern parts of Georgia and Alabama, southwest Virginia, and the Cumberland Basin.
Around 1781 the Cherokee population was around 25,000. They had just lost around half of their population due to smallpox and other diseases. The population remained stable at 25,000 until the late 1830?s when the Cherokee were forced to move to Oklahoma(Sultzman). On their way to Oklahoma many of the Cherokee committed suicide or died of hunger causing the population to drop again(Brandon 227).
The Cherokee lived in towns of 30 to 60 houses and a large council house(Sultzman). The houses in the towns were not very large, only being one, two, or three room homes. Most of the homes were one story high, but a two-story house was not uncommon.
The houses were built by the men and took a long time to build. The men began in early spring to get the boards from trees. When summer came around the men stopped with the houses and turned to planting crops and welfare. As fall arrived the men began to actually put the houses together. Often men from other towns came to help.
Since the houses were so small they did not have much room for furniture. The little furniture that they did have was stools, storage chests, and three-foot-high beds. The beds were located in the back and sides of the house. The beds had white-oak foundations and mattresses covered with bear, buffalo, mountain-lion, elk, and deerskins, dressed with the hair on.
Just outside the front door of each house was a small sweat house. This is where a fire was constantly kept burning. These were used to purify themselves for religious purposes and to cure diseases(Mails 51, 54).
The Cherokee were primarily an agricultural people. Corn was their most important crop. Corn was so important to them they had a ceremony when the corn began to get ripe in hopes that the corn would continue to grow well. Other crops planted were beans, squash, and sunflowers. They also hunted. The main two animals that were hunted were white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Other animals that were hunted are bear, quail, rabbit, and squirrel(Brown 63).
Hunting trips in the towns were very serious. Only the men who were fully cleansed and fit were allowed to go on the hunt. When the men needed to go on a hunt they had to go get the priest?s authority. For the priest to give the permission to the hunt the men must not just be fit and cleansed, but the town must also need meat and/or animal skins. The Cherokee would never be wasteful(Mails 59).
All of the Cherokee?s weapons and tools were made themselves from plants, animals, and other natural things such as rocks and minerals. This lasted until tools and weapons were available from the white men.
The most commonly used weapon was the bow and arrow. Other weapons were the stone ax and club. Many of the children had blowguns for toys as well as a weapon. The Cherokee children were not allowed to go on the large hunts, but only by themselves(Brown 51).
These weapons were still used after guns were available in many towns. Some areas, however, were heavily hunted by the white men and the amount of game on some of the Cherokee land was reduced. In these areas guns were used instead of the traditional weapons(Sultzman 2).
Men who did not hold special rank or position wore belted skin robes fashioned from the hides of bear, deer, otter, beaver, and mountain lion. In the winter they also wore moccasins made of beaver skins. All of the men except some priests shaved all of their heads leaving only a small roachlike section.
The women wore short and sleeveless deerskin dresses which were sewn together with fishbone needles. The dresses belted at the waist. The women were also allowed to weave beads and feathers into the dresses. They also wore deerskin moccasins that were like half boots.
The younger children wore nothing during the summer months, and only skin robes and fur-lined moccasins in the winter. Older children wore cloth or animal-skin skirts(Mails 47-9).
The Cherokee traveled quite a bit to other towns to trade. They traveled by streams or rivers in clay-out canoes. The canoes were thirty to forty feet long and about two feet wide. Fifteen to twenty men could travel in the canoes.
The girls leaned from their mother and the boys learned from their mother?s brother. The girls and boys both learned the same things: agriculture, hunting, fishing, handicrafts, and household work. They also learned social skills: speech, etiquette, clan obligations, traditional beliefs, and history.
Children learned from their mother or mother?s brother until the early 1800?s when several schools were established for the Cherokee children. The idea of schools came from the white men. The schools taught the children to read and write the new written language that Sequoyah had just invented. They also learned what their mother or mother?s brother would have taught them(Brown 65, 28, 31).
The most common game was anesta, a stick-ball game. This game was often used to settle disputes. The field was two to three hundred yards long. Two stakes were set up at each end to throw the ball through. The ball could only be touched by the stick and not the hands. There were no rules against how the ball got through the post such as hitting, kicking, or biting the other players.
Other games played were a football type game and tug of war. Bets were always placed on the games so winning was always important. In these two games it was the males against the females. The females did get to choose one male to be on their team(Brown 35-6).
The Cherokee were divided into seven clans half of which were peace and the other half were war. The different clans did not all live together(Microsoft).
The Green Corn Ceremony was the most important ceremony. It did not have a certain date because it occurred when the corn became ripe. This ceremony marked the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year for the Cherokees(Mails 196). The ceremony was the time of thanksgiving and spiritual renewal(Microsoft).
Any mysterious diseases were blamed on a human or animal spirits caused by a witch. Priest tried to heal the diseases, but often did not succeed.
Everything in daily life in a Cherokee town was based on colors. The colors each stood for something. Red was bravery black was death blue was failure and white was happiness. An example of an item is a club would be painted red for bravery to help the warrior who used it become brave.
Members of the same clan were considered close relatives and were not allowed to marry. The men had to get their own families as well as the woman he wished to marry family to give him permission to ask her to marry him. They did not divorce frequently, but divorces did happen occasionally.
There was a small ceremony for naming each child. After a baby was born the priest would purify the child and say prayers for him. After the priest was finished the ceremony began. An elderly woman of the community known by the parents of the child chose a name for the child. The name could later be changed by the actions of the person(Mails 121, 101, 72-3).
A Government was established in the early 1800?s. It was set up much like the new U.S. government. The government included a chief, a vice-chief and 32 council members. A constitution of code laws was also drawn up(?Cherokee?).
Sequoyah lived in Willstown, Alabama for most of his life, but he traveled often as he grew older. His father was a German named George Gist and his mother was part Cherokee. Sequoyah is the only known person in history to single-handedly invent a written language. He had no formal education as a child ,but studied hard to learn the white men?s language when he got chances to later form a language for the Cherokee. He was not a warrior because of a hunting accident as a child. He had always dreamed of the language from as far back as 1809 until1820 when it began to take shape and form.
Sequoyah first tried pictures as characters in his alphabet, but soon had hundreds of characters and gave up that idea. He next used his own symbols to form sentences, words, and syllables. His language turned out 86 characters long that represented all the sounds in the Cherokee tongue.
Sequoyah was not liked by the other Cherokees at first because they thought his idea was crazy. This soon changed and he even received a silver medal for inventing the language. The language helped the Cherokee become one of the four civilized tribes. The Cherokee also got a weekly newspaper, the ?Cherokee Phoenix?, and a written constitution.
The ?Cherokee Phoenix? was a newspaper written in English and Cherokee print. The paper taught the Cherokees and the white men about the Cherokees daily life and general Cherokee activities(Schlich 1-3).
In the struggle for North America by the British and French and in the Revolutionary War the Cherokees generally sided with the British(Microsoft). After the Revolutionary War the Cherokees were generally treated badly by the Americans and what was left of the French since they had sided with the British. Militias often attacked Cherokee villages(Schlich 1).
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. Some senators such as Tennessee?s Davy Crocket were against the act, but it passed anyway.
Even though Cherokees were taking up the ways of the white men , when gold was discovered the white men rushed into the Cherokee lands to try to get rich. In 1835 the administration of President Andrew Jackson produced a fraudulent treaty which was signed by many Cherokees. According to the treaty the Cherokee were to move west to Indian Territory. The Cherokee refused to go and Federal troops were sent to move them out. At least 25% of the Cherokee died on the way. This was almost 4000 Cherokees that died(Microsoft). The Cherokee were forced to move in the area of Oklahoma north of the Arkansas River(Brandon 227).
John Ross, a leader of the Cherokees, had a Scottish father and a part-Cherokee mother. He tried very hard to keep the Indian lands. When he failed to keep the lands he tried his best to lead his people to their new home. Ross had to make an urgent appeal to Washington to let him lead his tribe west. He did this in hopes of saving as many lives as possible. He saved many lives by putting the Cherokees in small groups to spread out and get their own food(Microsoft)
Even though the Cherokee ended up being moved to the west they played a role in colonial history with an alphabet and also becoming friends with some white men. Their two main leaders who helped them succeed were Sequoyah and John Ross who both helped the Cherokees become one of the strongest and most civilized tribes in the United States.
Brandon, William. The American Heritage Book of Indians. United States: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1961.
Brown, Brenda, K., and Marcelle S. Edwards. Cherokee and Proud of It. South Pittsburg: Hustler, 1982.
?Cherokee.? 1998-1999. 18 Feb. 1999
Mails, Thomas E. The Cherokee People. New York: Marclove and Company, 1992.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 98. C.D. Rom. Canada: Microsoft Corporation, 1998.
Schlich, Kim, and Victor Schlich. ?Talking Leaves?. American History Nov./Dec. 1995. 18 Feb. 1999
Sultzman, Lee. 22 Feb. 1999