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Cherokee

Cherokee

The Cherokee have a unique place in American History. Their expansive territory in the southeastern region of North America primed them for early contact with the Europeans moving to colonize North America, leading to an extensive and well-recorded history of their interactions with the white settlers. Where were the Cherokee originally from? What defines their culture? What language do they speak? What is their history? And are they still around today?

Cherokee Society  Miss Ruth Muskrat StudySmarterFig. 1 Miss Ruth Muskrat

Cherokee Tribe Location

When the English first arrived in North America, The Cherokee territory was a large portion of the southeast. Their homeland included a large part of the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains. Ancestrally, they are the southernmost Iroquois tribe, as they speak a very common language with the Iroquois.

Cherokee society Map of the Cherokee Nation StudySmarterFig. 2 Map of the Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Tribe Names and Language

Currently, there are three tribes of Cherokee recognized in the United States; the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, both in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. Historically, seven known tribes of Cherokee covered their vast territory with up to sixty villages.

The Cherokee name is “Ani-Yun’wiya,” meaning “principal people.” Linguists theorize that Cherokee is from the Creek name, “Tisolki,” meaning “people of different speech,” as their language was not related to Algonquin but Iroquois.

Cherokee Culture

Because of their agricultural and hunting way of life, Cherokee placed their villages along rivers and streams to farm the rich soils of the flood plains, growing crops such as beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, and tobacco. Additionally, they raised three different types of corn or maize; one to roast, one to boil, and another variety to use as corn flour for bread. They also utilize wild plants, including roots, crab apples, berries, grapes, hickory nuts, walnuts, and chestnuts.

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The rivers also provide food for the Cherokee, who use spears, traps, hooks, and lines to catch different kinds of fish. Another unique method of fishing used by the Cherokee was to poison the water to bring unconscious fish to the surface.

The Cherokee are skilled hunters. They hunted large animals such as deer and bears with bows and arrows. To hunt deer in particular, they would wear deerskin and antlers and use deer calls to stalk and track them. The Cherokee use another unique method of hunting minor game using a blow gun and darts. They use this method to hunt turkeys, raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels.

Cherokee Clothing

The products of the hunt were also used for clothing. Cherokee men dress in breechcloths in warm weather and women in skirts. Men wore shirts, leggings, and moccasins; women wore parkas. Other parkas were made from turkeys or eagles' feathers and bark strips. Cherokee headmen used these for ceremonial purposes, and leaders wore them on special occasions.

Cherokee Shelter

Ceremonies took place inside circular houses or domed temples—the temples located at the summit of a flat-topped mound of earth in a central plaza. Cherokee families typically have two houses, a large summer home and a smaller winter home.

Cherokee Society

The Cherokee practiced a variety of crafts, such as basketry and pottery. They also carve, out of wood or gourds, “Booger masks,” representing evil spirits. And they shape stone pipes into animal figures attached to wooden stems.

Cherokee Society  A Cherokee Booger Mask StudySmarterFig. 3 A Cherokee Booger Mask

The Green Corn Ceremony is the most important Cherokee agricultural, hunting, and healing ritual. This annual celebration, shared by other tribes in the southeastern United States, took place during the last harvest of the corn crop. Another important event for the Cherokee, connecting their ancestry more to the Iroquois, was the game of lacrosse. This game would be played between villages, clans, and tribes.

Cherokee Social Organization

The political and social organization of the Cherokee and the many villages is an allied but loose confederacy. Within each village, there are two chiefs. The White Chief helped villagers decide farming, law, and policy and settled disputes between families, clans, and villages. The Red Chief advised on warfare and was in charge of lacrosse games, which the Cherokee called “little war.”

Cherokee Tribe History

Cherokee Society Cherokee Cartoon StudySmarterFig. 4 Cherokee Cartoon

This cartoon from the late 1880s shows a satirical view of how the U.S. Government and other groups treated the Cherokee. The Cherokee ancestrally came into North America over the Bering Strait land bridge and the ancestors of many other Native American tribes at the end of the last ice age, approximately 25,000 years ago.

Cherokee History beginning with First European Contacts

Early European explorers had contact with the Cherokee. The Spanish were the first Europeans to connect with the Cherokee in 1540. In later years, French fur traders worked their way into Cherokee territory from the north. English began appearing regularly after England permanently settled Virginia in 1607 with Jamestown and the Carolinas.

In 1760, the Cherokee revolted against the British in the Cherokee War. The conflict escalated into a two-year war before the British defeated the militant bands of Cherokee by burning their villages and crops. In the peace pact, the Cherokee gave up a large portion of their eastern lands closest to the British colonies.

Even after the Cherokee War, the Cherokee allied with the British during the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783. North Carolina militiamen invaded and destroyed villages and demanded land cessions in retaliation. The Cherokee suffered from epidemics caused by European diseases, the worst being smallpox outbreaks in 1738 and 1750.

Cherokee History in the Early United States

John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee, successfully argued for their independence from the Indian Removal Act of 1830 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cherokee Society John Ross StudySmarterFig. 5 John Ross

Despite these setbacks, the Cherokee rebuilt and adapted their lives to the Europeans around them. They adopted new methods of farming and business. They became faithful allies of the Americans and in 1820 even founded a government, much like that of the United States. In 1827, the Cherokee Nation was created with a constitution, an elected principal chief, a senate, and a house of representatives. These efforts persuaded the early American government to recognize the Cherokee nations as sovereign so that the Cherokee could hold on to their territorial claims.

Despite the new Cherokee way of life, Americans wanted their lands. The discovery of gold in the Cherokee Nation did not help them fend off the advances of American interest in their land. In the 1820s, there was a growing call to relocate the Cherokee to claim their land. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act to relocate the eastern tribes to an Indian reservation in the Oklahoma Territory.

The Trail of Tears

In defiance of the Supreme Court, which had ruled in favor of the Cherokee to keep their lands as a sovereign nation, and other passionate arguments to President Jackson at the time, he still ordered their forced removal from their lands, beginning the Trail of Tears. This forced trek 800 miles from Georgia to present-day Oklahoma began in 1838. In two waves of forced migration, many died of disease and inadequate food and shelter. Soldiers forced the Cherokee and other tribes to move at a cruel pace, not allowing stops for burying their dead. During this period, 4,000 Cherokee died, almost a quarter of their total population. More died due to disease and lack of food after their arrival to the Oklahoma territory. Other tribes such as the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole endured similar experiences.

Below is an excerpt from John G. Burnett's account of the Trail of Tears. He was a Private in the U.S. Army and had orders to remove Cherokee families from their homes.

" The removal of Cherokee Indians from their lifelong homes in the year 1838 found me a young man in the prime of life and a Private soldier in the American Army. Being acquainted with many of the Indians and able to fluently speak their language, I was sent as an interpreter into the Smoky Mountain Country in May, 1838, and witnessed the execution of the most brutal order in the History of American Warfare. I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning, I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west.

On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th, 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill-treatment, cold, and exposure. Among this number was the beautiful Christian wife of Chief John Ross. This noble-hearted woman died a martyr to childhood, giving her only blanket to protect a sick child. She rode thinly clad through a blinding sleet and snow storm, developed pneumonia, and died in the still hours of a bleak winter night, with her head resting on Lieutenant Greggs saddle blanket." 1

Cherokee History in the Modern Era

In 1887, the U.S. Congress passed the General Allotment Act. Under this law, certain Indian Reservations held by tribes were divided and allotted to the heads of Native American families.

In 1934, with the Indian Reorganization Act, the policies of assimilation and allotment ended. The Cherokee and other native peoples rediscover their cultural heritage and reorganize their tribal leadership into influential governing bodies.

Cherokee Society Spring Frog, Cherokee Chief StudySmarterFig. 6 Spring Frog, Cherokee Chief

In the 1950s, some U.S. politicians sought to end the special relationship between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes. The Cherokee knew that their best options for a good life were under the policies of restoration and reorganization, and they successfully fought off the termination policies. Since the 1960s, the Federal Indian policies have been “self-determination,” meaning Native self-government and strong tribal identity.

Cherokee society - Key takeaways

  • The Cherokee occupied a large portion of the southeast.

  • Ancestrally, they are the southernmost Iroquois tribe, as they speak a very common language with the Iroquois.

  • Currently, there are three tribes of Cherokee recognized in the United States; the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, both in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. Historically, seven known tribes of Cherokee covered their vast territory with up to sixty villages.

  • Cherokee placed their villages along rivers and streams to farm the rich soils of the flood plains. Their crops included corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, and tobacco.

  • The Cherokee are skilled hunters, using bows, arrows, and blow darts to hunt large and small game.

  • The Cherokee experienced forced removal from their lands, beginning the Trail of Tears. This forced trek 800 miles from Georgia to present-day Oklahoma began in 1838. In two waves of forced migration, many died of disease and inadequate food and shelter.


References

  1. Digital History. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2022, from https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1147

Frequently Asked Questions about Cherokee

Currently, there are three tribes of Cherokee recognized in the United States; the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, both in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. Historically there were seven known tribes of Cherokee covering their vast territory with up to sixty villages.  

The Cherokee ancestrally came into North America over the Bering Strait land bridge and the ancestors of many other Native American tribes at the end of the last ice age, approximately 25,000 years ago. 

During the events following the Indian Removal Act and the forced removal by President Andrew Jackson, the Cherokee tribe split into factions with some relocating to the Indian Territory, others assimilating, and others moving south to Florida. 

The Cherokee name is “Ani-Yun’wiya,” meaning “principal people.”  Linguists theorize that the name Cherokee is from the Creek name, “Tisolki,” meaning “people of different speech,” as their language was not related to Algonquin but Iroquois.  

The Green Corn Ceremony is the most important Cherokee agricultural, hunting, and healing ritual. This annual celebration, shared by other tribes in the southeastern United States, took place during the last harvest of the corn crop. Another important event for the Cherokee, connecting their ancestry more to the Iroquois, was the game of lacrosse. This game would be played between villages, clans, and tribes.  

Final Cherokee Quiz

Question

Who was the President of the United States who enforced the Indian Removal Act of 1830? 

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Answer

Andrew Jackson

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Question

Which of the Historic Indian Tribes were the most likely to learn English, cut their hair, and dress in European fashions?

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Answer

Cherokee

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Question

Which word best describes the actions of the Native Americans in the previous Question?

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Answer

Assimilation

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Question

The Cherokee and other eastern tribes were forced to move onto reserved lands in which U.S. Territory? 


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Answer

Oklahoma

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Question

Approximately how many Cherokee perished during the Trail of Tears in 1838 and 1839? 

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Answer

 A quarter of all Cherokee

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Question

Who did the Cherokee ally themselves with during the French and Indian Wars?

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Answer

Britain 

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Who did the Cherokee ally themselves with during the American Revolution?

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Answer

Britain 

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Question

True or False: The Cherokee were a strickly agricultural society, utilizing large farms along rivers to sustain themselves. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following large linguistic groups of Native Americans has the most in common with the Cherokee? 

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Answer

The Iroquois

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Question

True or False: The English settling in Virginia in 1607 was the first to establish contact with the Cherokee.

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Answer

False

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