History of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation

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Cherokee Indian Nation History, Eastern Band.
Cherokee Indian History Nation Cherokee.jpg
Cherokee Indian History. Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribe.

Cherokee oral tradition tells us of a time when their ancestors hunted great beasts that roamed the mountains of Western North Carolina. Archeology confirms these accounts. Found in this area are finely crafted stone spear points and mastodon bones bearing scars of these points—both date back to 11,000 years. Most historians agree that Cherokees are descended from what was a branch of the Iroquoian people. Some anthro-linguists, however, believe that the Cherokee dialect suggests that the "Pre-Cherokee" (and therefore the original Cherokees) are the originators of both the Iroquoian and Cherokee peoples. See also What are the requirements and qualifications for Cherokee Indian membership enrollment.


Ten thousand years ago, as the climate warmed, semi-permanent villages dotted this region. Surviving tools reflect a more settled lifestyle: carved fishhooks, fishing net weights and sinkers, carved soapstone mortars and pestles used to grind corn. See also Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma History, Indian Territory, and Eastern Cherokee Indian Nation.


Over the following thousands of years, the people who would become today’s Cherokee, or “Ani-Kituhwa-gi,” developed permanent towns, thriving agriculture, elegant handcrafts, sophisticated politics and religion, and fiercely effective arts of war.


In Cherokee towns, typically numbering around 500 inhabitants, summer and winter homes ringed a central plaza used for ceremonies, dances and games. Towns governed themselves democratically, with all adults gathering to discuss matters of import in each town’s council house. Each village had a peace chief, war chief, and spiritual leader. Men hunted and fished; women gathered wild food and cultivated “the 3 sisters” –corn, beans and squash. By interplanting these crops the corn propped-up the beans, and the squash leaves shaded out weeds. This allowed women the time for wild-food foraging, handcrafts, play and ceremonies. See also Cherokee History and Heritage: The present-day Cherokee Indians.

Original Cherokee Territory (Land) Map
Original Cherokee Land Map.jpg
Courtesy nc-cherokee.com

For Cherokee groups and individuals, the goal was integration and balance of the physical, intellectual and spiritual aspects of living. Through pursuing duyuktv, “the right way,” each Cherokee became “a real person” or a tsv quo-dia.


At their height of population and power, nearly 100,000 Cherokees controlled approximately 140,000 square miles throughout eight present-day southern states. The land offered food in abundance, materials for shelter, clothing and utensils; beauty still vivid today, and herbs to treat every known illness until the Europeans arrived. See also Official Cherokee Membership Requirements and Cherokee Enrollment Qualifications.


During the initial 200 years of contact with the Europeans, the Cherokees extended help, assistance and hospitality to the newcomers. The Cherokees readily adopted useful aspects of European culture, from peaches and watermelons to “talking leaves” as they referred to the written language.


The Cherokee genius that invented the Cherokee alphabet, Sequoyah, is the only known person in history to invent a written language without being literate in any language beforehand. In 1821, Sequoyah introduced his “syllabary” to the Cherokee National Council. Within months, the majority of the Cherokee nation became literate.


The following years witnessed broken treaties that reduced the Cherokee empire to a fraction of its original status. Andrew Jackson (7th President of the United States) insisted that all southeastern Indians be removed to an area west of the Mississippi. The United States government no longer needed the Cherokees as strategic allies against the French and British. Land speculators also desired Cherokee land, and they wanted to sell it to cotton speculators; America's future “cotton plantation owners.” Furthermore, gold was discovered in Georgia. See also How Much Money do Cherokee Indians Receive?

The Cherokee Nation
Cherokee Nation.jpg
(500 Nations Productions and Warner Bros Entertainment INC)

Although the Cherokees resisted removal, presented their case to the United States Supreme Court, Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Policy prevailed. See also Indian Removal and Indian Removal Act of 1830.


In 1838, events culminated in the tragic Trail of Tears, which was the forced removal of the Cherokees that resided in the East to a new location in the West. The Cherokees were forced to relocate to Indian Territory; present-day state of Oklahoma (Oklahoma was admitted to the Union on November 16, 1907, becoming the 46th state). Of the 16,000 Cherokees forced West, approximately 4,000 died from starvation, disease, exposure, the exhaustive march, and the shock of exile. See also Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory.


The more than 12,000 Cherokees in North Carolina today descend from those that were exempted from the forced removal, a small number of early landowners, those who hid in the mountains, defying removal (see Tsali: Cherokee Hero and Legend), and others who walked the exhaustive journey from Oklahoma back to North Carolina. See also Cherokee Chief Junaluska.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation
Qualla Boundary Map.gif
(Present-day "Eastern Cherokee Nation" boundary)

The bulk of the Cherokees that remained in North Carolina were exempted from the forced removal. During the 1835 Treaty of New Echota negotiations, William Holland Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, Indian Agent, and future Cherokee chief, was in Washington and he had successfully lobbied for the right for 1000 Cherokees to remain in North Carolina. These Indians are the present-day Eastern Band of Cherokee. 



Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary

General Winfield Scott's Address to the Cherokee Nation

General Winfield Scott's Cherokee Indian Removal Enforcement Orders (The Trail of Tears)

Autobiography of General Winfield Scott (Civilization of the Cherokees) 

The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy


The Cherokees have persevered, created a unique society--a sovereign nation inhabiting 100 square miles. We are American Indians; we are the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation.


Come to Cherokee. Experience our land, our culture, our customs, and our friendship. We welcome you with a-li-he-li-tsi-da-s-di and a-tlv-quo-dv. Happiness and pride.


Sources: Adapted from The Cherokee Trails Guidebook; Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation; and thomaslegion.net

Recommended Viewing: The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy (2006), Starring: James Earl Jones and Wes Studi; Director: Chip Richie, Steven R. Heape. Description: The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is an engaging two hour documentary exploring one of America's darkest periods in which President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 consequently transported Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation to the bleak and unsupportive Oklahoma Territory in the year 1838. Deftly presented by the talents of Wes Studi ("Last of the Mohicans" and "Dances with Wolves"), James Earl Jones, and James Garner, The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy also includes narrations of famed celebrities Crystal Gayle, Johnt Buttrum, Governor Douglas Wilder, and Steven R. Heape. Continued below...

Includes numerous Cherokee Nation members which add authenticity to the production… A welcome DVD addition to personal, school, and community library Native American history collections. The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is strongly recommended for its informative and tactful presentation of such a tragic and controversial historical occurrence in 19th century American history.

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Indian Removal Act of 1830

Treaty of New Echota in 1835

Cherokee Chief John Ross and the 1835 Treaty of New Echota

The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy

Trail of Tears in 1838 History Results Why the Forced Removal

Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Nation (includes genealogy research and Cherokee membership information)

Recommended Reading: The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900, by John R. Finger. Review from University of Tennessee Press: This volume presents the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokees during the nineteenth century. This group – the tribal remnant in North Carolina that escaped removal in the 1830’s – found their fortitude and resilience continually tested as they struggled with a variety of problems, including the upheavals of the Civil War and Reconstruction, internal divisiveness, white encroachment on their lands, and a poorly defined relationship with the state and federal governments. Yet despite such stresses and a selective adaptation in the face of social and economic changes, the Eastern Cherokees retained a sense of tribal identity as they stood at the threshold of the twentieth century. Continued below…

“Most scholars, like most Cherokees, have tended to follow the Trail of Tears west with scarcely a backward glance at the more than 1,000 Indians who stayed behind in the North Carolina mountains. In this pathbreaking book, John R. Finger combs federal, state, and local archives to tell the story of these forgotten natives.”

-- Journal of Southern History

“This work is a significant contribution to the literature on this long-ignored group….Finger works [his] sources well and out of them has produced a narrative that is readable and that puts the Eastern Band of Cherokees as a tribal entity into a clear, historical perspective.”

-- American Historical Review

John R. Finger is professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Nation: A History. Description: Conley's book, "The Cherokee Nation: A History" is an eminently readable, concise but thoughtful account of the Cherokee people from prehistoric times to the present day. The book is formatted in such a way as to make it an ideal text for high school and college classes. At the end of each chapter is a source list and suggestions for further reading. Also at the end of each chapter is an unusual but helpful feature- a glossary of key terms. The book contains interesting maps, photographs and drawings, along with a list of chiefs for the various factions of the Cherokee tribe and nation. Continued below...

In addition to being easily understood, a principal strength of the book is that the author questions some traditional beliefs and sources about the Cherokee past without appearing to be a revisionist or an individual with an agenda in his writing. One such example is when Conley tells the story of Alexander Cuming, an Englishman who took seven Cherokee men with him to England in 1730. One of the Cherokee, Oukanekah, is recorded as having said to the King of England: "We look upon the Great King George as the Sun, and as our Father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white our hands and hearts are joined together..." Conley wonders if Oukanekah actually said those words and points out that the only version we have of this story is the English version. There is nothing to indicate if Oukanekah spoke in English or Cherokee, or if his words were recorded at the time they were spoken or were written down later. Conley also points out that in Cherokee culture, the Sun was considered female, so it is curious that King George would be looked upon as the Sun. The "redness" of Native American skin was a European perception. The Cherokee would have described themselves as brown. But Conley does not overly dwell on these things. He continues to tell the story using the sources available. The skill of Conley in communicating his ideas never diminishes. This book is highly recommended as a good place to start the study of Cherokee history. It serves as excellent reference material and belongs in the library of anyone serious about the study of Native Americans.


Recommended Reading: Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. Description: One of the many ironies of U.S. government policy toward Indians in the early 1800s is that it persisted in removing to the West those who had most successfully adapted to European values. As whites encroached on Cherokee land, many Native leaders responded by educating their children, learning English, and developing plantations. Such a leader was Ridge, who had fought with Andrew Jackson against the British. Continued below...

As he and other Cherokee leaders grappled with the issue of moving, the land-hungry Georgia legislators, with the aid of Jackson, succeeded in ousting the Cherokee from their land, forcing them to make the arduous journey West on the infamous "Trail of Tears." ...A treasured addition for the individual remotely interested in American Indian history as well as general American history.


Recommended Reading: James Mooney's History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (768 pages). Description: This incredible volume collects the works of the early anthropologist James Mooney who did extensive studies of the Eastern Cherokee Nation (those who remained in Appalachia) at the turn of the century. The introduction is by Mooney's biographer and gives a nice overview of both Mooney and the Cherokee Nation, as well as notes on Mooney's sources. It then goes straight into the first book "Myths of the Cherokee", which starts with a history of the Cherokee Nation. Continued below...

It progresses from the earliest days, through de Soto, the Indian wars, Tecumseh, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War and ultimately to 1900. Continuing, it explores Cherokee mythology and storytellers. This book is truly monumental in its scope and covers origin myths, animal stories, Kanati and Selu, the Nunnehi and Yunwi'Tsundi (little people), Tlanuwa (thunderbirds), Uktena (horned water snake), interactions with other Nations and numerous other myths, as well as local legends from various parts of the Southeast (North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, etc). There is also a section of herbal lore. Mooney closes with a glossary of Cherokee terms (in the Latin alphabet rather than the Sequoya Syllabary) and abundant notes. We advance to the next book, Sacred Formulaes of the Cherokee, which covers a number of magical texts amongst the Cherokee Nation. This book does a wonderful job talking about such manuals, mentioning how they were obtained, going into depth about the Cherokee worldview and beliefs on magic, concepts of disease, healing ceremonies, practices such as bleeding, rubbing and bathing, Shamanism, the use of wording, explanations of the formulae and so forth. It then gives an amazingly varied collection of Cherokee formulae, first in the original Cherokee (again, in the Latin alphabet) and then translated into English. Everything from healing to killing witches, to medicine for stick ball games, war and warfare. Both books include numerous photographs and illustrations of famous historical figures, Cherokee manuscripts and petroglyphs and a map of Cherokee lands. Again, this is a truly massive book and even today is considered one of the essential writings of Cherokee religion. Anyone with an interest in the subject, whether anthropologist, descendant of the Cherokee or just a curious person interested in Native culture, should definitely give this book a read. I highly recommend it.

Recommended Viewing: 500 Nations (372 minutes). Description: 500 Nations is an eight-part documentary (more than 6 hours and that's not including its interactive CD-ROM filled with extra features) that explores the history of the indigenous peoples of North and Central America, from pre-Colombian times through the period of European contact and colonization, to the end of the 19th century and the subjugation of the Plains Indians of North America. 500 Nations utilizes historical texts, eyewitness accounts, pictorial sources and computer graphic reconstructions to explore the magnificent civilizations which flourished prior to contact with Western civilization, and to tell the dramatic and tragic story of the Native American nations' desperate attempts to retain their way of life against overwhelming odds. Continued below...

Mention the word "Indian," and most will conjure up images inspired by myths and movies: teepees, headdresses, and war paint; Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and their battles (like Little Big Horn) with the U.S. Cavalry. Those stories of the so-called "horse nations" of the Great Plains are all here, but so is a great deal more. Using impressive computer imaging, photos, location film footage and breathtaking cinematography, interviews with present-day Indians, books and manuscripts, museum artifacts, and more, Leustig and his crew go back more than a millennium to present an fascinating account of Indians, including those (like the Maya and Aztecs in Mexico and the Anasazi in the Southwest) who were here long before white men ever reached these shores. It was the arrival of Europeans like Columbus, Cortez, and DeSoto that marked the beginning of the end for the Indians. Considering the participation of host Kevin Costner, whose film Dances with Wolves was highly sympathetic to the Indians, it's no bulletin that 500 Nations also takes a compassionate view of the multitude of calamities--from alcohol and disease to the corruption of their culture and the depletion of their vast natural resources--visited on them by the white man in his quest for land and money, eventually leading to such horrific events as the Trail of Tears "forced march," the massacre at Wounded Knee, and other consequences of the effort to "relocate" Indians to the reservations where many of them still live. Along the way, we learn about the Indians' participation in such events as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, as well as popular legends like the first Thanksgiving (it really happened) and the rescue of Captain John Smith by Pocahontas (it probably didn't).


Recommended Reading: A Cherokee Encyclopedia (Hardcover). Description: A Cherokee Encyclopedia is a quick reference guide for many of the people, places, and things connected to the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, as well as for the other officially recognized Cherokee groups, the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokees. Continued below...

From A Cherokee Encyclopedia: "Crowe, Amanda: Amanda Crowe was born in 1928 in the Qualla Cherokee community in North Carolina. She was drawing and carving at the age of 4 and selling her work at age 8. She received her MFA from the Chicago Arts Institute in 1952 and then studied in Mexico at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel under a John Quincy Adams fellowship. She had been away from home for 12 years when the Cherokee Historical Association invited her back to teach art and woodcarving at the Cherokee High School. . . ."

"Fields, Richard: Richard Fields was Chief of the Texas Cherokees from 1821 until his death in 1827. Assisted by Bowl and others, he spent much time in Mexico City, first with the Spanish government and later with the government of Mexico, trying to acquire a clear title to their land. They also had to contend with rumors started by white Texans regarding their intended alliances with Comanches, Tawakonis, and other Indian tribes to attack San Antonio. . . ."

About the Author: Robert J. Conley is the author of over seventy books. The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers named him Wordcrafter of the Year for 1997. He has won numerous Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America and was presented with the Cherokee Medal of Honor in 2000. An enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, Conley lives with his wife, Evelyn, in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Try: Cherokee Nation, Cherokee History, 1830 Indian Removal Act, 1835 Treaty of New Echota, 1838 Trail of Tears, and Cherokee Culture and Customs of Native Americans and  American Indians. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Indian Territory, Cherokee Indian Nation History, What are the requirements for Cherokee Membership, What are the qualifications for the Cherokee Indian Nation Membership Information.

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