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History of the Eastern Band (NC)
Known as the “mountaineers of
the south” the Cherokees occupied the Allegheny country of southwestern
Virginia, western North Carolina, northern Georgia and Alabama.
Actually, the Cherokee can trace their history in North Carolina back
more than a thousand years. According to the old stories, the people
arrived in this territory from somewhere to the northeast. Their
expansion into the Appalachian plateau and Piedmont of North Carolina
just two or three centuries before DeSoto’s expedition visited them in
1540. The Cherokee population in 1600 was estimated at 22,000, of whom
approximately 6,000 lived within present-day North Carolina.
The small Cherokee communities
were usually located in fertile river bottoms. Early Cherokee
constructed their homes on wooden frames covered with vines and
saplings, they “daub and wattle” was used to seal out the weather. In
each village was a central council house usually built on a small mound
raising it above the rest of the village. This is where ceremonies and
tribal business was conducted. The council house was a seven-side
structure built to represent the seven clans. These were the Aniwahya
(Wolf); Aniahwi or Anikawi (Deer); Anitsiqua (Bird); Anigelohi (Long
Hair also known as the Wind Clan); Anigodagewi (Wild Potato); Anisahoni
(Blue Clan also known as the Panther or Wildcat clan) and Aniwodi
(Paint Clan where the medicine people came from).
The Cherokee carried on
considerable trade with the settlers from Virginia and South Carolina
from about 1650 on. In 1713 more than 300 Cherokee joined the South
Carolina militia and fought their hereditary enemy, the Tuscarora, who
were terrifying the colonists in North Carolina. Relations were
generally good until about 1760 when the Cherokee decided to side with
the British during the American Revolution. They were upset because of
the lack of attention paid to the Charleston Treaty of 1721 with the
Governor of the Carolinas. For almost 40 years, settlers had been
encroaching on Cherokee territory and the government didn’t or couldn’t
As white settlers moved into Cherokee territory, the Indians were displaced rapidly. In the years from 1721 to 1783 the Cherokees signed ten treaties which ceded land to colonies or states. In 1730 a prominent Cherokee Chief, Attakullakulla (1700 - 1781) was among the Cherokee leaders taken to England to meet King George. At that time, he was the head warrior of Tassatchee and was known by the name of “Oukah Ulah” a ceremonial elder and leader. The English, totally unaware of Cherokee society, simply “assumed” that he was the “King” of the Cherokees. After his return from England, Attakullahkulla maintained a strong friendship with the English. In 1963, when the French came among the Overhill Cherokee towns to open negotiations for peace and trade, Attakullahkulla refused to meet with them.
To demonstrate Cherokee loyalty
to England, Attakullahkulla with the Cherokee War Chief Oconostota led
a series of raids against theFrench and their Indian allies on the
Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
The political situation
continued to deteriorate until finally in 1759, Attakullahkulla,
Oconostota, and other Cherokee leaders met with the Governor of North
Carolina on a peace mission. However, instead of negotiating for peace,
the Cherokee were soon imprisoned and forced to sign a new treaty. In
1760, Old Hop, the Cherokee Beloved Man or Principal Chief died.
Instead of Attakullahkulla, Standing Turtle was named as the new
Beloved Man. Attakullahkulla’s support of the English had eroded his
support among the Cherokee. The Cherokee then went to war against the
English traders and colonists.
A period of change began for the Cherokee in the early 1800s. The Cherokee, ever since the downfall of the Anikutani, had been a democratic government composed of villages with either a War Chief or Peace Chief depending on the political situation. Women as well as men served in the government and sat in council. But now, they selected a Principal Chief, Vice Chief and a 32 member council elected by the citizens of the tribe. It was during this time that Sequoyah invented the Cherokee writing system that enabled them to write a constitution and a code of laws to govern the nation. The Cherokee were the first native North Americans to read and write in their own language. Sequoyah’s invention also brought about the publication of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first bi-lingual Indian newspaper in North America.
Unfortunately, this time of peace and prosperity did not last long. Gold was discovered at Dalonega, Georgia and the die was cast. President Andrew Jackson, forgetting that he owed his life to a Cherokee named Junaluska, in a political move to insure his re-election, disregarded the fact and ordered all Cherokee land confiscated in Georgia.
In 1838, the Federal Government
through the enforcement of an ill-gotten treaty, forced most Cherokees
west into what is now Oklahoma. It was known as the Treaty of New
Echota, but to the Cherokee it is known as “The Removal Treaty.” The
treaty was signed by Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot and 19
other Cherokees who did not have the authority to represent the entire
Nevertheless, the treaty was
enforced and the Cherokee were marched from their ancient homeland to
Indian Territory known today as Oklahoma. From the summer of 1838
through March 1839 the people were forced west toward the darkening
land, known in Cherokee as “Tsusginai” the Ghost land. Varying
estimates count the Cherokee dead as high as 4,000 from hunger, cold
and disease. No wonder it became known as “The Trail of Tears”.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee
Indians trace their descendancy from about 1,000 Cherokees who managed
to elude this forced removal. About 300 of these Cherokee claimed US
citizenship; the rest were living in Tennessee and North Carolina towns
or hiding in the mountains.
These 300 or so Cherokees were
known as the Oconaluftee Indians. They did not live on Cherokee land
and considered themselves separate from the Cherokee. Fearing
nullification of their special status, they grudgingly joined in the
search Cherokees who had escaped and fled into the mountains. One
Cherokee who became a hero was Tsali. The true accounting of the Tsali
incident is as follows:
Throughout the 1840s, federal
agents continued to search the mountains in attempts to remove other
Cherokee refugees to Oklahoma. By 1848, the US Congress agreed to
recognize the NC Cherokees’ rights if the state recognized them as
permanent residents. In 1866, the state of North Carolina formally
recognized the band, and in 1889 finally granted it a state charter. In
1925, tribal lands were finally placed into the federal trust to ensure
that they will forever remain in Cherokee possession.
These lands include 52 tracts
which total 56,688 acres scattered across five North Carolina counties
(Cherokee, Graham, Jackson, Macon & Swain). Most of this land
is now known as the Qualla Boundary. All lands are held in common by
the Tribe, with personal holdings issued to individuals. Today the
reservation population is 6,311, and tribal enrollment is 10,000. Towns
within the boundary include Big Cove, Birdtown, Paintown, Snowbird,
Wolftown and Yellowhill.
Excerpts taken from the Journal of Cherokee Studies, published by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Re-written by Gregg Howard
© 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
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