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History of the Eastern Band (NC)


“If there is a Cherokee anywhere in the world of nature,
hearing living water course in any stream, spring of brook, we can all hear it.
Trees move toward the light reflecting their colors;
Cherokee move toward the light reflecting their culture.”
Chief Charles “Jathohi” Rogers

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 stop them.

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 Cherokee Nation.

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:


October 29, 1838:
Second Lietenant A. J. Smith, with a detachment escorted 15 Cherokees captured at Pickens Courthouse down the Tuckaseigee River.

October 30:
Upon learning of the presence of additional fugitives near the mouth of the Tuckaseigee, Smith divided his comand and captured 12 member’s of Tasali’s family

October 31:
Smith learned that 15 captives from Picken’s Courthouse had escaped from his sergeant and quickly hustled Tasali’s family ahead to overtake the rest of his command. Will Thomas remained behind due to an unexplained accident.

November 1:
Tsali’s family escaped from Smith, killing two soldiers (Perry and Martin), and seriously injuring another, a man named Getty. Lt. Smith escaped on horseback.

November 5:
Smith reported the incident to Lieutenant Larned who then immediately reported the matter to General Scott.

November 18:
Colonel Foster received a petition from area whites requesting that a group known of Oconoluftee Cherokee known as Euchella’s band be permitted to remain in N. Carolina.

November 19:
Colonel Foster reported to General Scott the capture of the murderers; Nantayalee Jake, Tsali’s oldest son and Nantyalee George, the husband of Tsali’s daughters Ancih. He also reported the capture of Tsali’s wife (old Nancy) and George’s wife and daughter. He further stated that Euchella’s band of Oconoluftee Indians and a mounted company were in close pursuit of the remaining murderers.

November 23:
George, Jake, and another Cherokee named Loman captured since the 19th, were executed by the Nantahala fugitives under Euchella. A younger male, whom Thomas later identified as Wasserton, was spared because of his youth.

November 25:
Tsali was captured and executed by Euchella and Wachacha, Oconoluftee Cherokees, near Big Bear’s reserve on the Tuckaseigee. Tsali was not killed by the U.S. Army, as legend would have us believe.

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

The Eastern Band of the Qualla Boundary

“Memories unfold from around these glorious ancestral mountains
positioning themselves into low hanging fog
touching the soft breasts of those who pay attention
as rains fall down into running waters stopping only
when instructed so by the Thunder Being.”

Marijo Moore- Cherokee




copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
     Must have permission to use or reprint by Chales Jahtlohi Rogers MD.

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