The Cherokee Indians


The American Indian History in the Eastern part of the country is always
associated with the Cherokee Indian nation. The Cherokee\'s were by far the
largest and most advanced of the tribes when Europeans first arrived and came in
contact with Native Americans. There are too many tribes to go over background
on every one of them, so I\'m going to focus on the Cherokee\'s since many of
their ways and customs are so similar to all the other tribes in the East.
When Europeans first arrived in North America, the Cherokees occupied a
large expanse of territory in the Southeast. Their homeland included mountains
and valleys in the southern part of the Appalachian Mountain chain. Their
territory stretched from North Carolina to Virginia to Tennessee, South Carolina
and Alabama. They spoke a dialect of Iroquoian language and their ancestral
relatives (the Iroquois) occupied much of the Northeast cultural area.
The name Cherokee was probably given to them by outsiders since the word
Cherokee means, "people of different speech." The name the Cherokee\'s had for
themselves was Ani-yun-wiya which means, "real people."
Villages were placed along rivers and streams so they could take
advantage of the rich black soil for farming. Corn was their main source of food,
along with wild plants and roots that were common to their homeland. They used
spears, traps, and fishing lines with hooks to catch many different kinds of
fish. They also used an interesting method of poisoning an area of water to kill
the fish and gather them up as they floated to the surface.
The Cherokees were also skilled hunters. They hunted large animals, such
as deer and bear, with bows and arrows. They covered themselves in entire
deerskins, antlers and all, and used deer calls to lure the animals to them.
They also hunted small game with blowguns that were accurate from up to 60 feet
away.
The products of their hunts were not only used for food, but for
clothing as well. They dressed in buckskin shirts and skirts, made moccasins,
capes and other items using their animal resources.
Cherokee families usually had two houses- a large summer home and a
smaller winter home. The summer houses were rectangular with peaked roofs, and
clay walls. The winter houses were placed over a pit with a cone-shaped roof of
poles and earth.
The Cherokees practiced a variety of crafts, including basketwork and
stamped pottery. They also carved, out of woods and gourds, masks representing
good and evil spirits. These masks were used during their many hunting,
agricultural and healing rituals. They held these ceremonies at key times of the
year, such as harvest time.
Each village was run by two chiefs. The White Chief, or Most Beloved Man
helped the villagers make decisions concerning farming, lawmaking, and disputes
between individuals, families, or clans. He also played a large role in
religious ceremonies. The Red Chief gave advice concerning warfare. One such
decision was choosing who would be the War Woman, an honored woman chosen to
accompany braves on their war parties. The War Woman did not fight, but helped
feed the men, offered them council, and decided which prisoners would live or
die. The Red Chief was also in charge of the lacrosse games which were called
"little wars." Lacrosse was played within tribes and against other tribes. It is
one of the first known friendly competitions between Indian tribes.
Hernando de Soto was the first European explorer to come into contact
with the Cherokees, when he arrived in their territory in 1540. The Europeans
were very impressed with the highly advanced cultures.
Relations with outsiders started off wonderfully with the Cherokees.
They learned from the settlers around them and adopted new methods of farming
and business. They became faithful allies of the americans and fought with them
in numerous wars. In fact, a Cherokee chief named Junaluska personally saved the
life of future president Andrew Jackson. In 1820, they established a republican
form of government and founded the Cherokee Nation under a constitution, with an
elected principal chief, a senate and a house of representatives.
Much of this work was done by a man named Sequoyah who developed a
written language so the Cherokee could record and document their government. He
is the only person in history to single handedly invent an entire alphabet.
Despite the changes and great attempts to adapt and fit in, the
Cherokee\'s were discriminated against. When gold was discovered near Dahlonega,
Georgia, the whites called for the relocation of the Cherokee. In 1830,
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act despite having