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About the Cherokee Nation

About the Cherokee Nation

  • The Cherokee originally inhabited the woodlands and mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
  • The first contact with European explorers took place in the 1500’s, although the Cherokee had thrived for thousands of years in the southeastern US prior to European contact.
  • After the first contact, Cherokee society and culture continued to develop, working with the European settlers, evolving a bicultural government and society that matched the most “civilized” of the time.
  • In 1821, a syllabary, or set of written symbols that represent the syllables that make up words, was developed by Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith. This creation marked one of the few times in recorded history that a member of a pre-literate people created an original, effective writing system. It was officially adopted in 1825 by the Cherokee, and the literacy rate among the people skyrocketed.
  • In the 1830’s, gold was discovered in Georgia, and prospectors and settlers began moving to the Cherokee homelands. The Cherokee people were pushed out, and in 1830 the Indian Removal Act paved the way for the government to sanction forced removal.
  • Prompted in part by the discovery of the Georgia gold, in 1838, a series of forced removals orchestrated by the government relocated more than 16,000 Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw to lands in Oklahoma and other territories west of the Mississippi. This became known as the “Trail of Tears” because many suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation along the way, and anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000 died before reaching their destinations (the number is indeterminate because official records were not kept).
  • Some small numbers of Cherokee were able to return to their original homes in the southeastern US and reunite with those who had not been removed. The descendants of these people now form the Eastern Band of Cherokee in western North Carolina.
  • Those that stayed in Indian Territory in Oklahoma were able to rebuild a democratic form of government, along with churches, schools, newspapers and businesses. A new constitution was adopted in September of 1839, the same year the final group of Cherokee arrived on the “Trail of Tears.”
  • Tahlequah, OK (the new Cherokee capital), and nearby Park Hill, became hubs of business activity and centers of cultural activity in Indian Territory.
  • In 1844, the Cherokee Advocate, printed in both the Cherokee and English languages, became the first newspaper in Indian Territory, and the first in a Native American language.
  • The Cherokee educational system of 144 elementary schools and two higher education institutes, the Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries, were created to educate the younger Cherokee, and many white settlements bordering the Cherokee Nation took advantage of this superior school system.
  • Today the Cherokee Nation is the second largest Native tribe in the US, with about 276,000 members. Nearly 25% of them reside in the 7,000 square mile area of the Cherokee Nation - not a reservation, but a jurisdictional service area that includes all of eight counties and portions of six in northeastern Oklahoma.
  • The Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina includes about 16,000 tribal members who are descended from the small group that did not relocate to Oklahoma, or that rejoined the group after their forced relocation.

Learn more about today’s Cherokee Nation: https://www.cherokee.org/