The Cherokee were one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” located in the southeastern United States. By the 1600s, it is believed that the Cherokee controlled roughly 40,000 square miles in the region of the Appalachian Mountains. They were located in the present-day states of Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and the western Carolinas.
Cherokee Nation Flag
They fought with the British in both the French and Indian War (1754-63) and the American Revolution (1775-1781). Since they fought with British, American colonists saw the Cherokee as a threat to their safety. They continued to view the Cherokee this way for many years. After the American Revolution, the power of the Cherokee declined. They were also forced to give up some of their land in the Carolinas.
By the 1800s, they adopted many of the ways of white settlers on the frontier. They were respected for their advanced civilization. They even had their own alphabet! Their alphabet was developed by Sequoyah, a Cherokee leader. Each symbol represented a syllable. The alphabet was so easy to learn that almost the entire tribe learned to read within a short time! They also wrote their own constitution, basing their government on that of the United States. They translated the Bible into the Cherokee language. They even started the first Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.
In the 1820s, gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia. At the same time, many white settlers were pouring into the Southeastern United States. When word of the discovery got out, many more settlers came into the area. This increased the desire of the government to get the Cherokee land. A small number of Cherokee signed a treaty with the government which gave up all of their land in the eastern United States.
Most Cherokee people did not approve of the treaty, and eventually took their case to the Supreme Court. In 1832, the Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee (a remarkable ruling, considering the racism of many Americans at that time!). The Court ruled that the Cherokee nation was “a nation within a nation.” That meant that the United States government had no claim over Cherokee land.
Unfortunately, the state of Georgia and the President, Andrew Jackson, ignored the ruling. Troops were sent into the Southeast to remove the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes. These tribes, who had lived in southeastern North America for centuries, were forced out of their homes. The forced march of the southeastern tribes became known as the Trail of Tears. Cold weather, poor food supplies, and bad treatment caused the deaths of about four thousand Native Americans along the way. Many of the sick and dying were left where they fell because troops refused to stop for them.
They were taken to present-day Oklahoma. At the time it was considered so desolate that it was unfit for anyone other than Native Americans. A small number of Cherokee managed to escape to the mountains of North Carolina. But by 1838, nearly all of the Cherokee and other southeastern tribes had been removed from their land. The Trail of Tears was one of the most tragic events in American history.
Things to Remember:
• The Cherokee were very advanced, with their own alphabet and newspaper.
• The Cherokee took their land claims to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor in 1832.