“Cherokee”–‘Cave People’, ‘Swamp People’, Ani-Yuniwiya–The REAL People
Etowah (in the center of the mound), Georgia is the oldest known inhabited territory of the Cherokee Indians dating back centuries before first European contact. Evidence of Cherokee residence on the “mounds” were confirmed through artifacts of copper vessels and cremated burial remains consistent to the enduring style of the Cherokee Indians (see below).
There is much confusion and speculation about the true origins of the Cherokee Indians. Many believe that they can be traced from Central America and the Yucatan due their their linguistic dialect and consistent design of artifacts found on the Cherokee mounds and the pathway from those regions. Many others argue that the Cherokee truly descended from the Middle Eastern region.
The Cherokee Indians were also believed to have been part of the Iroquois Indian tribe and due disagreements, battles left the Cherokee fleeing the Great Lakes area to Georgia and the Smoky Mountains where they sought refuge.
In 1540, Hernando de Soto and over 700 Spanish soldiers marched vigorously through the landscape in search of gold and riches as they had believed “America” was overflowing with such bounty. Upon his arrival on May 25, 1540, De Soto encountered the Cherokee Indians in the southern woods. With swords in hand, De Soto demanded gold and silver and its whereabouts from the Cherokee Indians.
The natives didn’t understand what the Spanish wanted and therefore didn’t supply them with gold or silver. The Cherokee did offer generous gifts to the Spanish giving them large quantities of meat and food. In return, Hernando de Soto and and his men kidnapped and enslaved Cherokee Indians on subsequent visits. De Soto would capture Cherokee leaders and ransom them for food and goods.
Many Cherokee Indians hid in the vast Smoky Mountains from the new settlers and visitors. The Cherokee suffered many deaths from the first contact of the European people through diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis.
The Five Civilized Tribes that make up the Cherokee Nation are: Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole. They occupied Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennesee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The Cherokee Indians were masters at trade and profit for their people. By the late 17th century, many Cherokee Indians had horses and guns that they were suspected in acquiring from the Spanish. The Cherokee often joined battles and wars of the white people in exchange for guns, ammunition and other prime goods. In 1715 there were over 11,000 Cherokee Indians living in the territory and their numbers were growing as they thrived in the southeastern area.
18th Century Cherokee Indians
The Cherokee traveled to London England to visit King George II in 1730 where they acquired their unique dressing style. The Cherokee warriors were tattooed on their head which they kept shaven all but one pony tail or small strip of hair, and their bodies. They adopted the turban used by British middle eastern servants and English smoking jackets in order to cover their tattoos.
The Cherokee signed a treaty with England so that in exchange for fine goods and guns, the Cherokee would “fight for the British, keep trading path clear, and return runaway slaves and surrender any “indian” who slays and Englishman” (Objibwa, 2009).
In 1735 the Cherokee Indian population rose to 15,000 until the smallpox devastation occurred in 1738 and consumed many lives leaving only 7500 Cherokee Indians (Starr, 25).
War and battles were a way of life and a lucrative arrangement between the Cherokee and the white man. They sided with the English many years. In 1762, the English bombarded the Cherokee in a plan to overthrow the powerful Cherokee Indians that were rising in power and influence. The Cherokee warriors realized they were outnumbered and surrendered, settling peacefully in order to preserve further death and dismay among the people in a dwindling population.
Many more white settlers and prospectors arrived on Cherokee soil. As a result, the Hopewell Treaty was signed between the Confederation Congress in 1785 to preserve the Cherokee Indian territory and restrict any settlers from occupation or trespassing.
“The Congress shall have Power To …regulate Commerce…with the Indian Tribes….”
ARTICLE I, SECTION 8, CLAUSE 3
In 1787, the U.S. Constitution was adopted Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 stating that “Congress shall have Power To…regulate Commerce…with the Indian Tribes…” This gave the Federal Congress the exclusive authority over the Indians.
Prior to this adoption, “on November 28, 1785, the Confederation Congress negotiated a treaty with the Cherokee Nation in which the Cherokees were allotted certain lands for hunting grounds. The treaty also stipulated that no non-Native settlers would be allowed on the land. In the following letter to the U.S. Senate, President Washington notes that the treaty with the Cherokees has been violated by White settlers.”
President George Washington addresses this in his letter to Congress in 1790:
“On August 11 the Senate resolved that the treaty at Hopewell with the Cherokees be carried into execution at the discretion of the President, and that the Senate guarantee the Cherokee boundary. On August 12 Congress adjourned, to convene again on the first Monday in December, 1790.
That the White people settled on the frontiers bad openly violated the said boundary by intruding on the Indian lands.
That the United States in Congress assembled did on the first day of September 1788 issue their proclamation forbidding such unwarrantable intrusions and in joining all those who had settled upon the hunting grounds of the Cherokees to depart with their families and effects without the loss of time, as they would answer their disobedience to the injunctions and prohibitions expressed, at their peril.”
President Washington further states that there were over “500 families have settled on the Cherokee Lands exclusively of those settled between the fork of French Broad and Holstein Rivers mentioned in the said treaty.”
This was a turning point for the Cherokee Indians that lead to many changes between the U.S. Government and the Cherokee Indians. The U.S. Government further ignored the treaties with Cherokee Indians in favor of white settlers. It was at this point that a great shift occurs in the tribe. The Cherokee often valued the power and was of the white man, assimilating themselves and taking great strides to “civilize” themselves in order to grow their Cherokee Nation and obtain power. Trading for goods that the white man had, agriculture tools and farming were incorporated in the tribe with an eye towards expansion and peaceable connections.
They would move on to create their own formal alphabet and spread literacy among their people so they, as a tribal nation, could stand in solidarity with their leaders and negotiate in favor of their people. They created their own Cherokee Constitution which will be held high among the people and exists today in its modified modern format. The Cherokee Indians formally educated their children in Mission Schools in compliance with attaining a more civilized way of life to appease the government.
The Cherokee made several attempts to prove their value to Anglo-Americans through battles, Cherokee regiment volunteerism and accommodating the ever changing demands of the U.S. on their people only led to their ultimate demise and forced removal regardless of their legal representation and approval from the U.S. Supreme Court denouncing the effort enacted by President Andrew Jackson, but was never enforced, into the Trail of Tears.
The Cherokee Nation is strong today with complete sovereignty. There are over 300,000 recognized tribal members and they live all over the world. The Cherokee Indians have adapted well throughout history and have made great strides by patterning their existence on the white man who only punished the natives for their service.