Describe what is known of the tribe’s pre-Columbian history, including settlement dates and any known cultural details.
Before Columbus came to the “New World,” the pre-Columbian era, the Cherokee occupied an area that today is western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia (Waddington 2006). The Cherokee traveled even further past these areas, however, to hunt and to trade their wares. The Cherokee had occupied this area for a good 1,000 years before Europeans set foot in the area in the beginning of the 16th century; however, the initial contact with the Europeans was quite scant and for about 300 years after the first contact the Europeans the Cherokee culture really didn’t change at all (2006).
The Cherokee Indians were considered to be great hunters as well as farmers; they grew great crops and harvested both nuts and berries, which were considered staples in the daily diet (Native-Net 2010). Their homes were made from wood and stone and they built roads along the riverbed so that they could get to other villages to trade their produce (2010). Each Cherokee village had its own Chief who would be in charge of running the tribe and making sure that there was peace among other tribes as well. Some of the tribes that the Cherokee allied with were the Choctaw and the Muskogee (2010). The different tribes in this area often came together for parties and would come up with competitions to hold where they could compete with one another; this was all for fun and games (2010).
In the early 19th century there was an onset of major European expansion and this resulted in the need for more trade (Waddington 2006). It is this time that contact between the Europeans and the Cherokee really began. The Europeans thought the Cherokee to be a diplomatic and nonviolent group of people. They seemed also to be quite evolved in terms of tribal politics as well in that they had a very diplomatic system where future generations were considered and women were an important part of politics (2006).
2. Discuss the cultural and religious beliefs of the chosen tribe.
The Cherokees religious beliefs were centered on a form of Animism that believed in one single God (Waddington 2006). Animism itself is a type of religion that holds that nature has a soul. Because of the fact that their type of Animism believed in one single God, it was not difficult for European settlers to convert them to Christianity (2006). It is perhaps because of this common belief in a single God that made the Cherokees and the Europeans come together as well. Waddington notes that there are very few Cherokee who practiced this type of Animism after contact with the European settlers and there are virtually none who practice it today.
3. Describe the tribe’s history after contact including major events that may have been important to the history of the tribe in the present day.
The Cherokee Indians occupied the aforementioned area (parts of North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia) for centuries before Europeans arrived, and though the initial contact was scant and then harmonious, it quickly changed. The Europeans started to build their own homes and develop their own roads on Cherokee territory in the 19th century and eventually they began to force the Cherokee Indians off the land (Native-Net 2010). The Cherokee were often forced to leave without so much as a single possession. The Trail of Tears is perhaps one of the saddest stories of the ways in which Native Americans were stripped of their land and culture. The Trail of Tears refers to the path that the Cherokee were forced to take after leaving their land and heading to Oklahoma in the brutal winters of 1838 and 1839 (2010). It is reported that about 5,000 Cherokee Indians lost their lives out the approximately 18,000 that were forced to go on this trip that was over 800 miles long (2010).
Marriage between Cherokee and Europeans were common in the 19th century; however, a well-know figure in Cherokee history is a man named Sequoyah who was of French-Cherokee heritage who came a generation before it intermarriage was common between white and Indian individuals (Waddington 2006). He is the only person who ever came up with a writing system for any indigenous North American language (2006). His writing system is now the Cherokee alphabet — even in present day.
It was around the time that Sequoyah invented the writing system that the relationship between whites and Indians was becoming tenuous. There was much suspicion between the people and violence was even becoming a way of life (Waddington 2006). One of the factors leading to such tense relations was the fact that gold had been found in areas of Georgia that were technically Cherokee land. This was perhaps the single most significant factor leading to legislative efforts made by U.S. Congress to remove the Cherokee (and remove them by force) (2006). In 1830 President Andrew Jackson officially signed the Indian Removal Act (2006).
4. Explain the history of at least one historical figure of the chosen tribe and events surrounding that individual’s life.
Chief Dragging Canoe was a Cherokee chief who was vehemently against a deal where the Cherokee Nation essentially signed away pieces of their land to the white man and received nothing back in return for it (Bogan 2005). In 1776 Dragging Canoe separated from the tribe and assembled a very aggressive branch of the Cherokee called the Chickamauga Cherokees (2005). The branch soon began to call themselves Chickamaugans.
Dragging Canoe was the son of a Cherokee diplomat called Attakullakulla (Chickamauga Cherokee 2012). Some historians have called Chief Dragging Canoe as the Cherokee’s most significant military leader and his bravery and passion to become a warrior has been documented in stories about him. Dragging Canoe, as the story goes, always wanted to become a great warrior, but his father, a diplomat was against it. When the Cherokee fought the Shawnee Dragging Canoe wanted to be included though he was quite young (2012). His father fervently refused the boy’s request, though this didn’t stop Dragging Canoe from trying away. Dragging Canoe hid in a canoe, but when discovered by the warriors heading off to fight the Shawnee, they told his father. Attakullakulla said that his son could go if he could manage to carry the canoe. The young boy tried in earnest to carry the canoe, but it was too heavy. Dragging Canoe, still desiring to fight, dragged the canoe while being cheered on by the Cherokee warriors. This is where Dragging Canoe got his name (2012).
Bogan, D. (2005). Chief Dragging Canoe & the Chickamauga Cherokees. History of Campbell
County Tennessee. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from TNGEN Web.
Chickamauga Cherokee. (2012). Chief Dragging Canoe. Chickamauga Cherokee. Retrieved May 24, 2012, from Chickamauga Cherokee.
Native-Net. (2010). Cherokee Indians. Native Net. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from Native Net.
Waddington, R. (2006). The Cherokee. The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved May 23,
2012, from The Peoples of the World Foundation.
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