The Cherokee Nation is descended from those Cherokees who were removed to the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma on the long journey now referred to as the Trail of Tears.
Official Tribal Name: Cherokee Nation
Address: 17675 S. Muskogee Ave, P. O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465
Email: [email protected]
Official Website: www.cherokee.org
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
Aniyunwiya – Principal people
Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:
Cherokee – from a Muskogee Indian word for “speakers of another language.”
Tsalagi – The spelling and pronunciation of Cherokee in the Cherokee language.
Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
They seem to be identical with the Rickohockans, who invaded central Virginia in 1658, and with the ancient Talligewi, of Delaware tradition, who were represented to have been driven southward from the upper Ohio River region by the combined forces of the Iroquois and Delawares.
Name in other languages:
Ani’-Kitu’hwagi – From one of their most important ancient settlements, and extended by Algonquian tribes to the whole.
Alligewi or Alleghanys, a people appearing in Delaware tradition who were perhaps identical with this tribe.
Baniatho, Arapaho name.
Choctaw word Cha-la-kee, which means “those who live in the mountains”
Choctaw Chi-luk-ik-bi, meaning “those who live in the cave country”
Entari ronnon, Wyandot name, meaning “mountain people.”
Lower Creek word, Ciló-kki, meaning someone who speaks another language
Manteran, Catawba name, meaning “coming out of the ground.”
Ochie’tari-ronnon, a Wyandot name.
Oyata’ ge’ronon, Iroquois name, meaning “inhabitants of the cave country.”
Shanaki, Gaddo name.
Shannakiak, Fox name.
Talligewi, Delaware name.
Tcaike, Tonkawa name.
Tcerokieco, Wichita name.
Uwatayo-rono, Wyandot name, meaning “cave people.”
Their northern kinsmen, the Iroquois, called them Oyata’ge‘ronoñ, ‘inhabitants of the cave country.’
State(s) Today: Oklahoma
Traditional Territory: Originally, the Cherokee were part of the Iroquois tribe, living around the Great Lakes. When they split off from the Iroquois they migrated South. When Europeans came upon them, they held the whole mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, claiming land to the Ohio River.
- Treaty of November 28, 1785
- Treaty of July 2, 1791
- Treaty of June 26, 1794
- Treaty of October 2, 1798
- Treaty of October 24, 1804
- Treaty of October 25, 1805
- Treaty of October 27, 1805
- Treaty of January 7, 1806
- Elucidation of a Convention, September 11, 1807
- Treaty of September 8, 1815
- Treaty of March 22, 1816
- Second Treaty of March 22, 1816
- Treaty of September 14, 1816
- Treaty of July 8, 1817
- Reservation Roll of 1817
- Understanding the Reservation Roll
- Treaty of February 27, 1819
- Treaty of May 6, 1828
- Disbursements to Cherokees under the Treaty of May 6, 1828
- Improvements to Annexed Cherokee Lands
- Treaty of February 14, 1833
- Agreement of March 14, 1835
- Treaty of August 24, 1835
- Treaty of December 29, 1835
- Treaty of August 6, 1846
- Agreement of September 13, 1865
- Treaty of July 19, 1866
- Treaty of April 27, 1868
Population at Contact:
In 1708 Gov. Johnson estimated the Cherokee at 60 villages and “at least 500 men.” In 1715 they were officially reported to number 11,210 (Upper, 2,760; Middle, 6,350; Lower, 2,100), including 4,000 warriors, and living in 60 villages (Upper, 19; Middle, 30; Lower, 11).
In 1720 were estimated to have been reduced to about 10,000, and again in the same year reported at about 11,500, including about 3,800 warriors. In 1729 they were estimated at 20,000, with at least 6,000 warriors and 64 towns and villages.
An estimate in 1730 placed the Cherokee at about 20,000. By 1758 they were computed at only 7,500. The majority of the earlier estimates are probably too low, as the Cherokee occupied so extensive a territory that only a part of them came in contact with the whites.
Those in their original homes had again increased to 16,542 at the time of their forced removal to the west in 1838, but they lost nearly one-fourth on the journey, 311 perishing in a steamboat accident on the Mississippi. Those already in the west, before the removal, were estimated at about 6,000.
The civil war in 1861-65 again checked their progress, but they recovered from its effects in a remarkably short time, and in 1885 numbered about 19,000, of whom about 17,000 were in Indian Territory, together with about 6,000 adopted whites, blacks, Delawares, and Shawnee, while the remaining 2,000 were still in their ancient homes in the east.
Of this eastern band, 1,376 were on Qualla reservation, in Swain and Jackson Counties, North Carolina; about 300 on the Cheowah River, in Graham County, North Carolina, while the remainder, all of mixed blood, were scattered over east Tennessee, north Georgia, and Alabama.
The eastern band lost about 300 by smallpox at the close of the civil war. In 1902 there were officially reported 28,016 persons of Cherokee blood, including all degrees of admixture, in the Cherokee Nation in the Territory, but this includes several thousand individuals formerly repudiated by the tribal courts.
There were also living in the nation about 3,000 adopted black freedmen, more than 2,000 adopted whites, and about 1700 adopted Delaware, Shawnee, and other Indians. The tribe has a larger proportion of white admixture than any other of the Five Civilized Tribes.
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Language Classification: Iroquoian -> Southern Iroquoian -> Cherokee
The language has three principal dialects:
- Elatĭ, or Lower, spoken on the heads of Savannah River, in South Carolina and Georgia;
- Middle, spoken chiefly on the waters of Tuckasegee River, in western North Carolina, and now the prevailing dialect on the East Cherokee reservation;
- A´tăli, Mountain or Upper, spoken throughout most of upper Georgia, east Tennessee, and extreme western North Carolina. The lower dialect was the only one which had the r sound, and is now extinct. The upper dialect is that which has been exclusively used in the native literature of the tribe.
Number of fluent Speakers:
- Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (F)
- Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama (S)
- United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (F)
- Also see: State and Un-Recognized Cherokee Tribes for a list of 348 state recognized or unrecognized Cherokee tribes
Ceremonies / Dances:
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Art & Crafts:
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They are said to have lost 1,000 warriors in 1739 from smallpox and rum, and they suffered a steady decrease during their wars with the whites, extending from 1760 until after the close of the Revolution.
This 26 minute video explains events leading up to the Trail of Tears with stories of hardship, endurance, love, and loss, and comes alive as a grandfather experiences removal with his granddaughter.
Traditional, linguistic, and archeological evidence shows that the Cherokee originated in the north, but they were found in possession of the south Allegheny region when first encountered by De Soto in 1540. Their relations with the Carolina colonies began 150 years later.
In 1736 the Jesuit (?) Priber started the first mission among them, and attempted to organize their government on a civilized basis. In 1759, under the leadership of A´ganstâ´ta (Oconostota), they began war with the English of Carolina. In the Revolution they took sides against the Americans, and continued the struggle almost without interval until 1794.
During this period parties of the Cherokee pushed down the Tennessee River and formed new settlements at Chickamauga and other points about what is now the Tennessee-Alabama line.
Shortly after 1800, missionary and educational work was established among them, and in 1820 they adopted a regular form of government modeled on that of the United States. In the meantime large numbers of the more conservative Cherokee, wearied by the encroachments of the whites, had crossed the Mississippi and made new homes in the wilderness in what is now Arkansas.
A year or two later Sequoya, a mixed-blood, invented the alphabet, which at once raised them to the rank of a literary people.
At the height of their prosperity gold was discovered near present day Dahlonega, Georgia, within the limits of the Cherokee Nation, and at once a powerful agitation was begun for the removal of the Indians.
After years of hopeless struggle under the leadership of their great chief, John Ross, they were compelled to submit to the inevitable, and by the treaty of New Echota, Dec. 29, 1835, the Cherokee sold their entire remaining territory and agreed to remove beyond the Mississippi to a country there to be set apart for them-the present (1890) Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory.
The removal was accomplished in the winter of 1838-39, after considerable hardship and the loss of nearly one-fourth of their number, the unwilling Indians being driven out by military force and making the long journey on foot.
On reaching their destination they reorganized their national government, with their capital at Tahlequah, admitting to equal privileges the earlier emigrants, known as “old settlers.”
A part of the Arkansas Cherokee had previously gone down into Texas, where they had obtained a grant of land in the east part of the state from the Mexican government.
The later Texan revolutionists refused to recognize their rights, and in spite of the efforts of Gen. Sam Houston, who defended the Indian claim, a conflict was precipitated, resulting, in 1839, in the killing of the Cherokee chief, Bowl, with a large number of his men, by the Texan troops, and the expulsion of the Cherokee from Texas.
When the main body of the tribe was removed to the west, several hundred fugitives escaped to the mountains, where they lived as refugees for a time, until, in 1842, through the efforts of William H. Thomas, an influential trader, they received permission to remain on lands set apart for their use in western North Carolina.
Their descendants are the present Eastern Band of Cherokee, residing chiefly on the Qualla reservation in Swain and Jackson counties, with several outlying settlements.
The Cherokee in the Cherokee Nation were for years divided into two hostile factions, those who had favored and those who had opposed the treaty of removal.
Then the Civil War began. Being slave owners and surrounded by southern influences, a large part of each of the Five Civilized Tribes of the territory enlisted in the service of the Confederacy, while others adhered to the National Government.
The territory of the Cherokee was overrun by both armies. By treaty in 1866 they were readmitted to the protection of the United States, but obliged to liberate their black slaves and admit them to equal citizenship.
In 1867 and 1870 the Delawares and Shawnee, respectively, numbering together about 1,750, were admitted from Kansas and incorporated with the Cherokee Nation.
In 1889 a Cherokee Commission was created for the purpose of abolishing the tribal governments and opening the territories to white settlement, with the result that after 15 years of negotiation an agreement was made by which the government of the Cherokee Nation came to a final end March 3, 1906.
The Indian lands were divided, and the Cherokee Indians and native adopted became citizens of the United States.
In the News:
The Cherokee Nation: A History
The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears
Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
Cherokee Proud: A Guide for Tracing and Honoring Your Cherokee Ancestors
The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War