Native American Indian Heritage

Cherokee Heritage

Below you will find information pertaining to the Cherokee's Tribal Heritage and their history. I hope you will enjoy this page and come back to see what is in store for the future of my Cherokee page!


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Old Settlers
January 9, 1994
by Chad Smith, Chief Cherokee Nation

As far back as we know in recorded history, the Cherokees lived in the old southeast, controlling a vast area which includes all or parts of the contemporary states of North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and Alabama.

There seems to have been a tendency for a long time for small groups of Cherokees to break off from the larger group and go their own way. There are references to an early migration of a group Cherokees who went as far as the Rocky Mountains and then were heard from no more, and there is a persistent legend about a group that moved to Mexico. (Sequoyah died while on a trip to locate these people in 1843.)

But the earliest western migration that we know of historically was that of Chief Bowles and his followers. Part of a larger group of Cherokees called Chickamaugans, Bowles and his people had fought on the side of the British against the American colonists during the American Revolution. At the end of the Revolution, they continued fighting the new United States.

By 1794, however, even the Chickamaugans had quit fighting and signed a treaty of peace with the U.S. Following a meeting between Cherokees and U.S. representatives, Bowles and his people were traveling home when they encountered a group of white men. Details are controversial, but they got into a fight.

The Cherokees won the battle, but because of the recent treaty, they were afraid that both the U.S. government and the rest of the Cherokees would find fault with them. So instead of going home, they continued west.

They settled for a time in Missouri, and were joined only a year later by a second group of Cherokees who had decided to move west. Following a tremendous earthquake in that region in 1811, they all moved again, this time settling in Arkansas.

The U.S. government, in league with the governments of the southern states, especially that of Georgia, was by this time working hard to encourage all Cherokees to give up their homes in the east and move west, and since it had acquired the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 (including what is now Arkansas), it told the Cherokees that they could live there.

In the Treaty of 1817, the federal government offered financial rewards if the Cherokees would voluntarily remove from Georgia to Arkansas territory. By this time there were approximately 4,000 Cherokees living in Arkansas and known as "Old Settlers."


Texas Cherokees
January 9, 1994
by Chad Smith, Chief Cherokee Nation

In 1822, when the Cherokee Early Settlers were living in western Arkansas, agents of the United States government told some of the families they were living on the wrong side of the Arkansas River. They told them to move.

A group under the leadership of a man known variously as Diwali, the Bowl, Chief Bowls or John Bowles, packed up to move all right, but they moved clear down into Texas, then under the government of Mexico. Eventually they were joined by other refugee Indians from the United States, including Koasatis, Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, Choctaws, Quapaws, Biloxis and others. They formed a loose confederacy with Bowles as their head chief.

Bowles and the Texas Cherokees secured permission from the Mexican government to live in south Texas, and for a time they prospered there. However, in 1826 some of them became involved in the unsuccessful attempt to establish the Republic of Fredonia.

When Sam Houston left the Western Cherokee Nation and moved to Texas, he became involved in the revolutionary spirit there, and he instigated a treaty between the Texas revolutionary government and the Texas Cherokees. Bowles and his confederacy held off other Indian tribes in the West while Houston and the Texas Army dealt with Mexico.

The revolution was, of course, successful, and Houston was elected President of the Republic of Texas. But in 1838 Houston was succeeded by Mirabeau B. Lamar who had run on a platform that included the promise to kill off or kick out all the Indians in Texas, and Lamar won.

Lamar and his associates claimed that the treaty signed between Houston and the Cherokees was no good, because it had been signed before the revolution. Therefore, they claimed, the Republic of Texas had not yet come into existence. The Republic, they maintained, could not be held responsible for a treaty signed at a time when it did not even exist.

The Texas Cherokees, called by Lamar "Houston's pet Indians," were told to get out. Bowles refused. Lamar sent troops to force Bowl and the Cherokees out of Texas, and a battle ensued during which, Bowles, eighty-three years old, unhorsed and on his knees, carrying the treaty he had signed with Sam Houston, was shot in the head at close range by a Texan. The survivors of this battle escaped across the Red River into the Cherokee Nation in what is now eastern Oklahoma.


Western Cherokees
January 9, 1994
by Chad Smith, Chief Cherokee Nation

Most people know about the Trail of Tears, at least in a general way, but many don't realize that there were Western Cherokees long before the Trail of Tears.

The Cherokees were enticed by the federal government to remove to Arkansas. However, Arkansas was Osage territory. A conflict developed between the Western Cherokees and the Osage and a war raged on for over twenty years. Boat loads of Eastern Cherokees made trips to the West to help their kinsmen fight. Fort Smith, originally known as Cantonment Smith, was established as an attempt by the United States to put an end to the Cherokee-Osage war.

In the meantime, more Cherokees moved west, because of the efforts of the U.S. government, or because they were tired of the pressures back east, or to get away from the whites, or to seek better hunting grounds. Perhaps some of them simply wanted to join relatives who had already moved.

Tahlonteskee was one of these "Early Settlers," as was his brother John Jolly, the adopted father of Sam Houston. Captain Dutch, whose portrait was painted by George Catlin, was a prominent leader in the West, and Sequoyah first introduced the Cherokee syllabary in Arkansas.

The Western Cherokees established their own government, called the Western Cherokee Nation, and elected their own chief, two assistant chiefs, and council. They lived in scattered settlements along rivers in Arkansas. Their homes were log cabins. They grew crops and raised cattle and hogs.

Efforts to quell the war by the Army at Fort Smith were not successful, so the government decided to press a little farther west. Fort Gibson was established, as had been Fort Smith, because of the troubles between the Cherokees and Osage. The Western Cherokees were moved across the line into what is now Oklahoma.

In the meantime, back east, the Government's efforts to move all Indians west of the Mississippi River had intensified. The U.S. Congress had passed the Removal Act, and the administration of Andrew Jackson was pressing the Cherokee Nation, under the leadership of Principal Chief John Ross, to sign a removal treaty. At last, frustrated with Ross's firm stance, the U.S. signed a treaty with Cherokees who were willing to sign, but were not legal representatives of their government.

Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, Stand Watie, Elias Boudinot and others signed the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835. They then moved west voluntarily, joining the Western Cherokees. That was the final voluntary migration. Following was the forced removal of most of the rest of the Cherokees in 1838 over what came to be called the Trail of Tears. This was the larger and original government of the Cherokee Nation. It absorbed that of the Western Cherokee Nation and established its capital at Tahlequah.


Eastern Band Cherokee
By Paula Giese, 1995
Native American Indian Resources

Summary of the forced division of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) people follows: The majority were rounded up by the U.S. Army, imprisoned in concentration camps, then herded to Oklahoma on the death march known as the Trail of Tears, 1838-39. About 1000 hid out and eventually gained the small Eastern Band Qualla Boundary reservation in North Carolina.

Eastern Band members are descendants of those -- probably around 1,000 or so -- who were able to hide out in the hills, which were swarming with army and U.S. government agents, informers, and the like, seeking to round them up and ship them to Oklahoma. The method was to try to get them to sign an enrollment, and the best strategy was never to sign anything. (The purpose of this attempted 19th-century enrollment was always to ship them to Oklahoma.)

In 1848, the U.S. Congress said it would recognize the rights of the North Carolina Cherokees provided the state government did so first. And after the Civil War, the reconstruction government (which included a lot of Indians and newly-freed slaves) did do so. Money that had been promised (but never delivered) in old treaties, was used to "buy" those lands from white ripoff artists. In 1876, the first land survey was conducted -- the Temple Survey, which essentially determined what is still the reservation boundaries (Qualla Boundary).

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