Cherokee History

The Cherokee history is a captivating account of an energetic culture, which emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the prime movers and shakers of European trade relations with the native American Indians. The Cherokee tribe demonstrated character and spirit and an aggressive military temperament. 

The Cherokee tribe was in the shadows until the Virginia settlement came up in 1609. But the tribe really gained prominence when they came into contact with the English traders in 1629. The treaty with South Carolina in 1684 that promoted trading in deerskins and Indian slaves, really marked the beginning of the Cherokee importance into the European trading echelons.  

These trading relations between the Cherokee tribe and the English settlers had far-reaching consequences. Not only did this bring the Cherokee to the forefront of the Native American political scene, but also led them to favor the British in their wars against the French and the Spanish between 1689 and 1763.

All through this, the Cherokee however continued their skirmishes with the neighboring Native American Indians.

The Cherokee War (1760-62) saw these Native American Indians in their brutal best, running down European settlements and barracks and massacring European settlers at Long Canes, along Broad River and Fort Prince George.

But the retaliation proved too costly for the Cherokee. Their towns were destroyed and their food supplies cut off, forcing them to again settle for a peace treaty. According to the treaty, the Cherokee tribe had to give up huge tracts of their land east of Carolina.

More bloodbath and humiliation was in store for the Cherokee as they went into the warpath against the Chickasaw tribe. A crushing defeat in their hands at the Chickasaw Oldfields (1769) forced the Cherokee to explore newer avenues to forge native alliances to resist the colonists.

During these times, there were shifts in the expansionist policies followed by certain branches of the Cherokee. Thus while the Cui Canacina and the Chickamauga continued with their aggressions into the territories of other Native American tribes and also against the Americans, the majority of the Cherokee remained aloof from the ensuing war against the settlers.

But when it came to their foes, the Americans made no difference between the hostile and the neutral Cherokee. Thus avenging the Cherokee attacks on their North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama settlements in 1776, the Americans rampaged more than 36 Cherokee towns. The ensuing peace treaties, DeWitt's Corner and Long Island, saw the Cherokee compelled to concede further land holdings.

Through all these peace settlements the very resolute Chickamauga continued with their enmity with the Americans. However, without support from the other Cherokee people and the Spanish, they were slowly being pushed to the back foot. And by 1799, the hostilities between the Cherokee and the Americans came to an end.

The Cherokee raid into the American mainstream society began with the formal recognition of Western Cherokee by the United States in 1817 and the migration of the Cherokee to Arkansas. In fact, by 1817, the conventional Cherokee clan system of governance was replaced by an elected tribal council. They soon had a new capital at New Echota in 1825 and a codified constitution fashioned after the US model by 1819.

But all was not bed of roses for the Cherokee tribe. The Indian Removal Act of 1829 that legalized Indian removal to the west of the Mississippi and President Jackson’s refusal to implement the laws protecting the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation virtually broke the backbone of the Cherokee tribe. Fights at the civil courts did not help matters either.

Georgia and Tennessee ravaged through the Cherokee nation, massacring countless thousands, confiscating Cherokee property and arresting key Cherokee leaders. The final nail in the coffin was the fraudulent Treaty Party (Ridgites) that culminated with the American Army moving into the Cherokee nation on May 1838. The resulting exodus of the Cherokee tribe to the Rattlesnake Springs near Chattanooga became famous in history as the “Trail of Tears”.

And as if the external aggressions were not enough, the Cherokee soon plunged into a bitter regime of Civil War during the 1860s, wherein one Cherokee faction was pitted against another. There were violent fights at Wilson Creek, Pea Ridge and Oklahoma and the Cherokee nation lost more than 1/3rd of its population.

The Cherokee Nation was officially dissolved on March 3, 1906 and the next year, Oklahoma was recognized as the 46th state of USA. The Wheeler-Howard Indian Reorganization Act (1934) saw the creation of the present government of the Cherokee Nation in 1948.

Violent wars, betrayals by allies, internal strife, deception by the government-the Cherokee history has seen it all and that the surviving Cherokee tribe is ample testimony to its indomitable spirit.

Joseph Paige 2006

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