Cherokee Nation Before invasion of the Americans onto Cherokee territory, the Cherokee lived in peace and harmony. Keetoowah is the name of the ancient Cherokee town in the eastern homelands, said to be the "Mother Town" of the people (Conley 18). Many of the Cherokee Indians originated here according to the traditions. They referred themselves as Ani-Kituwagi, meaning Keetoowah People, or Ani -- ya, the Real People (Conley 27). The fertile lands of the Keetoowah were filled of many resources, but as the population grew too large for the town, many people had moved out and built new towns.
Overtime, many towns were built one after another. Soon, there were approximately 200 scattered tribes over vast areas that consisted of a number of politically independent tribes comprised of a war chief and peace chief as there government (King 95). Each tribe was politically independent due to the fact they didn't want a powerful central government; the idea that any one person had supreme power. Thus, tribes were held together by a common culture, language, and tradition. Tradition played an important role in Cherokee clans.
It made sure certain elements of a culture from generation to generation were passed down. Such as, the traditional matrilineal Cherokee family structure, which means descent, is traced through the female line (Conley 24). The children belonged to the mother and her family clan. There was not any relatedness with the father and he's family clan. This family structure provided a safe and secure environment for women and children. Also, it meant the man lived in the wife's house, surrounded by her clan's people, so he would not dare to abuse her unless he wanted a tribal beating.
Women were largely incorporated into the tribes. Not only was she the head of her domain with mutually respected power and authority, she had equal say in the affairs of war and peace. She was also in charge of the household and nourishment of her family (Lehochy). The women were involved in many functions of daily life.
It seems as if the women were the tribe, but not for long. Years after the first American contact, European traders living amongst would marry Cherokee women. European traders could not accept that fact of tracing descent through the female line, but slowly the clan system gave into the European style bilateral family, which traced descent through both male and female (Conley 25). The Cherokee were not too happy with this movement.
It jeopardized the Cherokee's clan traditional ways of a matrilineal family structure carried on for many centuries. Nevertheless, the Cherokees could do nothing about it. Before the first known contacts, life of the Cherokee nation had grown and thrived for many years in the southeastern United States in the lower Appalachian Mountains in states such as: Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and parts of Kentucky and Alabama. However, the first recorded contact with outsiders was Hernando De Soto in his expedition of 1540, in search of gold throughout the Cherokee county (Martin).
Mr. Soto found no trace of gold and returned empty handed. The Spanish explorers noticed the Cherokee village they encountered was practically deserted. Many of the tribes would flee from the sight of the unknown. About 100 years later, Abraham Wood, a Virginian, sent two men, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur in 1673 to establish trade (Martin).
One of the traders begun to establish his home among the Cherokee Indians, which didn't last for long before he was killed. Even though many explorers tried to establish trades, life of the traditional Cherokee remained unchanged as late as 1710, which is marked as the beginning of Cherokee trade with the whites (Trail of Tears). The white mans influential politics came slowly through Cherokee Country, but dramatic. From the period 1540-1786, white expansion was taking place and the cession of Cherokee lands on the colonies in exchanged for traded goods (Trail of Tears). This caused many confrontations among the Cherokees. They saw a common reoccurring trait developing, which led to war to solve the problems.
The Cherokees noticed their lands were decreasing due to treaties formed that minimize their territory. The Indians were clearly not going to stand around and let the Americans trample over them. Dragging Canoe, the war chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time of the Transylvania Treaty of 1775, rose up and said, "Such treaties maybe all right for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands!" (Smith). Dragging Canoe made clear, the territories belonged to them.
He would stand up for the Cherokee Nation and protect their lands. When the American Revolution broke out, a fraction of the Cherokee Nation, soon to be known as Chickamauga, sided with the British in an attempt to stop the Americans from advancing onto Indian land (Conley 36). Dragging Canoe was the leader of the Chickamauga. Throughout the 1780's and early 1790's, frontier armies were raised and sent against the Cherokees (King 13). The Cherokees could not hold off any longer. As a result, they lost the war losing more causalities than Americans did.
Unfortunately, with the war favoring the American's over the Cherokee's, it set the beginning of American demand for more land. With Americans victorious, many citizens were moving onto Cherokee land, demanding more and more from the Indians. They wanted to push the Cherokees out of their settlement. As early as 1802, President Thomas Jefferson formed a plan to move all Indians to locations west of the Mississippi River (Conley 36).
This plan agitated many settlers. Nonetheless, this plan was ratified by congress. As early as 1802, the state of Georgia signed an agreement with President Thomas Jefferson, known as the Georgia Compact, or the 1802 Compact (Conley 46). Now, it gave Americans authority to dismiss Cherokee claims to their own lands and remove the Indians from within the boundaries of Georgia.
Cherokee Indians feeling robbed, ignored the compact. Some believed southerners wanted them removed because they thought of them as being "Savages" (Conley 39). Cherokees hearing this, changed most of their lifestyle to suit the ideal American structure. This was an attempted to stop removal. In less than thirty years, the Cherokee Indians reformed their culture. Many adaptations took place which resembled similar American cultures.
The Cherokee soon built schools and court systems (Cherokee). This infuriated Andrew Jackson, a supporter of the Indian removal policy. After awhile, George Gist, also known as Sequoyah, established a Cherokee written language, utilizing an ingenious alphabet of 86 characters in 1821 (Cherokee). Soon, this was adopted into Cherokee culture and a newspaper was formed. Again, Andrew Jackson grew more furious. He wanted the Cherokees removed off their lands.
In 1830, United States Congress passed an Indian Removal Act pushed by President Andrew Jackson following the recommendation of former President James Monroe in his final address to Congress in 1825 (King 129). This act enforced the previous Georgia Compact of 1802, since many were ignoring that removal act. But, many opposed this Indian Removal Act ratified by congress. After debates over this issue, the opposition ist won. However, Andrew Jackson was able to reinforce the act, due to the Treaty of New Echota on Dec. 29, 1875 (Conley 44). The signing of the Treaty of New Echota set the stage for the beginning of Cherokee extermination.
The treaty signed away the entire remaining tribal territory east of the Mississippi in exchange for five million dollars and the right to occupy lands west of the Mississippi (King 16). Major Ridge, John Ridge, E lies B oudinot, and the rest of the Treaty Party doomed the whole Cherokee Nation when they agreed to sign a fraudulent treaty with the federal government, which did not represent the Cherokee Nation as a whole (Martin). The Ross Party, people who oppose the removal treaty, tried to resist, but nothing else could be done. This removal process started what was to be known as the "Trail of Tears" or "Trail where they cried".
This forced migration journey consisted of thirteen groups of consecutive waves led by Cherokee captions that lasted from August 28, 1838 to March 18, 1839 (Conley 45). Over the journey many Cherokees died, approximately, four thousand out of sixteen thousand, due to diseases, exposure, or fatigue (Martin). The history of the Cherokee people is one of defeat and despair. After the first encounters with Americans, the Cherokee Nation was deteriorating.
For instance, Cherokee family structures were changing, vast amounts of lands were being ceded to Americans, and Cherokee Indians were forced from their lands. Overtime, this constant chipping away at the Cherokee Nation, lead to the final Indian removal from homelands and the demise of the Cherokee Nation in southeastern United States.
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