Of all the injustices done to Native Americans, none equals the cruelty and betrayal culminating in the tragic “Trail of Tears” when the Cherokee Nation was forcefully driven out of the North Carolina mountains and marched 1,200 miles to Oklahoma.
Those Cherokee who survived the journey to Oklahoma are known as the Western Band, or better known today as the Cherokee Nation. Descendants of those who hid in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid removal are known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
There are about 11,600 Eastern Band of Cherokee members, most of whom live on the Reservation. Properly called the Qualla Boundary, the Reservation is slightly more than 56,000 acres held in trust by the federal government specifically for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Cherokee Name, Language
- Alternate spellings: Ani’-Yun’wiya, Tsalagia, Keetoowah
- Possible meanings: “people of a different speech” or “the principle people”
- Language family: Iroquoian
Total Cherokee Population Estimates
- 1674: 50,000
- 1990: 308,000
- 4,000 years ago, ancestors of The Cherokee migrated from the American southwest to the Great Lakes region. After wars with the Delaware and Iroquois tribes of that area, the Cherokee made a permanent home in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and in South Carolina’s foothills.
- First contact with white traders working in the Appalachian Mountains was made in the 1600s. The Cherokee traded deerskins for hammers, saws, other metal tools, glass, cloth, and firearms.
- The Cherokee fought 1689-1763 in the French and Indian Wars because of their alliances with the British.
- In 1821, Sequoyah, a Cherokee warrior and silversmith, introduced a written Cherokee language. Thousands of Cherokee soon became literate.
- The first Cherokee Constitution was adopted in 1827.
- The US Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This law forced the Cherokee and all other American Indian tribes to trade their ancestral lands for land in present-day Oklahoma. Decendants of the Eastern Band of Cherokee took refuge in the mountains to excape this forced removal.
- The Treaty of New Echota was signed in 1835 by a small faction of Cherokees who favored relocation.
- Many thousands of Cherokee refused to abandon their homes and were forced to leave on foot by the US Army. This march, known as the Trail of Tears, took three to five months during 1838. It was estimated that 13,000 Cherokee started this journey and that at least one-fourth died of hunger and exhaustion. Approximately 1,000 Cherokee escaped the Trail of Tears by hiding and were eventually granted land in western North Carolina. They are now known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
- The Cherokee lived in log cabins, wore turbans and preferred European clothes, unlike the Plains Indians depicted in western movies.
- Today the combined Cherokee tribes are presently the largest nation of Native Americans in the United States. They boast large and prosperous reservations in Oklahoma and North Carolina, and there are smaller groups of Cherokee in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas