Part One
(revised 2.28.96)
[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).

Although this Cherokee history is larger than most, it's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism.

Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end is standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments...Lee Sultzman]

This Cherokee history was revised on 2/28/96 so as to incorporate information provided by Tsalagi historian Ken Martin. I recommend a visit to his excellent web site.




The southern Appalachian Mountains: including western North and South Carolina, northern Georgia and Alabama, southwest Virginia, and the Cumberland Basin of Tennessee, Kentucky, and northern Alabama.
Distributed across the United States, but concentrated in eastern Oklahoma. The eastern Cherokee still maintain their reservation in western

North Carolina. The Northern Cherokee Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory has almost 12,000 members and has been recognized by the State of Missouri. Other groups of Cherokee, like the 2,500 members of the North Alabama Cherokee, are located in Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama but currently do not have federal recognition.


European epidemics introduced into the southeastern United States in 1540 by the Desoto expedition are estimated to have killed at least 75% of the original native population. How much the Cherokee suffered from this disaster in unknown, but their population in 1674 was about 50,000. A series of smallpox epidemics (1729, 1738, and 1753) cut this in half, and

it remained fairly stable at about 25,000 until their removal to Oklahoma during the 1830s. The American Civil War was the next disaster and cost the Cherokee 25% of their population. No other group of Americans, red or white, suffered as severely during this conflict. The 1990 census listed 308,132 persons (15,000 full-blood) who identified themselves as Cherokee. Of these, 95,435 were concentrated in eastern Oklahoma while 10,114 eastern Cherokee lived on or near the North Carolina reservation. Cherokee tribal governments have fairly liberal membership standards, and some estimates exceed 370,000, which would make the Cherokee the largest Native American group in the United States.


The most familiar name, Cherokee, comes from a Creek word "Chelokee" meaning "people of a different speech." In their own language the Cherokee originally called themselves the Aniyunwiya (or Anniyaya) "principal people" or the Keetoowah (or Anikituaghi, Anikituhwagi) "people of Kituhwa." Although they usually accept being called Cherokee, many prefer Tsalagi from their own name for the Cherokee Nation (Tsalagihi Ayili). Other names applied to the Cherokee have been: Allegheny (or Allegewi, Talligewi) (Delaware), Baniatho (Arapaho), Caáxi (or Cayaki) (Osage and Kansa), Chalaque (Spanish), Chilukki (dog people) (Choctaw and Chickasaw), Entarironnen (mountain people) (Huron), Gatohuá (Creek), Kittuwa (or Katowá) (Algonquin), Matera (or Manteran) (coming out of the ground) ( Catawba), Nation du Chien (French), Ochietarironnon (Wyandot), Oyatageronon (or Oyaudah, Uwatayoronon) (cave people) (Iroquois), Shanaki (Caddo), Shannakiak (Fox), Tcaike (Tonkawa), and Tcerokieco (Wichita).


Iroquian, but Cherokee differs significantly from other Iroquian languages.


The Cherokee have been divided into three divisions depending on location and dialect (east to west):
Lower, Middle, and Over-the-Hill.
Other distinct bands were:
Atali, Chickamauga, Etali, Onnontiogg, and Qualia.
Three Cherokee groups are currently federally recognized:
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (Oklahoma), and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (North Carolina). The Echota Cherokee are recognized only by the state of Alabama.

The number following a particular name indicates more than one of the same name.

Lower Settlements:

Echota, Estatoee (2), Keowee (2), Kulsetsiyi (or Sugartown) (3), Oconee, Qualatchee (2), Tomassee (2), Toxaway, Tugaloo, Ustanali (6).
Middle Settlements:
Cowee, Coweeshee, Ellijay (4), Itseyi (3), Jore, Kituhwa, Nanyahala, Nucassee, Stikayi (3), Tawsee, Tekanitli, Tessuntee, Tikaleyasuni, Watauga (2), Yunsawi.
Overhill Settlements:
Chatuga (3), Chilhowee, Cotocanahut, Echota (5), Hiwassee (2), Natuhli, Nayuhi (4), Sitiku, Tahlasi, Tallulah (2), Tamahli (2), Tellico (4), Tennessee (2), Toquo, Tsiyahi (3), Ustanali.
Other Settlements by Location:
Aguaquiri, Amahyaski, Amakalali, Amohi, Anisgayayi (NC), Anuyi, Aquohee (NC), Aracuchi, Atsiniyi, Aumuchee, Ayahliyi, Big-island (TN), Briertown (NC), Broomtown, Brown's Village, Buffalo Fish, Canuga (2) (NC/SC), Catatoga (NC), Chagee (SC), Chattanooga (TN), Cheesoheha (SC), Chewase (TN), Chicherohe (GA), Chickamauga (TN), Conisca, Conontoroy, Conoross (SC), Cooweescoowee, Coyatee (TN), Crayfish Town (GA), Creek Path (AL), Crowmocker (AL), Crow Town (AL), Cuclon, Cusawatee (GA), Dulastunyi (NC), Dustavalunyi (NC), Ecochee (GA), Elakulsi (GA), Etowah (or High Tower Forks) (2) (GA), Euforsee, Fightingtown (GA), Frogtown (GA), Guasuli, Gulaniyi, Gusti (TN), Gwalgahi (or Guhlaniyi) (Natchez) (NC), Halfway Town (TN), Hemptown (GA), Hickory Log (GA), Ikatikunahita (GA), Ivy Log (GA), Johnstown (GA), Kalanunyi (NC), Kanastunyi (NC), Kansaki (4) (NC/GA/TN), Kanutaluhi (GA), Kawanunyi (TN), Kuhlahi (GA), Kulahiyi (GA), Leatherwood (GA), Long Island (TN), Lookout Mountain (GA), Naguchee (GA), Nanatlugunyi (TN), Nickajack (TN), Niowe, Noewe, Nowe, Nununyi (NC), Ocoee (TN), Oconaluftee (NC), Olagatano, Ooltewah (TN), Oothcaloga (GA), Paint Town (NC), Pine Log (GA), Quacoshatchee (SC), Qualla (NC), Quanusee, Quinahaqui, Rabbit Trap (GA), Red Bank (GA), Red Clay (NC), Running Water (TN), Saguahi, Sanderstown (AL), Selikwayi (GA), Seneca (SC), Setsi (NC), Skeinah (or Devil Town (GA), Soquee (GA), Spike Bucktown (or Spike Town) (NC), Spring Place (GA), Standing Peach Tree (GA), Sunanee (GA), Sutali (GA), Tagwahi (3) (TN/NC), Takwashnaw, Talahi, Talaniyi (GA), Talking Rock (GA), Tanasqui, Tasetsi (GA), Taskigi (3) (TN/NC), Tausitu, Tikwalitsi (NC), Tlanusiyi (NC), Tocax, Torsalla, Tricentee, Tsilaluhi (GA), Tsiskwahi (NC), Tsistetsiyi (TN), Tsistuyi (TN), Tsudinuntiyi (NC), Tucharechee, Tuckaseegee (2) (NC/GA), Turkeytown (AL), Turniptown (NC), Turtletown (GA), Tusquittah (NC), Two Runs (GA), Ustisti, Valleytown (NC), Wahyahi (NC), Wasasa (AL), and Willstown (AL).

According to some accounts, before the coming of the Europeans, the Cherokee were forced to migrate to the southern Appalachians from the northwest after a defeat at the hands of the Iroquois and Delaware. Some Delaware traditions also support this, but the Iroquois have no memories of such a conflict. While there is probably some historical basis, it is difficult to imagine a tribe as large and powerful as the Cherokee being forced to move anywhere, although they may have lost some territory in the north to the Susquehannock, Erie, or Delaware. Considering their language differences with other Iroquian groups, the Cherokee probably have been a distinct group for a considerable period. It seems more reasonable to assume that the Cherokee had occupied their mountain homeland for a long time before the arrival of the Europeans.

At the time of contact, the Cherokee were a settled, agricultural people living in approximately 200 fairly, large villages. The typical Cherokee town consisted of 30 to 60 houses and a large council house. Homes were usually wattle and daub, a circular framework interwoven with branches (like an upside-down basket) and plastered with mud. The entire structure was partially sunken into ground. In later periods, log cabins (one door with smokehole in the bark-covered roof) became the general rule. The large council houses were frequently located on mounds from the earlier Mississippian culture, although the Cherokee themselves did not build mounds during the historic period. Used for councils, general meetings, and religious ceremonies, the council houses were also the site of the sacred fire, which the Cherokee had kept burning from time immemorial.

Like other Iroquian peoples, kinship and membership in seven matrilineal clans were determined through the mother, although the women's role never achieved the importance that it enjoyed among the Iroquois League in New York. In most ways, the Cherokee more closely resembled the Creek and other southeastern tribes, including the celebration of the Busk, or Green Corn festival. Agriculture relied heavily on the "three sisters" (corn, beans, and squash), supplemented by hunting and the gathering of wild plants. Cherokee villages were largely independent in daily matters, with the whole tribe only coming together for ceremonies or times of war. Leadership was divided according the circumstances: "red" chiefs during war and "white" chiefs in times of peace.

The Cherokee were the only Iroquian-speaking member of the five Civilized Tribes of the southeast United States. Although it is difficult to ascertain what privilege in treatment they received for being classified as "civilized", their achievements were remarkable and accomplished almost entirely through their own efforts. During the early 1800s, the Cherokee adopted their government to a written constitution. They established their own courts and schools, and achieved a standard of living that was the envy of their white neighbors. Particularily noteworthy was the invention of written language by Sequoyah (George Gist) in 1821. Utilizing an ingenious alphabet of 86 characters, almost the entire Cherokee Nation became literate within a few years. A Cherokee newspaper, the Phoenix, began publication in the native language in February, 1828. Prominent Cherokees are too numerous to list but include Senator Robert Owen and Will Rogers. Despite all they have endured, the Cherokee level of education and living standard ranks among the highest of all Native American tribes.


The Desoto expedition is believed to have made the first European contact in 1540 when they met the "Chalaque" on the Tennessee River. Although Pardo revisited the area in 1566 and the Spanish maintained a small mining and smelting operation in the area until 1690, the Cherokee's location in the interior mountains kept them relatively isolated until after the settlement of Virginia in 1609. By 1629 English traders had worked their way west into the Appalachians and met the Cherokee. Contact became continuous with the founding of the Carolina colonies. Virginian Abraham Wood tried unsuccessfully to maintain his trade monopoly with the Cherokee and sent two men, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, to the Cherokee Overhill capital at Echota in 1673, but the following year a group of Cherokee met with rival Carolina traders along the upper Savannah River. A treaty with South Carolina followed in 1684 beginning a steady trade in deerskins and Indian slaves. Although contact was limited initially to white traders, important changes began to occur within the Cherokee as a result. Leadership shifted from priest to warrior, and warriors became hunters for profit.

Increasing dependence on trade goods also drew the Cherokee to the British as allies in their wars against the French and Spanish between 1689 and 1763. Cherokee relations with their neighbors were not always friendly before contact. They raided Spanish settlements in Florida during 1673 and fought the coastal tribes of the Carolinas, but European trade and competition aggravated these rivalries and destabilized the region. By 1680 most of the tribes had gotten their first firearms, and the Cherokee had fortified their larger villages. Constant fighting with the Catawba erupted in the east followed by a growing friction with the Creek and Choctaw to the south. To the west there was a traditional hostility with the Chickasaw (also a British ally). To the north, the struggle between the French, Dutch, and English in the fur trade started the Beaver Wars and a period of conquest by the Iroquois League which spread across the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley.

In 1660 large groups of Shawnee were driven south by the Iroquois. The Cherokee allowed one group to settle in South Carolina and serve as a buffer between them and the Catawba. Other Shawnee were permitted to locate in the Cumberland Basin of Tennessee for a similar purpose against the Chickasaw. This self-serving hospitality was to earn the Cherokee nothing but grief. The Iroquois never forgot an enemy, and the Shawnee presence brought them south in raids against both the Shawnee and the Cherokee. Meanwhile, the Shawnee were becoming dangerous. In 1692 a Shawnee raid to capture slaves for trade with the English destroyed a major Cherokee village while its warriors were absent on a winter hunt. While both tribes still had common enemies (Iroquois, Catawba, and Chickasaw), this treachery destroyed any trust or friendship that had existed between the Cherokee and Shawnee. The following year a Cherokee delegation visited Charlestown demanding more firearms to fight their enemies. The situation had become so dangerous by 1705 that North Carolina was urging South Carolina to curtail the trade in Native American slaves or face a massive uprising.

Actually, warfare between allies and trading partners did not serve British interests, so they encouraged the peace that was finally arranged between the Cherokee and Iroquois in 1706. This respite allowed Cherokee warriors in 1708 to join the Catawba and Alibamu in an attack against the Mobile in southern Mississippi who were serving as middlemen for the new French trading posts in the region. 300 Cherokee warriors also served with the South Carolina army of Colonel James Moore against the Tuscarora in 1713, although some of the Lower Cherokee joined the Yamasee during the general uprising against the Carolinas in 1715. Peaceful relations resumed afterwards, and the Cherokee received a large quantity of guns and ammunition in exchange for their allegiance. However, the peace with the Iroquois collapsed when the League attempted to dominate the Cherokee through the Covenant Chain(See Iroquois). When the Cherokee refused to comply with Iroquois demands, the raiding resumed.

Never forgetting the treachery of the Shawnee treachery in 1692, the Cherokee decided to rid themselves of their now-unwelcome guests. To do this, they allied with the Chickasaw (enemies with similar feelings about the Shawnee) to inflict a major defeat in 1715 on the Shawnee of the Cumberland Basin. The Chickasaw alliance and war with the Shawnee brought the Cherokee to the attention of the French and their Algonquin allies north of the Ohio River. The result was a steady stream of war parties directed south against them. The Cherokee were in the dubious position of fighting the pro-British Iroquois and the pro-French Algonquin at the same time, but they held their own, despite devastating smallpox epidemics in 1738 and 1753 which killed almost half of them. The epidemics were also devastating to the Cherokee priests who, unable to cure the disease, lost most of their remaining influence. A second Chickasaw alliance in 1745 forced the remaining Shawnee north across the Ohio River and then succeeded in defeating the French-allied Choctaw in 1750.

Meanwhile, a treaty, signed in 1721 and thought to be the first land cession by the Cherokee, regulated trade and established a boundary between the Cherokee and the British settlements. Despite this agreement, settlement from the Carolinas was rapidly invading the lands of the Lower Cherokee east of the Appalachians and tempting the Cherokee to switch their loyalty to the French. This option had become available to them after the French made peace with the Alibamu and built a trading post at Fort Toulouse near Montgomery, Alabama in 1717. French traders were also reaching the Overhill Cherokee by following the Cumberland River from its mouth near the Ohio. The Chickasaw, however, still made travel on the Tennessee River by the French far too dangerous. All of this trade could easily have tied the Cherokee to the French if they had been able to compete with the British, but they could not. French goods were generally inferior and more expensive, and the British had the naval power to blockade Canada in times of war (King George's War 1744-48) and halt the supply.

More important, the British valued their alliance with the Cherokee and worked hard to maintain it. Colonel George Chicken was sent by the British government in 1725 to regulate Cherokee trade and prevent the possibility of their turning to the French. He was followed by Sir Alexander Cuming who visited the major Cherokee towns and convinced them to select a single chief to represent them with the British. Cuming even escorted a Cherokee delegation to England for an audience with George II. In the treaty signed at Charleston in 1743, the Cherokee not only made peace with the Catawba, but promised to trade only with the British. Two years later, the Cherokee also concluded a peace with the Wyandot (an important French ally north of the Ohio), only to learn that the Wyandot and other French tribes were secretly plotting to break free from the French trade monopoly. At this point, the Cherokee apparently decided the French would not be an improvement over the British. While the French were permitted to build a trading post in their homeland, this was a close as the Cherokee ever came to changing sides. However, the British still had serious doubts about Cherokee loyalty.

Pressed to acquire new land to compensate for their growing loses to white settlement, the Cherokee and Creek were almost forced into a war with each other (1752-55). At stake was control of a hunting territory in northern Georgia which the two tribes had formerly shared. After the decisive battle at Taliwa (1755), the Cherokee emerged as the winner, and this new territory probably allowed them to support the British at the outbreak of the French and Indian War (1755-63). Although the Cherokee signed a treaty in 1754 confirming their alliance and allowing the construction of British forts in their territory to defend the colonies, the lingering suspicion remained they were sympathetic to the French. Incidents between Cherokee and white settlers during 1758 were hastily covered over by another treaty, but the cooperation collapsed in 1759. Almost 100 Cherokee accompanying a Virginia expedition against the Ohio Shawnee lost their provisions while crossing a river and were abandoned by their white "allies." Angry at this treatment, the Cherokee helped themselves to some of the Virginians' horses and were attacked. After killing more than twenty Cherokee, the Virginians scalped and mutilated the bodies. They later collected a bounty for the scalps.

While their chiefs rushed to arrange restitution to "cover the dead," outraged Cherokee warriors launched a series of retaliatory raids against outlying settlements. Blaming French intrigue rather than Virginia treachery, Governor Littleton of South Carolina raised an 1,100 man army and marched on the lower Cherokee settlements. Stunned to discover the British were attacking them, the lower Cherokee chiefs quickly agreed to peace. Two warriors accused of murder were handed over for execution, and 29 chiefs were surrendered as hostages at Fort Prince George on British suspicions of their hostile intentions. Satisfied with these arrangements, Littleton left, but the Cherokee were furious. His army had barely reached Charleston when the Cherokee War (1760-62) exploded with full fury. Settlers were massacred at Long Canes, and a militia unit was mauled near Broad River. In February of 1760, the Cherokee attacked Fort Prince George in attempt to free the hostages, killing the fort's commander from ambush. The fort's new commander promptly executed the hostages and fought off the assault Fort 96 also withstood an attack, but lesser outposts were not so fortunate, and the war quickly expanded beyond Littleton's resources.

He appealed for help from Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander in North America (who despised Indians, friend or foe). With the French defeated, the entire British army in North America was available for use against the Cherokee. In May Amherst sent 1,200 Highlanders and Royals under Colonel Montgomery to the area. Montgomery's approach to Indian warfare: no male prisoners, but spare women and small children. The war did not go well for the British. After burning several abandoned lower Cherokee towns, Montgomery met with ambush and defeat when he attempted to push deeper into Cherokee territory. After a long siege, Fort Loudon in eastern Tennessee fell during August, and the garrison was massacred. In early 1761, the incompetent Montgomery was replaced by Colonel James Grant. Ignoring Cherokee attempts to make peace, Grant enlisted the help of Catawba scouts in June, and soon afterwards his 2,600 man army captured 15 middle Cherokee towns and destroyed the food the Cherokee needed for the coming winter. Faced with starvation if the war continued, the Cherokee signed a treaty with the South Carolina in September that ceded most of their eastern lands in the Carolinas. A second treaty was signed with Virginia in November. The Cherokee maintained their part of the agreement and did not participate in the Pontiac uprising (1763) but did suffer another smallpox epidemic that year. They still benefited somewhat when the rebellion forced the stunned British government to temporarily halt all new settlement west of the Appalachians. Within a few years, colonial demands forced the British to reverse this policy, and begin negotiations with the Iroquois. Land cessions by the Iroquois at the Fort Stanwix (1768) opened large sections west of the Appalachians to settlement. Their generosity also included land in West Virginia, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky claimed by the Cherokee, and this forced the British to negotiate new boundaries with the Cherokee at the Treaty of Hard Labor (1768).

Cherokee History - Part Two

Books authored by Cherokee

Books about the Cherokee...