Cherokee Nation (19th century)

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Cherokee Nation


Tsalagihi Ayeli[1]
Part of the United States; Defunct; disbanded in the formation of the State of Oklahoma





Map of Southern United States during the time of the Indian Removals (Trail of Tears), 1830–1838 showing the historic lands of the Five Civilized Tribes. The destination Indian Territory is depicted in light yellow-green.
Languages Cherokee
Government Autonomous tribal government
Principal Chief
 -  1794-1907 Principal Chief
 -  1794-1905 Tribal Council
Historical era Post-colonial to early 20th century
 -  Created with the Treaty of Tellico Blockhouse 7 November 1794 (1794-11-07) 1794
 -  New Echota officially designated capital city 12 November 1825
 -  Treaty of New Echota 29 December 1835
 -  Cherokee Trail of Tears 1838-1839
 -  Tahlequah becomes new official capital 6 September 1839
 -  Officially disbanded by US Federal Government 16 November 1907 (1907-11-16) 1907
Currency US dollar
Today part of  Oklahoma
Legacy continues in  Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Nation (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ, pronounced Tsalagihi Ayeli[1]) of the 19th century was a legal, autonomous, tribal government in North America existing from 1794 to 1907. Often referred to simply as "The Nation" by its inhabitants, it should not be confused with what is known today as the current Cherokee Nation. It consisted of the Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ —pronounced Tsalagi or Cha-la-gee) people of the Qualla Boundary;[2] those who relocated voluntarily from the southeastern United States to the Indian Territory (circa 1820 —known as the "Old Settlers"); those who were forced by the United States government to relocate (through the Indian Removal Act) by way of the Trail of Tears (1830s); Cherokee Freedmen (freed slaves); as well as many descendants of the Natchez, the Delaware and the Shawnee peoples.


Main article: Cherokee history
The second Cherokee Female Seminary was opened in 1889 by the original Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee called themselves the Ani-Yun' wiya. In their language this meant "leading" or "principal" people. Before 1794, the Cherokee had no standing national government. The people dwelt in "towns" located in scattered autonomous tribal areas throughout the southern Appalachia region. Various leaders were periodically appointed (by mutual consent of the towns) to represent the tribes to French, British and, later, American authorities as was needed. The title this leader carried among the Cherokee was "First Beloved Man"[3] —being the true translation of the title Uku, which the English translated as "chief". The chief's function was to serve as focal point for negotiations with the encroaching Europeans, such as the case of Hanging Maw, who was recognized as chief by the United States government, but not by the majority of Cherokee peoples.[4]

At the end of the Chickamauga Wars (1794), Little Turkey was recognized as "Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation" by all the towns. At that time, Cherokee tribes could be found in lands under the jurisdiction of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the Overhill area that was to become part of the state of Tennessee. Also, the break-away Chickamauga (or Lower Cherokee), under chief Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunsini, 1738–1792), had retreated to and now inhabited an area that would be within the future state of Alabama.[5]

U.S. president, George Washington, sought to "civilize" the southeastern American Indians, through programs overseen by Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. Facilitated by the destruction of many Indian towns during the American Revolutionary War, U.S. land agents convinced many Native Americans to abandon their historic communal-land tenure and settle on isolated farmsteads. Over-harvesting by the deerskin trade had brought white-tailed deer in the region to the brink of extinction; therefore, pig and cattle raising were introduced, becoming the principal sources of meat. The tribes were supplied with spinning wheels and cotton-seed, and men were taught to fence and plow the land (in contrast with the traditional division where farming was considered woman's labor). Women were instructed in weaving. Eventually blacksmiths, gristmills and cotton plantations (along with slave labor) were established.[6]

Succeeding Little Turkey as Principal Chief were Black Fox (1801–1811) and Pathkiller (1811–1827), both former warriors of Dragging Canoe. "The separation", a phrase which the Cherokee used to describe the period after 1776 when the Chickamauga had removed themselves from the other tribes which were in close proximity to the Anglo-American settlements, officially ended at the reunification council of 1809.

The important Chickamauga War veterans of the time, James Vann (a successful Cherokee-Scots businessman) and his two protégés, The Ridge (also called Ganundalegi or "Major" Ridge) and Charles R. Hicks (also a future veteran of the Red Stick War, and the de facto Principal Chief from 1813–1827), made up the 'Cherokee Triumvirate' —advocating acculturation of the people, formal education of the young, and the introduction of modern farming methods. In 1801 they invited Moravian missionaries to their territory from North Carolina to teach Christianity and the 'arts of civilized life.' The Moravian, and later Congregationalist, missionaries ran boarding schools, with a select few students chosen to be educated at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions school in Connecticut.

The Removal[edit]

The progression of Indian Territory separation from Arkansas Territory, 1819–1836
The Cherokee Nation Lands in 1830 Georgia, before the Trail of Tears

In 1802, the U.S. federal government promised to extinguish Native American titles to internal Georgia lands in return for the state's formal cession of its unincorporated western claim (which would then became part of the Mississippi Territory). In 1815, the US government established a Cherokee Reservation in the Arkansaw district of the Missouri Territory to convince the Cherokee to move voluntarily. The reservation boundaries extended from north of the Arkansas River to the southern bank of the White River. The Cherokee on this reservation became known as the "Old Settlers".[7]

Additional treaties signed with the U.S., in 1817 and 1819, exchanged remaining Cherokee lands in Georgia (north of the Hiwassee River) for lands in the Arkansaw Territory west of the Mississippi River. A majority of the remaining Cherokee resisted theses treaties and refused to leave their lands east of the Mississippi. Finally, in 1830, the United States Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act to bolster the treaties and forcibly free up title to the sought over state lands. At this time, one-third of the remaining Native Americans left voluntarily, especially because now the act was being enforced by government troops and the Georgia militia.

Most of the settlements were established in the area around the western capital of Tahlontiskee (near present day Gore, Oklahoma).

Constitutional governments[edit]

The Cherokee Nation Capitol Building and Courthouse, Tahlequah, OK. Built in 1869, it functioned as the political center of "The Nation" until 1907, and is the oldest public building standing in Oklahoma.[8]
Tahlequah, OK stop sign, in two languages

The Cherokee Nation—East had adopted a written constitution in 1827 creating a government with three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The Principal Chief was elected by the National Council, which was the legislature of the Nation. A similar constitution was adopted by the Cherokee Nation—West in 1833. The Constitution of the reunited Cherokee Nation was ratified at Tahlequah, Oklahoma on September 6, 1839, at the conclusion of "The Removal". The signing is commemorated every Labor Day weekend with the celebration of the Cherokee National Holiday.

A new home[edit]

Main article: Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Founded in 1838, Tahlequah was created to be the new capital of a united Cherokee Nation. (Named after Great Tellico —an important Cherokee town and cultural center located in present-day Tellico Plains, Tennessee —which was one of the largest Cherokee towns ever established.)

Cherokee Nation districts in Indian Territory[edit]

After moving to Indian Territory, the Cherokee Nation was divided into nine districts for administrative purposes. Those were named:[1]

  • Canadian
  • Cooweescoowee
  • Delaware
  • Flint
  • Goingsnake
  • Illinois
  • Saline
  • Sequoyah
  • Tahlequah

Cherokee Capital[edit]

The Cherokee National Capitol Building was constructed from 1867-1869.[9] The brick building was designed by architect, C. W. Goodlander, in the 'late Italianate' style, unusual for Oklahoma. Originally it housed the nation's court as well as other offices. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.[9][10][11]

Indications of Cherokee and Native American influence are easily found in and about Tahlequah. For instance, street signs appear in the Cherokee language—in the syllabary alphabet created by Sequoyah (ca. 1767–1843)[12]—as well as in English.

Civil War and reconstruction[edit]

The Cherokee Braves Flag, as flown by Stand Watie's troop.

The Trans-Mississippi area, which included the Cherokee Nation–West, hosted numerous skirmishes and seven officially recognized battles involving Native American units either allied with the Confederate States of America or loyal to the United States government.

Several prominent members of the Cherokee Nation made contributions during the war: William Penn Adair (1830–1880), a Cherokee senator and diplomat, was a Confederate colonel; Nimrod Jarrett Smith, Tsaladihi (1837–1893), a future Principal Chief of the Eastern Band, also served during the war; and hold-out Confederate Brig. General Stand Watie (also known as Degataga, (1806–1871), a signer of the Treaty of New Echota) raided Union positions in the Indian Territory with his 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles Regiment of the Army of Trans-Mississippi well after the Confederacy had abandoned the area. He became the last Confederate general to surrender—on June 25, 1865.[13]

The main body of the Cherokee people had sided with the Confederacy during the American Civil War. As such, they were subject to the same post-war constitutional restraints put on the holding of slaves as was the rest of the south. The area also became part of the reconstruction of the southern United States.

Nation's demise[edit]

Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, along with No Man's Land (also known as the Oklahoma Panhandle). The division of the two territories is shown with a heavy purple line. Together, these three areas would become the State of Oklahoma in 1907
Main article: Cherokee Nation

From 1898–1906, beginning with the Curtis Act of 1898, the US federal government set about the dismantling of the Cherokee Nation's governmental and civic institutions, in preparation for the incorporation of the Indian Territory into the new state of Oklahoma. In response, the leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes sought to secure the establishment of a new State of Sequoyah in 1905 that would have a Native American constitution and government. The proposal received a cool reception in Congress and failed, and the tribal government of the Cherokee Nation was dissolved in 1906. After this the structure and function of the tribal government were not formally defined. The federal government occasionally designated chiefs of a provisional "Cherokee Nation", but usually just long enough to sign treaties.[14]

As the shortcomings of the arrangement became increasingly evident to the Cherokee, demand arose for the formation of a more permanent and accountable tribal government. A general convention was convened on 8 August 1938 in Fairfield, Oklahoma, to elect a new Chief, and reconstitute a modern, Cherokee Nation, to be a "successor in interest" to the historic Cherokee Nation.[15]


The Nation was made up of scattered peoples mostly living in the Cherokee Nation–West and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (both residing in the Indian Territory by the 1840s), and the Cherokee Nation–East (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) —the three federally recognized tribes of Cherokees.

Additional peoples[edit]

The Delaware[edit]

In 1866, some Delaware were relocated to the Cherokee Nation from Kansas, where they had been sent in the 1830s. Assigned to the northeast area of the Indian Territory, they united with the Cherokee Nation in 1867. The Delaware Tribes operated autonomously within the lands of the Cherokee Nation.[16]

Natchez people[edit]

Main article: Natchez people

The Natchez are a Native American people who originally lived in the Natchez Bluffs area, near the present-day city of Natchez, Mississippi. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Natchez people were defeated and dispersed. Many survivors had been sold (by the French) into slavery in the West Indies. Others took refuge with allied tribes, one of which was the Cherokee.

The Shawnee[edit]

Main article: Shawnee Tribe

Known as the Loyal Shawnee or Cherokee Shawnee, one band of Shawnee people relocated to Indian Territory with the Seneca people in July 1831. The term "Loyal" came from their serving in the Union army during the American Civil War. European-Americans settled on their lands, so in 1869, the Cherokee Nation and Loyal Shawnee agreed that 722 of the Shawnee would gain Cherokee citizenship. They settled in Craig and Rogers Counties.[17]

Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa[edit]

The Anishinaabe-speaking Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa Bands were removed from southeast Michigan to Kansas in 1839. After Kansas became a state and the Civil War ended, they pushed the Native Americans out. Like the Delaware, the two Chippewa bands were relocated to the Cherokee Nation in 1866. They were so few in number that they eventually merged with the Cherokee.

Cherokee Freedmen[edit]

The Cherokee Freedmen, were former African American slaves who had been owned by citizens of the Cherokee Nation during the Antebellum Period. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that granted citizenship to all freedmen in the Confederate States, including those held by the Cherokee. In reaching peace with the Cherokee — who had sided with the Confederacy — the U.S. government required that they free their slaves and offer them full Cherokee citizenship. The freedmen were first guaranteed Cherokee citizenship under a treaty with the United States following the Civil War (1866).[18]

Notable Cherokee Nation citizens[edit]

This list of historic people only includes documented Cherokees living in, or born into, the original Cherokee Nation who are not mentioned in the main article:

  • Elias Boudinot, Galagina (1802–1839), statesman, orator, and editor; founded the first Cherokee newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.
  • Ned Christie (1852–1892), statesman, Cherokee Nation senator, infamous outlaw[19]
  • Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark (1893–1971), United States Navy, highest ranking Native American in US military history.
  • Doublehead, Taltsuska (d. 1807), a war leader during the Chickamauga Wars, led the Lower Cherokee, and signed land deals with the U.S.
  • Junaluska (ca. 1775–1868), veteran of the Creek War, who saved President Andrew Jackson's life.
  • John Ridge, Skatlelohski (1792–1839), son of Major Ridge, statesman and New Echota Treaty signer.
  • John Rollin Ridge, Cheesquatalawny, or "Yellow Bird" (1827–1867), grandson of Major Ridge, first Native American novelist.
  • Clement V. Rogers (1839–1911), Cherokee senator, judge, cattleman, member of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention.
  • Will Rogers, (November 4, 1879 – August 15, 1935) Cherokee entertainer, roper, journalist, and author.[20]
  • John Ross, Guwisguwi (1790–1866), veteran of the Red Stick War, Principal Chief in the east, during Removal, and in the west.
  • Redbird Smith (1850–1918), traditionalist, political activist, and chief of the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society.
  • William Holland Thomas, Wil' Usdi (1805–1893), non-Native but adopted into tribe, founding Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, commanding officer of the Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders.
  • Nancy Ward, Nanye-hi (ca. 1736–1822/4), Beloved Woman, diplomat.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The James Scrolls
  2. ^ Indians, Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina; Donaldson, Thomas; 1892; 11th Census of the United States; Robert P. Porter, Superintendent, U.S. Printing Office, Washington, D.C.; published online at Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina; retrieved October 1, 2010.
  3. ^ Hoig, pp. 36, 37, 80
  4. ^ A Small Lexicon of Tsalagi words at Web Citations; A Few Words in Cherokee/Tsalagi; Tsalagi resources; accessdate January 18 2010.
  5. ^ Evans, E. Raymond. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Dragging Canoe"; Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 170–190; (Cherokee: Museum of the Cherokee Indian); 1977.
  6. ^ Perdue, Theda; Cherokee women: gender and culture change, 1700–1835; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 1999. ISBN 978-0-8032-8760-0.
  7. ^ Lowery, Charles D. "The Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory, 1798–1819," Journal of Mississippi History 1968 30(3): 173–192
  8. ^ Moser, George W. A Brief History of Cherokee Lodge #10., Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  9. ^ a b Francine Weiss (1980). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Cherokee National Capitol PDF (511 KB). National Park Service. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Cherokee National Capitol". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service, added = October 15, 1966. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  11. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  12. ^ Sequoyah, "New Georgia Encyclopedia"; retrieved 8 Aug 2010.
  13. ^ Confer, Clarissa; The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War; University of Oklahoma Press; 2007; pg. 4.
  14. ^ Cherokee; article; Oklahoma Historical Society; "Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture."
  15. ^ Indian Country Today article
  16. ^ McCollum, Timothy James. Delaware, Western. Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. . Retrieved 5 August 2009.
  17. ^ Smith, Pamela A. "Shawnee Tribe (Loyal Shawnee)." Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. . Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  18. ^ Halliburton, R., Jr.: Red over Black – Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut 1977 ISBN 978-0-8371-9034-1
  19. ^ "The Case of Ned Christie", Fort Smith Historic Site, National Park Service. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
  20. ^ Carter JH. "Father and Cherokee Tradition Molded Will Rogers". Archived from the original on November 10, 2006. Retrieved 2007-03-10. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°54′N 94°58′W / 35.900°N 94.967°W / 35.900; -94.967