1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cherokee

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CHEROKEE (native Tsalagi, “cave people”), a tribe of North American Indians of Iroquoian stock. Next to the Navaho they are the largest tribe in the United States and live mostly in Oklahoma (formerly Indian territory). Before their removal they possessed a large tract of country now distributed among the states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and the west of Florida. Their chief divisions were then settled around the head-waters of the Savannah and Tennessee rivers, and were distinguished as the Elati Tsalagi or Lower Cherokees, i.e. those in the plains, and Atali Tsalagi or Upper Cherokees, i.e. those on the mountains. They were further divided into seven exogamous clans. Fernando de Soto travelled through their country in 1540, and during the next three centuries they were important factors in the history of the south. They attached themselves to the English in the disputes and contests which arose between the European colonizers, formally recognized the English king in 1730, and in 1755 ceded a part of their territory and permitted the erection of English forts. Unfortunately this amity was interrupted not long after; but peace was again restored in 1761. When the revolutionary war broke out they sided with the royalist party. This led to their subjugation by the new republic, and they had to surrender that part of their lands which lay to the south of the Savannah and east of the Chattahoochee. Peace was made in 1781, and in 1785 they recognized the supremacy of the United States and were confirmed in their possessions. In 1820 they adopted a civilized form of government, and in 1827, as a “Nation,” a formal constitution. The gradual advance of white immigration soon led to disputes with the settlers, who desired their removal, and exodus after exodus took place; a small part of the tribe agreed (1835) to remove to another district, but the main body remained. An appeal was made by them to the United States government; but President Andrew Jackson refused to interfere. A force of 2000 men, under the command of General Winfield Scott, was sent in 1838, and the Cherokees were compelled to emigrate to their present position. After the settlement various disagreements between the eastern and western Cherokees continued for some time, but in 1839 a union was effected. In the Civil War they all at first sided with the South; but before long a strong party joined the North, and this led to a disastrous internecine struggle. On the close of the contest they were confirmed in the possession of their territory, but were forced to give a portion of their lands to their emancipated slaves. Their later history is mainly a story of hopeless struggle to maintain their tribal independence against the white man. In 1892 they sold their western territory known as the “Cherokee outlet.” Until 1906, when tribal government virtually ceased, the “nation” had an elected chief, a senate and house of representatives. Many of them have become Christians, schools have been established and there is a tribal press. Those in Oklahoma still number some 26,000, though most are of mixed blood. A group, known as the Eastern Band, some 1400 strong, are on a reservation in North Carolina. Their language consists of two dialects — a third, that of the “Lower” branch, having been lost. The syllabic alphabet invented in 1821 by George Guess (Sequoyah) is the character employed.

See also Handbook of American Indians (Washington, 1907); T. V. Parker, Cherokee Indians (N. Y., 1909); and Indians, North American.