Cherokee History in North Carolina

**This is my Pathfinder Project for the LIS 501 Reference course I took in Fall 2012.**

Part 1: Basics

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is the only federally recognized Native American tribe in North Carolina. Their history is both fascinating and heartbreaking, from their roots as one of the most advanced tribes in the nation to the loss of so many members during the Trail of Tears. The Cherokees who evaded the forced removal in the 1830s are now known as the Eastern Band and their descendants still reside in western North Carolina. This pathfinder is designed to assist high school and university students who are researching Cherokee history as well as those who are simply interested in learning more about the topic.

Part 2: Written Resources

Reference Book 1: The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina


Chapter 12 in this reference book is titled “The Cherokees” and opens with the Cherokee myth of creation. It details the history of the Cherokees from the 1630s, when the first European settlers arrived in the area and the Cherokee population was at its peak (approximately 20,000), to the 1830s, when many of the Cherokees from North Carolina and neighboring states were forced west on the Trail of Tears. During this time, the Cherokees were one of the largest tribes east of the Mississippi River. This chapter provides information on where the Cherokees lived, how and what they traded with the European-Americans, how they integrated new technologies into their society, how new diseases affected their population, the status of women in their society, their agricultural methods, and how their alphabet was created. There are also two major factors that the book states led to the removal of the Cherokees in 1838: the discovery of gold in the area and the election of President Andrew Jackson. Other information provided includes the impact William Holland Thomas had on the Cherokee community and the legend of Tsali, on whom the popular play Unto These Hills is based.

Ready, M. (2005). The tar heel state: A history of North Carolina. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Available in the reference section at the main branch of the Henderson County Public Library.

Call number: NC 975.6 R

Reference Book 2: Western North Carolina: A History from 1730 to 1913


Chapter 26 in this reference book is titled “The Cherokees” and opens with stories about the origins of Native Americans. It describes the Cherokees as being a “superior tribe” as they were one of the largest and even had their own national government. This chapter provides information on the introduction of guns and smallpox to the Cherokees, trading paths, the massacre at Fort Loudon and other threats to the tribe, various treaties, the first Cherokee mission, the invention of the Cherokee alphabet, the discovery of gold in Georgia, the removal treaty and forts, and life for the Cherokees who avoided the Trail of Tears and remained in North Carolina. The book also includes information on famous Cherokees such as Nanakatahke, Junaluska, Yonaguska, Sequoya, Tsali, William Holland Thomas, and Salali. At the end of the chapter is a list of Cherokee myths. It should be noted that this book was written in 1914 and therefore the writing style is somewhat old-fashioned.

Arthur, J. P. (1914). Western North Carolina: A history from 1730 to 1913. Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press.

Available in the reference section at the main branch of the Henderson County Public Library.

Call number: NC 975.6 A

Journal Article 1: Cherokee Population Losses during the Trail of Tears: A New Perspective and a New Estimate

This article examines the relocation of the Cherokees from North Carolina and other states in the southeast to Oklahoma in the 1830s, which is known as the Trail of Tears. The main focus of the article is on population loss, including how many Cherokees died during the relocation as well as what their population size might be if the relocation had not occurred. There are many reasons provided as to why so many Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears, such as “adverse weather, mistreatment by soldiers, inadequate food, disease, bereavement, and the loss of their homes” (Thornton, 1984, p. 289). Once the Cherokees were relocated, they continued to face hardships such as starvation and disease. The article details events leading up to the forcible removal of the Cherokees, including cases taken to the Supreme Court. It then states that the first few thousand Cherokee were relocated by steamboat, and then they went overland in thirteen groups of approximately 1,000 Cherokee in each group. The article includes personal accounts by a solider and by a Cherokee woman who was three years old when she made the journey.

Thornton, R. (1984). Cherokee population losses during the Trail of Tears: A new perspective and a new estimate. Ethnohistory, 31(4), 289-200.

Available in the “America: History & Life” database via EBSCOhost.

Journal Article 2: Sequoyah: Planter of the Talking Leaves

This article details the life of Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian who was born in North Carolina. Sequoyah means “with the foot of a pig” and he got that name because he was disabled in a hunting accident as a child. He is also known as George Gist or George Guess, after his British father. He is most famous for developing the written Cherokee alphabet. Sequoyah’s reason for developing it is because he believed European Americans were so successful at stealing land from Native Americans because they had a written language which enabled them to write documents. So despite the fact that Sequoyah only spoke minimal English (and it is believed that he could not read or write the language), he was able to study English books and figure out that “letters corresponded to sounds” (McNamee, 2010, p. 50). He also served as an Army soldier and scout and was known as a talented orator, storyteller, student, and interpreter.

McNamee, G. (2010, July/August). Sequoyah: Planter of the talking leaves. Native Peoples Magazine, 23(4), 50-52.

Available in the “Bibliography of Native North Americans” database via EBSCOhost.

Journal Article 3: The Holdouts

This article discusses John Ross, who was only one-eighth Cherokee but still a chief, and a warrior named Major Ridge, who was his counselor. These two men devoted much of their lives to negotiating with the United States government in an attempt to protect the interests of the Cherokee. The article details the early lives of Ross and Ridge, how they met, how they fought together in court for the Cherokees, and how they came to disagree with each other to the point that there were rumors that one had hired someone to kill the other. The article also describes how President Andrew Jackson played a major role in the relocation of their tribe. Background information about the tribe as a whole at that time is also provided. In the 1820s the Cherokees had developed a written language, adopted a constitution, and built a capital city. They also held out much longer than the other tribes in the southeast but finally signed a treaty requiring them to relocate in 1838.

Hicks, B. (2011, March). The holdouts. Smithsonian, 41(11), 50-60.

Available in the “America: History & Life” database via EBSCOhost.

Part 3: Online Resources

Online Resource 1: Cherokee Nation


Cherokee Nation is the official website of the Cherokees. The website features an extensive history section divided into facts, Trail of Tears accounts, biographies, places, chiefs, and events. The “Facts” subsection gives a brief overview of the tribe’s history, distinguishes between an “old settler Cherokee” and an “eastern emigrant”, tells about Sequoyah’s creation of the Cherokee alphabet, provides a timeline of the Cherokee’s involvement in the Civil War, lists census information, and details the various treaties that were signed by the tribe. Biographies are provided of Ned Christie, Samuel Worcester, Zeke Proctor, Redbird Smith, Henry Starr, James Taylor, Sequoyah, Goingsnake, and Archibald Scraper. Places described include the Cherokee National Prison, Camp Gruber, the Cherokee National Female Seminary, the Cherokee Capitol Building, and early Cherokee settlements. The events of the first telephone in Indian Territory, the most disastrous fire in Indian Territory, the escape of 14 Cherokee prisoners from the National Jail, and the Cherokee Declaration of Causes are detailed on the website as well.

Cherokee Nation: About the Nation: History. (2011). Retrieved from

Online Resource 2: Eastern Band of Cherokee


According to their website, the Eastern Band of Cherokee is the only tribe in North Carolina that is recognized by the federal government. There are approximately 14,000 members and the reservation consists of 56,000 acres in western North Carolina. The “History & Culture” section of the website provides a brief historical overview of the tribe. Historically the Cherokees lived in seven states in the southeast, including North Carolina, where they had towns, villages, and hunting camps. The women in the tribe controlled the social structure, marriage, and property. However, when the European settlers came to the area, the Cherokees knew they must adapt to survive and therefore developed schools, a written alphabet, and a bilingual newspaper. The website tells of the changes that occurred in the 1830s resulting in the removal of the Cherokees from their native land, which included the state of Georgia petitioning to expand state jurisdiction. Those Cherokees who avoided relocation were able to live and work on land purchased by adopted Cherokee Will Thomas until they obtained a corporate charter from the state of North Carolina in 1870.

Eastern band of Cherokee: History & culture. (2012). Retrieved from

Online Resource 3: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area: Cherokee History in the North Carolina Mountains and Beyond


The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area was designated a part of North Carolina, Appalachian, Cherokee, and American history by the government in 2003. The website provides an overview page of the history of Cherokees in North Carolina as well as historical facts in greater detail in five parts. The Cherokees once thrived with an estimated 25,000 members but now only 9,000 members of the Eastern Band remain on the western North Carolina reservation. The “An Ancient People” section states that the Cherokee have lived in North Carolina since 10,000 BC but only developed distinct Cherokee traditions around 1,000 years ago. “European Contact” began in 1540 with the arrival of the Spaniards, who brought diseases that killed off the majority of Native Americans. In the 1600s, “Trade and Conflict” began. The Cherokees became British allies in the Revolutionary War and in turn lost most of their land when the British lost the war. Despite these setbacks, the Cherokee were still able to develop schools, churches, a government, a written language, and a bilingual newspaper. However, in the 1830s most of the Cherokees were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears” except for around 300 tribe members, who hid in the mountains and were finally recognized by the U.S. government in 1868. The website’s history section concludes with “Twentieth Century to Present”, which details the preservation of Cherokee cultural traditions.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area: Cherokee history in the North Carolina mountains and beyond. (2011). Retrieved from

Online Resource 4: National Park Service Trail of Tears DVD

This video, which is 23 minutes long, is available online in two parts. It was produced in collaboration with the Cherokee Nation and is the official film of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The video tells the story through black and white drawings with narration and reenactments which include a family speaking Cherokee (with English subtitles). Before the relocation of the Cherokees, they had already started to embrace a new way of life by building schools and churches; living in cabins; farming the land; establishing a government, court system, and police force; writing a constitution; holding a national election; creating their own written alphabet; and publishing a bilingual newspaper. An interesting section of the video shows a map with what was once the Cherokee nation and how it got smaller and smaller as they relinquished over 90% of their land to the European settlers. The video states that the events leading up to the Trail of tears were the election of Andrew Jackson (who said the Cherokees “must disappear”), the passing of legislature in Georgia that took away Cherokees’ civil rights, and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land. The Indian Removal Act was then passed, which became a landmark case after the Cherokees took it to the Supreme Court. Even though the Cherokee won the case, citizens and militia members from Georgia violently forced them out of their homes and took their land. This led the Cherokee to negotiate a removal treaty, which was technically illegal since 90% of the Cherokee didn’t agree with this. Those who disagreed then signed a petition, which Cherokee chief John Ross took to Congress, where it was denied. The Treaty of New Echota was then ratified and soldiers captured 16,000 Cherokees from their homes and took them to forts and prison camps. At first the Cherokee were put on boats for the relocation but due to a drought they were soon marched over 800 miles overland, with many dying along the way due to extreme weather. The video concludes with an explanation of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which is maintained by the National Park Service, as well as an overview of the Cherokee Nation today, including the Eastern Band.

National Park Service: Trail of Tears DVD. (2012). Retrieved from

Online Resource 5: Museum of the Cherokee Indian


The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is located in Cherokee, NC and its mission is to “perpetuate the history, culture, and stories of the Cherokee people”. The museum boasts extensive archives including over 4,000 books, 1,000 photographs, and 900 reels of microfilm documents. The website offers historical information by describing the three permanents exhibitions and two traveling exhibits in their collection. Their permanent exhibits are centered around specific time periods: the Paleo Period, the Archaic Period, and the Mississippian Period. The Paleo Period, from 11,000 BC to 8,000 BC, was when the first people (Paleo Indians) inhabited North America. The Archaic Period, from 8,000 BC to 1,000 BC, was when Native Americans began to use more sophisticated tools and cultivate plants. The Mississippian Period, from 900 AD to 1500 AD, was when corn was developed, arts and crafts were refined, and ceremonies were celebrated. Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee & British Delegations is one of the museum’s traveling exhibits. It tells of Henry Timberlake, who took Cherokee leaders to meet King George III in London. The other traveling exhibit is the Trail of Tears Photography Exhibit, which displays 50 of David Fitzgerald’s photographs of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian. (n.d.). Retrieved from


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  1. Pingback: Curious as a Cat « Grown in Southern Ground

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