In most textbooks, it is said that the Indians are not Native to this continent, but are from somewhere else, just like the Europeans that came here. This idea gives justification to the idea that America does not belong to the Indians anymore.

Myths, perpetuated by historians, about the Native Americans have left more questions than answers. What were the origins of these People? Where did they come from? How and when did they get to the New World? What was their life - their culture - really like? Early explorers, missionaries and settlers all have diverse ideas of this. Some thought they were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, or descended from the lost continent of Atlantis. One writer suggested they had reached North America in another Noah's Ark. Many more believe that life on this continent came over an ice bridge into Alaska then spread South. Following is my favorite legend of the Cherokee Origins.

If the Israeli factor is true, then Hebrews have a gene of American Indian. The Indians are not Hebrew, but the Hebrew are Indians and that would mean also, the Arabs are Cherokee, too. Hebrews - Arabs - American Indian, linked on both continents, from the Ark of the Covenent to the Ark of the Cherokee (the Cherokee were the only one with an ark). If the genes are correct, then the Hebrews, Arabs and the Indian of the Americas are related. Now, why don't the archaeologists of the western world admit it, that we, the Indian, went that-a-way.

The Cherokee, and most Indians, did not come across the land bridge that is so often quoted. The Cherokee came from the Amazon River Valley in South America. When the last destruction of the world occurred, the Cherokee were sent to South America by the Great Spirit. Their children's children were the Inca, Toltec, Maya, as they migrated north again. As a person works their way north from the Amazon, the structures you will come across will be newer, the oldest being in the Amazon area. The Cherokee are the Maya, the Cherokee are of the First Ones. The origins of the Cherokee are in South America. Did you ever think about why the Cherokee used blow guns? They were/are used by the cultures there.

The Cherokee say people did come across the land bridge in their histories. They call them, "The Others". These were the people with black hair and high cheekbones. The Cherokee say they were good people and intermarried with them. Their genes are where the black hair and high cheekbones come from. The genes are still strong.

While the Cherokee were in South America, before the migrations began, the People began to re-populate pretty good. The Great Spirit came among them and told them to leave, to move on, to migrate and build again and to continue the People. But, when they moved on, to leave some behind, to mark their path. Many listened to the Great Spirit and obeyed....and moved outward and upward.

BUT, the Cherokee disobeyed, they did not listen to the Great Spirit, they did not want to leave! So the Great Spirit came back and jumped on the Cherokee. He reminded them of the last great destruction-----"If you do not leave, you will be destroyed as the others before you".

The Cherokee talked to Great Spirit, how they would now do this? Others had already left and had some of the Great Gifts with them, not with the Cherokee. The Great Spirit gave them a Bending Stick to guide their way. The Great Spirit told them to always move, until the stick would stand straight up and not bend. When the stick would not bend, then stop. The Cherokee listened this time, for they had been told the Great Spirit would be watching them forever, because of their disobedience.

The Cherokee started outward, meeting with those that had gone before, some staying, the most traveling on. Great Cities were built in their move north. As they moved around the Gulf of Mexico, the stick stood straight up and would not bend. They stopped at the Mississippi River and all along the river, the People built and built.

After a while the stick began to bend again...So the Cherokee cut off the top part of the stick and followed the bending stick again. It took them northeast through Kentucky into Pennsylvania and New York of the Iroquois, they stayed a while, but the stick kept bending—it bent toward the south, so the Cherokee moved all the way to Florida. Still Bending, it bent northwest, and they moved that way. Then the bending stick stopped bending—forever! They stopped at what is now western North Carolina, parts of upper South Carolina, Tennessee, Southern Kentucky, Northern Georgia and northeast Alabama.. The Great Spirit gave these lands to the Cherokee FOREVER.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus had sailed the Atlantic to discover the "New World" and show the then known world that this planet we live on was round. He had not just sailed so far and fallen off, as so many believed.

Some historians believe that it is probable that De Sota passed through the western part of what became North Carolina about 1540. The Spanish king sent an expedition headed by Don Luis De Velasco, in 1559, searching for gold. The expedition penetrated into the Valley River area of Georgia and into western portions of North Carolina. There is evidence of gold mining in Macon and Cherokee counties apparently done over 500 years ago.

These Spaniards marched from the Florida area north. As most expeditions of that time, they were searching for gold, exploring and mapping as they went. This was some sight!! The bright southern summer sun shining on this group of explorers heading into this strange un-mapped area. The officers on their beautiful Spanish horse, the soldiers marching along with the sun reflecting from their helmets and armor. This was quite an impressive scene to the Indians that inhabited the area. This bold new land was theirs to pillage and plunder, regardless of the fact that people already lived among the forests and rivers.

The Cherokee at this time occupied lands from Cane Creek in Alabama, where their domain joined that of the Chickasaw, up the Tennessee River to its headwaters; and their scattered towns spread far into the northern parts of Carolina, and Georgia.

The earliest accounts of the Cherokee in Northern Alabama, dates back to the invasion of the Spanish in 1540. In his march, De Velasco crossed the branches of the winding Coosa River, remained some time at Chiaco, where now stands Rome, Georgia, then marched down the Coosa to Costa, (Gadsden, AL), where the Cherokee lived. Never before had this soil been trodden by European feet. Never before had the natives seen white faces, long beards, strange clothes, glittering armor, and stranger than all, this animal, these cavaliers rode upon.

The country of the Cherokee was described by early historians as the most beautiful and romantic in the world; abounding with delicious springs, fertile valleys, lovely rivers and lofty mountains, the woods full of game and the rivers full of fish. Buffalo roamed over the plains in countless numbers. There were as much as sixty head of deer in one herd, wild turkeys, and smaller game was abundant. The shallow wide areas of the Tennessee with its produce of water plants and grasses fed the fish, swans, wild ducks and geese. The bottom of the river was filled with mussels and periwinkles, highly valued by fish, fowl and the Cherokee.

When the Europeans first arrived on the North American Continent, they found hundreds of tribes occupying a vast rich country. They quickly recognized the wealth of resources, but were not ready or willing to recognize the spiritual, cultural or intellectual riches of the people they called Indians. The Europeans believed they had "discovered a new world", but their religious bigotry, cultural bias and materialistic world view kept them from appreciating the people who lived here first.

They wanted to change the way of life of these people. The Spanish conquistadores wanted the Indians as a source of labor, Christian missionaries viewed them as converts, French traders and trappers saw them as a way to get furs. A 19th century historian, Francis Parkman, stated, "Spanish civilization crushed the Indian, English civilization scorned and neglected him, French civilization embraced and cherished him."

Now, almost 500 years later, many people think of the Native Peoples as curious objects from a distant past, waging a futile war to survive in a Space Age Society. Today, our understanding of the history and culture of the American Indian is often derived from unsympathetic, culturally biased and inaccurate reports. Movies, television programs, books, government studies, and articles show them either as a "noble savage" or a "wild Indian" that held back the settlement of the western frontier.

From these view points, where are the real Indians? Where are the human beings and the communities that can trace their ancestors back to the ice age hunters? Where are these creative and indomitable People whose sophisticated technologies used natural resources for survival, whose military skills rivaled the best and who may have prevented the European settlement of the North American continent, if it were not for devastating epidemics and disruption of ecology?

By the late 1800's, anthropologists and archaeologists began to study scientifically the history and culture of the North American Indians. They believed the Indian was on the verge of extinction and that along with them would vanish their languages, religious beliefs, technology, myths and legends. These men and women went out to visit, study and record data from as many Indian communities as possible before this information was forever lost. American Indians were a figure from the past. They had performed a historical mission, had challenged white settlers who trekked across the continent. Once conquered, they were to accept graciously the way of life of their conquerors.

But, reality was different. The Native Americans resisted both actively and passively. They refused to lose their unique identity, to be assimilated. Many whites saw them as members of a conquered nation," inferior " and "unequal" Their rights could be expanded, contracted, or modified by every generation, as white society asked themselves what to do with these People. These answers resulted in the twists and turns of federal Indian policy. One was to raise the Indians to a "higher level" by "civilizing" them through Christian conversion and scanty schools, or ignore them until they disappeared under pressure from the expanding white society. The "vanishing Indian" myth helped to justify the taking of the Indian lands.

The state of Georgia and part of Alabama were created from Cherokee Lands. They had farmed these lands for over 4,000 years. More than any other Indian Nation, they adopted the ways of the white man. The Cherokee modeled their government after the Constitution of the United States in order to promote their general welfare. They built roads, schools, and churches. They cleared land for plantations; they owned slaves and grew cotton. They put out a weekly newspaper in their language and English. And they had been marrying; many of their chiefs were mixed bloods, with fine Scotch names, such as John Ross, who was 1/4 Cherokee and principle chief for forty years by the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Chickamauga Cherokee lived in Kentucky along the Cumberland River in Wayne, Pulaski McCreary Counties, building a sophisticated social society that marvels the scholars of today. Through their lands wandered other tribal hunters and gatherers from many different lands, as far as Canada and South America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They exchanged cultural bonds, traded commerce and lived with respect to each other. They have placed their historical mark in Kentucky with all it's mighty geological wonders of the Cumberland Plateau. This land was known as the Land of Lightening, the Land of the Thunderbolt, a land they called Aniyuntikwalaski, The Cumberland River was called Ta-Eache, the River of the Blue Flute. Well known Chickamauga Chiefs were Moytoy, War Chief Doublehead, War Chief Gilala, War Chief Dragging Canoe.

In all the areas you walk of the Cumberland Plateau, the sounds you hear, from the dark of the forest to the light of the meadows, all the beautiful land you see, has the spirit of the Cherokee. This was the land they walked. If you will close your eyes and listen deep within, you will hear their footsteps and the beating heart of the Cherokee.

As the white man pushed further into Cherokee Territory, Some started leaving, moving further west to escape. Among these were the Chickamauga of Kentucky. In the late 1700's Dragging Canoe and Doublehead led their people to settle in Missouri in the area of New Madrid. Others joined over the years. In 1768, Dragging Canoe stated, "Where now are our grandfathers, the Delawares? We had hoped the white man would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains; now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains and have settled on Cherokee lands...The remnant of the Ani-yunwiya , the Real People, once so proud and formidable, will be obliged to seek refuge in some distant wilderness."

Then came the big earthquake in the area in 1812. It was felt as far away as Washington D.C., and caused the Mississippi River to run backward. After shocks continued for months. The Cherokee felt the Great Spirit was angry at them again, so packed up and moved into what is now Northwestern Arkansas between the White and Arkansas Rivers.

He was an illiterate Arkansas Cherokee, who spoke no English and knew nothing of writing, except that it existed and that the "talking leaves" gave whites who could read them many advantages. About 1809, he argued with friends about the nature of writing., he developed a curiosity that became an obsession. His name was George Guess; his Cherokee name was Sequoyah. His leg, deformed from birth, consigned him to a quiet life. He became a fine silversmith and had a gift for drawing.

As his curiosity and obsession grew, he neglected his farm and family; ignored those who laughed at him. He kept going when his wife and neighbors threw his early work into the fire. In 12 years, he covered as much ground in his work, as entire civilizations over centuries. In time he discovered that by breaking words into syllables, every sound in the Cherokee language could be represented by 86 characters. These were initially his own design; later he took letters from the Roman and Greek alphabets to allow easy use of a printing press.

The result was the first full writing system ever devised by a native North American. It proved easy to learn; most Cherokees mastered it in days, and it was soon adapted for use in other native languages. In one bold stroke, he had broken the monopoly of letters enjoyed by whites and a select few Indians.

In 1826, a brilliant young Cherokee, Elias Boudinot, began raising funds for a press with Sequoyan type. And in 1828, Boudinot began publishing his groundbreaking weekly, The Cherokee Phoenix, filling it with incisive articles and editorials - many of which were reprinted by sympathetic papers across the country. For the first time, a native voice reached a wide audience through the printed page. Love of the printed word proved to be the best hope for his peoples' future.

To the growing white majority on the western frontier, the presence of any Indians at all, "civilized" or not was unacceptable. Every perceived failing was dredged up to discredit the Cherokee - including the fact they had sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. It did not matter that as late as the War of 1812, Cherokee Warriors had sided with Jackson to defeat the Red Sticks. White planters and land speculators continued to pour in. Hungry for new acreage on which to raise cotton and expand the slave system, they relentlessly pressed the government to remove the Cherokee, along with the other southeastern tribes and open their lands to settlement.

In 1828, gold was discovered on the edge of Cherokee Territory, and the cries for removal grew louder and more persistent. Later that way, the expansionists gained the ally they needed, Andrew Jackson was elected President.

Jackson's policies meshed perfectly with the land hungry white settlers and their political allies. After a furious debate, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 by one vote. The bill allowed the President to give the Five Civilized Tribes land in the west, later named Oklahoma, in exchange for the southeastern lands they now occupied. That was the carrot. The stick was a provision that the new law could be enforced, if necessary, with military action.

The Removal Act caused a national uproar. The Indians had many champions among white Americans - traders, missionaries, planters and politicians, who applauded their efforts to assimilate. The pressure for removal had been building for decades focused mostly on state governments. They came to a head in a land mark decision in 1828 between the Cherokee Nation and the state of Georgia.

The Georgia Legislature passed a bill denying Indians the right to testify against whites in court. This would deny the Cherokee all legal protection and allow whites to take Indian lands at will. The case moved through the system up to the Supreme Court., but by then the Removal Act had been signed. This fight for their land was led by the principle chief, John Ross, head of government at New Echota Georgia.

Ross was adamant in opposing Jackson's removal plans; the Cherokee was a sovereign Nation , whose territory the state and federal governments must respect. He gained the support of several prominent white politicians including Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and Massachusetts' Daniel Webster. Yet he never succeeded in winning over all his own people. One of those that disagreed was a Cherokee council Speaker called the Ridge, (A.K.A. Major Ridge). Ridge believed it was in the People's best interest to negotiate with Washington, make the best deal possible and move west. He had the support of his son John, his brilliant young cousin Elias Boudinot, editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, and Boudinot's brother, Stand Watie. The "Ridge Faction" as it was known, had only the support of a few hundred, but the internal division gave the single minded white expansionists a valuable opening to exploit.

When the Supreme Court handed down it's verdict in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that Indian Tribes were "domestic dependent nations" - wards of the federal government, in effect, with no right to sue. Then in a second case, Worcestor v. Georgia, the court held for the Cherokee, declaring them to be "a distinct community, occupying its territory", which the people of Georgia had no right to enter without Cherokee consent. It was a strong statement, issued by the highest tribunal in the land. But, president Jackson simply sneered at it. "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!"

Government negotiators soon began talks with the Ridge Faction and its supporters. In 1835, at the Cherokee capitol of New Echota Ridge, a group of several hundred supporters agreed to trade remaining Cherokee lands for territory west of the Mississippi. Remembering a Cherokee law of 1829 that decreed death to anyone selling land without consent of all Cherokee people, Ridge grimly remarked "With this treaty, I sign my death warrant". He was right., Four years later, Ridge, his son, and Boudinot were assassinated in the west. The Treaty was never approved by the Cherokee Nation, not Ross or anyone seriously considered a leader, but was ratified by the U.S. Senate and became the legal basis for exiling the Cherokee people.

To force compliance with the illegal treaty, the government sent more than 7,000 troops into Cherokee Territory., state militia swelled the army of occupation to more than 9,000 men. They built stockades in key locations and in late May 1838, started filling them with ordinary people pulled from their homes. Families were startled at their dinner table by the sudden gleam of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows and oaths to the stockade. People were seized in their fields or going along a road, women were taken from their spinning wheels and children from their play. As soldiers removed the Indians local whites rushed in, ransacking the abandoned homes and taking anything of value. Even the dead were not safe. Searching for Cherokee gold that was rumored to have been buried, white mobs ripped apart burial grounds and opened old coffins, tossing aside the sacred remains of Cherokee ancestors.

Within a month, more than 8,000 Cherokee had been rounded up and herded into stockades. Only one small group managed to escape the soldiers; they took refuge deep in the North Carolina Mountains, where their descendants live today. These are the Eastern Cherokee Nation in Swain Co. NC.

Drought hit the southeast drying up wells and streams and destroying crops. Cholera and dysentery broke out in the stockades. The Cherokee leaders negotiated an agreement that allowed them to control their own removal. But nothing could stop what lay ahead. As the migration began, they were already running short of food and supplies. Tuberculosis. Pellagra, pneumonia and other diseases stalked the wagon trains. Of the 16,000 men, women and children forced to relocate, more than 4,000 died in either the stockades or on the way west. The tragedy of the removal still lingers in the memory of the Cherokee. They call it oosti ganuhnuh dunaclohiluh, ---- Trail where they cried.

On June 22, 1839, Major Ridge, his son John and Elias Boudinot were stabbed to death by "unknown assailants", their punishment for signing the infamous 1835 treaty. Amnesty was subsequently granted to others who signed - and to the unidentified executioners.

The western region of their territory was inhabited by bands of Plains Indians, fast-moving hunter-warriors to whom the Southeastern tribes were as alien and unwelcome as white farmers. But in some ways, the new land seemed much like home, especially the wooded eastern part.

The Cherokee laid out a new capital, Tahlequah and revived their constitution. A public school system was in operation by 1841, John Ross won re-election, and The Cherokee Advocate, first newspaper in Indian Territory appeared in 1844, soon joined by publications from other Nations.

Step by step the Cherokee began to recover. By the time the Civil War came, despite hardship, bigotry and official persecution, many had reached a level of prosperity well above that of most frontier whites. To read about the Cherokee during the Civil War, follow this link.

After the Civil War, Indian Territory was in shambles. What had been homes to the Cherokee, their stock stolen, their way of life destroyed. Reconstruction was, perhaps worse for them, than the white Southerners, after all, they were Indians, not recognized as citizens of the North or South. Again as before, their land drew greed. In the 1890's their Nation was again driven from their homes. By the government power given to the Dawes Commission, the Cherokee Nation was split, each Cherokee given an allotment of land, the balance given to white settlers.

During World War I many American Indians volunteered, fought and died. After discharge from the service, the veterans were granted American citizenship. Finally, in 1924, Congress bestowed American Citizenship on all native born Indians, who had not obtained it. The ruling resulted in part, from the gratitude for the American Indian's contribution to the American effort in WWI.

1941-1945 saw more than 25,000 American Indians serve in active duty and 1,000's more in war related jobs.

1965 - The voting rights act ensured equal voting rights for the American Indian

1968 - American Indian Civil Rights Act extends the Bill of Rights protection to Reservation Indians.

1978 Congress passes the American Indian Freedom Of Religion Act, which states that Indian religions are protected by the First Amendment.

1958 - Wilma Mankiller becomes principle chief of the Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma, the first woman in modern times to lead a major Nation.

As long as the American Indian retains power, land and resources that are coveted by the states and federal government there will continue to be a "clash of cultures" and the issues will be contested in the courts, Congress, the White House, and even in the international human rights community.

A good source for information on the "Indians of North America" can be read in this series of books put out by Chelsea House Publishers, a Division of Main Line Book Co., New York. To give all Americans a greater comprehension of the issues and conflicts involving American Indians today is a major goal of this series. These issues are not easily understood nor can the conflicts be easily resolved. The study of North American history and culture is a necessary and important step towards that comprehension. All Americans must learn the history of the relations between the Indians and the federal government, recognize the unique legal status of the Indians, and understand the heritage and cultures of the Indians of North America.

There is an Ancient Cherokee Lesson ....

If you know something and tell everything you know

And it was NOT for them to know

Then you have wasted your time

But, if you tell ONLY a part of what you know

Then THEY will seek out the other part Not spoken..

Then you have GIVEN THEM a great Gift.

Quote from Dan Troxell..Cherokee..

Information for this article was gleaned from many sources regarding the history of the Cherokee. It is difficult to condense 10,000 years of history into a few pages. "THROUGH INDIAN EYES" , Readers Digest Association, "INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA "series Chelsea House Publishers, personal research, and "handed down" stories.

Copyright 2001-2004 by Ethel Taylor
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