Museum of the Cherokee Indian
by William L. Anderson

On 6 June 1838 the first detachment of Cherokees, having been forcibly removed from their homes, started out on the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma. Beginning with George Washington, United States presidents recommended that the Indians become "civilized" by adopting white man's ways. The Cherokees led the way towards "civilization" by establishing written laws and a bicameral legislature. In the early 1820s, an illiterate Cherokee named Sequoyah invented a syllabary which enabled the Cherokees to read and write in their own language. The Cherokees soon established a national newspaper in both English and Cherokee. By 1828, they had also established a supreme court and a constitution very similar to that of the United States. Some Cherokees even had plantation houses and hundreds of slaves.

But the future of the Cherokees and other Native Americans became jeopardized when white Americans changed their self image to embrace a belief in white superiority and the static nature of the red man C once an Indian, always an Indian. This changing view, together with the invention of the cotton gin, which brought the demand for more land; the War of 1812, which ended any possible Indian threat; the discovery of gold on Cherokee land; and the issue of states' rights all helped seal the doom of the Cherokees. Andrew Jackson made his intentions known with the Indian Removal Act (1830) and the government negotiated with the various Indian tribes to move West. Assured of presidential sympathy, Georgia extended state law into Indian country, resulting in the famous Worcester v. Georgia Supreme Court decision favoring the Cherokees. Although the decision was not enforced, the Cherokees under Chief John Ross continued to fight removal. In December of 1835, however, United States negotiators signed a fraudulent treaty with a few unauthorized Cherokee leaders, who believed removal was inevitable. The government gave the Cherokees two years to emigrate or face forced removal. By May 1838 only 2,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees had migrated West. At that time the government sent in 7,000 militia and volunteers to remove the remaining Indians.

Armed with rifles and bayonets, the soldiers rounded up the Cherokees and herded them into stockades. The Indians were allowed little or no time to gather possessions. As they turned for one last glimpse of their homes, they often saw them being ransacked for valuables by whites, or in flames. Poor or rotten food, extreme cold, and disease were among the factors which resulted in the loss of approximately one-fourth of the Cherokee Nation on the infamous "Trail of Tears."

(Cherokee NC Travel Guide)

When Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first encountered the Cherokee in 1540 he found a unified, peaceful nation of about 25,000 people. Some three hundred years later, almost to the year, the Cherokee became a divided nation of people with little remaining of their vast territory and national pride.

The Cherokee coexisted peacefully with early settlers, but the white man's lust for gold and land was all consuming and between 1684 and 1835 over 30 treaties chipped away at their original 135,000 square miles of Cherokee territory.

The Cherokee issue was hotly debated in Congress for many years. Sadly, speeches on behalf of the Cherokee by Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Daniel Webster and other prominent statesmen fell on deaf ears. President Andrew Jackson, whose life was ironically saved by Cherokee Chief Junaluska at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1812, was the one who signed the final "Removal Treaty."

Beginning in the spring of 1837 and continuing through the fall of 1838, the Cherokee people were rounded up and corralled into hastily constructed stockades. So began the "Trail of Tears," a 1 ,200 mile journey to unfamiliar land.

Under the command of General Winfield Scott, over 600 wagons, steamers and keel boats moved about 16,000 Cherokee by land and by river. The infamous journey took between 104 and 189 days, and before they arrived in Oklahoma, torrential rains, ice storms, disease and broken heartedness had claimed the lives of at least 4,000 men, women and children.

A Georgia soldier who took part in the removal wrote, "I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."

Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, purchased 56,000 acres which eventually became the Qualla Boundary where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians now reside.


WHAT IS THE CHEROKEE INDIAN RESERVATION? Properly called the Qualla Boundary, the Reservation is slightly more than 56,000 acres held in trust by the federal government specifically for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

IS CHEROKEE COUNTY THE SAME AS THE RESERVATION? No. The Reservation and the county are entirely different. Cherokee County is located 60 miles southwest of the Reservation. There are other Cherokee counties in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, but they too have no connection with the Reservation.

WHAT IS THE EASTERN BAND OF CHEROKEE INDIANS? It is comprised of enrolled members, descended from the Cherokee who hid in the North Carolina mountains to avoid the forced removal known as the "Trail of Tears." There are about 11,600 members, most of whom live on the Reservation.

WHERE ARE THE TIPIS? Tipis were designed for quick setup and take-down and were used by the Plains Indians who followed herds of game. The Cherokee never lived in tipis (tepees) but resided in more permanent log cabin type homes.


" I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto These Hills"

America's most popular outdoor drama, "Unto These Hills," is the tragic and triumphant story of the Cherokee. Set against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains, the drama is presented under the stars on three stages in our beautiful Mountainside Theatre. Since opening on July 1, 1950, "Unto These Hills" has been seen by over five million people.

The compelling story opens with the arrival of the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540, and builds to a stirring climax with the cruel removal of all but a remnant of Cherokee on the infamous "Trail of Tears."

This powerful drama recreates the inspiration of the great Sequoyah, the wise leadership of Junaluska, and the heartbreaking sacrifice of Tsali, who gave his life so a handful of his people might remain on the land of their heritage.

Cherokee descendants, whose ancestors were forcefully driven out of the mountains and marched 1,200 miles to Oklahoma, play important roles in the drama and in the many dances, highlighted by the colorful and world-famous Eagle Dance.

The emotional impact of this tragic and yet triumphant story is supported by a strong musical score.


On The Cherokee Indian Reservation C Cherokee, North Carolina

Here in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains is a unique historical reproduction; a veritable time-journey into the past of 200 years ago. Nestling in a forested cove above the capitol of the Eastern Band of Cherokees this authentic reproduction of an Indian Community of two centuries ago abounds in scenes of the primitive life and environment of this country's earliest known inhabitants. Present day Indians dressed in colorful costume of the past, daily practice the crafts of their forefathers. The colorful houses in the Village are authentic in every detail, recreated just as they were in the 1750's. Among the activities you see: THE POTTERY WORKERS. Indian women, with skill born of long practice and a rich heritage, spin coils of clay into pots without a potters wheel. There is a kind of genius in their hands, turning common clay into objects of lasting beauty and utility. THE BEAD WORKERS. Working with the same type of imported beads as their ancestors used, they produce colorful and beautiful sashes. THE BASKET MAKERS. Working with splits taken from a white oak sapling and with strips of river cane, these skilled workers weave baskets considered by experts to be the most beautiful and best made in the world. MASK CARVER. A young Cherokee carves a mask from Buckeye wood to be used in religious ceremonies. DART MAKER. Using down from native thistle he makes darts to be shot through a blow gun made from river cane to kill small game. POUNDING CORN. Using mortar made from a log and a heavy, weighted pole the women pound the corn to be made into bread. FINGER WEAVING. The women practice this centuries old skill and produce beautiful designs through this tedious and nearly forgotten art. CANOE BUILDER. Using fire to burn away the giant poplar log and the axes to smooth it he produces a canoe that will carry several men, but needs only two to carry it. THE COUNCIL HOUSE. Focal point of the village is the seven sided Council House with its sacred fire and colorful costumes worn by the Chiefs. CHEROKEE ARBORETUM AND NATURE TRAIL. The old cabin in the midst of the garden and reached by the Nature Trail is one that was originally erected during the Civil War and five generations of Cherokees have lived in it.

Skilled hands mold local clay in the way of their ancestors . . .

CHEROKEE POTTERY - Clay was dug and shaped into a cake about 14" long, in the form of a loaf of bread. A stone pestle or axe head was used to pulverize this dried clay on the hearthstone. A large wooden tray was used when the clay was moistened. As water was added the clay was thoroughly pounded, and kneaded with the hands, until it was putty-like. The pot is shaped by the fingers and built up from coils of clay. When shaping is finished the vessel is allowed to dry until quite firm before stamping. The carved wooden paddle is kept wet and the strokes are quick and hard. The pattern is stamped into the surface and the pot allowed to dry one to three days (depending on weather). The pot is then polished with a smooth wet stone, after which it is fired in an open fire.

THE CHEROKEE HOMES OF 1750 - were built from notched logs chinked with mud, with an earthen floor. The roof is of long shingles, and the chimneys are of stone, logs, and clay. Here the daily activities took place; the woman of the house pounding corn for the family meals, weaving the colorful strands of cord with her fingers and carrying on the many duties of a busy housewife.

BEADWORKERS - Among the first trade goods introduced to the Cherokee were the colorful Venetian beads, and they soon supplanted the shells which were formerly used. Using these beads the women today continue the tradition of two hundred years and produce work very much like the art of their ancestors.

BASKET MAKERS - The Cherokee were and are among the most skilled of all Indians in weaving the beautiful and useful baskets. The white oak splits are made from oak saplings, thinned down and smoothed, then soaked in the stream until they are pliable enough to work with. The river cane is split into thin and pliable strips. Both materials are woven into beautiful patterns and are colored with vegetable dyes (roots and bark boiled over an open fire).

Building canoe with fire and blade . . .

CANOE BUILDING - The Cherokee canoe maker fashions a dug-out canoe from a giant poplar tree that was a sapling when the French and Indian War was young. With fire and primitive axe the craftsman applies himself to an art found nowhere else in America. When completed it will hold several persons and be light enough for two men to carry.

THE COUNCIL HOUSE - This is the center of the religious and political life of the tribe. It was here Cherokee warfare was planned and where solemn religious rites were held. Here, too, was where the sacred fire of the Cherokee was kept, and from which all fires in the village were relighted once a year in a ritual called "the new fire ceremony."


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