Nov 3, 2020 in History


The Cherokee Tribe

Formerly indigenous to the Southeastern part of the United States, the Cherokee are the second largest Native American tribe in terms of population. The federal government of America recognizes three sub tribes of Cherokee, namely the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. The three sub-tribes are currently located mainly in Oklahoma and North Carolina.


The tribe is believed to have made its first contact with the Europeans back in the 16th century. The first Europeans who interacted with the tribe are believed to be the Spaniards. This was in the year 1540, when a Spanish expedition passed through the then Cherokee country. The expedition was led by Hernando de Soto. Their encounter with the Spanish was a peaceful one as they explored their country without any major incidences being recorded despite their brutal nature of that time.


After their initial contact with Europeans, the Spanish to be specific, the Cherokee tribe was to come into contact with yet other people from Europe, the English. Their contact with the English first happened in the 17th century, in the year 1656 to be precise. The English had come to the Cherokee nation mainly to trade. James Needham and Gabriel Arthur are among the earliest English visitors who made contact with the Cherokee people. The English men were settlers from the English colony of Virginia.

Early Colonial Political and Social Conditions of the Cherokee

Prior to colonization, the Cherokee were a simple community residing in the Appalachian Mountains presently known as the Blue Ridge. The language spoken by the Cherokee was the Iroquoian. The tribe was built of kinship networks and was led by a chief.

The Cherokees formed a national government that was headed by a principal chief. The first chief was known by the name Little Turkey and ruled the tribe from the year 1788 up until 1801. The second chief, Black Fox, ruled from 1801 to 1811 while the third chief, Pathkiller, ruled from 1811 to 1827. The Cherokee government had various seats. Among the seats, the position of the upper town and the titular seat of the nation are distinguished. Thetowns were therefore the primary units of the Cherokee traditional government. The Cherokee nation had roughly fifty towns that were divided into the upper, lower and middle towns depending on their proximity to the Little Tennessee River.

All the Cherokee villages were administrated by two governments, a white government, which ruled in times of peace, and a red government, which was in power in times of war. The chief was the leader of the white government. The white government basically consisted of the chief, his advisor, the council of elders, counselors from each clan, a ceremonial officer, a speaker, and a messenger. The peace chief was in charge of matters domestic and ceremonial while the war chief was the head of not only war but also outside matters such as alliances, trade and negotiations.

The Cherokee believed in the equality of all people. For this reason, issues were deliberated on until a consensus was reached. The Cherokee government was therefore an egalitarian one.

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Removal and Resistance

The Cherokee were removed from their ancestral land by the US troops back in the years 1838 and 1839. The order was given to the troops by the head of the state of Georgia. The Cherokee tribe members were moved to an Indian reserve, which is the present Oklahoma. Their removal from their ancestral land was caused by the discovery of gold in Cherokee land and the need for more fertile land to grow cotton. Moreover, the white Europeans who had settled in the southern parts of America hated the Cherokee Indians due to their race.

The European settlers were putting pressure on the Cherokee Indians to restrict their traditional lifestyle and adopt the Christian way of life. Therefore, they convinced them to stop hunting and adopt agriculture like they had. Besides, they convinced the Cherokee Indians to join Christianity and abandon their traditional gods. This led to many Cherokee Indians becoming assimilated with the Americans. Some traditions such as the blood revenge were abandoned as the Cherokee formed their own court systems. Furthermore, in their quest for literacy, a Cherokee man by the name Sequoyah created the Cherokee syllabary. The syllabary made it possible for the Cherokee to read and write. In spite of all these aspects, the Cherokee Indians remained an inferior race in the eyes of the American Southerners. The Cherokee ancestral land was seized and they were removed from the state.


The Cherokee government resisted the US move to seize all their ancestral land. They insisted that they were a sovereign nation and that they should be treated as such. As evidence, the leaders of the Cherokee nation produced the Hopewell treaty signed in 1785. The treaty acknowledges a border dividing the United States and the Cherokee nation.


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