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The Cherokee were a large and powerful tribe. They were mainly farmers, growing maize, beans and squash. They also did some hunting. The early Cherokee lived in permanent villages in the southern Allegheny and Great Smoky Mountains, and in the surrounding areas of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. Each village had a population of around 350 to 600 persons. Before contact with Europeans, families built conical, earth-covered homes for the winter. For the summer they built larger, rectangular homes. The rectangular homes had upright poles forming a framework. The outer covering was bark, wood or woven siding coated with earth and clay. By the time of the American Revolution, most Cherokee were living in log cabins. The Cherokee language is part of the Iroquoian family.
Cherokee were divided into seven clans with members in every village. A person had to marry outside of their clan. Family lines were matrilineal, being traced through the mother. After marriage a man usually lived with his wife's family.
During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) the Cherokee sided with the British against the colonists. Around 1800 the Cherokee began adopting the economics and politics of the white settlers. For example, some Cherokee owned plantations and kept slaves. Some even adopted "white" names. The tribe formed a republican government called the Cherokee Nation. In 1821 a Cherokee named Sequoya introduced a system for writing their language.
During the early 1800's the Cherokee were one of the most progressive, and prosperous, tribes in the United States. Nevertheless, white settlers wanted the government to move all Southeastern U.S. Indians to areas west of the Mississippi River. In 1835 some Cherokee agreed to sign a treaty with the government and move west. Others, led by Chief John Ross, disagreed with the treaty. During the winter of 1838-1839, the U.S. Army forced approximately 15,000 Cherokee to move to Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma). Many of the Cherokee did not have warm clothing, or even shoes, for the winter march. Thousands died on the way. This forced march became known as The Trail of Tears.
Around 1,000 Cherokee escaped removal and stayed in the mountains of North Carolina. In time they bought land there, and the government allowed them to stay. They are known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee.
The Cherokee who were forced west re-established the Cherokee Nation. They set up their own schools and churches. Then in the late 1800's the government abolished the tribal government and opened much of the Cherokee's land to white settlers.
Today most members of the Cherokee tribe (numbering around 100,000 people) live in Oklahoma. Some still live on a reservation in North Carolina. Many other Cherokee have moved elsewhere, and thousands of people of mixed Cherokee and white ancestry live throughout the United States.
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Resources for genealogy, language, and more.
Cherokee Heritage Center Museum and events.
Cherokee Messenger History, culture and heritage.
History of the Cherokee An in-depth look at history, maps, publications and more. Mulitlingual Books Resources to learn Cherokee language.
SOAR: Native American Recipes Cherokee recipe
United Keetoowah Band WWW Addresses and various resources.
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