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Cherokee

Updated on December 3, 2009

Cherokee Indians, a North American tribe that lived in the mountain regions of North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. The Cherokee were the largest and most important tribe in the southeastern United States. Like other tribes in the area they farmed in permanent communities. Originally the Cherokee wore deerskin clothing and lived in round huts made of poles covered with bark and earth. After contact with white men in the 18th century, they began to weave cotton and to build houses and schools.

In 1820 the Cherokee established a government based on that of the United States. At about the same time a Cherokee named Sequoyah constructed a system of symbols that represented spoken syllables. His fellow tribesmen used this invention to write the constitution of the Cherokee Nation, which was founded in 1827 with U.S. recognition.

However, farmers in Georgia had long been encroaching on Cherokee land, and in 1828 the state nullified the laws of the Cherokee Nation. The discovery of gold on Cherokee land the next year increased pressure on the Indians, and Congress passed a law for their removal to west of the Mississippi. The Cherokee chief John Ross appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and obtained a favorable decision, but President Andrew Jackson refused to support it. In 1835 the Indians had to surrender their land to the United States, and four years later they were forced by the U.S. Army to walk to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) over the route that became known as the Trail of Tears. Conditions of the march were so severe that nearly one-fourth of the 16,000 Indians who started on it died along the way.

In Oklahoma the Cherokee were the most populous of the Five Civilized Tribes, who shared the reservation. They reestablished their government and organized schools and newspapers. In 1901 they were declared U.S. citizens, and in 1906 their tribal government was disbanded and their land divided.

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