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The Cherokee Stomp Dance

Updated on September 21, 2008

Creating the Sacred Fire

The fire is very sacred to traditional Cherokee. Built at the bottom of a pit below the ground, it burns constantly. The traditional Cherokee believe that soon after the creation of the Cherokee people, the creator left his throne in Heaven to visit earth. He chose four strong, healthy, good and true Cherokee women who believed in the creator with all their hearts. Each were given a name, Red Blue Black and Yellow and a wooden stick that was very straight. They were then told to place one end of the stick on a surface that would not burn and place the other end of the stick in their hands. They were instructed to give the sticks a circular, rotating motion, which would magically cause the material to burn.

When all sticks were burning, they were to go to the center of the cross where, all four would start one single fire. This fire would burn for all time and be the Sacred Fire. The Sacred Fire has been held by the Cherokee since that time. It is kept alive by the Chief, Assistant Chief, Firekeeper and Assistant Firekeepers of the ground.

Today, although some tribal members have chosen to worship through other religios denominations (Indian Baptist, Methodist, etc.), many continue to worship at regular Stomp Dances and are members of one of the several grounds in Cherokee Nation. Each ground has its own unique protocol and will vary but the general worship is similar with the same intention.

A-ne-jo-di (stickball)

Stickball is a very rough game that is not only played by the Cherokee but also many other southeastern Woodland tribes such as Muscogee (Creek), Semilnole and others. The game is similar to the modern game of LaCrosse, using ball sticks that are made from hickory. A small ball made from deer hide and hair is tossed into the air by the Medicine Man. The male players use a pair of the sticks and females use their bare hands. In early times, only the men with the greatest athletic ability played the game. The game was often times played to settle disputes, and the conjurer for each team often became as important to the team as the players themselves.

When the ball strikes a wooden fish on the top of a pole approximately 25 feet in height, seven points are scored and two points are awarded each time the ball strikes the pole. In earlier years, a dance would be held before the game. The participants of the game were in the dance, along with 7 women, each woman representing one of the 7 clans. The conjuror placed black beads on a large flat rock, which represented the opposing team. Throughout the dance, the women would step on the black beads.

Today, Stickball is an important part of the days activities at ceremonial Stomp Grounds and it is necessary to play before the Stomp Dance can begin. There are also intertribal teams made up of players from Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Yuchi, Natchez, and other area communities. It is also a recreational sport at other times between community teams.

Design symbolizing the relationship between the sacred fire (inner cross within circle) and the sun ( outer rayed circle)
Design symbolizing the relationship between the sacred fire (inner cross within circle) and the sun ( outer rayed circle)
Cherokee women preparing for the Stomp Dance
Cherokee women preparing for the Stomp Dance
Indian Peace Pipe
Indian Peace Pipe
Flag for the Cherokee of Oklahoma
Flag for the Cherokee of Oklahoma
Redbird Smith: Chief of the Nighthawk Keetowah, became involved with the Four Mothers,a religious organization, with their main ceremonial grounds in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Redbird Smith: Chief of the Nighthawk Keetowah, became involved with the Four Mothers,a religious organization, with their main ceremonial grounds in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Turtle shell leg rattles worn by the Shell Shakers
Turtle shell leg rattles worn by the Shell Shakers
More leg rattles
More leg rattles
Native American Wampum Belts. The original wampum belts still exist and are now held by the chiefs at Onondaga, New York and Grand River.
Native American Wampum Belts. The original wampum belts still exist and are now held by the chiefs at Onondaga, New York and Grand River.

The Stomp Dance

The Stomp Dance is the traditional religious dance of the Cherokee and is held at a sacred dance site. The sacred fire is built at dawn by the Firekeeper and his Assistants and is kept burning constantly. Seven arbors are located around the large fire and dance area. Made from large poles with brush for the roof, each arbor is reserved for one each of the seven clans. Seats are placed between the arbors for visitors. Each clan must be represented before the dance can begin.

Women prepare a meal for the day consisting of traditional and modern foods ranging from cornbread, brown beans and chicken to all kinds of pies, cakes and other delicious treats. A-ne-jo-di (stickball) is played in the afternoon.

At sundown, the Chief brings out the traditional pipe and fills it with tobacco. He then lights the pipe with coals from the Sacred Fire and takes seven puffs. The pipe is then passed to the Medicine Man from each clan, beginning with the Aniwaya (Wolf) Clan and each Medicine Man takes seven puffs. The Chief, Medicine Men and elders hold a meeting and then call for the first dance. The first dance is by invitation, tribal elders, Medicine Men and clan heads.

All the members visit and dance until sunrise. Each individual group has its own schedule for the dances, which is a Holy place to worship God. There are two major ceremonies held at the Redbird Smith Ground. One is to commemorate the birth of Redbird Smith and the other is to show appreciation to the Creator for a bountiful harvest.

Stomp Dance participants include a leaders, assistants and one or more female shell shakers who wear leg rattles made from turtle shells and pebbles. Some wear shakers made from small milk cans. The shakers provide rythmic accompaniment while dancing around the fire. The dance can not begin without the shell shakers.

In the Stomp Dances of southeastern Indian cultures, the woman plays a very important role. The shell shaker is the woman partner of the dance singer or leader. The woman enters the dance behind the lead singer and produces music from the rattling sounds made by shuffling her feet. Legend has it that because of the natural designs on the turtle shell that look like women dancing, the turtle says "Let women dance".

A series of wampum belts serve to record and ‘read' the traditional beliefs and stories. Made of wampum beads sewn together with a form of seaweed from old Mexico, the belts are very old. The wampum belts are shown only on very sacred occasions. The history of the belts relate that many years ago, the tribe was preparing to go to war. The medicine men foresaw which would survive, and cut the original wampum belt into seven pieces. After the war, the belts were scattered, and the last one was recovered by Redbird Smith in the very early 1900s.

2007 Choctaw Indian Fair

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Choctaw Indian Fair in Mississippi

This first video was taken at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Philadelphia (also known as Choctaw) Mississippi. I had the privilege of attending one of these fairs several years ago and there are no words to describe the beauty that is to behold there. The Indian crafts that are available are amazing and the dances, entertainment and the Stickball games are well worth the effort to attend!

The slideshow to the right is a collection of pictures from the 2007 fair. The pictures depict only a few events you will see there. Just click the control button to begin the slideshow and pause any time you like!

If you ever have a chance to travel to Mississippi, it would be well worth your planning time to attend the Choctaw Indian Fair. They dress in full attire and it is like stepping into a whole different world the minute you enter! In the video, you will see contact information and the end of the video if you are interested in checking the schedule. I am planning to check it out myself in hopes of planning the trip south to make it this year if at all possible. If I do, I will be sure to take lots of pictures and maybe some video!

The last two videos are part 1 and 2 of the Native American Indian Segment Utah Olympics and they are both awesome. The second part contains the Stomp Dance and they are in full costumes!

Real game of Indian Stickball

Part 1 Native American Indian Segment Utah - Olympics

Part 2 Native American Indian Segment Utah - Olympics


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hi Bonnie, I am a psychologist and am creating some psychoeducational videos. One of them talks about Cherokee sayings. I am looking for this part of my video and found the one you have with the man and the child just perfect. Can I have your permission to use it for educational purposes? Thank you!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am really enjoying your series on Cherokee History. Wonderful Hubs

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      9 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Wonderful work-I'm learning!

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 

      10 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Awesome Hub! I live in a town called BallPlay, it got its name because it is an old area where the Cherokee played stickball. I have some Cherokee & Creek heritage...Ballplay is in Alabama near Weiss Lake by the way....

    • ndnfoodie530 profile image

      Sam Ps Pop Culture Page 

      10 years ago from Northern California

      I love me some stickball! Ive played with my cousins in OK a few times.

    • profile image

      maxx the student 

      11 years ago

      thank you for the info

    • profile image

      Ickwa Galuz 

      11 years ago

      We dance on the 1st Saturday of every month from April to October at the Echota Ceremonial Tribal Town in Park Hill Oklahoma. Come see for yourself

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile imageAUTHOR

      Bonnie Ramsey 

      11 years ago from United States


      Thanks for your wonderful comments. I think now I will be rebuilding my personal website and will be putting these articles there and extending the series more. It is fascinating to learn that you have a whole other heritage that you have never truly known about.


    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      I love your Cherokee series of Hubs. This one is particularly interesting to me because I can see many symbols of ancient Christianity in their practices of worship. Thank you for continuing to educate us on these wonderful people.

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile imageAUTHOR

      Bonnie Ramsey 

      11 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Donna! Glad you liked it and appreciate you stopping by and commenting!


    • donnaleemason profile image


      11 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      Awesome as always Bonnie.



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