Cherokee – 1808-Present

1808: The Cherokee, who already have a national council, establish a law code and “Light Horse Guards” to maintain law and order. Two years later, they abolish clan revenge as a mechanism for social control.
1814: Cherokee aid Gen. Andrew Jackson in defeating the Creek Indians in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. Afterward, Jackson tells Chief Junaluska: “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the East.” As president, Jackson later leads the effort to move the tribe west.
1817: Some Cherokee give up land in exchange for land on the Arkansas River. Two thousand tribe members move west.
1819: The Cherokee agree to a treaty whereby land in present-day Henderson, Transylvania and Jackson counties is ceded to the government. Cherokee are allowed to receive land grants as individuals and can resell the land to white settlers to earn money. But, settlers already had taken the land.
1820: The Cherokee establish a judicial administration and eight judicial districts.
1821: Sequoyah completes his work establishing the Cherokee syllabary, making the tribe the only group of American Indians with a written language.
1822: The Cherokee National Supreme Court is established.
1827: The Cherokee approve a new tribal constitution.
1828: The first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper printed in Cherokee and English, is released.
1830: President Andrew Jackson signs the federal Indian Removal Act, calling for Indians to be forced from their homes to lands west of the Mississippi River.
1832: The Supreme Court rules that the Cherokee Nation constitutes a sovereign nation and the Indian Removal Act is not legal.
1835: A small, unauthorized group of Cherokee men signs the Cherokee Removal Treaty in New Echota, Ga. The Cherokee nation issues a formal protest. Chief John Ross collects more than 15,000 signatures, representing nearly the entire Cherokee population, on a petition asking the U.S. Senate to withhold ratification. In 1836, the Senate approves the treaty by one vote (Davy Crockett leaves Congress in protest). The state of North Carolina issued a formal protest to the U.S. Congress on behalf of the Cherokee.
1838–1839: Approximately 17,000 Cherokee are forcibly removed by federal soldiers to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). No local men who were living in present-day Henderson County who were serving with state militia units escorted the Cherokee to Oklahoma. (They were used to “round-up” and guard the Cherokee in WNC, possibly East Tennessee) Gen. Winfield Scott headed the removal operation. He arrived at New Echota, Ga., on May 17, 1838, with about 7,000 soldiers (including some Georgia militia units). They began rounding up Cherokee in Georgia on May 26, 1838. Ten days later, operations began in Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama. Men, women and children were removed at gunpoint from their homes over three weeks and gathered together in camps, with few of their possessions.
Samuel Carter, author of “Cherokee Sunset:” “Then… there came the reign of terror. From the jagged-walled stockades the troops fanned out across the Nation, invading every hamlet, every cabin, rooting out the inhabitants at bayonet point. The Cherokees hardly had time to realize what was happening as they were prodded like so many sheep toward the concentration camps, threatened with knives and pistols, beaten with rifle butts if they resisted.”
Tsali and three other Cherokee kill two soldiers in the North Carolina mountains. Tsali agreed to surrender himself if rest of Cherokee were not harmed. Tsali and others were executed.
The Cherokee were marched overland to departure points at Ross’s Landing in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Gunter’s Landing in Alabama on the Tennessee River and forced onto flatboats and the steamers “Smelter” and “Little Rock.” A drought brought low water levels on the rivers, requiring frequent unloading of vessels to evade river obstacles and shoals. There were many deaths and Army soldiers deserted. Gen. Scott ordered suspension of removal efforts.
The Cherokee were placed into 11 internment camps during the summer of 1838. Disease caused more deaths.
By fall, Chief John Ross was permitted to organize the Cherokee into 11 wagon trains for the journey. This is the part of the removal known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Samuel Cloud turned 9 years old on the Trail of Tears. His written memory is retold by his great-great grandson, Micheal Rutledge, in his paper
Forgiveness in the Age of Forgetfulness: “I know what it is to hate. I hate those white soldiers who took us from our home. I hate the soldiers who make us keep walking through the snow and ice toward this new home that none of us ever wanted. I hate the people who killed my father and mother. I hate the white people who lined the roads in their woollen clothes that kept them warm, watching us pass. None of those white people are here to say they are sorry that I am alone. None of them care about me or my people. All they ever saw was the colour of our skin. All I see is the colour of theirs and I hate them.”
From Army Private John G Burnett: “I was ordered into the Smoky Mountain Country in May, 1838, and witnessed the execution of the most brutal order in the History of American Warfare. I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades…Children were often separated from their parents….And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west….On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th, 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire…The long painful journey to the west ended March 26th, 1839, with four-thousand silent graves reaching from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains to what is known as Indian territory in the West…At this time, 1890, we are too near the removal of the Cherokees for our young people to fully understand the enormity of the crime that was committed against a helpless race…School children of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race at the bayonet point to satisfy the white man’s greed. Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children (Tsali), had to execute the orders of our superiors. …However, murder is murder whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music. Murder is murder, and somebody must answer. Somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the 4000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of 645 wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.”
The U.S. Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in 1987. It stretches across nine states for 2,200 miles.
Some historians today consider the 4,000 number too high. The number of 4,000 deaths or one quarter of the tribe was used by the Smithsonian anthropologist James Mooney.
About 16,000 Cherokee were on the 1835 census. About 12,000 emigrated in 1838, plus 400 Creek Indians who had fled into the Cherokee Nation, avoiding their earlier removal. But, some 1,500 Cherokee remained in North Carolina. Also, a significant number of mixed-bloods and whites with Cherokee families petitioned to become citizens of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee and thus ceased to be considered Cherokee. (Total number not known).
About 1,000 Cherokee hid in the mountains and evaded soldiers. Some settlers in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee helped hide the Cherokee. Also, the Cherokee who lived on private, individually owned lands (rather than communally owned tribal land) were not subject to removal. These include about 400 Cherokee led by Yonaguska who lived on land along the Oconaluftee River owned by a white man named William Holland Thomas (who had been adopted by the Cherokee as a boy), a smaller band of about 150 along the Nantahala River led by Utsala, a group living in Snowbird (near Robbinsville) and another along the Cheoah River in a community called Tomotley, These North Carolina Cherokees became the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, numbering approximately 1,000. According to a roll taken the year after the removal (1839), there were in addition some 400 Cherokee who escaped in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama, and these also joined the Eastern Band.
1840: South Carolina promised the Catawba cash and a new reservation in exchange for the land they occupied. The land was sold but the state did not keep its promises. Some Catawba moved briefly to North Carolina and joined the Cherokee. Others scattered into surrounding towns in South Carolina.
1842: Cherokee who avoided forced removal and remained in North Carolina are given state citizenship. In 1848 Congress grants them a small amount of money to use for the purchase of land.
1850: The Catawba who fled to the mountains with the Cherokee return to South Carolina and purchase 600-plus acres from the state.
1861–1865: The Cherokee in North Carolina and Oklahoma support the Confederacy. Thomas’s Legion from North Carolina, a famous Confederate fighting unit, includes two companies of Cherokee soldiers.
1868: The U.S. government recognizes the Eastern Band as a distinct tribe under its guardianship and establishes a reservation.
1876: Qualla Boundary is formed.
1889: The Eastern Band of Cherokee is officially recognized under North Carolina law.
1893: The federal government opens a Cherokee boarding school and many children were forced to leave their homes and attend this boarding school. They were not allowed to practice traditional beliefs. The use of the Cherokee language was punished severely.
1900: In an effort to take away the Cherokee’s right to vote, some local elections officials take advantage of an 1895 federal court ruling that they are wards of the government. Also this year, the “Suffrage Amendment” to the state constitution institutes a literacy requirement for voting. It includes a grandfather clause that allows illiterate white men to vote but effectively disenfranchises most men of color, including the Cherokee.
1919: Some county officials in WNC deny voter registration to Cherokee veterans of World War I. The next year, when the 19th Amendment gives women nationwide the right to vote, Cherokee women are turned away by some WNC officials when they try to register.
1925: Cherokee lands are placed in trust status with the federal government. The Qualla Boundary is not a reservation, but rather a “land trust” supervised by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Five years later, federal law grants citizenship to Cherokee in the state.
1946: Cherokee veterans of World War II begin registering to vote. Cherokee from North Carolina were among the famous “code talkers” in World War II.
1950-1952: The drama “Unto These Hills” and Oconaluftee Indian Village open in Cherokee.
1954: Charles George of Cherokee, private first class with Co. C Army’s 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Nov. 30, 1952, during the Korean War. (Twenty-nine men born in North Carolina have received the Medal of Honor). While soldiers were in the process of leaving the trenches near Songnae-dong, Korea, a hostile soldier hurled a grenade. George shouted a warning, pushed a soldier out of danger, and, with “full knowledge of the consequences, unhesitatingly threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing the full blast of the explosion. Although seriously wounded, he refrained from any outcry which would divulge the position of his fellow soldiers.” He was evacuated to the forward aid station and shortly afterward died. The VA Medical Center in Buncombe County is named in honor of Charles George: The Charles George VA Medical Center.
1973: Catawba began re-organizing and began work to preserve culture and history. Re-instituted tribal council.
1984: The first joint council meeting in 146 years is held between the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma is held at Red Clay, Tenn. Council meetings are now held bi-annually.
1988: U.S. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that allows federally recognized tribes to establish casinos on tribal property.
1992: Robert Henry Bushyhead and Walker Calhoun begin the preservation of the Cherokee language. As two of only about 300 Cherokee who still spoke the language, they began, with the help of Jean Bushyhead (daughter), the Cherokee Language Project.
1993: The Catawba were awarded renewed federal recognition. At this time, they were paid $50 million NOT to reclaim 144,000 acres of their land in York County, S.C. The Catawba are the only federally recognized Indian tribe today in South Carolina.
1997: Harrah’s Cherokee Casino opened. The casino was the result of 10 years of negotiations among tribal, state and federal officials. One half of the annual casino earnings were to be divided among all members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Annually, at least $5 million of casino profits is given to the Cherokee Preservation Fund and pays for projects that promote economic development, protect the environment and preserve Cherokee heritage and culture. Another portion of casino profits goes to improving tribal health-care, education, housing, etc. Part of the revenue goes to the state as provided by the agreement. The casino earned $155 million in yearly profit in 2004, with approximately $6,000 going to each tribal member.
2005: The Kituwah Preservation and Education Program of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began a plan for the revitalization of the Cherokee language. About 460 fluent speakers were living in Cherokee communities, with 72 percent of them over the age of 50. The Cherokee schools began a total immersion program for children, beginning when they are preschoolers. Participating children and parents learn to speak and read together. The Kituwah Academy opened that uses Cherokee as the primary language. A post-secondary degree program for future certified elementary education teachers of Cherokee language began at Western Carolina University. Scholarships are offered for future teachers of Cherokee language.
2012: Catawba file federal lawsuit against South Carolina to build a casino on their reservation.