Cherokee Indians, a nation formerly inhabiting the hilly regions of Georgia, western Carolina, and northern Alabama, and called the Mountaineers of the South. They were among high hills and fertile valleys, and have ever been more susceptible of civilization than any of the Indian tribes within the domain of the United States. They were the determined foes of the Shawnees, and, after many conflicts, drove those tribes back to the Ohio. They united with the Carolinians and Catawbas against the Tuscaroras in 1711, but joined the great Indian league against the Carolinians in 1715.
When, early in 1721, Gov. Francis Nicholson arrived in South Carolina, he tried to cultivate the good-will of the Spaniards and Indians in Florida. He also held a conference with the chiefs of thirty-seven different cantons of Cherokees. He gave them presents, smoked with them the pipe of peace, marked the boundaries of the lands between them and the English settlers, regulated weights and measures, and appointed an agent to superintend their affairs. He then concluded a treaty of commerce and peace with the Creeks.
About 1730 the projects of the French for uniting Canada and Louisiana by a cordon of posts through the Ohio and Mississippi valleys began to be developed. To counteract this scheme, the British wished to convert the Indians on the frontiers into allies or subjects, and, to this end, to make with them treaties of union and alliance. The British government accordingly sent out Sir Alexander Cumming to conclude such a treaty with the Cherokees. It was estimated that they could then put 6,000 warriors in the field. In April, 1730, Sir Alexander met the chief warriors of all the Cherokee towns in council; informed them by whose authority he was sent; demanded from them an acknowledgment of King George as their sovereign, and a promise of their obedience to his authority. The chiefs, falling on their knees, promised fidelity and obedience. By their consent, Sir Alexander nominated Moytoy, one of their best leaders, commander-in-chief of the Cherokee nation. They brought a rude crown, five eagles’ tails, and four scalps of their enemies to Sir Alexander, and desired him to lay them at the feet of the King when he should return to England. Six of the chiefs went to England with Sir Alexander, and, standing before his Majesty, they promised, in the name of their nation, eternal fidelity to the English. A treaty was drawn up and signed by the Secretary to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations on one side, to which the marks and tokens of the chiefs were affixed. The chiefs were amazed at the magnificence of the British Court and nation. They said: “We, came hither naked and poor as the worms of the earth; but you have everything; and we that have nothing must love you, and will never break the chain of friendship which is between us.” They returned to Carolina with Robert Johnson, who came with a commission as governor.
For a long time the Cherokees and the Five Nations had bloody contests; but the English effected a reconciliation between them about 1750, when the Cherokees became the allies of the British against the French, and allowed the former to build forts on their domain. About that time they were at the height of their power, and inhabited sixty-four villages along the streams; but soon afterwards nearly one-half the population were swept off by the small-pox. The Cherokees assisted in the capture of Fort Duquesne in 1758.
While the Cherokees who accompanied the expedition against Fort Duquesne in 1758 were returning home along the mountains on the western borders of Virginia and the Carolinas, they quarreled with the settlers, and several white men and Indians were killed. Some Cherokee chiefs were sent to Charleston to arrange the dispute, when they were treated almost with contempt by the governor of South Carolina. This was soon followed by an invasion of the Cherokee country by Governor Littleton (October, 1759) with 1,500 men, contributed by Virginia and the Carolinas, who demanded the surrender of the murderers of the English. He found the Cherokees ready for war, and was glad to make the insubordination of his soldiers and the prevalence of small-pox among them an excuse for leaving the country. He accepted twenty-two Indian hostages as security for peace and the future delivery of the murderers, and retired in haste and confusion (June, 1760). These hostages, which included several chiefs and warriors, were placed in Fort St. George, at the head of the Savannah River. The Cherokees attempted their rescue as soon as Littleton and his army had gone. A soldier was wounded, when his companions, in fiery anger, put all the hostages to death.
The Cherokee nation was aroused by the outrage. They beleaguered the fort, and war-parties scourged the frontiers. The Assembly of South Carolina voted 1,000 men and offered £25 for every Indian scalp. North Carolina voted a similar provision, and authorized the holding of Indian captives as slaves. General Amherst, petitioned for assistance, detached 1,200 men, chiefly Scotch Highlanders, for the purpose, under Colonel Montgomery, with orders to chastise the Cherokees, but to return in time for the next campaign against Canada. Montgomery left Charleston early in April, with regular and provincial troops, and laid waste a portion of the Cherokee country. They were not subdued. The next year Colonel Grant led a stronger force against them, burned their towns, desolated their fields, and killed many of their warriors. Then the Indians humbly sued for peace (June, 1761).
In 1776 the Cherokees seriously threatened the frontier of South Carolina. As these Indians had become the dread of the frontier settlers of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, these three States joined in the defense of South Carolina. Col. Andrew Williamson led an expedition into the Cherokee country, destroyed all their settlements eastward of the Appalachian Mountains, and effectually brought the natives to submission. This conquest was effected between July 15 and Oct. 11, 1776. A military work named Fort Rutledge was erected in the Cherokee country and garrisoned by two independent companies.
In 1781 the Cherokees having made a hostile incursion into the Ninety-six District, in South Carolina, murdered some families, and burned several houses, Gen. Andrew Pickens, at the head of about 400 mounted militia, penetrated into their country, and, in fourteen days, burned thirteen towns and villages, killed more than forty Indians, and took a number of prisoners, without losing a man.
By a treaty concluded at Hopewell, on the Keowee, between the United States commissioners and the head men and warriors of all the Cherokees, the latter, for themselves and their respective tribes and towns, acknowledged all the Cherokees to be under the protection of the United States. The boundaries of their hunting-grounds were settled; several mutual and pacific conditions were agreed upon; and a solemn pledge was made that ” the hatchet should be buried,” and that the peace reestablished should ” be universal.”
These Indians were friends of the United States in the War of 1812, and helped to subjugate the Creeks. Civilization took root among them and produced contention, a portion of them wishing to adhere to their former mode of living, while others wished to engage in the industries of civilized life. They were so absolutely divided in sentiment that in 1818 a portion of the nation emigrated to wild land assigned to them west of the Mississippi. The Cherokees, in turn, had ceded large portions of their lands, and their domain was mostly confined to northern Georgia. They were then making rapid progress in civilization; but the Georgians coveted their lands. The Cherokees were yet powerful in numbers, and were then considerably advanced in the arts and customs of civilization. They had churches and schools and a printing-press, issuing a newspaper; and they were disposed to defend their rights against the encroachments of their white neighbors.
President Jackson favored the Georgians, and the white people then proceeded to take possession of the lands of the Cherokees. Trouble ensued, and the southern portion of the republic was menaced with civil war for a while. The United States troops had been withdrawn from Georgia, and the national government offered no obstacle to the forcible seizure of the Indian territory by the Georgians. Some missionaries laboring among the Cherokees were arrested and imprisoned for residing in their country contrary to the laws of the State, and for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Georgia. The Cherokees then numbered between 14,000 and 15,000 east of the Mississippi. The matter in dispute was adjudicated by the Supreme Court of the United States, and on March 30, 1832, that tribunal decided against the claims of the Georgians. The Georgians, still favored by the President, resented this decision. An amicable settlement was finally reached; and, in 1838, under the mild coercion of Major-General Winfield Scott and several thousand troops, the Cherokees left their beautiful country in Georgia with sorrow, and went to wild lands assigned them, well towards the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
In 1861, John Ross, the renowned principal chief of the Cherokees, who had led them wisely for almost forty years, took a decided stand against the Confederates. He issued a proclamation (May 17), in which he reminded his people of their treaty obligations with the United States, and urged them to be faithful to them, and to take no part in the stirring events of the day. But he and his loyal associates among the Cherokees and Creeks were overborne by the tide of secession and insurrection, and were swept on, powerless, by the current. The betrayal of the United States troops by General Twiggs into the hands of the Texas authorities left their territory on the side of that State open to invasion. False rumors continually disturbed them. Their neighbors, and the wild tribes on their borders, were rallying to the standard of the Confederates. The National troops in Missouri could not check the rising insurrection there. The chief men of the Cherokees held a mass-meeting at Tahlequah in Au-gust, when, with great unanimity, they declared their allegiance to the ” Confederate States.” Ross still held out, but was finally compelled to yield. At a council held on Aug. 20, he recommended the severance of the connection with the national government. Ross’s wife, a young and well-educated woman, still held out; and when an attempt was made to raise a Confederate flag over the council-house, she opposed the act with so much spirit that the Confederates desisted.
During the Civil War the Cherokees suffered much. The Confederates would not trust Ross, for his Union feelings were very apparent. When, in 1862, they were about to arrest him, he and his family escaped to the North, and resided in Philadelphia for a while. In 1899 there were 32,161 Cherokees at the Union agency, Indian Territory, and 1,351 at the Eastern Cherokee agency, North Carolina.