The Cherokee Indians are Native Americans who originally inhabited most of what is now the southeastern United States. Today, more than 200,000 Cherokee Indians live in the Cherokee Nation, an eight-county jurisdictional area in northeastern Oklahoma. As the second largest tribe of Native Americans, the rich Cherokee history reveals several key events.
The Cherokee Indians first encountered Europeans in the 1500s. Initially, most of the interaction consisted of trading, which allowed the Indians to further develop in areas such as agriculture. While many key events in Cherokee history were treaties with the United States government, one of the most important key events in Cherokee history is the Treaty of Paris.
The Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution, giving all the land south of Canada and east of the Mississippi River to the United States. All of the previous agreements between Britain and Native Americans, of which many were Cherokee, were voided. The United States claimed ownership of the land by right of conquest.
In 1791, the Treaty of Holston was one of the first treaties signed between the Cherokee Nation and the United States government. The treaty established peace and friendship between the two groups, established boundaries, gave the United States the right to regulate trade and gave the Cherokees the right to self-govern. The treaty was signed by William Blount, governor of the territories of the United States. The Treaty of Holston succeeded the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, which had similar components.
The United States and Cherokee Indians signed a great deal more treaties in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The components of many of the treaties were similar to the Treaty of Holston. Additionally, many of these treaties involved Cherokees relinquishing some of their land for payment from the United States. Relations became strained as the United States tried to push the Cherokees west of the Mississippi River. In 1807, Major Ridge, a Cherokee Indian leader, murdered Chief Doublehead for accepting bribes from the United States government in exchange for unfavorable land deals.
Another key event in Cherokee history occurred in 1819 when Sequoyah created a system to write the Cherokee language. The system, known as a syllabary, gave each spoken syllable a symbol. Additionally, the syllabary allowed Cherokees to maintain their social boundaries and ethnic identity. The Cherokees used their language to develop laws and adopt a national constitution. In 1820, Major Ridge wrote a law outlawing all land sales without approval from the tribal council. Additionally, the Cherokee modeled a constitution, with three branches of government and a bill of rights, after the United States Constitution.
Additional treaties and land sales occurred throughout the early 1800s until the famous Cherokee Trail of Tears was blazed in April of 1838. Major Ridge and a small group of his supporters sold all of the Cherokee land to the United States for $4.5 million USD Dollars in 1835. The first party of Cherokees who resisted vacating their land was forced to march westward to present day Oklahoma. The path was renamed the Trail of Tears after more than 4,000 Cherokees died during relocation.