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Approximately half of the fourteen essays deal with historical issues including Native Americans, pioneer settlement, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, industrialization, the Great Depression, migration, and modernization. The remaining essays take a more cultural focus, addressing stereotypes, music, folklife, language, literature, and religion.
Bringing together many of the most prestigious scholars in Appalachian studies, this volume has been designed for general and classroom use, and includes suggestions for further reading.
C. Clifford Boyd Jr.
The southern Appalachians of the early historic period (the seventeenth through early eighteenth centuries) were home to the Cherokees, who had a total population of possibly 20,000 at the beginning of this period. The Cherokees occupied settlements along river valleys in five geographically distinct areas. These settlement groups included the Lower Towns in the Piedmont of northeastern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina; the Middle, Valley, and Out Towns in the Blue Ridge of southwestern North Carolina; and the Overhill Towns in the Ridge and Valley province of eastern Tennessee. The Cherokee language was part of the larger Iroquoian language family, and the Cherokees called themselves Ani-Yunwiya, or the "principal people."
This chapter provides a brief overview of the history of the Cherokees from their origins to the current status of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. The extremely well-documented story of the Cherokees illustrates the dynamic changes that affected Native Americans in the southern Appalachians in their encounters with Europeans and Anglo-Americans.
Archaeologists still debate whether the Cherokees have a long history and prehistory in the southern Appalachians or whether more recent developments led to the creation of the historic Cherokees. Because Cherokee is an Iroquoian language, linguists have compared Cherokee with languages spoken by other native Iroquoian speakers around the Great Lakes region. These linguistic studies suggest that the ancestors of the Cherokees may have moved into the southern Appalachians from the north perhaps 3,500 years ago, based on language differences between these groups.
However, tracing a historic tribe back into such a remote prehistoric past and confirming this antiquity cannot be done, even with the best linguistic and archaeological information. Archaeological excavations and studies in western North Carolina, northeast Georgia, and East Tennessee do suggest that the historic Cherokees in these areas may have evolved out of earlier cultures beginning at least 1,000 years ago.
Prehistoric cultures from about A.D. 1000 to 1540 living in the southern Appalachians were part of the broader Mississippian stage of cultural development in the southeastern United States. Mississippian culture represented the culmination of perhaps 15,000-20,000 years of prehistoric human occupation of North America and was the most complex sociopolitical development by pre-Columbian peoples north of Mexico. Many large villages or towns were established along river valleys, where the fertile floodplain soils of the region supported agricultural production of squash, corn (maize), and, later, beans. Although wild plant foods and game were still used, these domesticated plants (which had their origin in Mexico) were the staple foods for most large Mississippian settlements.
Other general Mississippian culture traits included the construction of flat-topped platform mounds on which temples or other important structures were placed; evidence of a chiefdom type of sociopolitical organization with clearly defined, hereditary leaders controlling several villages in some regions; and specialization in craft production, with depictions of a variety of religious symbols on clay pottery and artifacts made of shell or copper. This last stage of prehistory ends with early contact between Native Americans and Europeans, most notably the Spanish of the de Soto expedition.
All these generalized traits were expressed more specifically in the late prehistoric cultures (called South Appalachian Mississippian) living in the future homeland of the historic Cherokees. Based on style changes in the surface decorations of clay pottery (such as complicated stamping and incision), some researchers have defined distinct "subregional developments" of Mississippian cultures leading to the early historic Lower (Piedmont) Cherokees, Overhill (Ridge and Valley) Cherokees, and Qualla (Blue Ridge) Cherokees. These archaeologists thus see a 1,000-year line of continuous, in situ change in political and social organization from prehistory to the historic Cherokees. Others see the early Cherokees moving from their "core area" in the Appalachian Highlands of western North Carolina into Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina in the seventeenth century and incorporating other peoples and traits into their tribe during this migration. Both views attempt to explain some differences in objects (especially the aforementioned clay pottery) between the major subgroups of historic Cherokees.
However, the way of life of the Cherokees-especially in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries-was broadly similar, regardless of where they lived. The major guiding principle or value for all Cherokee people was the "harmony ethic." A good person avoided direct conflict with others in order to maintain group harmony and was generous to his family members.
Politically, however, the Cherokees were not unified under a single government at this time, as they were later. The Cherokees of this period lived in several villages (or towns) politically independent from one another. Each village had as its council a group of "beloved old men": elders who debated and made decisions for the village by meeting in the village townhouse. The major cultural traits that linked these villages together were the Cherokee clan system and their religious beliefs. Each Cherokee was a member of one of seven clans, or large families; a person was always a member of his or her mother's clan. Each village had representatives of all seven clans, so travelers could find fellow clan members to provide them with food and shelter far from their home. Clan designation also influenced other aspects of life. A Cherokee could not marry someone from his or her own clan, and selected members of a clan could legally avenge the murder of a fellow clan member.
Traditional Cherokee religion and ceremony were tied to a belief that animals, plants, rivers, and other objects had a spirit or soul (this belief is called animism). A supernatural power called gitum was also found in lightning, running water, and supernatural spirit beings. In times of stress or illness, Cherokees would "go to water" and bathe themselves in nearby rivers for purification and healing. A major Cherokee ceremony was the Green Corn Feast or Busk, held in late September to celebrate the corn harvest and to purify the people for the coming year.
This ceremony also reflected the importance of agriculture to the Cherokees. The traditional Cherokees, like their Mississippian culture ancestors, practiced slash-and-burn farming, as did other Native American farmers in the eastern woodlands of North America. Brush and trees along river floodplains were cut and burned; then gardens containing corn, beans, squash, sunflower, and tobacco were planted in these cleared areas.
While the women managed the gardens, the men provided meat by hunting white-tailed deer and other animals. Major deer hunts occurred in the fall, and it was also during fall and winter that war raids were conducted. The purpose of war raids was to exact revenge for a previous attack or killing by an enemy, not for territorial gain or conquest. In the summer, men from different villages competed in the ball game, which was a form of lacrosse. At times, these games became quite violent, and the Cherokees called the ball game "the little brother of war."
This traditional way of life began to change in the late 1600s and early 1700s with initial contacts between the Cherokees and English traders coming into their territory from Charles Towne (Charleston), South Carolina. By the colonial period (1746-75), the Cherokees had become dependent on English trade goods. They and other Native Americans of the Southeast supplied the traders with deerskins in exchange for items of European manufacture, such as glass beads and other ornaments and metal tools and firearms. During this period the Overhill towns in Tennessee began to exert greater influence in political and economic affairs. The autonomous village council form of government became less significant; instead, a few talented, charismatic individuals (such as the great warriors Oconastota and Ostenaco) became tribal leaders recognized by the British. Cherokees were also drawn into European-induced conflicts, being both allies and adversaries of the British during the French and Indian War (1756-63).
The Revolutionary War (1776-81) was a very difficult time for the Cherokees. Some Cherokees wanted to remain neutral, whereas others sided with the British. American colonial militias made no distinction between friend and foe, however, and burned several villages, sometimes repeatedly. Conflict between the Cherokees and the fledgling United States did not end until a treaty was signed in 1794.
As a consequence of this warfare, the Cherokees suffered from economic depression and social disorganization during the subsequent federal period (1794-1819). The U.S. government then began one of many attempts at assimilation, a process designed to "civilize" the Cherokees and integrate them into the dominant Anglo-American economic and political system. Social and political consequences of this forced change included the development of three distinct divisions among the Cherokee: the Anglo-Cherokees, a broadly defined nontraditionalist Cherokee group, and the traditionalist Cherokees.
The Anglo-Cherokees were, in many cases, "mixed bloods" who quickly copied white agricultural and economic practices. These people adopted the Protestant capitalist ethic of individual accumulation of wealth through hard work. Many became successful businessmen, and some even owned plantations and African American slaves. At the 1835 census, there were 207 Cherokee slaveholders who owned nearly 1,600 slaves. Some, such as Joseph Vann, who owned 110 slaves, were wealthier than many of their white neighbors.
The nontraditionalist Cherokees chose to accept some aspects of Anglo-American culture, such as log cabins, individual farmsteads, cattle herding, and plow agriculture. Traditional language and beliefs were retained, however.
Finally, the traditionalist (often "full-blood") Cherokees rejected the dominant society and maintained a village life, communal support and the harmony ethic, and traditional food production and collection methods. Unfortunately, by cutting themselves off from the main capitalist economy, they became the poorest Cherokees. Many traditionalist Cherokees moved west to "Indian Territory" (across the Mississippi in present-day Arkansas and Oklahoma) in the 1820s and were known as the Old Settlers. Most Cherokees were members of these last two divisions or factions.
With the development of these factions, the traditional Cherokee harmony ethic became more of an ideal. Internal political conflict, fueled by economic disparity and adherence to different values, became the reality and further divided the different political and social groups within the Cherokees.
An important change also occurred when Sequoyah (George Gist), a mixed-blood Cherokee, introduced a written Cherokee syllabary in 1821; a bilingual (Cherokee-English) newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, began publication in 1828. As the culmination of a process of political centralization that began in the late eighteenth century, the Cherokee constitution of 1827 established the Cherokee Nation as a representative government modeled after the U.S. government with its capital at New Echota, Georgia. The elected principal chief served as the Cherokee equivalent of the president of the United States. Thus, with a written language, a democratic government, and economic growth for at least some, it seems that the Cherokees did not fit the "savage" stereotype whites applied to most Native Americans.
However, racist perceptions of Native Americans as "savage" or, at the very least, "below" whites in their values, intellect, and behavior and the concept (later to be called Manifest Destiny) that Anglo-Americans had a divine right to move west and "civilize" the frontier caused many white politicians to press for removal of all Native Americans in the eastern United States. This effort led to the passage of the Indian Removal Act (1830), which "provided for the relocation of all Indians in the southeastern states and the Ohio River drainage to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River." Under pressure from whites, members of the minority Treaty Party signed the Treaty of New Echota (1835), which ceded all Cherokee Nation lands to the U.S. government for $5 million and required that the Cherokees move west two years after ratification (the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1836). By 1838, about 16,000 Cherokees were still living on the ceded lands in North Carolina. Their principal chief, John Ross, argued vehemently against removal. However, in the spring of 1838, the U.S. Army came into the mountains and forcibly removed these Cherokees to the West on what is known as the Trail of Tears. At least 4,000 and perhaps as many as 8,000 Cherokees died before reaching their new homes in Indian territory; most died in staging (concentration) camps, where they were placed before embarking on their journey.
A few Cherokees escaped the army and stayed in the North Carolina mountains; others (the Qualla Cherokees) were permitted to stay under a previous treaty. These 1,400 Cherokees became the founders of what is now the Eastern Band of Cherokees, with their capital in Cherokee, North Carolina.
Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century, the Eastern Band of Cherokees faced many economic and political problems. Even with the financial support of a white businessman, William Holland Thomas, most Eastern Cherokees before the Civil War were poor subsistence farmers living in the narrow valleys and coves of mountainous western North Carolina. They also had an anomalous political status in that it was unclear whether they were citizens of the state of North Carolina or a federally protected tribe under U.S. government jurisdiction. Perhaps in an effort to improve the status of the Cherokees in relation to the North Carolina state government, Thomas encouraged them to join the Confederacy in 1861. Under the leadership of Thomas, the "Thomas Legion" of Eastern Cherokees fought in some skirmishes against Union troops. Eventually 400 Cherokees (most of the able-bodied men) served in the war.
After the war, the threat of losing their lands in North Carolina, ongoing political factionalism and internal disagreements, and their continuing ambivalent status as either state citizens or federal wards were all major problems for the Cherokees.
Excerpted from HIGH MOUNTAINS RISING Copyright © 2004 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission.
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|3||Slavery and African Americans in the nineteenth century||30|
|4||The civil war and reconstruction||46|
|6||The great depression||74|
Posted May 7, 2006