Monday, August 1, 2011

Native American Cherokee Indian Symbols

Native American Cherokee Indian Symbols


The Cherokees.
The old home of the Cherokees was in the beautiful mountain region of the South—in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, but especially in Georgia. They were Indians of great strength of character, and ready for improvement []and progress. When Oglethorpe settled Georgia, the Cherokees were his friends and allies. But after our government was established, the tribe, which had been so friendly to the whites, began to suffer from our encroachments. Treaties were made with them only to be broken. Little by little, the Indians were crowded back: sacred promises made by our government were not fulfilled.
Finally they refused to cede any more of their land to the greedy white settlers, and demanded that the United States protect them in their rights. The quarrel was now one between the United States and Georgia, and the central government found itself unable to keep its pledges. So orders were given that the Cherokees should be removed, even against their wish, to a new home.
At this time the Cherokees were most happy and prosperous. Their country was one of the most lovely portions of our land. A writer says: “The climate is delicious and healthy; the winters are mild; the spring clothes the ground with the richest scenery; flowers of exquisite beauty and variegated hues meet and fascinate the eye in every direction. In the plains and valleys the soil is generally rich, producing Indian corn, wheat, oats, indigo, and sweet and Irish potatoes. The natives carry on considerable trade with the adjoining states; some of them export cotton in boats down the Tennessee to the Mississippi, and down [p2]that river to New Orleans. Apple and peach orchards are quite common, and gardens are cultivated, and much attention paid to them. Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables. There are many public roads in the nation, and houses of entertainment kept by natives. Numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every section of the country. Cotton and woolen cloths are manufactured; blankets of various dimensions, manufactured by Cherokee hands, are very common. Almost every family in the nation grows cotton for its own consumption. Industry and commercial enterprise are extending themselves in every part. Nearly all the merchants in the nation are native Cherokees. Agricultural pursuits engage the chief attention of the people. Different branches of mechanics are pursued. The population is rapidly increasing.”
This was written in 1825. Only about ten years later, this happy, industrious, and prosperous people were removed by force from their so greatly loved home. Two years were allowed in which they must vacate lands that belonged to them, and which the United States had pledged should be always theirs. Few of them were gone when the two years had ended. In May, 1838, General Winfield Scott was sent with an army to remove them. He issued a proclamation which began as follows:—
Cherokees,—The President of the United States has sent me with a powerful army to cause [pg]you, in accordance with the treaty of 1835, to join that part of your people who are already established on the other side of the Mississippi. Unhappily, the two years which were allowed for the purpose you have allowed to pass away without following, and without making any preparations to follow; and now, or by the time that this solemn address reaches your distant settlements, the emigration must be commenced in haste, but I hope without disorder. I have no power, by granting a further delay, to correct the error you have committed. The full moon of May is already on the wane, and before another shall have passed away, every Cherokee man, woman, and child in these states1 must be in motion to join their brethren in the West.”
And so this harmless, helpless people left for their long journey. Their only offense was that they owned land which the whites wanted. There are still old Indians who remember the“great removal.” Most of them were little children then, but the sad leaving their beloved mountains and the sorrow and hardship of the long journey is remembered after sixty years.
A few years since, we visited the Eastern Cherokees. Perhaps two thousand of them now live in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Some of these are persons who never went to the Indian Territory, but hid themselves [pg 144]in rocks and caves until the soldiers were gone; some ran away from the great company as it moved westward, trudging back a long and toilsome journey; some are the children and grandchildren of such refugees; some are persons who drifted back in later years to the hills and forests, the springs and brooks, which their fathers had known and loved. They are mostly poor,—unlike their relatives in the West,—but they are industrious and happy. Their log houses are scattered over the mountain slopes or perched upon the tops of ridges or clustered together in little villages in the pretty valleys. Their fields are fenced and well cultivated. They work them in companies of ten or twelve persons; such companies are formed to work the fields of each member in order. They dress like white people, and most of the old Indian life is gone.
Still there are some bits of it left. The women are basket-makers, and make baskets of wide splints of cane, plain or dyed black or red, which are interwoven to make striking patterns. Some old women weave artistically shaped baskets from slender splints of oak. Old Catolsta, more than ninety years old, still shapes pottery vessels and marks them with ornamental patterns which are cut upon a little paddle of wood, and stamped on the soft clay by beating it with the paddle. They still sometimes use the bow and arrow, though more in sport than in earnest, as most of them have white men's guns. The arrow race is still [pg 145]sometimes run. Several young men start out together, each with his bow and arrows. The arrows are shot out over the course; they run as fast as possible to where these fall and picking them up shoot them on at once. And so they go on over the whole course, each trying to get through first. Ball is largely a thing of the past, and great games are not common. Still there are rackets at many houses. One day we got a “scratcher” from old Hoyoneta, once a great medicine man for ball-players. This scratcher consisted of seven splinters of bone, sharpened at one end and inserted into a quill frame which held them firmly, separated from one another by about a quarter of an inch or less. When a young man was about to play his first great game of ball, he went to Hoyoneta, or some other medicine man, to be scratched.
Illustration.
Indian Ball-Player. (After Catlin.)
Cherokee Indian Photo Gallery
He had already fasted and otherwise prepared himself for the ordeal. The old man, after muttering charms and incantations, drew the scratcher four times the length of the young man's body, burying the points each time deeply in the flesh. [pg 146]Each time the instrument made seven scratches. One set of these ran from the base of the left thumb, up the arm, diagonally across the chest, down the right leg to the right great toe; another, from the base of the right thumb to the left great toe; another, from the base of the left little finger, up the back of the arm, across the back, down the right leg to the base of the little toe; the other, from the base of the right little finger, to the left little toe. The young man then plunged, with all these bleeding gashes, into a cold running brook. He was then ready for the morrow's ball play, for, had he not been scratched twenty-eight times with the bones of swift running creatures, and been prayed over by a great medicine man?
Every one should know of Sequoyah or George Guess or Guest, as he was called in English. He was a Cherokee who loved to work at machinery and invent handy devices. He determined to invent a system of writing his language. He saw that the writing of the white men consisted in the use of characters to represent sounds. At first he thought of using one character for each word; this was not convenient because there are so many words. He finally concluded that there were eighty-six syllables in Cherokee, and he formed a series of eighty-six characters to represent them. Some of these characters were borrowed from the white man's alphabet; the rest were specially invented. It took some little time [pg 147]for the Cherokees to accept Sequoyah's great invention, but by 1827 it was in use throughout the nation. Types were made, and soon books and papers were printed in the Cherokee language in Sequoyah's characters. These are still in use, and to-day in the Indian Territory, a newspaper is regularly printed by the Cherokee Nation, part of which is in English, part in the Cherokee character. This newspaper is, by the way, supplied free to each family by the Cherokee government.
Illustration.
Examples of Sequoyah's Characters.
Helen Hunt Jackson.—Writer. Her nom de plume was H. H. Wrote two books about Indians, A Century of Dishonor and Ramona. Every American boy should read the former.


Native American's Wampum