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Cherokee Indians Smoky Mountains

Cherokee Indians Smoky Mountains - The first native peoples arrived in the Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains about A.D. 1000. They were believed to have been a branch of the Iroquois Indians, later to be called Cherokee Indians, who moved south from Iroquoian lands in New England. Consisting of 7 clans, the Cherokee Nation stretched from the Ohio River into South Carolina. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lived in the Tn Great Smoky Mountains National Park, believed to be the sacred ancestral home of the Cherokee Nation. Send us an email to talk about other topics related to this page


Cherokee Indians can trace their history back more than one thousand years. Their society was based on hunting, trading, and agriculture, living in towns until they encountered the first Europeans in 1540, when Spanish explorer Hernando de Sota led an exploration through Cherokee Indian territory. By the time European explorers and traders arrived, Cherokee Indian lands covered a large part of what is now the southeastern United States.

Cherokee Indians lived in small communities, usually located in fertile river bottoms. Homes were wooden frames covered with woven vines and saplings plastered with mud. Each village consisted of up to 50 log and mud huts grouped around the town square, called the Council House, where ceremonial and public meetings were held. The council house was seven-sided to represent the seven clans of the Cherokee Indians: Bird, Paint, Deer, Wolf, Blue, Long Hair, and Wild Potato. Each tribe elected two chiefs -- a Peace Chief who counseled during peaceful times and a War Chief who made decisions during times of war. However, the Chiefs did not rule absolutely. Decision making was a more democratic process, with tribal members having the opportunity to voice concerns.

Cherokee Indians society was a matriarchy. The children took the clan of the mother, and kinship was traced through the mother's family. Women had an equal voice in the affairs of the tribe. Marriage was only allowed between members of different clans. Property was passed on according to clan alliance.

In the late 18th century, the European settlers arrived in significant numbers. The Cherokee Indians battled Carolina settlers in the 1760's, but eventually withdrew to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Eventually, the Tn Cherokee indians readily adopted the tools, weapons and customs introduced by the Europeans. Desire for these items changed the Cherokee Indians life as they began to hunt animals, not just for food, but also for skins to trade as well. As the white population expanded conflicts arose. War and disease decimated the tribe. The Cherokee Indians were eventually forced to sign over much of their land, first to the British and then to the United States.


Europeans first settled Cades Cove Tn in 1818. Before their arrival, Cades Cove Tn was part of Cherokee Nation, who called the Cove, Tsiyaha or "place of the river otter." Cherokee Indians never lived in the Cove, but used the land as its summer hunting ground for river otters, elk and bison.

In the early 1800's, Cherokee Indians began a period of change. The Cherokee Indian Nation was established with a democratic government composed of a Chief, Vice-Chief, and 32 Council Members who were elected by the members of the tribe. A constitution and code of law were implemented for the nation. In 1808, Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian silversmith, invented a system for writing the Cherokee Indians language and within two years, almost all of the Cherokee Indians could read and write. The Cherokee Indian Council passed a resolution to establish a newspaper for their nation. A printing press was ordered, the type cast for the Cherokee indian syllabary, and the Cherokee Phoenix was in business.


Unfortunately, the Cherokee indians did not enjoy prosperous times for long. With the discovery of gold on Cherokee indian lands in 1828 and Andrew Jackson's 1830 Removal Act, calling for the relocation of all native peoples east of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma, the U. S. government forced the Cherokees from their homes in 1838. Almost 14,000 Cherokees began the trek westward in October of 1838. More than 4,000 died from cold, hunger, and disease during the six-month journey that came to be known as the "Trail of Tears." Altogether, about 100,000 natives, including Cherokee Indians, Chickasaw Indians, Seminole Indians and Choctaw Indians survived the journey.

A few Cherokees refused to move and hid among the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains, avoiding the army and authorities. These Cherokee Indian, now called the Eastern Band, were allowed to claim some of their lands in western North Carolina in the 1870's. In 1889, this 56,000 acre sect of land was chartered and is now called the Qualla Indian Reservation, home to almost 11,000 descendents.

The name Qualla is said to have come from William Holland Thomas' wife, Polly Thomas. Mr Thomas was the only white man to ever serve as a Cherokee Indian Chief. He purchased land for the Indians in his own name and eventually served as Chief of Quallatown from 1839 until his death in 1893.

The story is said to be that the name Qualla came from the Cherokee Indians language pronunciation and not using words that required the mouth to close. Instead of saying the correct pronunciation: "Polly", the Cherokee indians could only pronounce Qualla.

It is also said there would have been no Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians if it were not for William Holland Thomas. William Thomas purchased all of the 57,000-acre reservation known as the Qualla Boundary in 1860 for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The Qualla Boundary is land held by the federal government trust held only for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. There are less than 13,000 currently enrolled tribal members. It is required that someone be at least 1/32nd degree blood quantum descent from an enrollee on the 1924 Baker roll in order to enroll. The Baker Roll was made the tribe successfully resisted an allotment under the Dawes Act. The Band of Eastern Cherokee Indians placed its land into federal trust during port World War I in 1924. They created the Qualla Mutual Arts and Crafts co-op after World War II it was the first and is the oldest for any tribe. The Arts and Crafts co-op helped preserve the Cherokee culture and traditional work while offering a marketing outlet.

The Qualla Boundary is currently known for Harrah's Casino, which opened in 1996 where the tribe makes most of its money and has caused many negative repercussions for the Eastern Cherokee Indian society.


Prior to the "Trail of Tears," a small group of Cherokees in western North Carolina had already received permission to be excluded from the move west. Those individuals, often called the Oconaluftee Indians, did not live on Cherokee Nation land and considered themselves separate from the Cherokee Nation. Permission for the Oconaluftee Cherokee Indians to remain in North Carolina had been obtained in part through the efforts of William H. Thomas, a successful business man, who had grown up among the Cherokee Indians. For more than 30 years he served as their attorney and adviser.

To avoid jeopardizing their special status, the Oconaluftee Cherokees reluctantly assisted in the search for Cherokee Nation Indians who had fled to the mountains to avoid capture. Among those in hiding was Tsali who had become a hero to many Cherokees for his resistance to forced removal. Tsali was being sought because of his role in the deaths of several soldiers. To prevent further hardships for the Cherokees still in hiding, Tsali eventually agreed to surrender and face execution. Due in part to Tsali's sacrifice, many of those in hiding were eventually allowed to settle among the Cherokee Indians of western North Carolina. This was to be the beginning of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.

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