Cherokee Indian Tribe

Editors Note: The Cheroki spelling is a derivative of Cherokee, so the following information is referencing the Cherokee Indians.

Intercourse between the Creek and the Cheroki Indians must have taken place in prehistoric times, as evidenced by local names, and more so by Cheroki terms adopted into the Creek language. The Cheroki, or more correctly, Tsalagi nation is essentially a hill people; their numerous settlements were divided into two great sections by the watershed ridge of the Alleghany mountains, in their language Unéga katúsi (“white, whitish mountains”), of which even now a portion is called “Smoky Mountains.” Northwest of that ridge lay the Cheroki villages of the Overkill settlement, Ótari, Ótali (“up, above”}, along the Great and Little Tennessee rivers and their tributaries, while southeast of it, in the mountains of North Carolina and on the head waters of the Georgia rivers, extended the towns of the Lower Cheroki, or Erati (in Cheroki élati, below, nether). There were also a number of Cheroki villages in the northern parts of Alabama State, and du Pratz distinctly states, that the “Chéraquies” lived east of the Abé-ikas. 1 While calling a person of their own people by the name of Atsálagi, in the plural Anitsálagi, they comprise all the Creeks under the name of Kúsa, from Coosa river, or more probably from the ancient, far-famed town of the same name: Agúsa, Kúsa, Gúsa, a Creek person; Anigúsa, the Creek people; Gúsa uniwoní’hsti, the Creek language.

Tahchee, A Cherokee Chief or Dutch
Tahchee, A Cherokee Chief or Dutch

The Cheroki language was spoken in many dialects before the people emigrated to the lands allotted to them in the northeastern part of the Indian Territory, and even now a difference may be observed between the Western Cheroki and the Eastern or Mountain Cheroki, which is the language of the people that remained in the hills of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. 2 Mr. Horatio Hale has recently demonstrated the affinity of Cheroki with the Iroquois stock; 3 Wendát and Tuscarora form other dialectic branches of it, showing much closer relation to the Iroquois dialects of Western New York than Cheroki. Thirty-two terms of the Keowe dialect (Lower Cheroki), taken down by B. Hawkins, are embodied in an unpublished vocabulary, which is in the possession of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. 4 Another ancient dialect is that of Kitówa or Kitúa; this is the name by which the Cheroki are known among several northern tribes, as Delawares and Shawano (cf. below); it was also the name of a secret society among the Cheroki, which existed at the time of the Secession war.

The Cheroki Indians are bodily well developed, rather tall in stature and of an irritable temper, flashing up easily. In the eighteenth century they were engaged in constant wars, and from their mountain fastnesses made sallies upon all the surrounding Indian tribes. The Iroquois or ” Northern Indians” attacked them in their own country, as they also did the Kataba and Western Algonkins. A warlike spirit pervaded the whole Cheroki nation, and even women participated in their raids and fights. 5

Wm. Bartram states, that the Cheroki men had a lighter and more olive complexion than the contiguous Creek tribes, adding that some of their young girls were nearly as fair and blooming as European women. H. Timberlake, who visited a portion of their villages (on Great Tennessee River) in 1762, represents them as of a middle stature, straight, well built, with small heads and feet, and of an olive color, though generally painted. They shaved the hair of their heads, and many of the old people had it plucked out by the roots, the scalp lock only remaining. The ears were slit and stretched to an enormous circumference, an operation which caused them incredible pain and was adopted from the Shawano or some other northern nation. The women wore the hair long, even reaching to the knees, but plucked it out from all the other parts of the body, especially the looser part of the sex 6. Polygamy then existed among them. They erected houses extending some times from sixty to seventy feet in length, but rarely over sixteen in width, and covered them with narrow boards. Some of these houses were two stories high, and a hothouse or sudatory stood close to every one of these capacious structures. They also made bark canoes and canoes of poplar 7 or pine, from thirty to forty feet long and about two feet broad, with flat bottoms and sides. Pottery was made by them of red and white clay. 8

The male population was divided into a class of head-men or chiefs, recruited by popular election, the selection being made among the most valorous men and the best orators in their councils; and in two classes of “yeomen”: the “warriors” and the “righting men,” these being inferior to the warriors.

Distinction in reward of exploits was conferred through the honorary titles of Outacity, “man killer,” Kolona, “raven” and “Beloved,” names to which parallels will be found among the Creeks. 9

Seven clans or gentes exist among the Cheroki, and many of them observe to the present day the regulations imposed by the gentile organization. They will not marry into their own gens or phratry, for instance. The totems of these gentes (anatayanwe, gens, clan) were obtained in 1880 from Mr. Richard Wolf, delegate of the people to the United States government, as follows:

  1. Aniweyahiá anatayanwe, wolf gens, the most important of all.
  2. Ane-igilóhi anatayanwe, long hair gens.
  3. Anigodege-’we, the gens to which Mr. Wolf belongs. They can marry into all gentes, except into the long hair clan, because this contains their “aunts” (ä’loki).
  4. Anitsí’skwa, bird gens.
  5. Aniwo-’te, paint gens; (wo-’te,wo’de, clay; aniwo-’ti, paint).
  6. Anigo-ulé, anikulé, acorn gens.
  7. Anisahóne, blue gens.

Besides the fact that gentes Nos. 2 and 3 belong to one phratry, the other phratries and their names were not remembered by the informant. The prefix ani- marks the plural of animate beings.

The list of totemic gentes printed in Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society, p. 164, differs from the above in giving ten gentes, two being extinct, and one or two being perhaps phratries and not gentes:

  1. Wolf, aniwhíya.
  2. Red paint aniwóte.
  3. Long prairie, anigätagani’h.
  4. Deaf (a bird), dsuliniana.
  5. Holly tree, anisdásdi.
  6. Deer, anikáwi’h.
  7. Blue, anisahókni.
  8. Long hair, anikalóhai.
  9. Acorn, anidsúla (extinct).
  10. Bird, anidséskwa (extinct).

The names of several Cheroki towns are mentioned by the historians of de Soto’s expedition, 10 which traversed a portion of their country; by Adair, Timberlake and by Wm. Bartram, who has left a long list of their settlements.

The rare publication: Weston 11, Documents connected with the History of South Carolina, London, 1856, 4to, contains an article by de Brahm, which gives an ethnologic sketch and many other particulars of the Southern Indians, and especially refers to the Cheroki 12. The English-Cheroki war, from February to August 1760, is narrated pp. 208-213.

The tradition that the Cheroki, or rather a portion of them, were found living in caves, is substantiated by the appellation “Cave-dwellers,” given to them by the Northern Indians. The Comanches call them Ebikuita; the Senecas, Uyáda, cave-men; the Wendát, Uwatáyo-rono, from uwatáyo, which in their language means “hole in the ground, cave” the Shawano call them Katowá, plural Katowági; and the Delawares by the same name, Gatohuá 13. This refers to Kitowá, one of their towns previously mentioned. Caves of the old Cheroki country were examined by archaeologists, and some of them showed marks of former occupation, especially caves in Sullivan and Hawkins counties, Tennessee. This reminds us of the Troglodytae and Mandritae of ancient times, of the Cliff-Dwellers on Upper Colorado river, New Mexico, and of other American tribes, which lived in caves. Thus a Shasti tribe, the Weohow, are reported to have received this name from a “stone house” or rock dwelling situated in their country, east of Shasta River and south of the Siskiyou Mountains. 14

Lists of the ancient Cheroki towns will be found in W. Bartram s Travels, p. 371-372 (forty-three), in H. Timberlake 15, and in J. Gerar W. de Brahm, Hist, of the Prov. of Georgia, Wormsloe 1849, fl- P- 54.Citations:

  1. Le Page du Pratz, Hist, de la Louisiane, II, p. 208 sq. (Paris, 1758): ” A l’est des Abé’ikas sont les Chéraquies.”[]
  2. The Mountain Cheroki are centering around Quallatown, Haywood county, N. C., and an United States agent is residing in their country. Their population is about 1600; others live in Northern Georgia. []
  3. H. Hale, “Indian Migrations, as evidenced by language.” American Antiquarian, vol. V, pp. 18-28 and 108-124 (1883).[]
  4. The name Keowe is taken from a narcotic plant used for catching fish, which grew in the vicinity of that village.[]
  5. Lieut. H. Timberlake, Memoirs London, 1765, pp. 70. 71. Urlsperger, Nachricht, I, p. 658, where they are called “Tzerrickey Indianer.” D. Coxe calls them Sulluggees.[]
  6. Lieut. H. Timberlake, Memoirs London, 1765, pp. 49-51[]
  7. The term for poplar, tsíyu, is also the term for canoe and for trough.[]
  8. Lieut. H. Timberlake, Memoirs London, 1765, pp. 59-62[]
  9. Lieut. H. Timberlake, Memoirs London, 1765, pp. 70, 71.[]
  10. AccessGenealogy editors dispute the fact that these were towns in which the Cherokee were residing in at the time of de Soto’s expedition. There is no evidence of the Cherokees being established this far South in the 1500’s.[]
  11. PL Chas. Jennett[]
  12. PL Chas. Jennett, Weston, pp. 218-227[]
  13. Barton, Appendix, p. 8: Gattóchwa[]
  14. Cf. Ind. Affairs Report, 1864, p. 120.[]
  15. His map is also reproduced in Jefferys Topography of N. A., an atlas in fol., 1762[]


Gatschet, Albert S. A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. Pub. D.G. Brinton, Philadelphia, 1884.

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