HAD PROFOUND IMPACT ON EDUCATING, IMPROVING CHEROKEE NATION
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Equipped with a weapon
such as the Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle pioneer Americans pushed back
the frontier. The Great Smoky Mountains gradually submitted to the prying
and settling of the white man. The fertile valleys were settled; the
concealed coves were occupied. The Cherokee Indian tribe who remained
in the East suffered many changes. As their Nation decreased in size
to cover only portions of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee,
the pressure of growing white settlements began to infringe on the old
ways. Settlers intermarried with Indians. Characteristics of the Nation's
civilization gradually grew to resemble that of the surrounding states.
In 1821, a single individual gave to his
Nation an enlightening advance as significant as the advent of school.
A Cherokee named Sequoyah, known among white men as George Gist (son
of Nathaniel Gist, a white frontiersman of great respect), had long
been interested in the "talking leaves" of the white man.
After years of thought, study and hard work, he devised an 86-character
Sequoyah was born about 1760 near old
Fort Loudon, Tennessee. He had neither attended school nor learned English.
By 1818, he had moved to Willstown in what is now eastern Alabama and
had the white mans' will and interest in the ability to read and write.
He determined to give his own people the same advantage.
The first painstaking process he tried
was attaching a mark to each Cherokee word. These marks soon increased.
As he sensed the ineffectiveness of this one-for-one relationship, he
examined English letters in an old newspaper. His own mind categorized
symbols of this sort with basic sounds of the Cherokee tongue. After
months of work, he sorted out and assigned them symbols, based on a
large event, upon the ones he had seen in the newspaper. When he introduced
his invention to his fellow Cherokees, it was as if he had opened a
floodgate. Within the space of a few weeks, elders and children alike
began to read and write. The change was astonishing.
After the remarkable invention of the
new tongue dialogue, Sequoyah vaulted himself into a position of great
respect inside the Cherokee Nation. One of the many fascinated visitors
described the great Sequoyah in the greatest detail and noted that he
wore "a turban of roses and posies upon a white ground girding
his venerable grey hairs, a long dark blue robe, bordered along the
lower edge of the cuffs, with black; a blue and white minutely checked
calico tunic under it, confined with an Indian beaded belt, which sustained
a large wooden handled knife, in a rough leathern sheath; the tunic
open on the breast of its collar apart, with a twist handkerchief flung
around his neck and gathered within the bosom of the tunic. He wore
plain buckskin leggings; and one of a deeper chocolate hue than the
"His moccasins were unornamented
buckskin. He had a long dusky bag of white sumac with him, and a long
Indian pipe, and smoked incessantly, replenishing his pipe from his
bag. His air was altogether what we picture to ourselves of an old Greek
philosopher. He talked and gesticulated very gracefully; his voice alternately
swelling, and then sinking to a whisper, and his ever firing up and
then its wild flashes subsiding into a gentle and most benignant smile."
Sequoyah moved west to Arkansas in the
1820's. His mission was to find a legendary lost band of Cherokees located
somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. He initiated several attempts to discover
the group, but age caught up with him. He died alone in northern Mexico
in the summer of 1843. He had brought his Nation a long way. His name
would be immortalized in the great redwood tree of the Far West, the
giant Sequoyah. And in a sense his spirit lived on in the first Cherokee
newspaper - "The Cherokee Phoenix" -, which was established
in 1828 at New Echota, with Elias Boudinot as its editor and Samuel
Worchester as its business manager.
The Cherokees made remarkable changes
in government. In 1808, they adopted a written legal code; a dozen years
later, they divided the Nation into judicial districts and designated
judges. The first Supreme Court of the Cherokees was established in
1822, and by 1827, the Nation had drawn up an American Based Constitution.
The president of the constitutional convention was a 37 year old leader
named John Ross. A year later, he began a 40 year term as principal
chief of his people.