Three Great Resources for Visual Images of Our Cherokee Ancestors
by Martha Berry

Ever wondered what your Cherokee ancestors looked like, or how they dressed? Ever wondered what their ancestors looked like and how they dressed? Well, if so, you are certainly not alone. Through my web site, I receive at least one request every week to suggest resources for visual images of pre-1840 Cherokees, the clothing they wore and the design motifs used on their clothing and accessories.

I should begin by saying that I am neither a scholar nor a historian. I am a Cherokee artist. I often refer to visual images of Cherokees and their ancestors that were drawn or painted prior to the Indian Removal (Trail of Tears), which occurred in the 1830s. If you have ever researched this subject, you know that such images are not all that easy to find.

When the ATC webmaster, whom I have known for a very, very long time, asked me to submit a book review, the first thing that popped to mind were my standard three resources for pre-1840s Cherokee and Southeastern Woodlands Native American visual images. And here they are ...

Sun Circles and Human Hands : The Southeastern Indians Art and Industries
by Emma Lila Fundaburk (Editor), Mary Douglass Fundaburk Foreman (Editor), Vernon James Knight, Jr.

This book just absolutely makes my fingers tingle when I thumb through it. It is pages and pages of photographs and drawings of pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) artifacts that have been found in what is now the southeastern United States.

These are artifacts of the Mississippian people, who lived in highly developed cultural centers along the waterways of this region. These cultural centers, or cities, featured great earthen mounds that can still be seen today. Often, the term Mound Builders is substituted for Mississippian. These folks are assumed to be the ancestors of the Cherokees and other Southeastern Woodlands Native Americans.

The significance of this book is that we are now beginning to understand that many of the designs used on post-Columbian Cherokee and Southeastern Woodlands beadwork and clothing (created between 1650 and 1840) evolved directly from these old objects. These motifs are a direct, physical, link with our very ancient ancestors.

Southeastern Indians Life Portraits: A Catalogue of Pictures 1564-1935
by Emma Lila Fundaburk (Editor)

This book is a wonderful collection of drawings, paintings and one photograph (c. 1858) of Native Americans in what has become the southeastern United States. As the title implies, the earliest image is from 1564, the latest from1860. It is wonderful to move through this book and observe the changes in our ancestor's appearance that occurred as a result of the ever-increasing European influences, in which they were awash.

This book is also an important tool to help you develop a perception of the interpretations that European painters and historians added to the actual appearance of these folks. Even with this European artistic influence, this is a great source for pre-Removal, and a few post-Removal, images.

American Indians of the Southeast (Men-at-Arms)
by Michael Johnson and Richard Hook (Illustrator)

This relatively obscure little book is my very, very favorite. Not only does it contain many drawings and photographs of artifacts, but also a nice, brief history of the Southeastern people. For those of you who want to see images and learn history, but are not prepared to spend months doing research, this is the book for you.

In addition to the text, drawn and painted images of the time period, photos of artifacts, and maps, there are eight full-color plates depicting Southeastern people. The earliest depiction is from 500 B.C. These full-color drawings show our ancestors wearing quite accurate clothing and accessories. Some of the clothing and accessory items depicted are actual artifacts which I recognize from my research.

I have to say, the first time I thumbed through this little book, I got a thrill, seeing these beautiful beaded pieces shown being worn. It was a refreshing change from seeing them lying old and still and lifeless in the draws of museums.

So, there you have it: three great Cherokee and Southeastern Woodlands Native American image resources that will give you a place to start. Enjoy!


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Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook
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Plants of the Cherokee
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