The Perspective of a Cherokee Events Timeline
by Christina Berry
When tracing your Cherokee family line it is very important, and interesting, to look at the dates of your family line in context with the dates of major events in Cherokee history. Lining up your family story with these dates can often give you new insight into what your family was doing. Below is a timeline of selected events in Cherokee history.
American Revolution 1776-1783
The Cherokee found themselves forced to choose sides during the American Revolution. The Cherokees, like other Southeastern Woodlands tribes, supported the British. The Cherokee made several raids on frontier forts and settlements. As a result, the Cherokee suffered a number of invasions and attacks from Americans before, during, and after the Revolution.
Battle of Horse Shoe Bend 1814
This was a pivotal battle in the Creek War and a pivotal moment in Cherokee history. In the battle, Chief Junaluska and about 500 Cherokee fought the Red Stick Creek (a faction of the Creek tribe), and the Cherokee fought alongside General Andrew Jackson. During the battle Chief Junaluska killed a Creek warrior who had captured Andrew Jackson. Sixteen years later, in 1830, Andrew Jackson was President and signed the Indian Removal Act which would eventually lead to the removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory. Chief Junaluska (now Chief Tsunulahunski) said at the time that if he'd known then what he knew now he would have made a different decision and perhaps let Jackson be killed by the Creeks. Chief Tsunulahunski lost his wife during the forced removal.
Treaty of New Echota December 29, 1835 and the Old Settlers 1835-1839
In 1830, the US Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The purpose of the Act was to move all Indian people west to Indian Territory. The Act required tribal permission in the form of a treaty between the tribe and the US government before they would be moved west. The vast majority of the Cherokee Nation did not want to move, but a small group of men met in December 1835 to sign the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty was not recognized by the Cherokee Nation and was infact illegal according to tribal law, but unfortunately it was recognize by the United States government. After the Treaty of New Echota was signed, Chief John Ross compiled a petition and attemped to convince the US government not to remove the Cherokee from their lands to no avail. While these Cherokees remained and tried to avoid removal some Cherokees, including the "Treaty Party" who'd signed the treaty, moved west voluntarily to Indian Territory. These Cherokees were known as the Old Settlers and were already residing in Indian Territory when the forced removal, better known as the Trail of Tears, took place. In 1851 a Roll was taken of Old Settlers still living.
Trail of Tears 1838-1839
As a result of the signing of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 the US government began the forced removal of the Cherokee people in 1838. During the next year and a half it is estimated that some 16,000 Cherokees started the journey and about 4,000 were lost along the way. Some Cherokee were able to remain in the East and later formed the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Those who were forcibly removed joined the Old Settlers in Indian Territory where the Cherokee Nation was reunited and reestablished with a new constitution in September 1839.
Dawes Rolls 1896-1907
In 1887, the US congress enacted the Dawes Act. The Act stated that the United States government would provide for the allotment of lands in Indian Reservations. What this really meant was that the once communal lands of the Cherokee Nation would be sub-divided into thousands of small pieces of land, which would be distributed among the Cherokee people. The Dawes Roll was the official roll of the Dawes Act and was open from 1896-1907. In order to receive a parcel of land Cherokees had to sign the rolls. In order to sign the rolls a Cherokee had to have a permanent residence in the Cherokee Nation and have appeared on previous rolls. Those who signed the Dawes Roll provided their names and blood quantum and in return were granted a piece of land in the location they desired. In addition to the "Cherokee by Blood" portion of the Dawes Rolls, there were separate rolls for Cherokee Freedman and Intermarried whites living in the Cherokee Nation. This was the final roll taken of the Cherokee Nation. At the closing of the Dawes roll, the Cherokee Nation was dissolved and former Cherokee Nation citizens became US citizens. This is the roll used for Cherokee Nation tribal membership, if your ancestors were in the Cherokee Nation this is the roll you will need to use to prove your membership qualifications. Learn more about Cherokee Nation enrollment
Oklahoma Statehood 1907
The Dawes Act applied to all tribes living within Indian Territory, and once it was close Indian Territory became part of the new state of Oklahoma in 1907. The Cherokee Nation government was dissolved and all Cherokee Nation citizens because US citizens. All official buildings owned by the Cherokee Nation (including the capital building, supreme court building, prison, and the Female Seminary building) became state-owned buildings. In 1975, the Cherokee was reconsistuted and eventually the Cherokee Nation regained control of most of their historic buildings. The Female Seminary building remains part of the campus of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Baker Rolls 1924
Just like the Dawes Roll of the western Cherokee, this was intended to be the final roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The land was to be allotted and all Eastern Band citizens were to become citizens of the United States. Fortunately the Eastern Band of Cherokee was able to avoid allotment, but the roll still exists and is now the basis for membership in today's Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. If your ancestors lived in North Carolina, this is the roll you will need to use to prove your membership qualifications. Learn more about Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian enrollment
Excerpts from this article appear in the All Things Cherokee Customized Cherokee Rolls Report, which also includes detailed Cherokee enrollment information, as well as a custom surname search of the Cherokee rolls, including the Dawes and Baker Rolls.
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