Sequoyah was born in the 1770s in the Cherokee village of Tuskegee on the Tennessee River. His name Sikwo-yi is Cherokee for “pig’s foot,” which leads many to believed that he was crippled. Sequoyah was a mixed-blood Cherokee. His mother, Wureth, was a member of the Paint Clan. His father, Nathaniel Gist, was a Virginia fur trader. Sequoyah was sometimes known by his English name George Gist or Guess.
In 1809 while working as a silversmith in Georgia, Sequoyah learned how to sign his name on his work. This was where Sequoyah first had the idea for a Cherokee writing system. While serving in the US army during the Creek War (1813-1814) the idea blossomed. He noticed that the American soldiers were writing letters home, writing and reading orders, and recording the events of the war as they happened. Sequoyah realized that a written language could be very beneficial to the Cherokee. He worked for many years developing the characters. Each of the 85 characters Sequoyah created stand for a syllable in the Cherokee language. In 1821 the Cherokee Nation reviewed and adopted the syllabary. The syllabary is remarkably complete and no additions have ever needed to be made.
The Cherokee syllabary is the only alphabet developed by a single person. In 1828 using the new syllabary, the Cherokee established the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by American Indians. The paper was published in both Cherokee and English. After the Cherokee Nation adopted the syllabary it was only a matter of months before thousands of Cherokees were literate, able to read and write Cherokee. Sequoyah was celebrated as a genius and honored by the Cherokee Nation.
In 1822, Sequoyah was living in the Arkansas territory with the other Old Settler Cherokee. In 1829, he and several thousand other Cherokee were moved to Indian Territory where Sequoyah built this cabin near present-day Sallisaw, Oklahoma. The cabin still stands, and is preserved within a stone building on its original site. Sequoyah spent many years here before venturing to Mexico, where he died around 1844.
Photos Copyright Christina Berry, All Things Cherokee
Sequoyah’s Cabin Travel Details
Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, and $3 for students and seniors.
Directions: Sequoyah’s Cabin is just northeast of Sallisaw, Oklahoma on highway 101. For specific directions, click the “Directions” link in the location bubble of the map above and enter your starting location on the left.
GPS & Map: 35.5137842234445,-94.65545654296875