Monday, September 19, 2011

George Gist-Silversmith

George Gist--Silversmith
In my soon to be published book-Mysteries of the Cherokee Hideaway: The Garden of Eve, George Gist developed the Cherokee alphabet which will play a role within the Warrior Mountains people hiding from government folks. The people were secretly obtaining old Cherokee Phoenix Newspapers to find out what was happening to their nation prior to the removal of the tribe.

Born in Tennessee around 1760, George Gist, Jr. would become an important figure as the country developed. He made such a significant contribution to his people that his statue represents Oklahoma in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. In 1828 he went to Washington D.C. as a representative of the American Indian Tribes.

A silversmith by trade, he wanted to be able to sign his pieces of jewelry that he was making. He went to Charles Hicks, a Cherokee half-breed, who was a farmer and a translator of English to the illiterate Indians. They spoke only their own language and had no written language of their own. George Gist asked Charles Hicks to write his name on a piece of paper so that he could be able to put his signature on his works. Chief Hicks inquired as to whether he wanted to use his Indian or English name on the pieces of jewelry. Undecided, he wrote both “George Gist” and “Sequoyah.”

Today almost everyone is familiar with his Indian name “Sequoyah.” While young, he had a difficult time as his father, Colonel George Gist, deserted his family. Sequoyah was an excellent craftsman and became very skilled in his work as a silversmith. It would not be the jewelry, however, for which he would be remembered. He spoke no English but he would invent a syllabary for writing his native language-Cherokee. In 1809 he began to invent symbols to represent words. In 1819 he proved before a group of Cherokee elders that one who could speak the Cherokee language could learn to read and write that language by using his syllabary of 85 characters.

This achievement was not without difficulties, especially for his family. When he decided to develop his system of writing, he poured all of his energy into the effort. His farm went to waste, his family went hungry and his friends considered him to be wasting away his life at his family’s expense. He was told that he was making a fool of himself and that he was no longer respected. His behavior became so aberrant in accordance to Cherokee standards that he was tried for witchcraft. Later, when he completed his syllabary and taught his six year old daughter to read it, some thought that they were using witchcraft to allow her to reveal the secret messages had been spoken and which Sequoyah had written on paper for her to read.

Nothing deterred Sequoyah from his goal to create a written language for his people. He built a house near his wife and family and secluded himself inside while he did his work. He admitted his shortcomings and sympathized with the burden he was placing on his family but he was compelled by his own sense of duty to complete the task that he had started. His wife had every right to complain as he was failing to provide them with the essentials needed to maintain a suitable lifestyle. She pointed out to him that the children were going hungry and that they were being laughed at by children whose parents acted in a more responsible way. Sequoyah’s wife and her brothers decided that he might be insane, to which he responded that he would admit that he was in sort of a trance, but nevertheless he would do his work-regardless.

After developing a set to his satisfaction, Sequoyah chose his six year old daughter to be his student. He taught her the symbols and sounds of his newly developed syllabary. Using her, the friends who had considered him to be wasting his time and making a fool out of himself were astonished that she could correctly translate a secret sentence that he had written, using strange marks on paper which they had provided. While the sentence had been quoted, she had been sent outside with another person who could assure that she had not been able to hear it when spoken. Sequoyah would write the sentence down and she would come in and read it as it had been spoken. This “trick” led many of them to suspect witchcraft and many, both men and women, would flee from his presence.
Thus began the education of the Cherokee people in their own written language. After teaching his daughter how to read and write, he began to teach other children, including his nephew. When a brother of Chief John Watts heard about this strange development he went to see it done. He was so impressed by the accomplishments of the children that he inquired of Sequoyah if he could write down anything. Sequoyah assured him that if it was spoken in the Cherokee language that he could write it so as to be read. With this assurance, it was requested that Sequoyah write down speeches and history of the Cherokee so that they could be accurately preserved.

Sequoyah died in Mexico in 1843 while searching for some lost Cherokee. At his death, he was no longer considered a fool who had wasted his life but a wise man who did what few have ever done-developed a system of writing for an unwritten language. He was truly a remarkable man who made a valuable contribution to his people.

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Cherokee People

Cherokee People
I have completed the first novel of a trilogy, Mysteries of the Cherokee Hideaway; The Garden of Eve. The book is about our local Indian people who hid in the Warrior Mountains in order to avoid the harsh consequences of the forced Indian removal era in our American history. My book is now with the publisher and should be in print shortly. Below you can find a very brief synopsis of the struggles Cherokee people faced after the arrival of white settlers into their ancestral lands. These difficulties faced by our native people will be included within the mysteries found in my soon to be published book. Stay tuned to this blog for more details.

An accurate history of the Cherokee people has been difficult to document. Much of this record was lost before historians could record it. Many who attempted to preserve it often lamented that much of that history before 1700 was buried with those who created it. With the arrival of Europeans to their territory, the Cherokee made an amazingly rapid transformation in their ancient culture and rituals. With this change, some of the traditions, rituals, and customs vanished as the tribe sought to blend into the strange world of the newcomers.

There were a number of sympathizers who attempted to recreate and preserve this history by living with and associating with the members of the Cherokee Nation. There were several notable individuals who interviewed many of the elderly tribal members. They recorded their findings and left us with what little we know about the ancient tribe.

John Howard Payne probably spent more time intermingling with the tribe and recording his findings. He left extensive, handwritten manuscripts of his efforts to preserve as much of their history as possible. Unfortunately, according to some who reviewed his work, he had very poor handwriting and it is difficult to read his script. There are fourteen volumes of these manuscripts.

James Mooney was another person who made an important contribution to this effort. He made friends of an old Cherokee man who had the name of Swimmer. Even though Swimmer did not know English, he was knowledgeable in the Cherokee alphabet and could write the language. He not only recited oral traditions but also provided a notebook in which he had written, in the Cherokee language, many of the sacred formulas of the tribe. As a result of Mooney’s relationship with the Cherokee, he was able to ascertain that they held constant, long standing systems of beliefs which they held sacred.

William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., James Adair, Charles Hudson, Thomas E Mayes, and others also made valuable contributions by make diligent studies of Native Americans and authoring books that contain valuable accounts of their findings. A constant theme of their writings was their failure to learn more about the subject of which they wrote.

The exact time of the arrival of the Cherokee into what is now the Southeastern United States is unknown. Sometime between 1000 and 1500, probably around 1300 AD, a group of people who would be know as Cherokee made the southern move. They laid claim to land and settled in Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama. They built their homes and villages along waterways and near springs where they carried on their ancient way of life. There was an abundant food supply and favorable environment where they lived, raised their families and buried their dead without foreign interference. There were occasional conflicts between tribes but they lived in relative peace until the arrival of the white man.

Likewise, the exact number of Cherokees cannot be determined, but there were a substantial number of Cherokees here when the Europeans arrived. As with other Native Americans that were here, their numbers were greatly reduced due to diseases that were introduced by the Europeans of which they had no resistance.  Around 1800 the struggles of the Southeastern Indian tribes grew steadily more difficult. The Cherokee, in a peaceful manner, unlike some other tribes, attempted to develop a stable government in their traditional territorial boundaries which would be acceptable to the expanding state of the union. They were soon to realize, however, that all of their efforts to maintain control of their homeland would be in vain.

In 1819 the Cherokee Indians had twelve million acres of land. Fast forward twenty years and there would be only a small area in Western North Carolina on which they could lay claim. The bulk of Cherokee land would be taken from them by the government of the United States and the States in which they lived. They were forced to move to newly established Indian Territory in Oklahoma and their land was divided into parcels and sold to white settlers; no Cherokee need to apply-they had already been tossed out and not welcomed in those parts. The majority of the full blood Cherokee opposed the removal but was forced to make the long journey to the west of the Mississippi River. Many died on the march which is now know as “The Trail of Tears.”

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