Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cherokee-Centers of Government (Eastern)

     The first recorded site of government was associated with the Overhill band of Cherokee Indians in Eastern Tennessee. They located their unofficial capital in what is now Monroe County, Tennessee. The Historic town of Tanasi was located on Cherokee,the Little Tennessee River in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Near this site another settlement was established which was called Chote, Chota, or Echota. It is not known how the town received this name but is speculated that it was originally established by the Muskogee people and was later occupied by the Cherokee. Chota is the Hitchiti-Creek and Muskogee-Creek word for “Frog.”

      From the late 1740’s to 1788 Chota was the center of government of the Cherokee. The town began to be endangered as the developing government of the United States expanded their territory at the expense of the Indians. With the development of hostilities between Native Americans and the European Settlers, a systematic destruction of Indian settlements was under way. In 1776 the Cherokee towns of Great Tellico, Citico, Misloguo, Chithowoes, and Toqua were destroyed by Colonel William Christian but he spared Chota. John Seiver later returned and destroyed most of the “Overhill” towns including Chota. Following this the Cherokee Capital was relocated to Ustanali which is near present day Calhoun, Georgia. Both sites of the ancient towns of Tanasi and Chota (Echota) are now submerged by the Tellico Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River. The Chota Townhouse site was raised above the operating water level and was connected to the mainland via causeway. Chota does not appear in the historical records until 1745 but Tanasi is mentioned much earlier than that.

     Beginning in 1788, Ustanali, on the Coosawattee River, served as the seat of the Cherokee people. Little Turkey had been elected chief of the Cherokee and he abandoned Chota and moved to Ustanali. In 1823, a site nearby would be chosen by Major Ridge, who was then the chief of the Cherokee, to be the permanent location of their new Capital. Located at the confluence of the Coosawatte and Oosanaula Rivers, near Town Creek, was a Cherokee town called Gansagiyi (Gansagi). This location was chosen to be the site of the new capital. The name was changed to "New Echota.”

     Major Ridge had chosen a prime piece of property on which to build the new capital town. Hoping to establish a permanent seat of government, Major Ridge and Charles Hicks envisioned a modern, thriving town for their people. They had farms only four miles away and the site were in the middle of the lands claimed by the Cherokee. There could be no dispute at that time regarding the ownership of the land.
     At a council meeting in 1825, Major Ridge suggested plans for the new capital. One of the ways that he devised to secure approval was to make the recommendation that its name be Echota as that was the name of the ancient capital which had been located on the Little Tennessee River; suggesting that this one should be called “New Echota.”

     John Ross was elected Principal Chief at a convention in New Echota in 1827. A Republican system of government was established at that time. The plot of land on which the town was to rise was said to be as level and smooth as the floor of a house. The town was sectioned off with a two acre central square, a sixty foot wide main street, which was surrounded by one hundred-one acre lots, laid out in city style, to be sold for house places. Water was available from a large spring which was located near the center of town.

     Work was started on buildings which would be required to house the government and commercial businesses that were needed. There were also framed dwelling houses constructed. A two story council house was built to conduct the operations of the tribe. Also built was a courthouse for the Supreme Court, a printing shop in which the newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, was printed, stores and shops needed by the community.

     Business was conducted by the tribal leaders in this setting for only a short time but their presence in the Eastern United States was waning. By 1835 the removal of the Cherokee nation from their ancestral lands had begun and Georgia ordered that they abandon the location, seized their printing press, and proceeded in earnest to rid the territory of all Native Americans. Being forced from Georgia, the Cherokee leaders conducted their affairs briefly from Red Clay, Tennessee, but three years later (1838) the Trail of Tears would be in full march to Oklahoma. The government of the Cherokee would then be conducted by the Western Band of the tribe.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Cherokee Phoenix

    In the spring of 1828 the Cherokee established a press and began publishing their own newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix. They were the only Native Americans in the new world who had their own press and published their own newspaper. It was written in English and also in the Cherokee language, using the new syllabry which was developed by Sequoyah. The name was chosen because the Phoenix, the legendary bird of Egyptian mythology that arose from the ashes to live again, had become the symbol of Cherokee resistance. Elias Boudinot proposed the name stating that the Cherokee must rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of the past.
     The Cherokee had begun to build a new capital in Georgia which they named “New Echota”. It was decided that a printing press was desirable so they could print a newspaper as well as religious material and other material. In addition to the newspaper, a portion of the Bible, the laws passed by the Cherokee Council, political pamphlets, a hymnbook and other documents were translated into the Cherokee language and printed on the new press.
     At New Echota, a twenty by thirty building, with doors at both ends for easy access, was constructed to house the one thousand pounds press. Elias Boudinot was chosen to be the editor. He would be assisted by a Congregational minister, Samuel Worcester. Boudinot, a prominent Cherokee at the time, was well educated and capable of filling this position. The paper was to be a weekly publication with both English and Cherokee editions made available. It was widely distributed with weekly editions being sent to significant cities of that time such as Washington, London, Philadelphia and Boston. This afforded Boudinot, in his editorials, to make weekly reports and carry his message to those he wanted to reach outside the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.
     The advance English language price for the newspaper was $2.50 annually. $2.00 would buy a year subscription of the Cherokee language edition if paid in advance, or $2.50 if paid within the year.
For his efforts, Elias Boudinot was paid $300.00 annually. John Foster Wheeler, a printer from Tennessee was hired to operate the press. The council agreed to pay him $400.00 a year, which did not set well with Boudinot who was making $100.00 less. Wheeler justified this extra amount because he insisted that an assistant would be required to help him whose salary he would be required to pay. He selected Isaac Harris to assist him in operating the press.
     The first issue of The Cherokee Phoenix was printed on February 21, 1828. This accomplishment was not achieved without some difficulty. After installing the press in the printing shop, Boudinot, Wheeler and Harris met to conduct the first test on it. Wheeler was a Christian who watched his words, but Harris seemed to entertain himself by uttering profanities. Harris first attempted to set a few words in the Cherokee language but passed the task on to printer Wheeler after uttering a barrage of oaths regarding his failed efforts. After the type was set, Harris next made the inquiry to Boudinot; “where is the goddamned paper?” There was no paper! In the excitement of the arrival of the press, the paper needed for printing had been forgotten. Harris had to make a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to purchase the required paper.
     The size of the edition was four superroyal pages with five columns on each. Samuel Worchester, being a Congregational missionary and an unpaid assistant of Boudinot, took advantage of the printing press and newspaper to convey his religious message to the readers. A significant amount of religious material, printed in both Cherokee and English, was included in the weekly publications. In the first edition, the Lords Prayer was printed in both languages. Also in this first edition, Boudinot wrote an editorial critical of the white mans appetite for the Cherokee’s land. He vowed “not to intermeddle with the policies of our neighbors,” and, quoting Proverbs 15:1, he wrote that they had “been taught to believe that a soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” The first edition also contained part of the new Cherokee constitution which had been adopted by the ruling council.
     In 1835 the Cherokee had been ordered to vacate the land on which their Capital city, New Echota, was built. The removal to Oklahoma was in progress and thus the printing press of The Cherokee Phoenix was silenced. In 1838, the long march of the trail of tears would be underway.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Cherokee Colors

     White and red were the most significant colors to the ancient Cherokees. Because they lived in an alternating state of war and peace, they devised a dual organization of tribal government. This consisted of a white, or a peace organization and a red, or war organization. These organizations were found at both the national and local levels. They each had two head chiefs, the white chiefs governing during peace time and red chiefs during wars.
     In the white organization the tribal officials were required to be fifty years old or older. The red organization was composed of officials who where young warriors and capable of going into battle. Leaders of the white organization were the priest and their assistants. The National organization as well as the larger towns required a priest, their assistants and seven counselors. Their duties were to administer civil laws and invoking the blessings from the celestial bodies and spirits. Colors were also significant as to the direction from which the spirits were summoned by the priest. The duties of those in the white organization were many and were vital for the daily activities of the tribe.
     The function of the red organization was exclusively military. Their leaders were the war chiefs but they were subservient to the Great High Priest of the white organization who could make, or unmake, the war chief, otherwise they had duplicate duties and rankings.
     To the Cherokee, white denoted peace and happiness. They used white stone pipes to ratify peace treaty. White was the significant color seen during their ceremonies, dance and sports. The color indicated that all was well and times were good.
     Red was not only the symbol of war but of success. When the Cherokee warrior went into battle with the enemy he carried a red war club and a red shield to protect himself. When there was a warning that the enemy was approaching, but yet some distance away, one of the local chiefs would send a massager to the Great High Priest announcing the news. The massager carried a twist of sacred tobacco that was painted red. After the Great War Chief and his officers consider the news, the tobacco would either be smoked or returned by the massager who delivered it. The tobacco would be smoked only if they perceived that there was a threat to their safety. In the event that the tobacco was smoked, the massager then spread the news of a possible approaching battle. The leaders, their assistants and counselors then met and made plans for war. The red war standard was then hoisted in front of the National Heptagon and the red officers painted themselves and their weapons with red paint.
     Black was the symbol of death to the Cherokee, while blue was emblematic of unhappiness, failure, disappointment and unfilled desires. Brown was associated with the animal world and yellow was the symbol of unrest, instability and apprehension. When the priest or medicine men wanted to bring down calamities but not destroy a victim, they would call upon the yellow spirits to intervene in the matter.
     As mentioned earlier, the colors white, black, blue and red were each associated with a particular point on the compass. The blue spirits lived in the North, the white spirits lived in the South, the red spirits lived in the East and the black spirits always lived in the West. No direction was associated with the brown and yellow spirits.

Cherokee Marriage

     Perhaps the most stringent of all of the laws of the Cherokee was the one that prohibited marriage within the same clan. Members of the same clan were considered near relatives and therefore the requirement that the man and woman be from different clans. In ancient times this violation resulted in the death penalty which was enforced by members of the offended clan. In the early 19th century this penalty was eased and replaced by a public whipping. This penalty was later entirely eliminated.
     A young woman was not eligible to marry until after she had gone through her first menstrual period. When this occurred, the young woman was separated from the rest of her family for seven days. No one could touch her during this time and se was restricted from handling her own food, depending upon another woman to feed her. During this time she was considered to be unclean. After the seven days were over she washed herself, her clothing and anything else she had handled while she was considered to be unclean. She was then returned to her family and was then eligible to marry.
Not only did the various Indian tribes have different approaches to marriages but so did those within the same tribe. Should we be studying the tribe of Creek Indians, for example, we would learn that a man who could afford it was permitted to have multiple wives. The Creek considered it of great value to having several wives or concubines; but only the wealthy had the means to support more than one wife. The Cherokee, however, accepted marriage as a contract for life and if either spouse left the other, the one who was in fault was publicly humiliated. Normally, for punishment, a man was whipped by a tribal leader and the wife had her hair cropped by the women of the town.
     There were several ways in which a Cherokee could enter into a marriage relationship. Different circumstances dictated the way that a couple could be married; dependent upon the region and customs of the time.
     Sometimes a young man would fall in love with a young girl but because of her age she was not permitted to marry as she had not begun he menstrual cycle. He could inform her parents that he wanted to marry her but the decision was left to them to allow the union. If they agreed, the young man could keep her supplied in venison and her parents would not allow her to marry another person. After the purification ritual during her first menstruation period, the marriage ceremony could then take place.
     A marriage could also be purchased by the suitor of a young maiden. If the parents approved of the union, the girl could not refuse the marriage. The parents and the suitor would enter into a contract in which the man would agree to assist the parents for a specified amount of time. His varied duties could be the making of canoes, hunting, or other chores. He also present them with presents of items which he possessed, including jewelry and articles of clothing.
     Sometimes a marriage could be finalized merely by having a female relative make the request to the young woman’s mother. If the mother approved, the marriage could be consummated merely by their sharing the bed together. This was a simple way to began a marriage relationship.
     Some marriage ceremonies, however, involved a more elaborate style. One method required the activities to begin the evening before the wedding. The groom and his male companions gathered on one side of the council house and staged a feast while the bride and her female friends were on the opposite side doing the same thing. When the time arrived for the wedding rites to begin, the entire town gathered in the town council house for the ceremony. Males and female remained separated; with the men on one side and the women on the other.
     After a signal was given, the groom entered, escorted by a priest, and took his assigned place at one end of the open space in the center of the council house. The bride then entered, escorted by another priest, and took her place at the opposite end. The grooms mother supplied him with a leg of venison and a blanket while the bride received from her mother an ear of corn and a blanket.
     The couple then met near the sacred fire at the center of the council house where they exchanged the venison and corn, and joined their blankets together. This was symbolic of cooperating and sharing the mutual responsibilities of the man and woman as they formed another Cherokee family. When the ceremony was completed, they separated and walked alone, silently, to the dwelling of the brides mother or within the mother’s clan area. The mariage could then be consummated by their sharing a bed.