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.