The best place to learn about Cherokee culture and history is Cherokee, North Carolina. There you will find the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
See the right column for some of the highlights of the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
Here are some of the highlights of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian:
The first part of the museum explains the various eras of Native American history (the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian). We learn about the characteristics of each era and about changes brought on by development of tools, pottery, the atlatl, the emergence of corn as a crop, stickball, etc.
Here’s an example of something explained in this part of the museum: Gorgets are large, decorated ornaments that may worn around the neck, especially in Cherokee ceremonial dress.
At the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, it is explained that the decoration of some gorgets is linked to traditional Cherokee stories. There is a famous Cherokee story called “The First Fire” about how a water spider brought fire to people after all the other animals failed. Because of this, many gorgets feature a water spider.
The arrival of European settlers was a turning point in Cherokee history. The museum talks about several aspects of this, including the introduction of metal tools, deerskin trade, the increasing importance of guns, and the rivalry with other Native American tribes.
Many of the items on display at this museum are priceless artifacts, such as the guns shown in the display on the right.
After the French and Indian War, King George III of Great Britain issued the Proclamation of 1763, which was meant to prohibit settlers from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains. About that time, three Cherokee chiefs actually traveled to London and met with the king.
At first the Cherokee nation thought this proclamation would be enforced, but it wasn’t. This whole series of events is retold at the museum.
Then came the Revolutionary War, and the Cherokee nation sided with the British in that war. In the 1790s, President George Washington announced a policy under which Native American tribes would be, in his words, “civilized.” The idea, Washington said, was for members of tribes such as the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw would adopt American ways and become farmers, tradesmen, slaveholders, the policy went, and thus “assimiliate” into American culture.
It was in this phase of Cherokee history that Sequoyah created the Cherokee syllabary, and most of the Cherokee nation became literate.
However, in spite of Sequoyah’s efforts; in spite of the fact that most member of the Cherokee tribe did “assimilate” to American culture, the American government continued to purchase Native American land, sometimes through unethical methods. By 1820 the Cherokee nation only had a small fraction of the land it had held just a generation earlier, and it in 1830 came the Indian Removal Act.
By the way, these stories are told at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian Museum, but they are also told at other places featured on other Tennessee History for Kids virtual tours — including Red Clay, New Echota (Ga), and the tour “In Search of” Henry Timberlake. And click here to read about the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Monroe County.
As the murals depict, the journey begins in the fall and ends up in the winter, when the Cherokee who were forced to migrate west arrive in Oklahoma.
After you have toured the museum, we strongly recommend that you proceed to the Oconaluftee Indian Village, not far away.