Cherokee, North American Indians of Iroquoian lineage who constituted one of the largest politically integrated tribes at the time of European colonization of the Americas. Their name is derived from a Creek word meaning “people of different speech”; many prefer to be known as Keetoowah or Tsalagi. They are believed to have numbered some 22,500 individuals in 1650, and they controlled approximately 40,000 square miles (100,000 square km) of the Appalachian Mountains in parts of present-day Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and the western parts of what are now North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Cherokee possessed a variety of stone implements, including knives, axes, and chisels. They wove baskets, made pottery, and cultivated corn (maize), beans, and squash. Deer, bear, and elk furnished meat and clothing. Cherokee dwellings were bark-roofed windowless log cabins, with one door and a smoke hole in the roof. A typical Cherokee town had between 30 and 60 such houses and a council house, where general meetings were held and a sacred fire burned. An important religious observance was the Busk, or Green Corn, festival, a firstfruits and new-fires celebration.
The main body had finally reached its new home in what is now northeastern Oklahoma after the eviction and forced march, which came to be known as the Trail of Tears. New controversies began with the settlers already there, especially other Native Americans—notably the Osage and the Cherokee group that had immigrated there after the Treaty of 1817.
In Oklahoma the Cherokee joined four other tribes—the Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole (see also Black Seminole)—all of which had been forcibly removed from the Southeast by the U.S. government in the 1830s.
At the time of removal in 1838, a few hundred individuals escaped to the mountains and furnished the nucleus for the several thousand Cherokee who were living in western North Carolina in the 21st century. Early 21st-century population estimates indicated more than 730,000 individuals of Cherokee descent living across the United States. Pic: Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina. Image credit: Boston Public Library