Most of the famed Indian leaders gained their celebrity through
warfare, but there were those whose peaceful pursuits were
responsible for their greatness. Such a man was Sequoyah, a Cherokee
for whom the world's largest tree was named.
He was born in the Cherokee settlement of Taskigi, Tennessee, before
1770, the son of an American trader named George Guess and a
mixed-blood Cherokee woman who was the daughter of a chief. He was
raised in the tribe and knew nothing of English or of the arts and
sciences of non-Indian origin. In his young manhood he was a hunter
and trapper, dealing in furs. In his spare time he did silver work
of great beauty and proved to have great mechanical skills.
A hunting accident crippled Sequoyah for life, and, unable to follow
his usual trade, he continued to develop his inventive talents.
Recognizing the importance of writing and printing as important
elements in the building of civilizations, he became inspired with
the idea that an Indian alphabet which would permit his people to
adopt a written language would advance the Indian to a higher
destiny. In 1809 he began working out a Cherokee system of writing.
His fellow tribesmen considered him a fool and gave him no
encouragement. Despite the ridicule that was heaped upon him,
Sequoyah continued his efforts until, in 1821, he presented his
syllabary to the chiefs of the Cherokee nation.
The tribal leaders approved Sequoyah's plan, and within a few months
thousands of Cherokees, young and old, were reading and writing in
their own language. About a year later, Sequoyah went to Arkansas
and introduced his system to the Western Cherokees. So great was his
popularity there that he left Georgia and made his home in Arkansas.
A Cherokee adaptation of the Bible was printed in 1824 and in 1828 a
weekly newspaper in Cherokee and English. The Cherokee Phoenix began
publication under the auspices of missionary groups. Sequoyah became
an important voice in the political affairs of the Arkansas
In 1828 he was sent to Washington as an envoy of his adopted tribe.
Later, when the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee joined
together in the Indian Territory, he was an important source of
counsel and his influence with the U.S. Government was relied upon
to protect Cherokee interests.
Eventually, Sequoyah retired from political activities and continued
his ethnic researches. He traveled to various parts of the united
States to study the speech of other tribes, hoping to find the key
to building a language which would unite the American Indians.
Failing in this, he began tracing the history of his own people. A
legend persisted that a Cherokee band broke away from the main tribe
and migrated across the Mississippi prior to the American
Revolution. In an attempt to trace this lost tribe, Sequoyah
traveled into the Western Sierras. He died while on his fruitless
quest near San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico, in August, 1843.
The introduction of a Cherokee language was a great importance to
the advancement of the tribe during the 1800s. Today this native
language has virtually been forgotten except among scholars, the
Indians of today have adopted English as a universal tongue.
Missionaries, who used Sequoyah's language as an aid to their work
among the Indians, eventually relinquished the practice and the
teaching of English on the reservations supplanted the need for a
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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925