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Sequoyah

Native American Nations | Indian Warriors
 

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 Cherokees.

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 native alphabet.

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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

Indian Warriors

 

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