Sequoyah and the Invention of the Cherokee Alphabet

By April R. Summitt | Go to book overview

ONE
Growing up Cherokee

Throughout American history, the idea or image of the Indian has captured the imagination. Many American children grow up playing “Cowboys and Indians” in some form or another, arguing with each other about who will be the Indian. Beginning with the advent of film in the early 20th century and exaggerated with the coming of television in the late 1950s, the idea of being part Indian became popular and romantic, a way someone could claim a connection to a people viewed as wild and uncivilized, yet noble and more authentic. Among the most commonly recognized tribes are the Sioux (who called themselves Lakota) and the Cherokee. When someone talks about the possibility that he or she is part Indian, it is almost always Cherokee. While most people saw a mental image of large feathered headdresses and teepees, the Eastern Cherokee who did not live in teepees were the ideal of a mostly civilized native tribe who had adopted some Anglo American ways (Kilpatrick 1999; Wood 2008).

What was it really like to be Cherokee? By the time Sequoyah was born, the Cherokee people were already in the process of losing much of their land and independence as a nation. Many of the young Cherokee had learned or were studying English at mission schools and gaining access to 19th-century, non-Indian culture. The Cherokee old ways were still practiced but less and less by the majority of the people. Stories told by elders to the young was the primary means of transmitting Cherokee culture, but no one made records of these stories. What would happen when all the old ones died if the younger Cherokee did not learn the stories or the language? Perhaps a collection of stories does not seem very important, but in fact they are the record of the Cherokee past and the blueprint or map they used to understand the world and their place in it. What it meant to be a Cherokee was mostly understood through the stories and place names of where they happened. Cherokee culture was the place where they lived, the

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Sequoyah and the Invention of the Cherokee Alphabet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chronology xiii
  • One - Growing Up Cherokee 1
  • Two - Sequoyah and the "Talking Leaves" 21
  • Three - The Cherokee Nation after Sequoyah 41
  • Four - Reading and Writing Cherokee 59
  • Five - Sequoyah, Real and Imagined 73
  • Short Biographies of Key Figures 87
  • Primary Documents 95
  • Glossary 139
  • Annotated Bibliography 147
  • Index 157
  • About the Author 165
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