When European settlers first arrived in North America the Cherokee occupied most of the Southeastern United States The Cherokee homeland included what we now call Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, and North and South Carolina. They spoke Iroquoian, and they called themselves, “Aniyunwiya,” which means “real people.” The name Cherokee was probably given to them by their neighbors the Creek Indians. In Iroquoian the word means, “people who speak differently.”
The Cherokee were master hunters. Primarily, they used the bow and arrow. The Cherokee utilized deer calls and disguised themselves in deerskin whenever they hunted. They also hunted smaller game, like raccoons, squirrel, rabbits, and turkeys with blow guns made from hollowed out stems. The Cherokee grew corn, beans, squash, sun flowers, and tobacco.
In 1540, Hernando de Soto became the first European to encounter the Cherokee. The Cherokee sided with the British in the French and Indian Wars that lasted from 1689 to 1763. However, they would eventually turn on the British after the murder of 12 Cherokees in a dispute over wild horses. The war that resulted from this episode would last for two years. Then, after Chief Oconostota and his warriors captured Fort Loudon, the British burned Cherokee crops and villages. The starving Cherokee had no other choice but to sign a treaty. They agreed to give up large regions of land for new white settlements. Then in 1827, the Cherokee founded the Cherokee Nation, which was a republican form of government. They elected a chief, a senate, and a house of representatives.
Gold discovered near Dahlonega, Georgia, moved white officials to call for the removal of Native Americans. As a result, in 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act forcing the Cherokee to be relocated to an Indian Reservation west of the Mississippi River This was approximately 800 miles away. The Cherokee were force by the state of Georgia to sell their land and possessions. They were given little time, and almost everything was sold to white speculators for next to nothing. Before long, soldiers began rounding up the Indians and forcing them into internment camps. Many died from the unsanitary conditions at the camps. The first forced relocation occurred in 1838, and the Cherokee suffered terribly under the intense heat. The second relocation occurred during the following winter, and progress was very slow. The wagons continually got bogged down in the mud. The entire time the Cherokees had a whip to their backs. The soldiers drove them at such an inhumane pace that they didn't even let them pause bury their dead. In all, almost 4,000 Cherokee people died, or about 25 percent of their total population. Then when they did arrive in the new Indian Territory they found little food. To make things worse the camps were unsanitary, and they were constantly introduced to European disease epidemics.
Then in 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act. This new law divided up the Indian reservations and allotted it to the heads of households who were then allowed to sell the individual parcels of land. Over the next year the Indians sold over 2 million acres at very low prices to white settlers.