Ancient Voices

A Museum to honor the least known people in North America, the Original Tribal Women


Cherokee society was organized through seven mother-descent clans. It was through the mother that children gained identity, which afforded them citizenship. Meeting in a seven-sided structure, both men and women participated in the general council. Principal Chiefs were elected, and the Beloved Woman was speaker for the Women's Council. As the number of European settlers increased, many Cherokee inter-married with them, adopting and adapting to European customs, including the disenfranchisement of women. Gradually, the people as a whole turned to an agricultural economy while being pressured to give up traditional homelands.

  Cherokee Cabin

cherokee cabin

Photograph by James Mooney, courtesy National Anthropological Archives.

The Trail of Tears
The Trail where the Women Cried
'Nunna daul Tsuny'

Painting by Robert Lindneux 1942

"The sick and feeble were carried in waggons-about as comfortable for traveling as a New England ox cart with a covering over it--a great many ride on horseback and multitudes go on foot--even aged females, apparently nearly ready to drop into the grave, were traveling with heavy burdens attached to the back--on the sometimes frozen ground, and sometimes muddy streets, with no covering for the feet except what nature had given them."
A Native of Maine Traveling in the Western Country

The painting above shows one southeastern tribe's journey west.  Guarded by soldiers, Cherokee Indians carry their belongings in wagons and on their backs.  During the 1830's more than 10,000 Cherokees were forced to make this long journey.  Their journey is known as "The Trail of Tears."

"When the first lands were sold by Cherokees, in 1721, a part of the tribe bitterly opposed the sale, saying... the whites would never be satisfied, but would soon want a little more, and a little more again, until there would be little left for the Indians. Finding [they could not] prevent the treaty, they determined to leave their old homes forever and go far into the West, beyond the great River, where the white man could never follow them."
Legend of the "Lost Cherokees"
James Mooney, Ethnologist who lived among the Cherokee from 1887 to 1890

By November 12, 1838, groups of 1,000 began the 800 mile overland march to the west. The last party, including Chief Ross, went by water. Now, heavy autumn rains and hundreds of wagons on the muddy route made roads impassable; little grazing and game could be found to supplement government rations. Two-thirds of the ill-equipped Cherokee were trapped between the ice-bound Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during January, 1839.

On March 24, 1839, the last detachments arrived in the west. Some of them had left their homeland on September 20, 1838. No one knows exactly how many died during the journey. Missionary doctor Elizur Butler, who accompanied one of the detachments, estimated that nearly one fifth of the Cherokee population died. The trip was especially hard on infants, children, and the elderly. An unknown number of slaves also died on the Trail of Tears. The U.S. government never paid the $5 million promised to the Cherokees in the Treaty of New Echota.

Oklahoman (April 7, 1929), cited in Ehle, The Trail of Tears, 358.

The Cherokee people have very few stories of what happened during the removal, the older people who endured it wouldn't talk about it because it was too painful. That's very unusual.

Here though I am adding a couple of stories I have found from the survivors of the relocation.

"Long time we travel on way to new land. People feel bad when they leave old nation. Women cry and make sad wails. Children cry and many men cry, and all look sad like when friends die, but they say nothing and just put heads down and keep on go towards West. Many days pass and people die very much. We bury close by Trail."

A full blood survivor of the march remembered that although suffering from a cold, Quatie Ross, the wife of Chief John Ross, gave her only blanket to a child. Mrs. Ross became sick and died of pneumonia at Little Rock.

A traveler who witnessed a passing mother holding her dying child wrote, "She could only carry her dying child in her arms a few miles farther, and then, she must stop in a stranger-land and consign her much loved babe to the cold ground, and that without pomp or ceremony, and pass on with the multitude."

In 1972, Robert K. Thomas, a professor of anthropology from the University of Chicago and an elder in the Cherokee tribe, told the following story to a few friends:

"Let me tell you this. My grandmother was a little girl in Georgia when the soldiers came to her house to take her family away. . . . The soldiers were pushing her family away from their land as fast as they could. She ran back into the house before a soldier could catch her and grabbed her [pet] goose and hid it in her apron. Her parents knew she had the goose and let her keep it. When she had bread, she would dip a little in water and slip it to the goose in her apron. Well, they walked a long time, you know. A long time. Some of my relatives didn't make it. It was a bad winter and it got really cold in Illinois. But my grandmother kept her goose alive. One day they walked down a deep icy gulch and my grandmother could see down below her a long white road. No one wanted to go over the road, but the soldiers made them go, so they headed across. When my grandmother and her parents were in the middle of the road, a great black snake started hissing down the river, roaring toward the Cherokees. The road rose up in front of her in a thunder and came down again, and when it came down all of the people in front of her were gone, including her parents. My grandmother said she didn't remember getting to camp that night, but she was with her aunt and uncle. Out on the white road she had been so terrified, she squeezed her goose hard and suffocated it in her apron, but her aunt and uncle let her keep it until she fell asleep. During the night they took it out of her apron."

Dig Adds to Cherokee "Trail of Tears" History
Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
January 23, 2006

Archaeologists working in the rugged mountains of southwestern North Carolina are adding new details to the story of a tragedy that took place more than 160 years ago.

The scientists are uncovering the remains of farms and homes belonging to the Cherokee Indians before they were forced to abandon their property and move to Oklahoma.

About 16,000 Cherokee and hundreds of other Native Americans were forced out of North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama in the late 1830s. The event came to be known among the Cherokee as the Trail of Tears.

Brett Riggs, an archaeologist with the University of North Carolina's Research Laboratories of Archaeology, is leading the excavations. He said the relocation of the Indians was a form of ethnic cleansing.

"A group of people in possession of sovereign territory with a sovereign government were forced to abandon that land, and were forcibly deported," Riggs said.

"They were detained by the U.S. military, and then moved away from their homes to open the area for settlement by a whole different population. That fits the bill for describing ethnic cleansing as well as anything I can think of."

Everyday Life

Riggs and his crew of UNC archaeologists are working about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Asheville. They're uncovering remnants of the Cherokee's lives before they were rounded up and moved west.

"What we're finding in the ground is the stuff of everyday life—refuse, people's trash," Riggs said. "In terms of documenting the Trail, this confirms that these particular sites were associated with Cherokee families."

The archaeologists have recovered pieces of pottery and china, buttons, glass, cast-iron cook pots, and other artifacts.

"These objects suggest that the lifestyle of the Cherokee on one hand was surprisingly modern and westernized but that they were still very distinctive and native," Riggs said.

Links to various resources on the Trail of Tears

Trail of tears exhibit


Cherokee Heritage Center
P.O. Box 515 Tahlequah, OK 74464    (888) 999-6007

In 1987, the U.S. Congress included about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of the Trail of Tears in the National Park Service's National Trails System.


"New World" Film Revives Extinct Native American Tongue

In Cherokee Country, Reviving a Tree's Deep Roots

America's Lost Colony: Can New Dig Solve Mystery?


Cherokee Trail of Tears

Authors: David Fitzgerald (Photographer), Duane H. King, David G. Fitzgerald (Photographer)
Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
Publication Date: October 2005
Publisher: Graphic Arts Center Pub Co
ISBN-10: 1558689052
ISBN-13: 9781558689053

The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy
Chip Richie, Director (2006, 94 min.)

This two-hour documentary explores America's darkest period: President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma in 1838. Thousands of Cherokees died during the Trail of Tears, nearly a quarter of the Nation. They suffered beyond imagination and when they finally arrived in Indian Territory, they arrived almost without any children and with very few elders, in a way they arrived with no past and no future.

cherokee rose

The Cherokee Rose

No better symbol exists of the pain and suffering of the Trail Where They Cried than the Cherokee Rose . The mothers of the Cherokee grieved so much that the chiefs prayed for a sign to lift the mother's spirits and give them strength to care for their children. From that day forward, a beautiful new flower, a rose, grew wherever a mother's tear fell to the ground. The rose is white, for the mother's tears. It has a gold center, for the gold taken from the Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each stem that represent the seven Cherokee clans that made the journey. To this day, the Cherokee Rose prospers along the route of the "Trail of Tears". The Cherokee Rose is now the official flower of the State of Georgia.

Knowing that their children might not survive the journey during the Trail of Tears in 1838, the mothers grieved and cried in sorrow. One night the elders prayed for a sign that would lift the mother's spirits and give them strength. The next day a beautiful flower, the Cherokee Rose, began to grown where the tears had fallen. To this day, you can see the wild Cherokee rose growing along the route of the Trial of Tears into eastern Oklahoma. The white color of the rose represents the tears that were shed; the gold center symbolizes the gold taken from Cherokee lands; the seven leaves on each stem stand for the seven Cherokee Clans.

Wounded Knee

"There is nothing to conceal or apologize for in the Wounded Knee Battle - beyond the killing of a wounded buck by a hysterical recruit. The firing was begun by the Indians and continued until they stopped - with the one exception noted above."

"That women and children were casualties was unfortunate but unavoidable, and most must have been [killed] from Indian bullets...The Indians at Wounded Knee brought their own destruction as surely as any people ever did. Their attack on the troops was as treacherous as any in the history of Indian warfare, and that they were under a strange religious hallucination is only an explanation not an excuse."

...excerpts from an official investigation of Wounded Knee  initiated at the behest of Congress, written by General E. D. Scott.

General Nelson A. Miles, division chief officer, during the Wounded Knee Massacre had this to say:

"Wholesale massacre occurred and I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee. About two hundred women and children were killed and wounded; women with little children on their backs, and small children powder burned by the men who killed them being so near as to burn the flesh and clothing with the powder of their guns, and nursing babes with five bullet holes through them."

Sand Creek

November 29, 1864

Colorado Territory during the 1850's and 1860's was a place of phenomenal growth spurred by gold and silver rushes. Miners by the tens of thousands had elbowed their way into mineral fields, dislocating and angering the Cheyennes and Arapahos. The Pike's Peak Gold Rush in 1858 brought the the tension to a boiling point. Tribesmen attacked wagon trains, mining camps, and stagecoach lines during the Civil War, when the military garrisons out west were reduced by the war. One white family died within 20 miles of Denver. This outbreak of violence is sometimes referred to as the Cheyenne-Arapaho War or the Colorado War of 1864-65.

Governor John Evans of Colorado Territory sought to open up the Cheyenne and Arapaho hunting grounds to white development. The tribes, however, refused to sell their lands and settle on reservations. Evans decided to call out volunteer militiamen under Colonel John Chivington to quell the mounting violence.

Evans used isolated incidents of violence as a pretext to order troops into the field under the ambitious, Indian-hating  territory military commander Colonel Chivington. Though John Chivington had once belonged to the clergy, his compassion for his fellow man didn't extend to the Indians.

In the spring of 1864, while the Civil War raged in the east, Chivington launched a campaign of violence against the Cheyenne and their allies, his troops attacking any and all Indians and razing their villages. The Cheyennes, joined by neighboring Arapahos, Sioux, Comanches, and Kiowas in both Colorado and Kansas, went on the defensive warpath.

Evans and Chivington reinforced their militia, raising the Third Colorado Calvary of short-term volunteers who referred to themselves as "Hundred Dazers". After a summer of scattered small raids and clashes, white and Indian representatives met at Camp Weld outside of Denver on September 28. No treaties were signed, but the Indians believed that by reporting and camping near army posts, they would be declaring peace and accepting sanctuary.

Black Kettle was a peace-seeking chief of a band of some 600 Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos that followed the buffalo along the Arkansas River of Colorado and Kansas. They reported to Fort Lyon and then camped on Sand Creek about 40 miles north.

Shortly afterward, Chivington led a force of about 700 men into Fort Lyon, and gave the garrison notice of his plans for an attack on the Indian encampment. Although he was informed that Black Kettle has already surrendered, Chivington pressed on with what he considered the perfect opportunity to further the cause for Indian extinction. On the morning of November 29, he led his troops, many of them drinking heavily, to Sand Creek and positioned them, along with their four howitzers, around the Indian village.

Black Kettle ever trusting raised both an American and a white flag of peace over his tepee. In response, Chivington raised his arm for the attack. Chivington wanted a victory, not prisoners, and so men, women and children were hunted down and shot.
With cannons and rifles pounding them, the Indians scattered in panic. Then the crazed soldiers charged and killed anything that moved. A few warriors managed to fight back to allow some of the tribe to escape across the stream, including Black Kettle.

The colonel was as thorough as he was heartless. An interpreter living in the village testified, "They were scalped, their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the head with their rifle butts, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word." By the end of the one-sided battle as many as 200 Indians, more than half women and children, had been killed and mutilated.

While the Sand Creek Massacre outraged easterners, it seemed to please many people in Colorado Territory. Chivington later appeared on a Denver stage where he regaled delighted audiences with his war stories and displayed 100 Indian scalps, including the pubic hairs of women.

Chivington was later denounced in a congressional investigation and forced to resign. When asked at the military inquiry why children had been killed, one of the soldiers quoted Chivington as saying, "Nits make lice." Yet the after-the-fact reprimand of the colonel meant nothing to the Indians.

As word of the massacre spread among them via refugees, Indians of the southern and northern plains stiffened in their resolve to resist white encroachment. An avenging wildfire swept the land and peace returned only after a quarter of a century.


Black Kettle : The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace But Found War


As white settlers poured into the west during the nineteenth century, many famous Indian chiefs fought to stop them, including Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo. But one great Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, understood that the whites could not be stopped. To save his people, he worked unceasingly to establish peace and avoid bloodshed. Yet despite his heroic efforts, the Cheyennes were repeatedly betrayed and would become the victims of two notorious massacres, the second of which cost Black Kettle his life. In this first biography of black Kettle, historian Thom Hatch at last gives us the full story of this illustrious Native American leader, offering an unforgettable portrait of a chief who sought peace but found war.

Finding Sand Creek: History, Archeology, And the 1864 Massacre Site

"At dawn on November 29, 1864, more than seven hundred U.S. volunteer soldiers commanded by Colonel John M. Chivington attacked a village of about 500 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado Territory."

Transport home link
Thanks ©Sparrow for this wonderful feather

Please click on any of the links below to journey around the museum. If you need to get back to the main page at any time just click on Sparrow's feather on any page and you will be transported home.

Exceptional Women Pages

Rest of the site

Ancient Tracks part of the Business

Museum Research & Curator Gloria Hazell
Site created by Dragonfly Dezignz
©August, 2006