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Southeastern Native American Tribes (Special Collections): Cherokees

This research guide identifies Special Collections materials related to Cherokee, Chocktaw, Creek, Seminole, and Chickasaw Native Americans from 1782 to 2011.


Prior to the arrival of European colonists in the Southeastern United States, the Cherokee people lived throughout the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains. The Cherokee traded with European settlers and fought as their allies in several wars, but their homeland was gradually reduced until President Andrew Jackson began refusing to enforce laws prohibiting encroachment on Cherokee land in 1828. Congress subsequently passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In order to prevent a devastating war, Cherokee leader John Ross chose to fight for his people’s rights in United States’ court system. Although the Cherokee Nation won both cases they brought before the Supreme Court, Jackson refused to honor the rulings and began the Cherokees’ removal to Oklahoma, commonly known as the Trail of Tears. In Eastern Oklahoma they settled with another group of Cherokee who had been removed from Texas. The two groups fought bitterly until coming to terms and forming the Cherokee Nation in 1846. In 1887, the Cherokee lost approximately 2/3 of their remaining land with the passage of the General Allotment (Dawes) Act. Today, most Cherokee still live in Oklahoma, although there are a few Cherokee population centers remaining in the Southeast.

Digital Resources


Cherokee Indian Fair Photographs, 1930 (MS.2518)
This collection contains five photographs from the Cherokee Indian Fair of 1930. Four of them are of the ball players and their ball game and one is of a "blow gun practice."

 Men playing Cherokee ball game
Men playing Cherokee ball game

John Ross Letters, 1834-1856 (MS.1006)
One letter authorizes employing James McClung to defend the Cherokee Nation against any suits, and another reports that he has accepted. MS.1042 has the letter that actually offers the position to McClung.

Norbert F. Riedl Collection, 1965-1975 (MS.0954)
Box 2, folder 1 of this collection includes a Cherokee recipe book.

Penelope Allen Collection, 1801-1984 (MS.2033)
This collection consists of documents related to the Cherokee Agency, including agent Return Jonathan Meigs and Cherokee Chiefs James Vann, Path Killer, and John Ross.

James Sevier Letter, 1839 (MS.1565)
Sevier discusses his and his father's service in several campaigns against the Cherokee and briefly recounts conflicts between Native Americans and whites in the decade following the American Revolutionary War.

Rare Books

The Brainerd Journal: A Mission to the Cherokees, 1817-1823. 1998 (E99.C5 B748 1998)
Cherokee and Earlier Remains on Upper Tennessee River. 1922 (E78.T3 H25)
Compiled Laws of the Cherokee Nation. 1881 (E99.C5 C453)
A Dictionary of the Cherokee Indian Language. ca. 1971 (PM783.A4)
John Rattling-Gourd of Big Cove: A Collection of Cherokee Indian Legends. 1955 (E99.C5 B38)
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. 1992 (E99.C5 C69 1992 Suppl.)

Special Collections and University Archives

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Special Collections
121 Hodges Library
1015 Volunteer Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37996

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