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Cherokee Language  Gathering and Using Medicinal Herbs in the Cherokee Tradition  
  Traditional Cherokee Wedding Ceremony


The Cherokee Nation, while not a state, was involved in the War Between the States as a foreign ally. While some Cherokee troops were aligned with the Union, some were aligned with the Confederacy. The result was a war between the two Cherokee factions within the Cherokee Nation. Below is a chronology of Cherokee involvement.  

June 23, 1857
United States abandons Fort Gibson as a military outpost; buildings were transferred to the Cherokee Nation. All federal troops were withdrawn from the territory.  

April 15, 1859
Traditional fullblood and mixed-blood Cherokees organized the Keetowah Society; pro-Union members formed the Loyal League and were known as ““Pin Indians.””

 Februray 7, 1861
Jefferson Davis elected President of the Confederate States.

 March, 1861
Elias C. Boudinot, Stand Watie’s nephew, elected Secretary of the Arkansas Secession Convention. Watie organized pro-Southern Secret Society called the “Knights of the Golden Circle” which later became “The Southern Rights Party.” Watie also raised guerilla company of Cherokees to assist the south.  

May 17, 1861
Chief Ross issed neutrality proclamation reminding the tribe of  obligations to the United States.

July 12, 1861
Stand Watie organized ““First Cherokee Mounted Rifles”” regiment for the Confederates near Fort Wayne. He was promoted to Colonel and given command of his twelve companies. Soon after, he departed for Missouri to join Confederate Army.  

August 10, 1861
Union forces defeated at the Battle of Bull Run and Wilson Creek, Missouri. These early confederate victories perhaps influenced Chief Ross’’ decision to join the South. Watie was made a hero for his actions at Wilson Creek.  

August 21, 1861
Chief Ross and the Executive Council called a general assembly of the tribe at Tahlequah. The approximate 4000 men attending the convention voted by acclamation to join the South. Soon after, Ross called up volunteers to form a mounted regiment for the South under command of Colonel John Drew.  

October 7, 1861
Treaty with the South concluded and signed at the Murrell Home at Park Hill.

October 9, 1861
Chief Ross presented treaty to National Council for ratification.  

October 28, 1861
National Council issued declaration of war with the United States.  

November 22, 1861
Brig. General Albert Pike made Confederate commander of all Indian Territory.  

December 9, 1861
Battle of Bird Creek, Confederates routed small troop of Union Creeks. Disillusioned at killing other Indians, Cherokees desert in numbers.  

March 6-8, 1862
Battle of Pea Ridge in Northwest Arkansas. 14,000 Confederate troops led by General Earl Van Doren defeated by Union divisions commanded by General Samuel Curtis. Route of the Southern troop opened way to invasion of Indian Territory by the North. Soon after, the South diverted most of its forces and equipment back to the East of the Mississippi River as war escalated leaving Indian troops to defend the Territory.  Union troops at Fort Scott, Kansas ordered to prepare to encase the Cherokee Nation.  

June 26, 1862
Colonel J.J. Clarkson promoted to command all Confederate troops in the Cherokee Nation.  

July 3, 1862
Union forces, in a surprise attack captured the Confederate commander Colonel J.J. Clarkson and many of his men.  

July 3-7, 1862
Nearly all of Colonel John Drew’’s Cherokee Mounted Rifles regiment surrendered and joined the Union side at Cabin Creek. The second and third Indian Home Guards were organized from the ranks July 5.  

July 15, 1862
Chief Ross and 200 loyal ““Pins”” soldiers and formed Confederate officers guarding his home at Park Hill arrested by Captain Harris S. Greeno of the Sixth Kansas Calvary. Nearly 1,500 men eventually joined the Union side.  Major William T. Campbell occupied Fort Gibson and re-established a Union command post in Indian Territory.  

August 3, 1862
Chief Ross escorted out of the Cherokee Naiton into Kansas along with his family, a few friends, records and the National Treasury. Ross was exiled to his wife’’s family home in Delaware for the duration. Soon after, approximately 2,000 Cherokees sought refuge in their neutral lands in southeast Kansas.  

August 21, 1862
Stand Watie elected Principal Chief by first Confederate Cherokee Convention held at Tahlequah. The final session was held June 1, 1863 near the mouth of Coody Creek in Canadian District.  

August 31, 1862
Confederate Cherokee troops reorganized (due to desertions) forming the First Cherokee Mounted Volunteers. Watie promoted to rank of Colonel. Several months later, Second Regiment Cherokee Mounted Volunteers formed under command of Colonel William Penn Adair.  

October 22, 1862
Battle of Fort Wayne. Confederate troops were defeated and their artillery captured.  

December 7, 1862
Battle of Prairie Grove in northwest Arkansas. Confederates defeated by Union army in a sweeping invasion into Indian Territory.  

December 27, 1862
Fort Davis, the Confederate Command Post located across the river from Fort Gibson, burned by Union Army and Indian troops. Confederates retreated south to Honey Springs.  

February 20, 1863
Loyal Ross Cherokees revoked treaty with the South and pledged loyalty to the Union at emergency session of the National Council at Cow Skin Prairie; also, removed Confederates from office, emancipated slaves and reaffirmed Ross as Principal Chief.   

April 8, 1863 3,150
Union troops (Kansas Calvary, Indian Home Guards and artillery) occupied Fort Gibson at the start of a campaign to clear the area of Confederate resistance.  

May 20, 1863
Watie’’s men, reduced to making guerilla raids without the support of Confederate army regulars, made a raid on Fort Gibson and captured mules and most of the Union’’s horses.  

July 17, 1863
Battle of Honey Springs in Creek Nation. Watie’’s men and Confederate Indians defeated in battle that was the turning point in the territorial war.   

October 28, 1863
Stand Watie and his men burned the Cherokee Capital buildings at Tahlequah.  

October 29, 1863
Watie burned Chief Ross’’ home at Park Hill and committed many other acts of vengeance and destruction.  

May 10, 1864
Stand Watie promoted to Brigadier General.  

June 15, 1864
Brig. General Watie captured the steamboat ““J.J. Williams”” on the Arkansas River which was headed for Fort Gibson loaded with supples.  

September 19, 1864
At Cabin Creek, Brig. General Watie and General Richard M. Ganoe captured a huge military supply train of 300 wagons (valued at over one million dollars) headed for Fort Gibson. The extra food, clothing and supplies allowed his men to continue raids.  

April 9, 1865
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox ending fighting in the east.  

May 10, 1865
Confederate President Jefferson Davis captured.  

May 31, 1865
Union Cherokee troops mustered out of military service.  

June 23, 1865
Brig. General Stand Watie surrendered and signed treaty of peace at Doaksville. He was to last Confederate General to lay down arms.  

July 13, 1865
Cherokee National Council called into session by Lewis Downing.  

September 1, 1865
Chief John Ross returned to the Cherokee Nation, arriving by boat at Fort Gibson.  

September 8, 1865
Cherokee delegates and representatives of eleven tribes in Indian Territory met federal agents at Fort Smith to negotiate terms of a new peace treaty. Commission refused to recognize Ross as Principle Chief.

September 16, 1865
Tentative peace treaty signed by Cherokees at Fort Gibson. Final terms were to be finalized in Washington.  

November 7, 1865
Chief Ross and seven delegates empowered by the National Council to go to Washington to finalize terms of the permanent reconstruction treaty.  

July 19. 1866
Terms of reconstruction treaty agreed upon and signed by Cherokee delegation. It was ratified by Congress July 27, and further proclaimed by August 11, 1866.  

 August 1, 1866
Chief John Ross died in Washington.  

November 28, 1866
Cherokee Constitution amended by the National Council to comply with the terms of the new treaty.   

 The Cherokee Language               

The Cherokee language is spoke by approximately 10,000 people in the Cherokee Nation, as well as speakers in the homelands (of the Eastern Band of Cherokee).  The western and eastern dialects are different in many ways, although extremely similar. Here is the Cherokee Nation, which consists of a 14 county area in northeastern Oklahoma, there are many different dialects as well as slang words.

Although many people write Cherokee using the English alphabet using phonetics, in the early 1800’s, Sequoyah Guess invented a syllabary for writing Cherokee.  The syllabary consists of 84 characters which represent the 84 different syllables used in speaking the language.  Within days, Sequoyah taught his daughter to read and write her native language, and within months, hundreds of Cherokees were able to write and read their own language.

Language is very important to preserving a culture – many words which are descriptive of cultural mannerisms, feelings, events, and ceremonies are only identifiable in the native tongue. There is no comparable word in the English language.  All prayers and other ceremonies used at Stomp Dances and by Medicine people are in the Cherokee language, as well.

When reading a Cherokee word written phonetically, remember these pronunciations:

A ( as in ‘father’)
E (an ‘a’ sound, as in ‘way’)
I (an ‘e’ sound, as in ‘bee’)
O (as in ‘oh’)
U (as in ‘ooh’)
V (sounds like ‘uh’)
Ts makes a ‘j’ sound

Beginning Cherokee Words

Greetings and courtesies:

Hello              O si yo
How are you?    To hi tsu?
Fine              O s da
And you?         Ni hi na
Okay              Ho wa
Thank you         Wa do
Yes              vv ii
No              Thla
I don’t know         Thla ya gwan ta     

 Gathering and Using Medicinal Herbs in the Cherokee Tradition

The Cherokee have been gifted by the Creator with an understanding of the gathering, use and preservation of medicinal herbs.  The Cherokee believe that these plants were put on this earth to provide not only healing methods, but preventative measures, as well.
Many plants have disappeared throughout the years, or have become extremely scarce.  Because of this, we recommend extreme care in gathering wild herbs and other plants.  The old ones taught that when you gather, only pick or dig every third plant you find. This will ensure that enough specimens remain to continue propagation. Many traditionalists carry on the practice of asking the plant’s permission to be gathered, and leave a small gift of thanks.  This can be a small bead or other such item.  It is also recommended by Cherokee traditionalists that should you find a wild crop of useful herbs, do not share it’s location unless it is to a person very close to you.  This will ensure that large numbers of people do not clean out an entire wild crop in a short time.

Additional information regarding the gathering, usage and application of medicinal herbs can be found by talking to the elders of a Cherokee family.  Many of these people will still recall some of the home remedies that their families used, as well as provide information on herbs which they themselves use.
Please remember that these plants are very valuable as medicines because of the great chemical powers they contain. At the same time, these chemicals can be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong way.  Cherokee herbalists have great experience, and have gone through extensive training and observation.  Novice herbal practitioners are advised to seek out and develop a close relationship with Cherokee herbalists or their elders to learn how to use these medicines properly.  

 Traditional Cherokee Wedding Ceremony

The Cherokee wedding ceremony is a very beautiful event. The original ceremony differed from clan to clan and community to community but basically used the same ritual elements.

Because clanship is martrilineal in the Cherokee society, it is forbidden to marry within one's own clan- Because the woman holds the family clan, she is represented at the ceremony by both her mother (or clan mother) and oldest brother. The brother stands with her as his vow to take the responsibility of teaching the children in spiritual and religious matters, as that is the traditional role of the 'uncle' (e-du-ji). The groom is accompanied by his mother.

After the sacred spot for the ceremony has been blessed for seven consecutive days, it is time for the ceremony. The bride and groom approach the sacred fire, and are blessed by the priest and/or priestess. All participants of the wedding, including guests we also blessed. Songs are sung in Cherokee, and those conducting the ceremony bless the couple. Both the Bride and Groom are covered in a blue blanket. At the right point of the ceremony, the Priest or priestess removes each blue blanket, and covers the couple together with one white blanket, indicating the beginning of their new fife together.

Instead of exchanging rings, in the old times the couple exchanged food. The groom brought ham of venison, or some other meat, to indicate his intention to provide for the household. The bride provided corn, or bean bread to symbolize her willingness to cart for and provide nourishment for her household. This is interesting when noting that when a baby is born, the traditional question is, "Is it a bow, or a sifter?" Even at birth, the male is associated with hunting and providing, and the female with nourishing and giving fife. The gifts of meat and corn also honor the fact that traditionally, Cherokee men hunted for the household, while women tended the farms. It also reflects the roles of Kanati (first man) and Selu (first woman).

The couple drink together from a Cherokee Wedding Vase. The vessel holds one drink, but has two openings for the couple to drink from at the same time. Following the ceremony, the town, con-unity or clans provide a wedding feast, and the dancing and celebrating can go on all night.

Today, some Cherokee traditionalists still observe these wedding rituals. Them are also many variations on the ceremony. Dress is usually in a Cherokee Tea Dress and Ribbon Shirt.

Cherokee Nation has a marriage law, and Cherokee couples are allowed to many under this law instead of the State marriage laws. This is because Cherokee Nation is a sovereign government The couple is not required to obtain a license; however, the person(s) conducting the ceremony must be licensed by the Cherokee Nation in order to do so. After the religious leader contacts the Cherokee Nation District Court, the court clerk will prepare a certificate. This paper shows that the couple were indeed married in a ceremony by a religious or spiritual leader licensed to do so. The certificate is returned to the District Court after all parties have signed it, and filed in the official records.

Info provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center   Cultural information may vary from clan to clan, location to location, family to family, and from differing opinions and experiences. Information provided here are not 'etched in stone'.