Thursday, December 26, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 7: The Cherokee Princess

Have you been told or have you heard from someone that they are the descendant of a Cherokee princess?  Did you know that there were no Cherokee or Indian princesses?  The simple reason is that there were no Cherokee kings or Cherokee royalty.

A number of years ago I made the trip to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation to research my family.  All I knew at that time was that my great, great grandmother had said she was full-blood Cherokee and her brother had petitioned under the Dawes Act to get the family recognized but had been rejected.  I wanted to know why the family had been rejected and to learn the truth.

I went to the Heritage Center and asked to speak with the resident genealogist.  A young man came out, took one look at me and began lecturing me on the fallacy of Cherokee princesses.  I didn’t say anything to prompt the lecture.  In fact, I had never heard of a Cherokee princess and knew enough about the Cherokee culture to know that there were no kings, queens, or princesses.  That concept comes from Europe.

But, apparently, he had run into this enough that it was a real sore spot with him.  Then I noticed later that he gave a speech on the subject at a conference.  So, perhaps he was practicing on me, I don’t know.

I still have never heard anyone claim that their ancestor was a Cherokee princess, but I do see it mentioned often in the literature and on blogs.  It is quite clear that anyone who makes this statement in the Native American community is going to get laughed out of town.

Here’s the truth.  Cherokee villages selected their leadership often by election.  Usually selection was based upon the merits of the person—something they had done to earn the respect of the community.  Positions of leadership included a Peace Chief, a War Chief, the Uku, clan elders, clan priests, and Beloved Women.   If, in your research, you discover that your ancestor held one of these positions, that IS something you can be proud of and mention with pride.
Little Miss Cherokee

So, where does this “princess” idea come from?  There are many theories.  Kimberly Powell, in her article “The Cherokee Princess Myth”, wrote: “During the 20th century it was common for Cherokee men to use an endearing term to refer to their wives that roughly translated as “princess”.  Many people believe this is how the princess and Cherokee were joined in the popular ancestry myth.”

Quoting from the Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center website, “Many people have the impression that the Cherokee historically had princesses.? In fact, there has never been a title of princess in the Cherokee culture. By definition of the word, there is the possibility that a Chief’s daughter may have been thought of as a princess by other visiting cultures, much like a King’s daughter would have been called.”

Christina Berry, in her internet article for “All Things Cherokee” wrote, “Another possibility is that families living in an intolerant white American culture wanted to emphasize the "civilized" side of their Indian heritage, using the term as a way to Anglicize their Indian heritage. Another possibility is that "princess" was used as a term of endearment for a beloved grandmother, but used out of context generations later.”

I think that the Pocahontas myth probably has been influential in promoting the “Indian Princess” myth.   In 1806, J. N. Baker produced the play "The Indian Princess or La Belle Sauvage" based on the Pocahontus legend from John Smith. 
And in 1841, William Watson Waldron of Trinity College in Ireland published “Pocahontas, American Princess: and Other Poems,” calling Pocahontas "the beloved and only surviving daughter of the king." 

And, then there is Princess Winona, who is the central Native American character in a “Lover’s Leap” romantic legend set at Maiden rock, Wisconsin Winona leaps to her death from Maiden Rock rather than marry a suitor she does not love.

Also adding legitimacy to the myth is Lake Trahlyta perportedly  named for Princess Trahlyta of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.

So, there are many possibilities why some people today may believe they have descended from a Cherokee Princess, unfortunately, however, they have just been misled somehow.
-- Courtney Miller
Author of "The First Raven Mocker"
Book One of the Cherokee Chronicles

Available at bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 6: Cherokee Freedmen

It will surprise many to know that slavery has always been a part of the Cherokee culture.  Long before Europeans came over, anyone captured in war was enslaved at least temporarily.  Sometimes the Blessed Women would have them sent home or released.  Sometimes the slaves were adopted into the tribe.  But for many, they were tied up outside the house with the dogs and forced to perform menial work for the family.
Rounding up runaway Cherokee slaves

After the colonies were established, these slaves were sometimes traded for food and goods.  Then the English began capturing Native Americans for the English plantations in the Caribbean.  Between 1670 and 1715 it is estimated that between 24,000 and 51,000 were sold in the British Slave markets.

At this point, Cherokee also purchased slaves including African slaves.   From the 1700’s through the mid 1800’s the Cherokee and the other “Civilized Tribes” purchased African slaves to help on their plantations.  By 1835, 7% of Cherokee families owned slaves.  When the Cherokee and the other Civilized Tribes were forced to relocate to Oklahoma, slaves accompanied their Native American owners on the Trail of Tears.
Cherokee Confederate Reunion 1903

In the American Civil War, the Five Civilized Tribes aligned with the Confederacy.  But, after his capture and parole, the Cherokee Chief John Ross sided with the Union and rejected the Confederate Treaty.  This led to a split amongst the Cherokee and two governments were formed.  The pro-Union government passed two emancipation acts in February, 1863 that established all slaves as “Freedmen.”

After the Civil War, the two factions continued and each tried to negotiate with the United States.   The Pro-Union faction was ultimately selected to represent all of the Cherokee and signed a reconstruction treaty that granted Cherokee citizenship to the Freedmen and their descendants.  The other Civilized tribes also signed treaties and only the Choctaw refused to include Freedmen as citizens of their tribe.

The Cherokee constitution was revised later that year to give Freedmen the option to return to Oklahoma and become Cherokee citizens or to leave and become United States citizens.   Differences of opinion continued to complicate the role of the Freedmen for the years following, including whether the Freedmen shared in Cherokee assets and property rights.

In 1887, the U. S. Congress passed the “Dawes Act” to promote the “assimilation of Native Americans by extinguishing tribal government.”  As a part of the act, the “Dawes Commission” required registration of the American Indians of each tribe in the Indian Territory under the categories: Indians by blood, intermarried whites, and Freedmen.  Even though some Freedmen had Cherokee parents or Cherokee blood, the commissioners usually listed them on the Freedman’s role.

In 1970, the former Five Civilized Tribes’ right to vote for tribal leaders was restored by Congress in the “Principal Chiefs Act.”  Freedmen participated in the election.   A new constitution was drafted in 1975 and it defined citizens as those proven by reference to the final Dawes Commission rolls. 

In 1983, Principal Chief Ross O. Swimmer issued an executive order stating that Cherokee citizens must have a “Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood” in order to vote.  The CDIB cards were issued based upon the Dawes Roles for “Indians by blood” category only.  This blocked Freedmen from voting.

On March 7, 2006, the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal ruled in favor of Lucy Allen, a Freedmen descendant, that acts barring Freedmen descendants from tribal membership were unconstitutional giving back citizenship to Freedmen descendants.
Chad "Corntassel" Smith

But later that year, Principal Chief Chad “Corntassel” Smith called for a constitutional convention to amend the constitution to deny citizenship to the Cherokee Freedmen descendants.  The Tribal Council voted 13-2 in favor of the amendment and it went before the citizens for ratification.  In spite of appeals by the Freedmen descendants, the amendment passed once again denying citizenship to Freedmen descendants.  In 2011, after numerous court battles, Cherokee District Court ruled the 2007 amendment void by law because it conflicted with the Treaty of 1866 that guaranteed Freedmen rights as citizens, but this ruling was reversed by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court.

And on it goes.   As of today, the Freedmen descendants are not recognized as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.  There are, of course, continuing lawsuits pending.
-- Courtney Miller

Author of "The First Raven Mocker"
Book One of the Cherokee Chronicles

Available at bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 5: Noble Savage

The Noble Savage
In an introduction to the book “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan”, Victor Wolfgang von Hagen wrote, “The acceptance of an indigenous ‘civilization’ demanded of an American living in 1836 a complete reorientation; to him an ‘Indian’ was one of those barbaric, half-naked tipi dwellers, a rude sub-human people who hunted with animal stealth.”

Benjamin Franklin deplored the use of the term "savages" for Native Americans: “Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs”.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens had quite another opinion, “To come to the point at once, I beg to say that I have not the least belief in the Noble Savage.  I consider him a prodigious nuisance and an enormous superstition. ... I don't care what he calls me. I call him a savage, and I call a savage a something highly desirable to be civilized off the face of the earth....”

“The term noble savage (French, bon sauvage) is a literary stock character that expresses the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or "other" who has not been "corrupted" by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity's innate goodness.  It first appeared in a 17th century play by John Dryden." [wikipedia]

This “noble or good savage” idea has hung around and was adopted by Hollywood as the stereotypical American Indian. 

So, what is a “savage?”  Well, Mr. Webster (Merriam Webster Dictionary) has a couple of definitions that relate to culture: 1 lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings, and 2 lacking complex or advanced culture, uncivilized.
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Ok, well, in the first definition, a lot depends upon what  “normal” is.  Certainly, to the Europeans, the American Indian was far from normal.  In the second definition, the key word is “uncivilized”.  So, what does it take to be classified as civilized?  For that, I will turn to Jacob Bronowski.

Jacob Bronowski was a Polish-Jewish British mathematician, biologist, historian of science, author, poet, and inventor.  He was definitely a brilliant man, but I know him for his fantastic book and BBC TV documentary “The Ascent of Man” which aired in 1973.  There are so many wonderful quotes from his books but I will try to limit myself to a few.  For instance he pointed out that, “Every animal leaves traces of what it was; man alone leaves traces of what he created.”

So what did this wise man have to say about civilization?  “It took at least two million years for man to change from the little dark creature with the stone in his hand, Australopithicus in Central Africa, to the modern form, Homo Sapiens.  … But it has taken much less than twenty thousand years for Homo sapiens to become the creatures that you and I aspire to be … .  That is the pace of cultural evolution … .  Twenty thousand years ago man in all parts of the world that he had reached was a forager and a hunter, whose most advanced technique was to attach himself to a moving herd … .  By ten thousand years ago that had changed, and he had begun in some places to domesticate some animals and to cultivate some plants; and that is the change from which civilization took off. … It is usually called the ‘agricultural revolution’.”

Many scholars believe that we have gone through two more revolutions since then—the “industrial revolution” and the “technology revolution”.   Having been born and raised on a farm, I tend to find the other two stages just revolting.

If we take Bronowski’s definition, we would have to classify the Cherokee as civilized.  Long before their encounter with the arrogant Europeans, the Cherokee had made that leap from “forager and hunter” and adopted and adapted to the agricultural way of life.  They built permanent houses, had a sophisticated form of government and military, farmed, educated their children, followed a holistic form of healthcare and religion.

Again from Bronowski, “With that there comes an equally powerful social revolution.  Because now it became possible—more than that, it became necessary—for man to settle.  I believe that civilization rests on that decision.”

From the beginning, though, the Cherokee and the other eastern tribes were not recognized as civilized.  George Washington considered the Native American equal as a person, but inferior as a society.  He developed a plan or policy to encourage the “civilizing” process.  Historian Robert Remini wrote, “they presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans.”

Government Agents were appointed to teach, through example and instruction, the Native Americans how to “live like whites”.  And although the southeastern tribes, including the Cherokee, adopted Washington’s policy and established schools, adopted yeoman farming practices, converted to Christianity, built homes like their colonial neighbors, developed their own alphabet and wrote their own constitution, it was not enough.

Henry Knox wrote to George Washington, “How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America – This opinion is probably more convenient than just.”
Andrew Jackson
Directed removal of Cherokee

Despite being recognized as one of the “five civilized tribes”, in 1836, under the direction of President Andrew Jackson, the Cherokee were forced to leave their native lands and relocate to Oklahoma.  The harsh conditions of the move resulted in the death of an estimated 4,000 Cherokee and came to be known as “The Trail of Tears.”

-- Courtney Miller

Author of "The First Raven Mocker"
Book One of the Cherokee Chronicles

Available at bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 4: The Term Squaw

I don’t remember when I first heard it, but I suspect it was in the 1990’s.  I do know that I hear it often now when I meet someone and they learn that I write Native American Antiquity or Native American historical fiction.  They are often proud to share with me that the word “squaw” is offensive to Native Americans because it refers to a woman’s private parts—specifically the vagina.

Until recently, I never bothered to research it and halfway believed it myself.  It turns out that it actually has an interesting etymology.  If you look it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is the only dictionary that my high school English teacher would accept, it says:

[of Algonquin origin: akin to Natick squaas woman] 
1 an American Indian woman 2 woman, wife – usu. used disparagingly.

In the mobile app version:

1 often offensive: an American Indian woman
2 usually disparaging: woman, wife
Origin: Massachusetts squa, ussqua woman
First use: 1634
I think that these definitions, in a way, support the notion that "squaw" may mean more than just woman or wife which might lead one to jump to the conclusion that the rumor is true.  But, what is the truth?  The following is quoting Marge Bruchac, an Abenaki woman:
Algonquin village, 1600
“Squaw is NOT an English word.  It IS a phoenetic rendering of an Algonkian word that does NOT translate to “a woman’s private parts”.  The word “squaw” – as “esqua,” “squa,” skwa,” “skwe” and other variants—traditionally means the totality of being female, not just the female anatomy.  The word has been interpreted by modern activists as a slanderous assault against Native American women.  But traditional Algonkian speakers, in both Indian and English, still say words like “nidobaskwa”=a female friend, “manigebeskwa”=woman of the woods, or “Squaw Sachem”=female chief.  When Abenaki people sing the Birth Song, they address “nuncksquassis”=”little woman baby.”

The earliest use of the word was in the early 1600’s, some say specifically 1621, when English settlers in the state of Massachusetts adopted the Indian word “squa” from their Massachusett-speaking neighbors .  It simply meant “female or younger woman”. 

In 1973, the book “Literature of the American Indian”, by Thomas E. Sanders and Walter W. Peek, stated, without offering evidence, the theory that “squaw” derived from the Mohawk word “ojiskwa” meaning “vagina”.   The English settlers in Massachusetts would not have made contact with the Mohawk at that time, but the notion caught on and was widely circulated in the activist community.
Suzan Harjo on Oprah 1992

The controversy increased when Oprah Winfrey invited the Native American activist Suzan Harjo onto her show in 1992. Harjo said on the show, "The word squaw is an Algonquin [sic] Indian word meaning vagina, and that'll give you an idea of what the French and British fur trappers were calling all Indian women, and I hope no one ever uses that term again."

After her appearance, organized efforts began to remove the word “squaw” from place names.  This campaign continues today with mixed success.

Ives Goddard, the curator and senior linguist at the Smithsonian Institution, writes:

“I have no doubt that some speakers of Mohawk sincerely believe that it is from their word oj√≠skwa 'vagina' (though I know that other Mohawks laugh at the whole idea), but the resemblance (if there is one) is entirely accidental. "Vagina" was not a meaning that was ever known to the original users of the word, and although it appears in a college anthology published in 1973 (Random House, 2000), it was not widely known before Suzan Harjo's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992.

“It is as certain as any historical fact can be that the word squaw that the English settlers in
Massachusetts used for 'Indian woman' in the early 1600s was adopted by them from the word squa that their Massachusett-speaking neighbors used in their own language to mean 'female, younger woman,' and not from Mohawk ojiskwa', 'vagina,' which has the wrong shape [sound], the wrong meaning, and was used by people with whom they then had no contact. The resemblance that might be perceived between squaw and the last syllable of the Mohawk word is coincidental."

It is true that over time some white’s used the term in a disparaging  fashion.  But the insult was more in the disrespectful way they said it, not as an obscene insult.  So, go ahead and use the word “squaw” if you want to, just be careful of your tone.
Book One of the Cherokee Chronicles
available in book stores, Barnes & Nobles, and

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 3: Squaw Ten Paces Behind

I don’t remember where I first heard it, but growing up it seemed to be just common knowledge that American Indian “Squaws” followed their husbands a respectful ten paces behind.  Today, I doubt that this was a practice by any Native American culture.  But, there is no question, that in the Cherokee culture, women were not subservient to men.

The Cherokee were a matriarchal society.  The woman was the head of the household and the children were born into her clan.   My father’s last name is Miller and my mother’s maiden  name is McDaniel.  So, my last name is Miller.  But, had we been living in a Cherokee system when I was born, my last name would be McDaniel and I would’ve been taught the ways of the McDaniel clan by my mother’s uncles.

The Cherokee had seven clans and each clan usually had a woman, called Ghigau, or Blessed Woman.  The Ghigau were women who had earned the respect of their clan and represented their clan in Council meetings and were in on decisions.  The Beloved women were also responsible for deciding the fate of prisoners.
Nanyehi, Cherokee Ghigau

Women could be chiefs, Uku’s, priests, virtually any position men could have and women often fought in wars beside the men.  About 1751, a young girl named Nanyehi married the Cherokee "Tsu-la".  In the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks , Nanyehi  lay behind a log in order to chew his bullets so that the resulting jagged edges might create more damage.  When Tsu-la was killed, Nanyehi  picked up his rifle and continued the fight leading her people to victory.
In 1776, after the Cherokee attacked Fort Watauga, Nanyehi used her power as a Ghigau to spare the life of captured Lydia Russell Bean.  Mrs. Bean taught Nanyehi a new loom weaving technique that revolutionized Cherokee garments and dairy farming. 

Serving as an embassador for the Cherokee in 1781, when the American delegation expressed surprise that the Cherokee had sent a woman to negotiate,  Nanyehi replied, “You know that women are always looked upon as nothing;  but we are your mothers; you are our sons.  Our cry is all for peace; let it continue.  This peace must last forever.  Let your women’s sons be ours; our sons be yours.  Let your women hear our words.”

[Burial tribute to Nanyehi]

[To learn more about Nanyehi, read “When Women Ruled”  from the archives of Native American Antiquity]

“The European culture viewed the role of women in Cherokee government with disdain.  In the early 1700’s, the trader Adair coined the phrase ‘petticoat government’ to describe the prominence of the women’s role.”

In an article published January, 2011 in the online e-zine “Indian Country” the following was quoted from Wilma Dunaway, professor of sociology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and author of  “Rethinking Cherokee Acculturation; Agrarian Capitalism and Women’s Resistance to Cult of Domesticity, 1800-1838:
“By the 1800s the Cherokees had lost their independence and had become dominated by white Americans,” said Johnston. “At this time white Americans did not believe that it was proper for women to fight wars, vote, speak in public, work outside the home or even control their own children. The Cherokees began to imitate whites, and Cherokee women lost much of their power and prestige. In the 20th century, they had to struggle along with other women to acquire many of the rights that Cherokee women once freely enjoyed.”
I am pretty sure that had a Cherokee husband commanded his “squaw” to walk ten paces behind him prior to the arrival of Europeans, he would have found his stuff piled up outside the front door of the house.  That was how a Cherokee woman divorced her husband.

Author of the Cherokee Chronicles
Book One: The First Raven Mocker
Look for The First Raven Mocker at a book store near you
or at Barnes and Noble or

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 2: Transportation

When you picture the ancient Native American, is he on horseback galloping across the prairie or paddling gracefully down the river in a birch bark canoe?  If so, you are not picturing the ancient Cherokee.

So, looking at the picture, what would you guess was the Cherokee’s favorite modes of transportation?

Well, I have already hinted that they may not have ridden horses.  So did they ride mules or burros?  Maybe they just used horses for hauling their things on sleds.  The fact is, horses were brought to America by the Europeans.  Before contact with Europeans, the ancient Cherokee walked everywhere except on water, of course.

This was true of all Native Americans, however, maybe in large part due to Hollywood, most of us imagine Native Americans as great horsemen.   When the Conquistadors travelled through what is now the United States, they left a trail of horses.  Many of the Plains Indians captured these wild horses and found them to be a great advantage in warfare with other tribes.  Then, after Spanish and Mexican settlers moved into the areas around Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the Native American tribes began to trade with them and the horse and rifle were prized trading items.

Meanwhile, the Cherokee were living a different lifestyle.  They were farming and hunting and living in settled villages.  When colonists arrived, the Cherokee saw them not as rivals but as equals and adopted many of the new ways of the colonists.  They used horses, mules, and burros for farming and hauling, just as the colonists did. 

The Cherokee did glide up and down the many rivers in a canoe before the European invasion.  But it may be a surprise to most that their canoes were hollowed out logs and not the more well-known birch-bark-style canoes.   Great logs were skinned of the bark and then the ends formed or “streamlined” for smooth passage through the water.  The centers were burned and then chiseled and hacked  until hollowed out.  Their canoes were sturdy and well-suited for stream travel

I once read an interesting take on the word “canoe”.  In 1882, Ignatius Donnelly,  a U. S. Congressman, wrote the book “Atlantis, The Antediluvian World” which has become the “cornerstone on which all modern study of the ‘Lost Continent’ depends.”  In his book, he cited countless examples of similarities between the new and old worlds—presumably the result of contact with the Atlantean culture.

He wrote, “If, then, we prove that, on both sides of the Atlantic, civilizations were found substantially identical, we have demonstrated that they must have descended one from the other, or have radiated from some common source.”

A critic of Donnelly’s book took him to task on a number of his comparisons including “canoe”.  He stated that Donnelly had claimed the canoe was remarkably similar to the Asian word for a similar boat proving that the word had a common origin.   The critic scoffed that when early explorers saw the American Indian boat, it reminded them of the Asian boat and so they called it “canoe” suggesting that Donnelly was guilty of a circular fallacy.

Ready for this?  What Donnelly actually said was , “The bark canoe of America was not unknown in Asia and Africa, while the skin canoes of our Indians and the Eskimos were found on the shores of the Thames and the Euphrates.”  Donnelly compared the boat, not the word.  And, ironically, the word canoa was first mentioned in a letter from Columbus who got the word from the Arawakan Indians he encountered in the Caribbean.  Their word was kana:wa canoe or, possibly, kenu.  And, in my research, I can find no Asian word similar to canoe for that type of boat! 

So, canoe probably did originate from a Native American term—another misconception busted?
Author of the "Cherokee Chronicles"
is currently available at a book store
near you or at Barnes and Noble

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions, Part 1

Recently [May 9, 2013 issue], I wrote an article on Cherokee Misconceptions.  It was such a success, I am going to expand on it by popular request.  In this series, I will be addressing in detail ten of the more common misconceptions about the Cherokee:

1. The Cherokee lived in Tipi’s.
2. The Cherokee were masterful horsemen and cruised in bark canoes
3. Cherokee squaws walked 10 paces behind their husbands
4. Squaw is an insult referencing a woman’s private parts
5. Cherokee were noble savages relying on their hunting skills
6. Cherokee slaves were granted Cherokee citizenship
7. You may be the descendant of a Cherokee princess
8. Only Cherokee chiefs wore feathered headdresses
9. A type of leprechaun lived in the Cherokee mountains
10. The Cherokee had a written constitution of their own.

Think you know the truth?  You may be surprised!  I have found that the Cherokee were nothing like the Native American portrayed in movies and on T.V.  Follow me to discover what the Cherokee called: the Ani-Yun Wiya, which means “The Real People”.

First, most people are surprised to learn that the Cherokee did not live in Tipi’s.  That is mainly because the American Indian that we see in Westerns almost always lives in a Tipi.  Well, in defense of Westerns, the point in history when settlers were moving west to start a new life they were pushing into the United States plains and bumping up against the Plains Indians many of whom did, in fact, live in Tipi’s.  Oddly, though, there were a number of tribes that the settlers came across that did not live in Tipi’s but they are rarely shown in movies or T.V.

The Cherokee originally lived in South Carolina, Kentucky, northern Georgia.  Mostly in the area we call the Great Smoky Mountains.  The United States had grown to include these states and the Cherokee Territories were being whittled away by treaties and outright encroachment.  In 1836, under president Andrew Jackson’s direction, the Cherokee people were rounded up and relocated to Oklahoma ("for their own good").  That awful trek through one of the worst winters on record came to be known by the Cherokee as “the trail of tears.”  That is another subject.

The time that I am focusing on in these articles is the time before the Europeans came to America.  As you can see in the examples in the picture, the American Indian lived in many different types of houses.  If you picked “Wattle and Daub” for the Cherokee, you would be correct.  The Cherokee were not nomadic like the Plains Indians.  If you were to go back in time and visit an ancient Cherokee village, your first impression might be that you were visiting a frontier fort.  The villages of the Cherokee were surrounded by palisaded walls.  But inside the walls, the villages were very different from a frontier fort, there were streets lined with frame stucco houses that would look quite modern. 
A large seven-sided Council House would sit majestically atop a large, rectangular mound.  Across from the Council House would have been a large field used for Ball Play (the Anetsa was similar to today’s LaCrosse) and used for dances and ceremonies.  Beside each house their would have been a large, domed dwelling, called an asi, used to keep warm in winter and for many private ceremonies and functions.  The houses often were multi-roomed with windows for light and ventillation.  Bedrooms would have had beds and bunks very familiar to what we use today.

The Cherokee at that time were farmers as well as hunters and were recognized by the colonists, rightly so, as “a civilized tribe.”
--Courtney Miller
Author of the "Cherokee Chronicles"
is currently available at a book store
near you or at Barnes and Noble and

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Native American Cultures: The Ute

View from our home of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
My wife and I live in the beautiful Wet Mountain Valley of southern Colorado.  This valley was originally the home of the Ute Indians.  Before the Spanish came, the Ute were divided into seven bands.  Our little valley was in between the territories of the Mouache and Capote bands, but was probably occupied by the Mouache who ranged along the eastern slopes of the Rockies, from Denver south to near Las Vegas New Mexico.  The Capote band inhabited the San Luis Valley, which is on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo’s from us, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande south to New Mexico around the current towns of Chama and Tierra Amarilla.
Ute Tipi

It would be easy to imagine a small circle of Tipi’s sitting on the rounded hill where our house sits today.  It would have been a great spot to camp.  From here, you can see for miles across the valley and watch for game.  Buffalo would probably have come up the valley from the prairie down by Walsenburg in the summer and grazed the fertile valley between the Wet Mountains, to the east, and the Sangre de Christo Mountains to the west.  Yesterday, my wife spotted a large herd of buffalo to the south from out her studio window.  Thousands of buffalo pasture on the huge Wolf Springs Buffalo Ranch three miles south of us.

In the spring and summer, the Ute would break up into small family units and hunt for deer, elk, antelope and other animals.   At that time, they had no horses—horses were brought to America from Europe—so it was easier to provide for small groups.  These same animals roam the valley today.  We often have antelope coming across our property and have seen the elk migrating through the valley in spring and fall.  Aside from the few houses that occasionally dot the landscape, the valley is probably much the same as it was back then.

In late fall, the bands would regroup in sheltered areas for the winter.  The Mouache, Capote, and Weeminuche bands would migrate south and live through the winter in northwestern New Mexico or northeastern Arizona.  Winter provided a great opportunity for social interaction and festivities which were eventually ended by the Great Bear Dances in early spring.

The Ute probably migrated into Colorado, Utah (named after the Ute) and New Mexico over 2,000 years ago.  The Anisazi (or Ancestral Puebloan people) were living in the area at the time.  The influx of the Ute may have driven them into the sandstone caves in the cliffs that is now known as Mesa Verde.  The ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan people are found throughout the current Ute reservation.

Wet Mountain Valley is no longer a part of the Ute territories.  The lives of the Ute in this valley began to change dramatically with the settlement of the Spanish in New Mexico.  The Spanish brought horses and domestic animals.  Horses greatly enhanced the Ute’s ability to hunt game.  The Ute began to make trips to Taos and Pecos to trade.  At first, relations were peaceful and beneficial to all.  But over time, the Ute began to realize that with the horse, it was easier to raid other tribes or villages than to hunt for food.

The Ute became master horsemen and fierce warriors.  At first, the enemies of the Ute were the Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone, Blackfoot and Arapaho to the north;  the Sioux, Osage, Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache to the east and southeast; and west and south they battled the Navajo, Paiute, and Western Shoshone;  in other words, their neighbors.

Over the years, when white settlers and gold seekers began to move into Utah and Colorado, there were several skirmishes with the Ute.  But, during the same time-frame, the Ute often allied with the United States in wars with the Navajo and Apache.  A series of treaties established a small reservation in northeast Utah and in 1868 extended to include the western third of modern Colorado.  But, the large area included land claimed by other tribes and was whittled away over time by encroaching white settlers and mining interests.

In the 20th century, several U.S. federal court decisions restored portions of the original reservation land and awarded monetary compensation for the losses.
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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ancient Witchcraft: The Raven, Part 2

Common North American Raven
The raven, the largest bird in the Crow family, also carries the largest brain in the bird world.  It has captured the imagination of all cultures in all times and has become an integral part of folklore.  Perhaps it’s the raven’s eyes—so human looking, so inquisitive, so devious.  Perhaps it is the raven’s association with carcasses and death that contributes to the fear and often revulsion we have for them.  Perhaps it is the cleverness of this highly intelligent creature.  It is hard to rate the intelligence of non-linqual creatures.  But those who have studied Corvids place them at the top of the bird world, on a par with coyotes and wolves, and many other intelligent mammals.

They are renowned for their problem solving skills.  Watch the following videos which chronicle the ravens incredible cleverness:

[]   Clip taken from BBC animal show Clever Critters, narrated by comedienne Dawn French, 2008.  Antony Bloom sets up a complicated test for several Corvids in his garden.  They must drop stones into one water-filled tube to raise the waterline in another tube that contains their favorite food floating on top.

[] Clip from National Geographic videos.  Dr Baron Heinrich, with the University of Vermont, devised an experiment that shows ravens have the ability to make logical connections, much like human beings. 

The cleverness of the raven has been both feared and revered throughout history.  Here are some excerpts from a recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine [October 2013] about using ravens for counterintelligence:

“A raven, in espionage parlance, is a male agent tasked with seducing intelligence targets.  But avian
ravens can be spies as well.  When Bailey [an animal trainer who worked with government agencies] describes the Western raven, he sounds as if he’s talking about Jason Bourne.  “It operates alone, and it does very well alone,” he says.  Western ravens are adept at pattern recognition.  “They could learn to respond to classes of objects,” he says.  “If you’ve got a big desk and little desk, you could train it to always go to the small one.”

“… There would be a rustle of oily black feathers as a raven settled on the window ledge of a once-grand apartment building in some Eastern European capital.  The bird would pace across the ledge a few times but quickly depart.  In an apartment on the other side of the window, no one would shift his attention from the briefing papers or the chilled vodka set out on a table.  Nor would anything seem amiss in the jagged piece of gray slate resting on the ledge, seemingly jetsam from the roof of an old and unloved building.  Those in the apartment might be dismayed to learn, however, that the slate had come not from the roof but from a technical laboratory at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  In a small cavity at the slate’s center was an electronic transmitter powerful enough to pick up their conversation.  The raven that transported it to the ledge was no random city bird, but a U.S.-trained intelligence asset.”

Just as the Raven became a code word for an espionage agent, the Cherokee also recognized the analytical and strategic talents of the raven.   From Thomas E. Mails’ book, The Cherokee People, “The … principal leader of a revenge army [was] the Great War Chief, now called the Raven because he wore around his neck a raven skin … It was said that the Great War Chief, in his guise as the Raven, watched the enemy and kept the chief speaker perfectly informed.  He directed the necessary preparations, and each night magically went forward two days’ march yet was back in camp the next morning.”

The Cherokee saw both the good and the evil of the raven and drew from their study of this very intelligent and resourceful bird.  Whether witchcraft or warfare, the raven occupied a prominent role in their lives.
also author of "The First Raven Mocker",
Book One of the "The Cherokee Chronicles"
Available now.
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ancient Witchcraft: The Raven, Part 1

It seems that in ancient cultures and all around the world, the raven has played an important role in their lore.  It is the largest of the Crow family and has the largest brain of any bird.  It is renown for its cunning and problem-solving ability.  In this series, I want to explore this amazing bird and the place it holds in cultures.

In Cherokee folklore and myth, for instance, the raven is associated with witchcraft and death.   The Raven Mocker, Kalonu Ahkyeliski, is the most feared and dreaded of Cherokee witches.  This witch is the one that robs the dying man of life.  The Raven Mocker is capable of shape-shifting into the raven and flies across the sky in a fiery shape with arms outstretched like wings and sparks trailing behind.  

When a Raven Mocker comes into the house all invisible, he frightens and torments the sick man until he kills him.  Then he takes out his heart and eats it, and so adds to his own life as many days or years as he has taken from the dying man.

“In the shadows of the old gray standing stones of England, there have risen many songs and stories of supernatural power.  Folk singer Maddy Prior is an expert in such lore and in the dark depiction of Ravens.  “Because they’re seen so much around death and carnage, they have become associated in Northern Europe with death and they’ve become birds of ill omen.”

“And in medieval times, Ravens earned their sinister reputation.  It was the 14th century and the Bubonic Plague was sweeping across Europe.  One out of three people would die.  Entire towns were stricken with no one to bury the dead in the all but empty streets.   Enter the Raven.  Black birds gathering for the black death.

“To a Raven, a dead human was just another carcass—a grim opportunity for a meal.  The sight of a Raven evoked such dread it called up ancient pagan fears from long before the counting of centuries.
“The ancient Celts associated the raven with the Morrigan, goddess of death and battle.  And she could shape-shift, seemingly, into the raven.  When they saw the raven, they thought the Morrigan was there.

“But on the other side of the world, in the rugged Pacific Northwest, the view was just the opposite.  To many Native American tribes, the raven is a celebrated figure.  Half clown, half god, full of mischief but the giver of great gifts.  His image is everywhere.  His power reveals the true nature of things.  Clever and resourceful, Raven invented the world, the mountain and rivers were all his idea.  He even placed the sun in the sky.
“Before there was light, there was only twilight and darkness and Raven got tired of looking for food in the dark.  He heard of an old man in the sky who had a box that contained another box.  And inside that, another and another until inside the smallest one, there was light.  A light that Raven was determined to steal. 

“He tricked the old man into opening the box and flew off with the light in his beak.  But the old man chased him and in his hurry to escape, Raven threw the light into the sky where it hangs to this day.
“Raven is indeed a thief, but in his mischief, he brought a blessing to the whole world. 

“Fitting descendants of the original trickster, wild ravens display the same curiosity and cunning.  Conservation Biologist John Marzluff has been studying these extraordinary birds for more than ten years trying to understand their amazingly complex behavior.  For though the ravens may not have invented the world, they often act as though they own it.

“Ravens are such a fascinating animal that once you start studying any of the Corvids, you can’t go back to studying something of lesser quality, its impossible.  I think one of the thing that strikes me and others who work on these animals is that when you catch something like a robin and you look at it, its just a glossed over look and theres really nothing going on inside of a robin’s head, as far as I can tell. 

“A raven on the other hand, you hold a raven  and you look at the raven and its looking back at you.  It has a pupil that’s dilating and contracting just like ours is and that bird is obviously excited about you being that close to it and you have a real tight connection with an animal like that as opposed to one that is more of a blank slate.”

In the next article, we will look at tests on the raven that show its cleverness and look at a more current affect the raven has had in the culture of espionage.
Courtney Miller

Author of “The First Raven Mocker