13 Most Famous Cherokee Indians

The Cherokee Indians are one of America’s largest Native American tribes. They have a rich history that dates back thousands of years, and they have experienced numerous problems over that time, including relocation from their native lands, forcible removal to Indian Territory, and cultural assimilation attempts.

Notwithstanding these obstacles, the Cherokee people have retained a strong sense of identity and have made significant contributions to society. Numerous notable Cherokee Indians have made major contributions in a wide range of professions.

They have a rich history and culture and have made significant contributions to a range of sectors including as politics, literature, and the arts. Numerous great Cherokee Indians have made significant contributions to their tribe and the larger world, leaving their stamp on history.

Cherokee Indians originated in the Southeastern United States, which includes modern-day Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Cherokee have lived in this area for thousands of years and have a strong connection to the land and the natural surroundings.

The Cherokee Nation is currently located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which serves as the Cherokee Nation’s capital as well as the location of the tribe’s government and cultural institutions.

Famous Cherokee Indians

1. Sequoyah

Sequoyah

Sequoyah, also known as George Guess, was a Cherokee Native who devised the Cherokee syllabary, a Cherokee language writing system. Sequoyah was born in 1770 in present-day Tennessee to a Cherokee-Scots-Irish family and spoke Cherokee and English.

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Sequoyah got interested in writing and began to design a Cherokee writing system in the early 1800s.

Sequoyah saw that the Cherokee language had different syllables and began experimenting with symbols to represent those syllables. After several years of trial and error, he produced the “Talking Leaves” system with 85 characters.

Also Read: Facts About the Trail of Tears

The Cherokee syllabary was simple to learn and use, allowing Cherokees to read and write in their native language for the first time.

The Cherokee syllabary immediately became popular among the Cherokee people, and it aided in the preservation of their culture and heritage. Sequoyah’s creation was also crucial in the Cherokee Nation’s resistance against forced assimilation and deportation from their native territories. The Cherokee Nation officially approved the Cherokee syllabary in 1825, and it has been in use ever since.

Sequoyah was honored for his contributions to the Cherokee people and linguistics. In 1828, he proceeded to Washington, D.C., to show his invention to Bureau of Indian Affairs authorities.

The Cherokee Nation later rewarded him with a pension for his service, and a statue of him now resides in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

Today, Sequoyah is recognized as a Cherokee hero and innovator, and his legacy lives on in the Cherokee syllabary, which is still an important component of Cherokee culture and identity.

2. Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010) was a Cherokee activist and the first Native American woman to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, the United States’ biggest Native American tribe.

She was born in Oklahoma and raised in California, where her family had relocated in the 1950s as part of the Indian Relocation Act.

In the 1970s, Mankiller returned to the Cherokee Nation and became involved in community organizing to improve her people’s living conditions and healthcare. She was named Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1983, and Principle Chief in 1985, a position she held for ten years.

Also Read: Famous Indians

Throughout her term as Principal Chief, Mankiller emphasized education, healthcare, and economic prospects for Cherokees. She also ran a campaign to strengthen tribal sovereignty and improve relations with the federal government of the United States.

For her labor and campaigning, Mankiller received numerous accolades and decorations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. Her reputation as a trailblazing leader and fighter for Native American rights lives on, despite her death in 2010.

3. John Ross

John Ross

John Ross was a renowned Cherokee leader who was the Cherokee Nation’s chief for many years during a turbulent period in Cherokee history. Ross was born in 1790 in present-day Alabama and was of Cherokee and Scottish descent. He was educated in mission schools and learned to speak English and Cherokee.

Also Read: Native American Chiefs

Ross became involved in Cherokee politics at a young age and was elected Cherokee Nation ruler in 1828. As chief, he fought to better the Cherokee people’s lives by campaigning for education, economic development, and the preservation of Cherokee sovereignty.

The United States government began to campaign for the displacement of Cherokee people from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States in the 1830s. Ross and other Cherokee leaders battled against removal, claiming that the Cherokee Nation was a sovereign country with a right to remain on its territories.

Nonetheless, a small group of Cherokee chiefs signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, ceding Cherokee territory in exchange for compensation and relocation to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

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The Treaty of New Echota was opposed by Ross and the majority of Cherokees, but it was passed by the United States Senate in 1836. In 1838, US troops began forcibly removing Cherokees from their homes, a process known as the Trail of Tears. During the forced relocation, thousands of Cherokee died as a result of sickness, malnutrition, and exposure.

Ross and a group of Cherokee chiefs continued to oppose removal, but they were eventually compelled to flee their homeland and settle in Indian Territory. Ross remained chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, fighting to restore the Cherokee community and safeguard Cherokee sovereignty.

Ross was a revered and prominent leader among Cherokees and the rest of the world during his life. He worked relentlessly to campaign for the Cherokee Nation’s rights and interests, and he is recognized as a hero and a symbol of Cherokee strength and endurance.

4. Elias Boudinot

Elias Boudinot

Elias Boudinot was a Cherokee chieftain, writer, and journalist who was influential in the Cherokee Nation’s cultural and political life in the early nineteenth century.

Boudinot was born in Georgia in 1802 and came from a distinguished Cherokee family. He received his education at mission schools and became fluent in Cherokee and English.

Boudinot was a supporter of education and cultural preservation, and he believed that the Cherokee people needed to adjust to a changing world while retaining their traditions and identity.

In 1828, he assisted in the establishment of the Cherokee Phoenix, a bilingual newspaper published in Cherokee and English. The Cherokee Phoenix was America’s first Native American newspaper, and it was instrumental in promoting Cherokee culture and sovereignty.

From 1830 through 1832, Boudinot was also involved in Cherokee politics, serving as editor of the Cherokee Phoenix. During this time, he was a staunch supporter of Cherokee sovereignty and fought US government efforts to remove Cherokees from their historic grounds.

Boudinot and other Cherokee leaders, however, signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1832, which ceded Cherokee territory in exchange for compensation and relocation to Indian Territory.

The majority of Cherokees opposed the Treaty of New Echota, which resulted in the forced displacement of Cherokees from their homes along what became known as the Trail of Tears. Among those who moved to Indian Territory were Boudinot and his family.

Boudinot remained active in Cherokee politics and sought to promote Cherokee education and culture in Oklahoma. He also became a Christian missionary, converting other Cherokees to Christianity.

Boudinot died in 1839 at the age of 37, but his memory continues on as a supporter of Cherokee sovereignty and culture, as well as a pivotal character in Native American media history.

5. Stand Watie

Stand Watie

Stand Watie, also known as Degataga, was a Cherokee leader who served as a Confederate general during the Civil War. He was born in Georgia in 1806 into a distinguished Cherokee family. Watie received his education at mission schools and became fluent in Cherokee and English.

Watie and his family were among the Cherokees forcibly evacuated from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States and transported to Indian Territory in the 1830s (present-day Oklahoma). Watie became interested in Cherokee politics and was elected to the Cherokee National Council as a representative.

Watie sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War and was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate Army. He established the Cherokee Mounted Rifles, a regiment of Cherokee warriors, and led them in a series of fights in Indian Territory and the Western Theater.

Watie’s most major success came in June 1864, when he led a raid on a Federal supply train in Indian Territory at Cabin Creek. The attack was one of the most successful of the war, and it helped the Confederate Army’s morale.

Watie fought for the Confederacy until the war’s end, and he was the final Confederate general to surrender on June 23, 1865, over two months after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Watie returned to Oklahoma after the war and attempted to rebuild the Cherokee village. He returned to politics as a delegate to the Cherokee National Convention, where he fought to regain Cherokee sovereignty and negotiate with the United States government.

Watie died in 1871 and is remembered in Cherokee history as a complex figure. Although fighting for the Confederacy, he also strove to safeguard Cherokee sovereignty and the Cherokee people’s rights. Historians and Cherokee experts are still debating and researching Watie’s legacy today.

6. William Holland Thomas

William Holland Thomas

William Holland Thomas was a significant Cherokee chief and Confederate officer in nineteenth-century Cherokee politics and history. Thomas was born in North Carolina in 1805 and was adopted as a child by a Cherokee lady named Quatie. He was raised among the Cherokees and became fluent in their language.

Thomas became involved in Cherokee politics as a young man, acting as an interpreter and mediator between the Cherokee Nation and the United States government. He also created a lucrative trade business and became one of the region’s wealthiest Cherokee.

Thomas led a group of Cherokees who had escaped the forced removal to Indian Territory and settled in North Carolina in 1838. The tribe was dubbed the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Thomas became their chief.

He attempted to establish the Eastern Band as an unique political organization and to negotiate their rights and recognition with the US government.

During the Civil War, Thomas sided with the Confederate and established the Thomas Legion, a regiment of Cherokee troops. The Thomas Legion was noted for their determination and competence in warfare and fought in a number of battles in the Western Theater.

Thomas returned to North Carolina after the war and continued to advocate for the rights and recognition of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He became a prosperous merchant and assisted in the establishment of Cherokee schools and other organizations.

Thomas passed away in 1893 and is remembered as an important figure in Cherokee history. His leadership and campaigning aided in the formation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as a separate governmental body, and his influence is still felt among Cherokees today.

7. Nancy Ward

Nancy Ward

Nancy Ward, also known as Nanye-hi, was a notable Cherokee leader and diplomat who played a major part in the Cherokee people’s political and cultural life in the 18th century. Ward was a Cherokee Wolf Clan member who was born around 1738 in present-day Tennessee.

Ward distinguished herself in warfare as a young lady, fighting with her husband and other Cherokee warriors in confrontations with surrounding tribes. She was also known for her intelligence and leadership abilities, and she was chosen to be a Cherokee Beloved Woman, a title granted to women who were leaders and valued for their counsel and wisdom.

Ward supported the American colonists during the American Revolution and attempted to develop connections between the Cherokee Nation and the United States.

She was a crucial figure in the negotiations between the Cherokee Nation and American officials in 1776, which resulted in an alliance treaty and backing for the American cause.

During her life, Ward worked for peace and collaboration between the Cherokee Nation and the United States. She was involved in discussions and diplomacy with American officials, and she tried to create Cherokee schools and other organizations.

Ward is also well-known for her contributions to the preservation of Cherokee culture and traditions. She was a skillful weaver who specialized in traditional Cherokee clothes and baskets. She also taught future generations about traditional Cherokee medicine and healing procedures.

Ward is remembered today as a hero and a symbol of Cherokee bravery and perseverance. Her legacy continues to inspire and influence Cherokees and others who appreciate her leadership and commitment to her people.

8. Joseph Vann

Joseph Vann

In the early nineteenth century, Joseph Vann was a Cherokee businessman and plantation owner who was one of the wealthiest Cherokee in the Southeastern United States. Vann was born in Georgia in 1798, the son of a notable Cherokee family. He had a formal education at mission schools, where he learned Cherokee and English.

Vann became involved in Cherokee politics as a young man, supporting Cherokee sovereignty and opposing US government encroachment on Cherokee territories. He also established himself as a wealthy businessman, owning a plantation, a ferry on the Tennessee River, and other holdings.

Vann was well-known for his wealth and opulent lifestyle, which included a magnificent estate called the Chief Vann House, which was created in the Federal style and featured luxurious furnishings and services.

Vann and other Cherokee leaders battled against the forcible displacement of Cherokees from their ancestral lands in the Southern United States in the 1830s. Nonetheless, a small group of Cherokee chiefs signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, ceding Cherokee territory in exchange for compensation and relocation to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

The majority of Cherokees opposed the Treaty of New Echota, but it was ratified by the United States government in 1836. In 1838, US troops began forcibly removing Cherokees from their homes, a process known as the Trail of Tears. Vann’s family was among those compelled to relocate to Indian Territory.

Vann remained active in Cherokee politics and sought to reestablish the Cherokee community in Oklahoma. He also got into cattle ranching and grew to be one of the largest cow ranchers in Indian Territory.

Vann died in the Civil War in 1864, and his legacy is recognized as a complicated figure in Cherokee history. As a prosperous merchant and advocate of Cherokee sovereignty, he also owned slaves and was involved in the slave trade. The Chief Vann House is now a National Historic Landmark and a museum open to the public.

9. Tsali

Tsali, also known as Charley, was a Cherokee man who became a legend in the 1830s for his resistance to forcible evacuation from his ancestral territory. Tsali was a Cherokee Nation member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who was born in what is now North Carolina.

The Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States in 1838, and sent to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The forced deportation became known as the Trail of Tears, and many of Cherokee died as a result of sickness, exposure, and other difficulties.

Tsali and his family were among those who refused to leave their nation and opposed relocation. Tsali led a group of Cherokee warriors in a resistance effort in 1838, battling US troops and other officials involved in the forced deportation.

Tsali and his associates were apprehended and imprisoned, and Tsali was condemned to death. He was, however, given the chance to save his own life by volunteering to take US troops to a hidden Cherokee stronghold where other Cherokee resistors were hiding.

Tsali accepted the offer, but he also asked US officials to let him and his family to stay on their ancestral grounds in exchange for his assistance. The plea was granted by US officials, and Tsali and his family were allowed to remain on their farm. Tsali, on the other hand, was executed by US troops who had sworn to spare his life.

Tsali became a Cherokee legend, regarded as a hero who stood up to forced removal and battled for his people’s right to remain on their ancient lands. Tsali Recreation Area in North Carolina is named after him, and a statue of him can be found in the North Carolina State Capitol building.

10. John Ridge

John Ridge

In the early nineteenth century, John Ridge was a notable Cherokee leader and promoter for Cherokee sovereignty and culture. Ridge was born in Georgia in 1802 and was descended from a notable Cherokee family. He received his education at mission schools and became fluent in Cherokee and English.

Ridge became interested in Cherokee politics as a young man, working to safeguard Cherokee rights and interests in the face of federal government encroachment on Cherokee territories. In the 1820s, he became a strong advocate for Cherokee sovereignty, working with the US government to secure treaties and agreements that would protect Cherokee lands and resources.

The United States government began to campaign for the displacement of Cherokee people from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States in the 1830s. Ridge and other Cherokee leaders battled against removal, claiming that the Cherokee Nation was a sovereign country with a right to remain on its territories.

Nonetheless, a small group of Cherokee chiefs signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, ceding Cherokee territory in exchange for compensation and relocation to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

The majority of Cherokees opposed the Treaty of New Echota, but it was ratified by the United States government in 1836. In 1838, US troops began forcibly removing Cherokees from their homes, a process known as the Trail of Tears. Ridge’s family was among those compelled to relocate to Indian Territory.

Ridge remained active in Cherokee politics and sought to rebuild the Cherokee community in Oklahoma. His support for the Treaty of New Echota, however, and his desire for Cherokee assimilation into white American society made him a divisive figure among Cherokees.

Ridge and several members of his family were slain in 1839 by other Cherokee leaders hostile to his policies and support for the Treaty of New Echota.

Ridge and his family’s assassination was a tragic event in Cherokee history that highlighted the deep divisions and struggles that the Cherokee people faced during this period of forced displacement and assimilation.

Ridge is recognized today as a complex person in Cherokee history, whose life and legacy historians and Cherokee scholars continue to study and discuss.

11. David Vann

David Vann

David Vann was a Cherokee politician and businessman who was influential in the Cherokee Nation’s political and economic life in the early nineteenth century. Vann was born in Georgia in 1798, the son of a notable Cherokee family. He had a formal education at mission schools, where he learned Cherokee and English.

Vann was active in Cherokee politics and business at a young age and swiftly rose to prominence as a negotiator and entrepreneur. He worked in the fur trade and grew to be one of the wealthiest Cherokee in the Southeastern United States.

Vann became involved in Cherokee politics, supporting Cherokee sovereignty and opposing US government encroachment on Cherokee territories. But, by the 1830s, Vann and other Cherokee chiefs were under increasing pressure from the United States government to give up their lands and transfer to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

The Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1835 by a small number of Cherokee leaders, relinquished Cherokee territory in exchange for compensation and relocation to Indian Territory.

The majority of Cherokees opposed the Treaty of New Echota, but it was ratified by the United States government in 1836. In 1838, US troops began forcibly removing Cherokees from their homes, a process known as the Trail of Tears.

Vann’s family was among those compelled to relocate to Indian Territory. Vann remained active in Cherokee politics and business in Oklahoma, and he sought to rebuild the Cherokee community. He also got into cattle ranching and grew to be one of the largest cow ranchers in Indian Territory.

Vann died in 1849, but his legacy as a talented negotiator and businessman, as well as his commitment to Cherokee sovereignty and culture, are still recognized by the Cherokee people today. The Vann House Historic Site in Georgia, Vann’s father’s former house, is open to the public and provides insight into the Vann family’s lives and history.

12. Will Rogers

Will Rogers

Will Rogers was a well-known American actor, comedian, and commentator of Cherokee ancestry. He was a Cherokee Nation member who was born in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma) in 1879.

Rogers began his career in show business as a vaudeville performer, immediately becoming known for his amusing insights and caustic wit. He went on to become a successful actor, appearing in over 70 films over his career.

Rogers was well-known for his political criticism and social insights, in addition to his entertainment career. He published a syndicated newspaper column and held a radio show in which he commented on current events and shared his thoughts on a variety of topics.

Rogers was also a staunch supporter of Native American rights and the difficulties that Native American communities experience in the United States. He used his notoriety to bring attention to these concerns and to foster greater understanding and respect for Native American cultures and traditions.

Rogers died in an aircraft crash in Alaska in 1935, but his legacy as a renowned American comedian and campaigner for social justice and cultural diversity lives on. He is known as a pioneer who opened the way for future generations of Native American musicians and activists.

13. Will West Long

Will West Long

Will West Long was a Cherokee lawyer and tribal official who was active in the Cherokee Nation’s political and legal affairs in the early twentieth century. Long was born in Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in 1870 and was a Cherokee Nation member.

Long attended Cherokee Male Seminary before going on to study law at the University of Michigan. He rose to prominence as an attorney and was the Cherokee Nation’s attorney general from 1899 to 1907.

Long was involved in Cherokee politics and played a crucial part in negotiating with the US government for Cherokee sovereignty and land rights, in addition to his legal work. He was a member of the Cherokee National Council and a delegate to the United States Congress.

Long was a fervent supporter of Cherokee sovereignty and tried to defend Cherokee lands and resources from non-Native intrusion. He was also instrumental in the development of the Cherokee Judiciary System, which aided in the preservation of Cherokee laws and traditions.

Long died in 1935, but the Cherokee Nation continues to honor his legacy as a talented attorney, diplomat, and advocate for Cherokee rights and sovereignty.