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Middle School Studies on Cherokee Indians: The Places They Have Lived

written by: Bruno Kos • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 11/25/2012

Remember the music video for the great hit single "Cherokee," written by the popular Swedish rock band, Europe? Catchy as the song is, you should know that the video is full of historical inaccuracies. Find out where and how the Cherokee Indians lived.

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    The Native Americans of the Southeastern United States

    The Cherokee Indians (hereinafter referred to as the Cherokees) are a Native American people whose historical settlement is in the Southeastern United States. Their language is part of the Iroquoian-language family. During the 19th century, they were considered as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes," due to fact that they assimilated many technologies and culture specifics brought by European immigrants into their society.

    Contemporary Cherokees are most probably descendants of certain powerful and large American Indian tribes that existed thousands of years ago. Despite the fact that there are two prevailing theories about their origins (one is mostly deprecated, though), it is still uncertain where they lived prior to what we know today.

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    A Trek From Asia

    Many scholars believe that the people that are now considered Native Americans came from an Asia to North America by the way of the Bering land bridge (Beringia), in an event that occurred approximately 16 thousand years ago. According to that theory, there really are no natives of America, but only “first" immigrants.

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    Origins of the Cherokee People

    The Cherokees moved gradually to the east and north, where many clues and evidence are found, such as mounds in Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee, Iowa and Georgia. Exploration of these mounds showed that their composition is very similar to the ones that are known for the early Cherokees. For example, in one of the mounds in Georgia, two copper plates were found, and it is known that Georgia territory has been inhabited by the Cherokees since the year of 1540.

    The tradition tells that they were traveling further east, coming on the Delaware River. Eventually, they were stopped by the Iroquois confederacy. Prior to that, however, they had already sustained contact with the Iroquois, and as a result, Iroquois and Cherokees imbibed many words.

    In their further migrations, they unexpectedly (from the point of view of other tribes that lived there) arrived at the coastland area, where the Senecas and other tribes thought that they came from the earth. Therefore, they considered them as “the people that came from a hole in the ground" or “cave men." Furthermore, Delawares called them "Allegaus" and Shawnees called them “Keetoowhas".

    The Cherokees were forced to move from the region close to the Great Lakes due to enemies, usually the valorous Iroquois. After some time, they reached the southern Appalachian Mountains. Some were forced to travel to Oklahoma by the federal government in the 1830 Indian Removal Act, a journal referred to as the Trail of Tears. Finally, they created a neutral strip which extended north to the Ohio River.

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    Cherokees Today

    Have your students trace on a map the migration of the Cherokee natives.

    Today, they are mainly situated in North Carolina and Oklahoma, although some Cherokees reside in the US West Coast area. This occurred main as a result of various economic reasons as well as the Federal Indian Relocation that occurred in the late 1950s. The Cherokee community can also be found in the area of Albuquerque, New Mexico, recognized as Albuquerque New Mexico Cherokee Township.


  • Emmet Starr, Jack Gregory, Rennard Strickland: Starr's History of the Cherokee Indians, Indian Heritage Association, 1967
  • Robert J. Conley: The Cherokee Nation: A History, UNM Press, 2007
  • Mary Englar: The Cherokee and Their History, Compass Point Books, 2005
  • Emmet Starr: History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore, Genealogical Publishing Com, 2003