Remembering the Past

Our Story

Indigenous to North Carolina and the greater southeastern U.S., the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were originally hunters and gathers who migrated throughout the Great Smoky Mountains and lowlands of the Southern Appalachians.

Our history can be traced back to the region as far as 11,000 B.C., and has been passed generation to generation through a rich storytelling tradition, as well as through ceremonies and rituals including dances that symbolize our religious and cultural beliefs.

As the original inhabitants of North Carolina and the surrounding region, our history is marked by tumult, including the devastation endured at the Trail of Tears, but we have shown resilience in overcoming those challenges over time and are proud of who we have become.

The History of the Eastern
Band of Cherokee Indians

Population reaches high of 50,000

11,000 B.C. – 1,000 B.C.

The earliest evidence of Cherokee inhabitants living in the southern Appalachians dates back to 11,000 B.C. By 1,000 B.C. the Cherokee were one of the largest tribes in the southeastern U.S., spread over hundreds of miles in the Great Smoky Mountains and lowlands of Southern Appalachia.

Population drops to 9,000

1540 A.D. – 1650 A.D.

In May of 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto makes first known outside contact with the Cherokee. He discovers a civilized culture living in organized villages with established governments, wearing fine clothing made of thread, and possessing skilled warriors highly trained in drawing and firing bow and arrows.

Disease brought by European explorers like de Soto wipes out more than 90% of the indigenous American Indian population.

Population drops to 16,000

1830 A.D. – 1838 A.D.

In 1832 the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Cherokee are a sovereign nation. In 1835, however, President Andrew Jackson ignores the Supreme Court and seizes most of the remaining Cherokee land east of the Mississippi.

In an effort to stave off further loss of land, many Cherokee assimilated culturally, politically, and linguistically with the new ‘American’ way of life. These efforts made little impact on improving relations with their new neighbors, and primarily resulted in a devastating loss of cultural heritage.

Only 1,000 remain

1838 A.D. – 1839 A.D.

In 1838, the Cherokee reject the Treaty of New Echota in which Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi were sold to the U.S. government. After rejecting the treaty and refusing to leave, more than 16,000 Cherokee in the region were rounded up, removed from their homes, and forced to walk more than 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. Roughly 4,000 Cherokee died from disease, hunger, exposure and starvation. Those remaining and surviving totaled just 1,000, and served to form what is now the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Current population: 16,000+

1930 - Present

Throughout the 20th century and into the present the Cherokee begin rebuilding their culture, economy, and way of life. In 1930 the U.S. government officially grants the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians U.S. Citizenship. In 1997, the tribe begins buying back sacred sites: Kituhwa Mound, Cowee Mound, Hall Mountain Forest, and Tallulah Mound. The tribe and its casinos now serve as primary economic drivers in North Carolina, and provide state-of-the-art health care facilities and programs, free health care and college tuition, and annual payments to all members.

The History of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians