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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 1, No. 1
January, 1921
A SEQUOYAH CENTENNIAL

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In the Hall of Statues in the Capitol at Washington each state of the Union is represented by a statue of her most distinguished son. By common consent Oklahoma is represented by a statue of Sequoyah. Of no men memoralized there, is so little known as of Sequoyah. The chief facts of his life are subjects of more or less doubt and disputation, and the time when they can be settled is rapidly passing, and for many of them is already gone. This is hardly creditable to the intelligence of the state. To place Sequoyah’s statue in the Capitol at Washington and to have to admit to the world that we know less about him than any state ever knew of a hero so recent is not a satisfactory condition.

UNCERTAINTIES ABOUT SEQUOYAH.

We know so little of his parentage that some Cherokees assert that he was a white man instead of a half-breed Indian, as is commonly believed. We know practically nothing of his early life and of the influences which molded his character. We are told that he worked at his alphabet for twelve years, but little details are known. He is said to have been reduced to the utmost poverty and that his wife lost patience with him and burned his “papers.” It is reported that his little daughter was the only human being who remained loyal to him through those trying years. We do not know when or where he died, tho his alleged grave has been pointed out. Most that is supposed to be known about his life has come down to us without corroborative evidence. Since written remains are lacking we are dependent on oral testimony and death has already silenced nearly all of that. If anything is ever to be done to clear up the facts concerning Sequoyah it must be done at once.

SEQUOYAH’S ACHIEVEMENT.

Sequoyah was totally lacking in philological knowledge and had no assistance of any kind. While this fact unfavorably affected the result, it made his struggle infinitely harder and the honor due him the

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greater. He assumed that the Cherokee language was syllabic, and some 85 characters were required to represent all the syllables used in the language. Philologists have generally vindicated his judgment, and it is extremely doubtful if any better means of alphabeting the language could have been devised than the one he used. Tho the difficulties confronting him were appalling, he had no advisers or helps of any kind so far as we have been able to discover. He used all the letters of every other alphabet he found and invented a number of additional characters. He seems to have been universally ridiculed and denounced; for years his work was a failure but he bravely worked on undaunted by the apparent impossibilities. If rank as a hero is determined by such struggle and perseverance, Sequoyah deserves a high place among men, and his state will honor itself by honoring him.

TIME FOR THE CENTENNIAL.

The most significant date in the story of Sequoyah’s alphabet is that of its acceptance by the Cherokees. This is not certainly known but may be conjectured with reasonable certainty. We know that he came west in 1822 to try to introduce his alphabet among the western Cherokees, and that in 1823 he permanently removed to the western home. At a summer gathering of the Cherokees in the eastern home his alphabet was tested and approved by the leading Cherokees. This must have preceded his first trip west in 1822. It seems most likely, then, that the correct date was the summer of 1821, and this is the date now almost universally accepted. The celebration of that event should, of course, be held in the old Cherokee nation, preferably at Tahlequah, the old Cherokee capital. For a number of reasons the most convenient date would be the last of May.

USING THE OPPORTUNITY.

Such a celebration would arouse interest in Sequoyah and his times and result in the gathering of much historical material now hidden away in cellars and garrets, old trunks and boxes. Nothing else could possibly bring out so much historical material from hiding

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places. This would enable our historians to settle many questions now in doubt and establish a more exact status for those which must remain insoluble. Such a celebration would bring scholars and historians here from all parts of the nation. Besides the historical discussions, the most appropriate popular feature of such a celebration would be a historical pageant. Should this be provided, the Ford’s Educational Weekly has already asked for the privilege of filming it and exhibiting it in about 2,500 motion picture houses in the United States and in 70 per cent of the rest of the world. No such opportunity for advertising Oklahoma is likely to occur again very soon. We should make the most of it.

SEQUOYAH’S TIMES.

Such a celebration would have to include much of Sequoyah’s times. His alphabet would have accomplished but little had not Dr. Samuel A. Worcester gone to Boston and had matrixes made for making type for printing Sequoyah’s alphabet. This resulted not only in the establishment of the Mission Press, but the “Cherokee Phoenix,” which was re-established after the removal as the “Cherokee Advocate.” The labors, sacrifices, loyalty, and heroism of the early missionaries are a thrilling story to which we have not done justice; such recognition could be very appropriately associated with a Sequoyah Centennial celebration.

HOW TO DO IT.

It has been suggested that the centennial exercises should be held at Tahlequah, on the grounds of the Northeastern State Normal school, which was formerly the Cherokee Female Seminary. This is the most accessible point near the old home of Sequoyah, and has great historical associations. Competent historians should be got to work at once gathering all historical materials, to be presented at historical sessions of the celebration, which would also afford opportunity for discussions of all mooted questions concerning Sequoyah and his times. The pageant should not only include all that is known of Sequoyah and his struggles abut glimpses of missionary life, and the tragic story of the Cherokee removal, the “Trail of Tears”—a sort of birdseye

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view of the history of one of the largest and most influential of the Indian tribes.

FINANCING IT.

By charging admission it might be possible to finance such an enterprise, but it should be a state matter rather than a commercial affair. It should also be followed by a memorial volume perpetuating the celebration and containing the chief papers and discussions brought out. Many pictures of the past, and of its representations might be added, making it a memorial worthy of the state, and of the hero who represents it in the Hall of Statues in the national capitol. It should also be put in a form suitable for use in school celebrations in Oklahoma and other states. The legislature could make no better use of at least $10,000 than to make such an affair a credit to the state and worthy of the heroism it celebrates.

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