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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 8, No. 2
June, 1930

By John B. Davis, B. S., M. A.

Page 149


In 1911 the Legislature of Oklahoma provided that a statue of Sequoyah should be placed in Statuary Hall of the Capitol, at Washington, in recognition of his services and genius in inventing the Cherokee alphabet. The statue was unveiled on June 6, 1917 by Miss Annawake Hastings, a daughter of Representative Hastings of Oklahoma.1

At the unveiling of the statue it became apparent that little was really known of the life of Sequoyah and, in speeches on that occasion, several contradictory statements were made concerning his life and work. This study is undertaken in order to collect and set forth such facts as we have about the life and work of this remarkable man.

Not many of the events of Sequoyah's life are known with certainty. His name appears in a few public documents, and some account of him has been given in several works of reference. The larger number of these accounts have come from two or three sources which are, unfortunately, not altogether reliable. The principal sources of information have been: the sketch of Sequoyah in McKinney and Hall's Indian Tribes, published in Philadelphia in 1856; the article Sequoyah, by William A. Phillips in the September, 1870, issue of Harpers Magazine; and a book, Sequoyah, the Cherokee Cadmus and Indian Moses, by George E. Foster of Milford, New Hampshire. All these publications are now out of print and are not easily found.

The McKinney and Hall article seems fairly accurate, as do contemporary articles in the Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Advocate. The account by Colonel Phillips was written from statements made to him by various informants about thirty years after Sequoyah's death and is not altogether reliable. Colonel Phillips was a colonel of the Indian Home Guards, a Federal troop of the Civil War period, and he was also at one time the Commandant of Fort Gibson. He wrote:

"One of his sons is a very fair artist, using promiscuously pencil, pen, chalk or charcoal. He served as a private soldier in the Union Army in

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the late war, and there in his quarters, made many sketches. His power of caricaturing was very considerable. If a humorous picture of some officer who had rendered himself obnoxious, was found chalked in unmistakable but grotesque lineaments in the commissary door, it was said, 'It must have been by the son of Sequoyah'."2

This seems to be an error, as his descendants state that all of Sequoyah's sons who were in the war were in the Confederate service.3 His son, Teesy Guess, was third sergeant in John Porum Davis' company of Cherokee Mounted Volunteers and is mentioned in several army orders and reports.4

The verbose account by Foster was written after a trip to the Indian Territory about forty years ago and is made up principally of sentimental and fulsome flattery. His principal source of information seems to have been the Phillips article.


No record gives accurate information about the time and place of Sequoyah's birth. The place was somewhere in the southern Appalachian region and the time was during the latter part of the eighteenth century.

Henderson says:

"Sequoyah . . . . was born not later than 1761. Some authorities contend that he was born in 1760. Others would go back into the late fifties, which is unlikely . . . . it is well known that, when he died, he was approximately 82 or 83 years old, and this was in 1843."5

James Mooney, of the Bureau of American Ethnology, who is one of the highest authorities on Cherokee history

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and Biography, wrote in the article on Sequoyah in the Handbook of American Indians:

"Sequoia, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet was born . . . . about 1760."6

Albert V. Goodpasture in an article on the paternity of Sequoyah says:

"Sequoyah is believed to have been born about the time the famous fortress, Ft. Louden, was taken by the Cherokees in 1760."7

George Hughes, in an article entitled "The First Sequoyah," says:

"He was born sometime during the decade extending from 1765 to 1775."8

Dr. Starr, of Claremore, Oklahoma, has made a life study of Cherokee history and genealogy. His opinion was accepted by the United States Commission in making up the rolls for the Five Civilized Tribes. He says:

"Sequoyah was most probably born about 1770."9

The Phillips article in Harper's would place his birth about the same year, though the exact date is not given.

A number of Sequoyah's grandchildren and their numerous descendants are living in Oklahoma at the present time, and the information that they are able to give would seem to indicate that 1770 is more likely to be the correct date.

The exact date was probably never recorded, and it is now quite impossible to learn. All authorities agree that he was a mature man with a wife and children when he began working on the alphabet in 1809. That does not, however, necessarily indicate that he was past middle age, as has sometimes been stated. Many accounts of very old Indians when carefully investigated show that the Indian was not so old as he claimed. The Cherokee Constitution permitted youths of eighteen years to vote and make contracts.10

The place of Sequoyah's birth is likewise unknown and

7Goodpasture, A. V. Paternity of Sequoyah. Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 1, No. 2.

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has been located in several different states by historians with some pet theory to prove.

Representative Scott Ferris of Oklahoma in a speech at the unveiling of the Sequoyah statue said, "Sequoyah was born in Tennessee."11 On the same occasion the Clerk of the House of Representatives said that Sequoyah was born in Georgia.12 Dr. Starr says, "He was born in the old Cherokee Nation, within one of the present states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, or Alabama, but the exact location of his birthplace is not known."13 In a magazine article Henderson makes the statement: "He was born in Georgia, and of his early life little or nothing is known. It is a curious fact that, even among the Cherokees, there are virtually no legends about him."14

In Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee this statement occurs: "According to personal information of James Wafford, who knew him well, being his second cousin, Sequoyah lived as a boy with his mother at Tuskegee town in Tennessee, just outside of old Fort Loudon."15

It seems certain that Sequoyah lived in that section of the country during his boyhood and later removed to Will's Valley in northern Alabama.


On his mother's side of his ancestry Sequoyah was of a good family in the tribe, his uncle being a chief in Echota.16 Sequoyah's mother belonged to the Paint Clan, and, therefore, her son belonged to that clan. Ancestry was traced through the mother. The name of an individual gave no idea of his relationship to others but the name of his clan was important and was carefully remembered, for marriage with another member of the same clan was forbidden. The

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seven clans of the Cherokees have been officially abolished for a number of years but their memory is even today kept alive by the more conservative members of the tribe.17

If little is known of Sequoyah's mother, even less is known of his father.

It is usually stated that Sequoyah's father was a white man, but a writer in the Cherokee Phoenix in 1828 said that only his paternal grandfather was a white man. This would indicate that Sequoyah's father was a half-breed and his mother a full-blood Cherokee. As this article was published during Sequoyah's lifetime in his own country and by his own people, it has some claim for consideration. It is certain that Sequoyah never learned to speak English and that he was considered to be a full-blood by many of the missionaries, although his eyes were grey and his complexion sallow.

McKenny and Hall, Foster, Phillips, and Starr all say that Sequoyah's father was a Dutch or German peddler named Gist. Foster and Phillips give colorful but unsubstantiated accounts of his life before he left New Ebenezar, Georgia, a town which had been founded for persecuted Moravians from Germany. Hughes said:

"Nothing is known concerning his father and many white men have been given that honor, although without any authority. The mere fact that no one knows within ten years the exact date of Sequoyah's birth is sufficient to exclude all guesses but that a member of another clan was his father."18

Goodpasture in an article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the official organ of the Oklahoma Historical Society,

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sets forth the claim of Nathaniel Gist, a son of Christopher Gist, the guide and friend of George Washington. His statement is based on letters of John Mason Brown, written in 1889 which are in the archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology. The story as told by Brown is that Nathaniel Gist was captured by the Cherokees at Braddock's defeat in 1775, and remained a prisoner with them for six years, during which time he became the father of Sequoyah. On his return to civilization he married a white woman in Virginia by whom he had other children, and afterwards removed to Kentucky, where Sequoyah, then a Baptist preacher, frequently visited him and was always recognized by the family as his son.19

In reply to this claim Mooney points out that the Cherokees were allies of the British during the war in which Braddock's defeat occurred; and that Sequoyah, so far from being a Baptist preacher was not even a Christian. For these positive errors and other improbabilities in Brown's story, he classes it as one of those genealogical myths built on a chance similarity of name.20

Mooney suggests that Sequoyah's father may have been one of the soldiers of the garrison at Fort Loudon, one of those lovers for whom the Cherokee women risked their lives during the siege.21

In the earlier accounts of Sequoyah his name is spelled Guyst or Guist, which spelling would indicate the German peddler theory of his ancestry is possibly correct.22

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It has often been stated, and is probably true, that Sequoyah's father deserted his wife before the birth of their son, but like many other statements about Sequoyah's life, it cannot be proved. If Guyst, Guist, or Gist, the German peddler, was his father, he may have come to his death while on a trading trip without having deserted his wife. He was unlicensed, and therefore, without the protection of the law. He was hundreds of miles from the colonial settlements, in a wild country where lawless men would have thought little of killing him for the contents of his packs. Sequoyah's mother is known to have had a trading house after the birth of her son and it may have been that her husband was killed while on a trip to get trade goods.

Dr. Starr, after much painstaking research says:

"His father is reputed to have been a Suabian peddler. His name, when it was recalled years afterward, so as to bestow it on his son, sounded some thing like Gist. He was an obscure wanderer, a part of the adventurous flotsam of the border of civilization."23

Sequoyah was born after his father had left his mother. She lived alone with her son and never remarried. His mother spoke the Cherokee language only and the son never learned to speak English.24

As few of the statements of Sequoyah's birth and parentage can be proved, it may be enough to return to the original statement and say that Sequoyah was born of a Cherokee mother, somewhere in the lower Appalachian region, between the years 1755 and 1775.

Sequoyah was not an uncommon name among the Cherokees and is fairly common in Oklahoma at the present time. Like many common English names, the original meaning has

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been lost and its derivation is rarely considered. It is probably from sikwa, a hog, (or originally an opposum), and vi, a locative ending meaning a place or an enclosure.

Sequoyah lived with his mother and grew up rather solitary. It is said that he was fond of playing in the woods and that he made an improved sort of milk troughs and skimmers of wood which he placed in their dairy house which he had also constructed over a fine spring. He is also said to have helped with the cattle and garden, doing a great deal of work that was considered to be woman's work.25

Oral tradition stated by several Cherokees says that Sequoyah's mother had a stock of goods which she traded for furs and other produce and that she had a considerable number of horses and cattle. Money had little value at that time in that section.

It is supposed that Sequoyah's mother died sometime about the beginning of the nineteenth century and that he probably married and moved to Wills Valley, Alabama, about that time. He took over his mother's trading business and went on several long trips, bringing back furs which he had received in exchange for trade goods.26

All authorities seem to agree on the statement that Sequoyah became a clever silversmith, making various articles from the silver coins of the French and Spanish trappers and the English traders. It is said that these articles were skillfully made with tasteful designs. Careful inquiry in all parts of the Cherokee Nation has failed to reveal a single article which is known to have been made by him. There are a few pieces of old silver which survived the Civil War period, and some of them are tastefully made and apparently old enough to have been made by Sequoyah. It is a pity that none of them can be authenticated, for that he was a silversmith is one of the few statements that all authorities are agreed upon.

Foster, with his usual enthusiasm, said that he was the greatest silversmith in the tribe.27 Another writer said that he was the only silversmith in the tribe. This statement is incorrect. In an article in an English Church magazine the

Cherokee Alphabet

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census of the Cherokees which was taken in 1810 was reviewed. The following statements were made:

"Of negro slaves they [the Cherokees] have 538. The number of their cattle is 19,600, of horses 6,100, of hogs 9,400, of sheep 1,037. They have now in actual use 13 grist mills, 3 saw-mills, 3 salt-petre works, and 1 powder mill. They have also 30 wagons, between 480 and 500 ploughs, 1600 spinning wheels, 467 looms, and 49 silversmiths."28

In his youth a lameness developed which prevented his becoming an active hunter, some say that it was caused by a hunting accident. Others say that it was a wound received in military service, but an article in an early number of the Cherokee Advocate states, "he was the victim of a hydrarthritic trouble of the knee joint, commonly called 'white swelling.' This affliction caused a lameness that characterized him during life.29 Dr. Starr says: "While still a boy he was afflicted with anascara which left him a cripple for life."30

Sequoyah's trading house became a sort of general meeting place for all of the members of the tribe who lived in that section of the country, and it seems certain that he was looked upon as a leader. The whites often referred to him as a chief but he never held such a position officially.31

In writing of this period McKenny and Hall said:

"These attentions were succeeded by their usual consequences. Genius is generally united with ambition which loves applause and is open to flattery. Guess [Sequoyah] was still young and easily seduced by adulation. His circle of acquaintances became enlarged, the young men courted his friendship and much of his time was spent in receiving visitors and discharging the duties of hospitality.
"On the frontier there was but one mode of evincing friendship or repaying civility—drinking was the universal pledge of cordiality and Guess considered it necessary to regale his visitors . . . . and to

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join in the bacchanalian orgies provided by his own industry."32

These periods of drunkenness became more frequent, and after a few months Sequoyah began buying liquor by the keg, and was rarely sober. He neglected his business and was rapidly spending all of his property to buy whiskey for himself and his friends. During his sober hours he began drawing, using dressed skins instead of canvas. He is said to have attained considerable artistic skill, but no examples of his art have come down to us.

His periods of drunkenness became so common that he was rarely sober. He neglected his farm and business, and, as he was unable to buy liquor in quantity, his former companions began to desert him and he was contemptuously known as "drunken Sequoyah."

Perceiving that he was making a wreck of his life he decided to change his manner of living and stop drinking. He was enabled to do this by taking up a new interest in life. Iron implements and utensils had been gradually introduced into the back country where Sequoyah lived, and with their introduction came the need of their repair. He decided to give up drinking and become a blacksmith. He was his own teacher in this art and every bit of equipment in his shop was of his own making. He made his own drills, hammers and tongs, built his own forge furnace and constructed his own bellows. He became a splendid workman, and people came great distances to bring things for him to repair or to buy the ones he made. His spurs and bridle bits were especially sought after, for they were of artistic design and often inlaid with silver. He also made arrow points, knives, hoes and other implements.

His shop continued to be a sort of meeting place for Cherokees of all ages and from widely separated sections of the country. After he became a blacksmith, Sequoyah was as active in discouraging the drinking of liquor as he had formerly been in promoting it. The Indians in that section of the country had never learned to make whiskey, and few traders came that far so that little liquor was introduced after Sequoyah stopped having it at his place. The first

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prohibition legislation in America, which affected any considerable section of country was probably the law passed by the Cherokee council, and this law was due, in part at least, to Sequoyah's efforts.32


Once, in the year 1809, the conversation in Sequoyah's shop turned on the ability of the white man to send messages from one to the other by means of "talking leaves." The majority considered it to be the work of sorcerers, others thought of it as a special gift, and some considered it mere imposture. Sequoyah had listened in silence, but at length remarked that he did not consider it a divine gift, an act of magic or mere imposture, but that the marks on the paper stood for words. He said that he believed he could invent a plan by means of which the Cherokees could talk on paper like the white man. He then took up a whetstone and began to scratch figures on it.

The company laughed at him and ridiculed his statements. This taunting ridicule extended until even some of

32Whereas the great variety of vices emanating from dissipation, particularly from intoxication and gaming at cards, which are so prevalent at all public places, the National Committee and Council, seeking the true interest and happiness of their people, have maturely taken this growing evil into consideration, and being fully convinced that no nation of people can prosper and flourish or become maganimous in character, the basis of whose laws are not founded upon virtue and justice; therefore, to suppress, as much as possible, those demoralizing habit which were introduced by foreign agency.

Resolved by the National Committee and Council, in General Council assembled, That any person or persons, whatsoever, who shall bring ardent spirits into the Cherokee Nation and dispose of the same so as to intoxicate any person or persons whatsoever, the person or persons so offending shall forfeit his or their whiskey, the same to be destroyed, or persona so offending shall forfeit and pay a fine of fifty dollars each for every such offense, and that any person or persons, whatsoever, who shall bring into the Cherokee Nation and dispose of playing cards, such person or persons, being convicted before any of the Judges, Marshals, or Light Horse, shall pay a fine of twenty-five dollars for every pack of cards so sold, and it shall be the duty of the several Judges, Marshals and Light Horse Companies to take cognizance of such offenses and to enforce the above resolution."

By order of the National Committee,
Jno. Ross Pres't Nat. Com.
Approved—Path X his Killer Mark.

A. McCoy, Clk. of Com.
Elijah Hicks, Clk. of Coun'l.
New Town, Cherokee Nation, November 11th, 1924.

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his own family took part in it. He determined to work at it until the Cherokees could talk on paper. He again neglected his business, but this time he gave his whole attention to the making of a system of writing.

At first he tried to make a different character for every word, but gave it up after several months because the number of characters was too large to be remembered. He then tried to make a separate character for every idea but found that there were too many difficulties in such a system. His family found this to be almost as bad as drunkenness, for during the twelve years he was at work on the alphabet he neglected his business.

Sequoyah at last discovered that the language was made up of a number of recurring sounds, that there were certain voiced sounds with which the words ended and other less pronounced sounds to go with these to make up the word. He set to work to analyze the language, to go to all public gatherings and to listen attentively to all speeches and conversations in order to be sure that no sound was overlooked.

He obtained an old English book, and, although he had no idea of the sounds represented by the English characters, he decided to adapt these characters to his use. The forms were simpler and more distinct than the ones he had been making, they were more easily read and remembered and were easier to make.

After taking some of the letters, modifying others, and inventing some forms of his own, Sequoyah had an alphabet, or rather a syllabary, with which he could write any word in his native language.

Hughes, Foster and others say that during this period of study Sequoyah went into seclusion and was rarely seen, and that his actions were so peculiar that he was called "crazy Sequoyah." This is probably incorrect, as Sequoyah seems to have taken an active part in public affairs. In 1816 Sequoyah was one of a delegation of fifteen chiefs and head men who made a treaty with the United States Commissioners, Andrew Jackson, D. Meriwether, and J. Franklin. He would hardly have been chosen to represent the Nation if he had been considered demented or a recluse.33

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After the alphabet was completed he had considerable difficulty in teaching it to his prejudiced and superstitious tribesmen. His first pupil was his daughter, Ah-yo-ka, who was quite young at the time but who rapidly learned to read and write.

He next announced to the conjurers or "medicine men" that he had a "talking-lead" that would talk in Cherokee. The conjurers, after going through incantations and "making medicine" decided that Sequoyah and Ahyoka were possessed of evil spirits and should be killed. This decision was not unlike that of the Salem witch trials.

The Cherokee Nation had adopted a written constitution, or at least a form of government, which had been committed to writing in the English language in 1811. Under this constitution it was necessary, before a legal execution could take place to have a trial before the civil authorities.

George Lowrey, a half-breed Scotch-Cherokee was town chief, and in order to get clear of the responsibility, he recommended that they send to one of the five Chickamaugua towns for a group of their fiercest young men to try Sequoyah and his daughter. These men were professional warriors, and some of them were always painted and ready to go on the war path.

When the warriors who were to try them arrived, they separated the father and daughter and then asked Sequoyah to write messages which were carried to Ahyoka, who was out of sight and hearing. She read these and wrote others which Sequoyah interpreted for them. After a number of trials the young men were convinced that they could make the paper talk and asked to be taught so that they could return to their homes and teach others. Within a week all of them were able to read and write. In this way Sequoyah secured the protection of the powerful and warlike Chickamagua towns on the Tennessee River.

The immediate results of what Sequoyah did have no parallel in history. Not a school house was built and not a teacher was hired, but within a few months a nation of Indians, called savages by their enemies, rose from a condition of savage illiteracy to one of culture, unaided save by one man.

The unusual spectacle of a whole nation at school pre-

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rented itself. There were aged grandparents, their children and grandchildren; painted warriors, who boasted between lessons of their bravery and prowess; white and Cherokee traders, many opulent and accomplished; cunning medicine men, who had lately been his most dangerous enemies and half-breeds, proud and imperious.

They usually finished their schooling in three or four days, and seldom took more than a week.

The conjurers or medicine-men were particularly active in learning the new system of writing and in making use of it. In writing of a large collection of conjuring songs and charms made more than fifty years ago, Mooney says:

"These formulas had been handed down orally from remote antiquity until the early part of the present [19th] century, when the invention of the Cherokee syllabary enabled the priests of the tribe to put them into writing. The same invention made it possible for their rivals, the missionaries, to give the Indians the Bible in their own language, so that the opposing forces of Christianity and shamanism alike profited by the genius of Sequoya. The pressure of the new civilization was too strong to be withstood, however, and though the prophets of the old religion still have much influence with the people, they are daily losing ground and will soon be without honor in their own country.
"Such an exposition of the aboroginal religion could be obtained from no other tribe in North America, for the simple reason that no other tribe has an alphabet of its own in which to record its sacred lore. It is true that the Crees and Micmacs of Canada and the Tukuth of Alaska have so-called alphabets or ideagraphic systems, invented for their use by the missionaries, while, before the Spanish conquest, the Mayas of Central America were accustomed to note down their hero legends and priestly ceremonials in hieroglyphic characters graven upon the walls of their temples or painted upon tablets made of the leaves of the maguay. But it seems never to have occurred to the northern tribes that an alphabet coming from a missionary source could be used for any other purpose than the transcription of Bibles and catechisms, while the sacred books of the Mayas, with a few exceptions, have long since met destruction at the hands of fanaticism, and the modern copies which have come down to the present day are written out from imperfect memory by In-

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dians who had been educated under Spanish influences, in the language, alphabet and ideas of the conquerors, and who, as is proved by an examination of the books themselves, drew from European sources a great deal of their material. Moreover, the Maya tablets were so far hieratic as to be understood only by the priests and those who had received a special training in this direction, and they seem, therefore, to have been entirely unintelligible to the common people.
"The Cherokee alphabet, on the contrary, is the invention, or adaptation of one of the tribe who, although he borrowed most of the Roman letters, in addition to the forty or more letters of his own devising, knew nothing of their proper use or value, but reversed them or altered their forms to suit his purpose, and gave them a name and value determined by himself. This alphabet was at once adopted by the tribe for all purposes for which writing can be used, including the recording of their shamanistic prayers and ritualistic ceremonies....
"The numerous archaic and figurative expressions used require the interpretation of the priests, but, as before stated, the alphabet in which they are written is that in daily use among the common people."34

The conjurers, as has been stated, accepted the alphabet immediately, but the missionaries, on the other hand, received it with coolness. One missionary put himself on record by saying:

"By the use of this alphabet, so unlike any other, the Cherokees cut themselves from the sympathies and respect of the intelligent of other nations."35

Some of the missionaries had been at work trying to translate the Bible into Cherokee, using the Roman characters, but had not been very successful. A spelling-book36 had already been printed, with which it was hoped to teach the young Cherokees to learn to read their language. To teach the old they thought would be an impossibility. The people did not take to the idea, and even its most enthusiastic supporters had to admit that the Cherokee language could not be expressed by the sounds of the English language.

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The Moravian church historian, Dr. Schwarze, in his book, Moravian Missions Among the Southern Indian Tribes, wrote of the difficulties of the early missionaries:

"In the diary and in the letters of the missionaries are found frequent allusions to the difficulty of learning the Cherokee language, with regard to the mastery of this tongue the first visitors of the Brethren to the tribe were sanguine; as time wore on, the workers in the field reported that the task was hopeless unless some young Brother could be found who would be willing actually to live with full-blood Cherokees for several years. In that event it was thought Cherokee speech could be acquired. No action was taken on the suggestion; either the younger Brother was not forthcoming or the plan was later deemed not feasible.
"The first ten years of missionary labor in the Nation were practically barren of results. With all allowance of time for new and spiritual concepts of the Gospel to take root in the minds of a heathen people, years were necessarily lost because the messengers could not speak at all to the Indians except by gesture, and, in later years through awakened half-breeds.'37

Charles Hicks, afterwards Principal Chief of the Nation, became an enthusiastic convert of the Moravians and when they baptized him they gave him the name Renatus so that he afterwards signed his name Ch. R. Hicks. He attempted to show the missionaries how words and syllables were expressed, partly through the nose and partly through the throat. The sounds were so peculiar that no combination of English vowels and consonants could express them.

Quoting from a letter from one of the missionaries, Dr. Schwarze says:

"D. S. Buttrick, missionary of the American Board, was commissioned by his Board to learn the language and has put several years into the endeavor, with the result that, up to date, he has found nine modes, eighteen tenses and three numbers (singular, dual, and plural). No prepositions or auxiliary verbs are employed, these adjuncts being in the verbs themselves. Pronouns are seldom used; instead the nouns are repeated. With all his study Buttrick

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A Page from the Cherokee Advocate

can not yet express himself to the comprehension of Cherokee Indians."38

The alphabet was completed and the test made in 1821.

The next year Sequoyah, who until this time had lived with the Eastern Cherokees, went to the Cherokees who were living on the Arkansas River in order to teach them the alphabet. He was favorably received, and inducements were made to encourage him to join the western branch of the Cherokee Nation. He liked the freedom of the western country and returned to the East and made preparations to move to Arkansas.

In 1823 he was living among the Western Cherokees and had been made a member of their General Council. Active correspondence was being carried on between the two branches of the Cherokee Nation over a distance of 700 miles. Friendships were renewed and family connections were strengthened.

"This was done by individuals who could not speak English and who had never learned any alphabet except this syllabic one which Guyst had invented and taught others and introduced into practice."39

John Jolly was the civil chief of the Western Cherokees and Ta-kah-to-kuh was a conjurer and war chief and a real leader among the people. Sequoyah was especially befriended by the old chief, and in Ta-kah-to-kuh's village Sequoyah taught his first class in the western country. Rev. Cephas Washburn, a missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for foreign Missions, wrote in his Reminiscences:

"The art of reading and writing in their own language afforded the advantages of correspondence, and of permanent records; and if they could also, as a people, acquire knowledge and skill in the useful arts, they might be wholly independent of white people, a consummation ever greatly desired by this native chief (Ta-kah-to-kuh). By his suggestion and aid, added to some funds furnished by Guess, his brother, named Tobacco Will, purchased a full and complete set of blacksmith's tools, opened a shop and carried on the business quite successfully. Guess

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worked as a blacksmith. Some of his work was not only quite substantial but finished off in good taste."40

In 1824 the General Council of the Eastern Cherokees voted to give Sequoyah a large silver medal as a mark of distinction.41 The medal was made in Washington under the supervision of John Ross, who had been president of the upper branch of Council when the award had been voted and who was in Washington as a delegate for the Eastern Cherokees. On one side of the medal there was a bust surrounded by the inscription in English, "Presented to George Gist by the General Council of the Cherokee for his ingenuity in the invention of the Cherokee Alphabet." On the other side was a representation of two pipes with crossed stems, encircled by the same inscription in Cherokee. It was intended that the medal should be presented to Sequoyah in a full council assembly, but on learning that he intended to remain in the West, Chief Path Killer instructed John Ross to forward it to him with a suitable letter, which was done. Sequoyah wore the medal throughout the rest of his life and when he died it was buried with him.

In September 1825, David Brown, who had already made some attempts at a translation in the Roman alphabet, completed a translation of the New Testament in the new syllabary, the work being handed around in manuscript, as there were as yet no types cast in Sequoyah's alphabet.42

In 1925 the General Council of the Cherokee Nation voted to make the alphabet official and appointed a committee to raise funds for establishing a government printing office.43

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The Christian Observer for May, 1926, contained the following editorial:

"A committee has been appointed in New York for the purpose of obtaining donations on behalf of the Cherokee Indians, to aid them in procuring a printing press and types. The committee state some facts and considerations of high importance not only in reference to the welfare of the Cherokees, but to the general subject of Indian civilization . . . . So strong at present is the current of public opinion throughout the tribe, in favor of whatever may aid in their progress in knowledge and civilization that the heads of their government have appropriated fifteen hundred dollars of the public money toward establishing an academy and a printing press at their seat of government, and to appoint an agent to solicit donations to make up the amount which may be required for these objects."

This would indicate that interest in the proposed undertaking was not confined to the Cherokee country.

The first official notice that the United States Government had of the Cherokee alphabet was probably a letter of David Brown, a Cherokee preacher, in which he forwarded a copy of the alphabet and the word "friend" written in it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Washington in September, 1825.44

Provisions were made for a building to house the proposed printing office by the following act of the General Council:

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New Echota, Cherokee Nation, Nov. 2d, 1826.
Resolved by the National Committee and Council, That a house shall be built for a printing office, of the following dimensions: 24 by 20 feet, one story high, shingle roof, with one fire place, one door in the end of the house, one floor and a window in each side of the house two lights deep and ten feet long, to be chinked and lined on the inside with narrow plank, with the necessary watering benches and type desks requisite for a printing office.44

Fearing that the office would not be able to proceed immediately the Council passed the following resolution two days later:

Resolved by the National Committee and Council, That David Brown and George Lowrey be, and they are hereby appointed to translate eight copies of the laws of the Cherokee Nation, as early as convenient, into the Cherokee language, written in characters invented by George Guess, and also to translate one copy of the New Testament in the same characters and to present them to the General Council when completed and the National Committee and Council shall compensate them for their services.45

They evidently completed the work in a satisfactory manner for the Council at the regular meeting in 1828 made the following appropriation:

"Resolved * * * That the sum of Seventy-two dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated out of any monies in the National Treasury, not otherwise appropriated, as a compensation to Messers George Lowrey and David Brown for translating the laws of the Nation from English into the Cherokee language, agreeably to the law passed 4th November, 1826.46

Official salaries and payments for services were never high in the Cherokee Nation, and at that time the Principal Chief's salary was only $150 a year, so that $72 was probably considered to be a handsome payment.

The building for the printing office was evidently completed without delay, for on November 15th, 1826, an act was passed appropriating two hundred and fifty dollars to pay for the building.

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The committee that was appointed to solicit funds confined its efforts largely to soliciting aid from the various missionary boards. None of these seemed to be very enthusiastic, and we have already noticed that the Council of the Nation had ordered the translation into Cherokee of a copy of the New Testament even before a printing press had been provided. In the Missionary Herald for May, 1826, appeared the following editorial:

"Mr. Worcester who has recently joined the Cherokee Mission says: 'A few hours of instruction are sufficient for a Cherokee to learn to read his own language intelligently. There is no part of the Nation where the new alphabet is not understood. That it will prevail over every other method of writing the language, there is no doubt. If a book were printed in the Cherokee character there are those in every part of the Nation who could read it at once.47

The missionary board was probably convinced, but objected to Sequoyah's alphabet because of its Indian origin and the fact that it was being used by conjurers in heathen incantations. Dr. Worcester, who was probably more familiar with the alphabet than were any of the other missionaries, made the following statement:

"It is well worthy of notice that Mr. Guyst, the inventor, * * * could not read a word in any language at all. His alphabet * * * is read by a very large portion of the people, though, I suppose, there has been no such thing as a school in which it has been taught, and it is not more than two or three years since it was invented. A few hours of instruction are sufficient for a Cherokee to learn to read. He will not, indeed, so soon be able to read fluently: but when he has learned to read and understand, fluency will be acquired by practice .... I am assured, by those who have had the best opportunity for knowing, that there is no part of the Nation where the new alphabet is not understood, and many others would only have to obtain a few hours instruction from some friend to enable them to do so. If, on the other hand, it were printed in the English character, it would be necessary to spend considerable time at school in order to be able to read; which scarcely any but children, and doubtless for years to come, but a small part of them, could do.47

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The missionary board members were still unfavorably disposed toward Sequoyah's alphabet and urged the adoption of a sort of shorthand. By this time they were willing to admit that many Cherokee words in common use could not be written with the Roman characters. In reply Dr. Worcester wrote:

"I am not insensible of the advantages which Mr. Pickering's alphabet, in common with that in use in the Sandwich Islands, possess above the English, by being so much more nearly a perfect alphabet. Nor do I suppose that more than half the time would be required for a Cherokee child to learn to read his own language in that alphabet than is required for an English child to learn his. But, in point of simplicity, Guess has still the preeminence, and in no language probably can the art of reading be acquired with nearly the same facility.48

Upon another occasion Dr. Worcester wrote as follows:

"Speak to them of writing in any other character, and you throw cold water on the fire you are wishing to kindle. To now persuade them to learn another would be in general a hopeless task. Print a book in Sequoyah's alphabet and hundreds can read the moment it is given them."49

At length the opposition of the missionaries was overcome and with their assistance, type and a press was bought, and the publication of a paper begun.


After Sequoyah moved to Arkansas he established a salt works, set up a blacksmith shop, and resumed trading. He continued to teach all who would come to his place, and assisted several young men to go into business.50 The house he built was still in use a few years ago. As salt was hard to get in that country, Sequoyah prospered, although his methods of manufacture were crude.

In 1828 Sequoyah was one of a delegation sent by the Arkansas Cherokees to Washington to make a treaty by which their lands in Arkansas were to be exchanged for lands in the present state of Oklahoma. Rev. J. W. Moore in his

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Memoirs of Rev. Cephas Washburn wrote of the delegation as follows:

"In January, 1928, the writer of this memoir, when a missionary of the General Assembly's Board, on his way to Little Rock was detained for near a week at Montgomery's Point waiting for a passage up the Arkansas. At the same place was a delegation of Cherokee chiefs, waiting for an opportunity to ascend the Mississippi, on their way to Washington City. I regarded myself in no ordinary degree favored by being permitted to occupy the same apartment with these dignified men. The delegation, so far as is now remembered, consisted of John and James Rogers, Major Haw, George Morris, Black Fox, Flowers, and Guess, the celebrated inventor of the Cherokee alphabet. The white men here, as is generally the case at places of public resort, were many of them boisterous and profane, gamblers and drunkards. But the chiefs were sedate and dignified. No profaneness was heard from the lips of those who spoke English. There was a peculiarity about them which made an impression upon my mind, which a third of a century has not effaced. Their tall figures, bronze complexions, statue like attitudes, and unknown language, all pointed them out as a peculiar variety of our race and led me strongly to desire a more intimate knowledge of them as a people. Among these singular men sat one whose name will descend to the latest posterity as having accomplished a greater literary achievement than any other individual known to history. Cadmus is said to have invented the Greek alphabet, or a part of it, but even this is doubted . . . But Guess, as is well known, did not understand any language but his own; and yet he invented a character for the Cherokee language, and reduced it to a legible form capable of being acquired by the natives in an almost incredibly short period of time.51

While Sequoyah was at Washington he sat for a portrait which was painted by Charles B. King. A photograph of a copy of this painting is in the appendix. He met representatives from a great many of the western tribes of Indians who were in Washington on similar missions and was greatly respected and admired by all of them.

In the treaty made at Washington the following provisions are made on behalf of Sequoyah:

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"ARTICLE 5. It is further agreed that the United States . . . will pay . . . five hundred dollars for the use of George Guess, a Cherokee, for the great benefits he has conferred upon the Cherokee people, in the beneficial results they are now experiencing from the use of the alphabet discovered by him, to whom also, in consideration of his relinquishing a valuable saline, the privilege is hereby given to locate and occupy another saline on Lee's Creek.52

After Sequoyah's return from Washington, he, with other Cherokees, moved to the Indian Territory where he built a house which is still in use.

The forced removal of the Eastern Cherokees, which occurred not long after this treaty, and the wars with the Osages and other plains tribes, who could not understand why their hunting grounds had been given to the Cherokees, brought about a feeling of dissatisfaction which caused a great many Cherokees to move into the Mexican territory, where they were welcomed and a promise of land grants was given them by the Baron de Bastrop and other Mexican authorities.53

While Sequoyah was at Washington he met delegations from many other tribes and decided to write a book on Indian life and to attempt to make a universal alphabet for the use of all of the Indian languages. After he had returned home and put his affairs in order he procured some articles for the Indian trade, and putting them with his provisions, camping equipment and writing materials in an ox-cart he started out among the wild Indians of the plains and mountains on a philological crusade such as the world has never seen. In writing of these expeditions Phillips said:

"One of the most remarkable features of his experience was the uniform kindness with which his brethren of the prairies received him. They furnished him means too, to prosecute his inquiries in each clan or tribe. He made several journeys, always inquiring for Cherokees.54

Speaking of one of these trips, Hughes said:

"He had with him a two-wheeled cart drawn by a single ox, and a boy seventeen years of age. The cart was filled with matter printed in the Cherokee

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Page of Cherokee Law Book

language. His destination was the homes of the Zunis, Hopis and other tribes of New Mexico and Arizona. Some of these Indians heard of his coming and sent a delegation many miles to the east to meet and welcome the "Wise man of the Cherokees," as he was known to all tribes, east, south and southwest."55

In 1839 the Eastern and Western Cherokees were united by a special Act of Union. For this purpose each division elected a special council, and the head men of each division were designated as President and Vice President to distinguish them from the usual term of Chief and Assistant Chief. George Lowrey was the President of the Eastern Cherokees, and Sequoyah was President of the Western Cherokees.

Sequoyah continued to make trading trips among the neighboring tribes and continued to write in his book, but no particular progress except a more friendly feeling among the tribes seems to have come out of it.

In the spring of 1842, after having cautioned all his associates to keep their destination as secret as possible, Sequoyah accompanied by his son Teesy, Co-tes-ka, Nu-wo-ta-na, Cah-ta-ta, Co-wo-si-ti, John Elijah, and The Worm, started to the Mexican possessions in the southwest to find other bands of Cherokees and induce them to return to the Nation.55

The Worm, who was well acquainted in the southwestern country, acted as guide and interpreter. They were well mounted on saddle horses and had three pack horses. After crossing Red River into the Republic of Texas, (Sequoyah and the others stopped and The Worm went ahead to see if he could find any Cherokee at any of the towns and camps who could act as guide or give them direct information about the Cherokee towns. This was deemed necessary on account of the hostility of the Texans to Indians from the United States.

The Worm was absent for twelve days and while at a Wichita village purchased three bushels of corn for which he had to pay nine dollars. The party then proceeded to the Wichita town, where they were hospitably received, and remained there several days. Sequoyah perceived that the trip was likely to be expensive, so he sent all of the party back except Teesy and The Worm. These resumed their journey

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southward. They had to travel cautiously for fear of the Texan authorities, who had forbidden Indians from the United States to come to Texas. At that time a diplomatic correspondence was being carried on between the Cherokee Nation and Texas, and rather strained relations existed. While they were encamped near the Rio Grande their horses were stolen by a band of Tawakony Indians.

For several days they kept on afoot, burdened with packs. At length, Sequoyah, who on account of his lameness could not travel rapidly, suggested that they leave him near a river with their surplus packs and go on to the Cherokee town without him. They were to secure horses there and return for him.

Near a stream they found a cave in which there was a higher ledge of rock. As the floor of the cave would be covered by high water, they leaned the trunk of a tree against the ledge so that Sequoyah might climb up on it in case the stream rose.

A considerable part of this luggage was printed matter they were taking to the Cherokees in Mexico and Sequoyah's writing material. He used all of his available time in writing, but, as his manuscripts were later buried with him, we do not know what he was writing.

A few days later, in the Mexican town of San Cranto, Teesy and The Worm met Standing Rock, a Cherokee from the town they were hunting. They proceeded to the Cherokee village and secured horses to fetch the aged Sequoyah.

On returning to the cave, they found that water was sweeping through it and that Sequoyah had disappeared. Upon making explorations in the vicinity they found the tracks of a man, which were easily identified as those of Sequoyah on account of his lameness. They also found a letter that had been written four days before, in which he said that the water had washed away all of his provisions and that he had started in an attempt to trail them. They tracked him to the traces of a recent camp fire and from there they found the tracks of several horses but could not pick up Sequoyah's trail again. After trailing the horses for two days they found Sequoyah camped alone with a horse tied near him.

He told them that he had met a number of Delaware Indian buffalo hunters who wanted him to return to the In-

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dian Territory with them, but finding that he was determined to go on, they gave him a horse and some provisions.

They went to the Cherokee village, and after a few days The Worm returned to the Cherokee Nation, leaving Sequoyah and Teesy. Sequoyah was not able to induce the Cherokees in the village to return with him, and on account of his age and weakness was unable to return immediately. As summer advanced his condition grew worse and he died in July or August of 1843.

The exact details of his death are not now known, and several conflicting reports have been given. The following note from Royce's history is as complete as any:

"He left his home for Mexico in quest of several scattered bands of Cherokees who had wandered off to that distant region, and whom it was his intention to collect together with a view to inducing them to return and become again united with their friends and kindred.
"He did not meet with the success anticipated. Being quite aged, and becoming worn out and destitute, he was unable to make the return trip to his home. Agent Butler, learning of his condition, reported the fact to the Indian Department and asked that sufficient funds be placed at his disposal for the purpose of sending messengers to bring the old man back.56 Two hundred dollars were authorized for the purpose, and Oo-no-leh, a Cherokee was sent57 on the errand of mercy, but upon reaching Red River he encountered a party of Cherokees from Mexico who advised him that Guess had died in the preceding July, and that his remains were interred at San Fernando."58

The following letter gives the most circumstantial account of the death of Sequoyah:

59Warren's Trading House, Red River,
April 21st, 1845.
"We, the undersigned Cherokees, direct from the Spanish Dominions, do hereby certify that George Guess of the Cherokee Nation, Arkansas,

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departed this life in the town of San-fernando in the month of August, 1843, and his son Chusaleta is at this time on the Brasos River, Texas, about thirty miles above the falls, and he intends returning home this fall.
"Given under our hands the day and date written.
Daniel G. Watson
Jesse Chisholm."

Being uncertain of the death of Sequoyah, the Council on December 29th, 1843 passed the following act:

"Be it enacted by the National Council, That in lieu of the sum allowed George Guess, in consideration of his invention of the Cherokee alphabet, passed December 10th, 1841, and which is hereby repealed,60 the sum of three hundred dollars be paid to the said George Guess out of the National Treasury annually during his natural life.
"Sec. 2. Be it further enacted, That in case of the death of George Guess, that the same shall be paid to his wife, Mrs. Sally Guess, annually during her natural life."61

The next year the Council had not heard of the death of Sequoyah in an official way so the following appropriation was made:

"Be it enacted by the National Council, That the sum of three hundred dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated out of any money in the Treasury, not otherwise appropriated, for the benefit of George Guess, or his wife Sarah, for the year 1844."62

Annually thereafter appropriations were made for Sequoyah's widow, and after her death appropriations were ir-

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regularly made for members of his family until 1898, when the United States took charge of the Cherokee tribal affairs.

About 1850 the Cherokee Nation had a shortage in its finances that lasted for a few years. Several efforts were made to provide money, salaries of officers were reduced, the publication of the newspaper (The Cherokee Advocate) was discontinued, and building was suspended. All official payments were made in warrants on the treasury. These were worth little, as no one knew when they would be redeemed. Council met and seemed to consider that Sequoyah's widow should have a preferred claim against any money in the Treasury. On October 10th, 1853 the following act was passed:

"Be it enacted by the National Council, That it shall be and is hereby made the duty of the Treasurer of the Nation to pay cash for the warrant dated Dec. 16th, 1852, issued to Mrs. Sally Guess as a pension allowed her by the Act entitled, "An Act for the Benefit of George Guess," dated December 29th 1843."63

The name Sequoyah in some form has been used in a great many ways and in several places. In 1847, Endlicher of Vienna, one of the most eminent botanists of his time, wrote a comprehensive work on botany, and, having seen sections of the wood, cones, bark and leaves of the big trees of California found them to be a distinct variety, and named them in honor of the great Cherokee, Sequoyah gigantea.

In 1853, Lindley, the British botanist, after having seen a section of the tree in the British Museum said that the greatest man, Wellington, who had recently died, should give his name to the greatest tree. He proposed the name Wellingtonia gigantea. It was later discovered that Lindley's scientific classification was wrong. Later Decaisne presented two specimens to the Societe Botanique of France and established for all time the name Sequoia gigantea.

A white crystelline compound (C13H10) contained in the distillation products of the needles of sequoia gigantea is called se-quoi-ene. The caterpillars of a sesiid moth (Bombecia sequoiae) is called the sequoia-borer.

In 1851 the Cherokee Council changed the name of the district in which Sequoyah lived from Skin Bayou District to Sequoyah District. When the Indian Territory was ad-

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mitted as a state with Oklahoma, the county corresponding to this district received the name Sequoyah County.

On August 21, 1905, the executives of four of the Five Civilized Tribes joined in a convention at Muskogee in a determined effort to secure separate statehood for Indian Territory.

They wrote a constitution for the Territory and named the proposed new state "Sequoyah." All residents of the Indian Territory were invited to assist. The convention was important in that it represented the first political co-operation between the whites and Indians. The constitution and plan for statehood was voted on by all of the people of Indian Territory and adopted by a majority of more than 47,000 votes. For political reasons it received no consideration at Washington, and apparently the work of the Sequoyah convention went for naught. However, the experience served the eastern section of the state well, for when the Constitutional convention met at Guthrie a year later it was controlled by the men who had organized the Sequoyah Convention. W. H. Murray (Alfalfa Bill), the vice-president of the Sequoyah convention, was elected president of the Guthrie convention. C. N. Haskell, who had been prominent in the Sequoyah convention, was elected the first governor of the state of Oklahoma. The characteristic features of the Sequoyah constitution were embodied in the Oklahoma constitution.


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