Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Printer-friendly page

Cherokee Indians

by William L. Anderson and Ruth Y. Wetmore, 2006
Additional research provided by John L. Bell.

Part i: Overview; Part ii: Cherokee origins and first European contact; Part iii: Disease, destruction, and the loss of Cherokee land; Part iv: Revolutionary War, Cherokee defeat and additional land cessions; Part v: Trail of Tears and the creation of the Eastern Band of Cherokees; Part vi: Federal recognition and the fight for Cherokee rights; Part vii: Modern-day Cherokee life and culture; Part viii: References and additional resources

Part i: An overview

Goingback Chiltoskey carving animal figures from wood, 1967. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.Cherokee Indians once occupied an area encompassing approximately 140,000 square miles that became parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. The Cherokee thrived in North Carolina well into the late eighteenth century, but as Euro-American settlers steadily moved into and near Cherokee lands, sharp conflicts arose between Cherokees and whites and between Cherokees themselves, as leaders with competing claims to speak for the tribe secured treaties and formed other agreements with white settlers that were not acknowledged by all Cherokee people. In 1838-39, the U.S. government forcibly removed the Cherokee from their lands in North Carolina, leading them on the infamous Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). A small number of Cherokee people successfully resisted removal, however, by claiming North Carolina citizenship and by maintaining the right to remain on lands they owned. These people and their descendants were recognized in 1868 by the federal government as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In the early 2000s these Cherokee, living on the Qualla Boundary in the western part of the state, were the only Indian tribe in North Carolina fully recognized by the federal government. The tribe has more than 13,000 enrolled members.



Keep reading > Part ii: Cherokee origins and first European contact keep reading

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is self-governed and autonomous.  Governance is by tribal council.  The Principal Chief as of 2018 was Richard Sneed.  His name is the latest in the list of Cherokee leaders, his predecessors being Yonaguska, William Holland Thomas, Salonitah (or Flying Squirrel), Lloyd R. Welch, Nimrod Jarrett Smith, Stillwell Saunooke, Andy Standing Deer, Jesse Reed, Bird Saloloneeta (or Young Squirrel), John Goins Welch, Joseph A. Saunooke, David Blythe, Sampson Owl, John A. Tahquette, Jarret Blythe, Henry Bradley, Osley Bird Saunooke, Walter Jackson, Noah Powell, John A. Crowe, Robert S. Youngdeer, Jonathan L. Taylor, Gerard Parker, Joyce Dugan, Leon Jones, Michell Hicks, and Patrick Lambert.

--Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2018.


Eastern Band of Cherokee Website:



Hello my great grandmother was of the Cherokee tribe in South Carolina,Her name was Mabel Prince. I am trying to trace her history. I hope you can help me.


Hi Antoinette,

 Thank you for visiting NCpedia and for sharing your question. I am sending your question to the Government & Heritage Library’s  Reference Team.

Good luck in your research and very best wishes,

Elizabeth Hayden, Government & Heritage Library


My 4th great grandfather James David Small b. abt 1781 in Guilford County, NC. Family lore said he was common law married to a Cherokee woman and had 5 children. In 1824 he remarries in Rockingham County, NC. Could you give me some ideas if it is possibly to find any records about his first wife?


Iam looking for any or all info on my 3 rd great grand mother Mary Polly Murphy from Georgia she had three children by Whiplash son of Bell and Rachel Rattler in Cherokee NC . She is on the censuses several times ! Her sons were David Murphy , Martin Murphy, and Jessie Murphy she had other children as well but I descend from David Murphy and am on the rolls at Eastern Band of Cherokees ! We just can’t seem to find the real identity to Her ! Her parents !
Please help
Thank you


Iam looking for any info on Mary Polly Murphy . She was born in Georgia around 1797 and later moved to Cherokee NC she was a partner at one time To Whiplash Murphy and they had three sons David, Martin, And Jessie . She had other children by other men as well ! I am a Descendent of David Murphy and his daughter Melia Jane Murphy Smith.


I am looking for information on my Cherokee heritage, Most of them were in the Ashe, NC area. I am part of the Hart, Sizemore family. I am looking for any information you may have about Chief Bear Hart (aka William Jackson) and the James Hart/ Catherine Sizemore Marriage. Thank You so much!!


I am also looking for information about William Jackson or Chief Bear Hart. I am not having a lot of luck and there are so many different stories. Not sure where to turn for this. Have you found out anything?


Tom, I am a part of that family as well. Chief Bear Hart is my 8th great grandfather & I’m trying to find info. Let’s work together! Look me up on ancestry as rebeccajmead64.


Dear Tom,

Thank you for visiting this article and for taking time to share your heritage and question. I have forwarded your question to Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library. A librarian will contact you shortly to help you with this.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan


I have always been told that my great grandmother (mother's side of the family) was a Cherokee indian. My grandmother was born in Buncombe county, NC. Some of the surnames in my mother's side of the family include Tweed, Hensley and Franklin. It has been very difficult to confirm any of this information. Do you have any suggestions in trying to verify whether my great grandmother and great great grandmother were Cherokee indians? I have done DNA testing through Ancestry and Family Tree DNA with no native american ancestry identified. But, this would be likely considering the number of generations that have passed since my birth.

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at