Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sequoyah and the Cherokee alphabet

There are places you pass on your way to and from a frequent destination. You see the sign and you think, "I need to do that. Next time for sure." Well, on this particular trip South-ward, I actually stopped at the Sequoyah birthplace and museum. It was about 25 miles off the interstate, but what a treasure! It is just down the road from Fort Loudon, so if you stop, have some time to take in both. I'm going to have to return to the fort ~ again ~ "next time."

The Sequoyah museum definitely falls into the category of a literary journey, because Sequoyah was the creator of the Cherokee dictionary. Despite the plethora of languages, there really haven't been that many alphabets created, and it is said that this was the only time a non-literate people created their own writing system. Before long there were newspapers, books, and songbooks.

Sequoyah was born to a white man and a native-American woman. He was lame as a child and was often shunned from playing with the other children. This made him observant and introspective. As an adult, he fought with a Cherokee unit at the battle of Horseshoe Bend. He was impressed by the "talking leaves" of the other soldiers and that looking at these "leaves" could make men laugh, cry, or get angry.

He tried making characters for each word, but legend says it was the song of a bird that made him realize that sound was the key. He was viewed with suspicion as he continued his work, and when he finished, the elders took his daughter and isolated her. They told Sequoyah to write what they said. Then they took the pages to the girl and she repeated everything they had said, even though she had been nowhere near enough to hear them. They were amazed and Sequoyah's work was recognized.

The museum also tells an amazing story of native history through documentaries playing the Heartland Series, as well as through amazing exhibits filled with artifacts.

It was sodden and wintry outside, but I still walked around the pole recreation of the round winter house and the rectangular summer house (for heating/cooling purposes), as well as down to a burial mound.

I learned at the mound that there are seven clans of the Cherokee, and that this area was a major "trail through time," as they called it, of the people.

For those NPS aficionados doing the EN Passport series, you can get a Trail of Tears stamp here. It costs three dollars for a self-guided tour of the museum and grounds, and they give you a great guidebook to follow along. The bookstore/gift shop has a good variety of books and local history. A surprising and inspiring place!


  1. I'm so glad that you stopped by and visited at the Indian museum. Another mark on your passport. Terrific. Love that funn bear....

  2. Very interesting! It's always exciting to discover new places, particularly when you've always seen them but never "pulled over." I am going to start doing that here in my new community. Who knows what I will find? The Artist's Way!

  3. I was happy to see you had made another post. This place would be so special for me, and I would love to visit it sometime! Our dear dear friend who now lives near Prescott is the great-granddaughter of Chief John Ross. His daughter, her grandmother, and she had a correspondence for many years. Though she was not raised with her Cherokee family, but by her white mother's family, she got to know her Dad and half sisters later in life. She is a darling person. She is now very active in Native American affairs like the Prescott Pow-wow (which we hope to attend this September!) and the Gourd Society here in Arizona. She makes beadwork pieces, and just recently won a blue ribbon for a necklace and earrings. You would just love her, Kenna! By the way, have you been to the Ijams Center yet and told Stephen Lyn Bales you are my cousin?! :-) LOVED this post!

  4. A very inspiring story, Marie! Still haven't been to the center, but I think his photo is on the banner of the Tennessee byways website!