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Cherokee fishing weir: a sort of stone fish trap in a river

Cherokee fishing weir on the Little Tennessee River in Macon County. (Thanks to Ralph Preston)

People who lived in the Cherokee nation got their meat from hunting and fishing, and from gathering shellfish, and their corn and beans and squash from farming. Usually men did the hunting and fishing. They built little rock walls in the water – fishing weirs – to trap fish in, and used baskets to scoop up the fish. Sometimes the men poured poison made of roots and bark into the water to confuse the fish so they would be easy to catch.

Men hunted deer and small animals like rabbits and squirrels. At first they used spears and blowguns, and they set traps for the small animals. By around 700 AD, they used bows and arrows too to kill the deer. Cherokee people also kept some small dogs, which they may have used for hunting but they also ate. Cherokee men also hunted turtles.

Women did the gathering and farming, and basket-making and pottery-making, which was safer to do with little babies near you. Cherokee women grew a lot of different kinds of food, especially different kinds of corn and beans and squash. They had learned how to grow corn and squash from the Mississippian people to their west. They kept turkeys. They also grew sunflowers for their seeds. They dried the corn and sunflower seeds in the summer sun so they would keep all winter, because they had no refrigerators.

Make your own Cherokee basket

Cherokee women also grew tobacco. They traded the tobacco with other Native people in order to get pipestone, or corn.

Children (both boys and girls) worked too. They gathered clams and mussels and oysters, wild grapes, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, chestnuts and acorns, and wild greens like onions and garlic. Everybody collected seashells to make into pretty beads to trade to other Native communities too.

Not everyone hunted or farmed. Some men and women had other jobs. Some people made weapons and tools and beads, or dried tobacco. Other Cherokee people were religious leaders, or doctors, or basket-makers, or potters. But just like everywhere else in the world at this time, most people had to farm, fish, or hunt, or there wouldn’t be enough food for everyone.

Learn by doing: go collect seashells at the coast
More about Cherokee food
More about the Cherokee

Bibliography and further reading about the Cherokee people:


Cherokee History
Native American Economy
More about Native Americans home