Cherokee history – Native American history

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Cherokee statues from Etowah (now northern Georgia) - Cherokee history

Cherokee history: statues from Etowah (now northern Georgia) from about 1300 AD

The Ani Chota

The Cherokee nation was the largest nation of eastern North America.  They were probably also the most important. But they did not call themselves the Cherokee. They called themselves the Ani Chota. That means the people of Chota, their capital. Or they called themselves the Ani Yunwiya, which means “the main people”. Probably Cherokee people were originally part of the Iroquois people. Their language is related to Iroquois. And they themselves believed that they came from the north-east, but they split off and moved south, probably about 1500 BC, in the Late Archaic period.

Cherokee history – the Woodland period

After that, during the Woodland period, the Cherokee lived in south-eastern North America. That’s mainly modern Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, but also South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama. By about 800 AD, the Cherokee were probably a Mississippian group. They built burial mounds and towns like other Mississippian people, even though they did not live right on the Mississippi river and there are some differences in the way they lived.

Cherokee cooking pot for corn pudding: Cherokee history

Cherokee cooking pot for corn pudding

Cherokee farming

By around 1000 AD, in the Mississippian period, Cherokee people began to grow cornsquashsunflowers, and beans for some of their food. They grew tobacco, too. Sometime around 1200 AD, they may have started to keep tame turkeys for food too.

Cherokee tobacco pipe in the shape of a duck: Cherokee history

Cherokee tobacco pipe (Museum of the Cherokee Indian)

Cherokee people still hunted and gathered. They ate a lot of fish and shellfish. But the farming helped them to settle down in towns and villages.

Cherokee history – Mississippian period

During the Mississippian period, Cherokee people were not united under one chief. They lived in a bunch of small independent city-states. Probably these city-states were unified as a confederacy, like the Iroquois confederacy. Probably the Cherokee considered themselves one people. They often made decisions as a group by consensus or by voting. We might consider this to be a complex chiefdom. There were at least sixty Cherokee towns, and there may have been more. Each town had about 300 to 400 people living in it.

Cherokee trade contacts with the Aztecs

By this time, Cherokee people were trading with Mississippians who were trading with Pueblo people, who were trading with the Aztecs in Mexico. You can see similarities between the Cherokee statues in the picture and Aztec statues.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Cherokee history? Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: eating succotash
The Cherokee after Columbus

Bibliography and further reading about Cherokee history:


Later Cherokee history
Native Americans home

By |2018-04-07T17:05:33+00:00August 8th, 2017|History, Native American|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Cherokee history – Native American history. Study Guides, August 8, 2017. Web. December 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Alexis September 20, 2018 at 10:27 am - Reply

    no system of tribute

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