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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark SEQUOYAH'S CABIN

Location: Sequoyah County, on Okla. 101, about 10 miles northeast of Sallisaw.

This cabin commemorates the accomplishments of Sequoyah, the famous Cherokee teacher and scholar whose invention of the Cherokee syllabary gave that tribe and, by example, all the Five Civilized Tribes, the civilizing gift of literacy. Before the syllabary, the Cherokees had viewed the white man's written records as witchcraft; after the syllabary, they were able to codify their laws, adopt a written constitution, better govern and educate themselves, and express their viewpoints in print. Once they became literate in their own language, they could more easily grasp English. Shortly after they adopted Sequoyah's syllabary, the other Five Civilized Tribes began to formulate their own and before long all of them could read and write. The syllabaries provided Christian missionaries a means of written communication with the Indians through books, pamphlets, and other religious and educational materials and was a catalyst that hastened the acculturation of all five tribes. Beyond its direct benefits, the syllabary made possible the preservation of a mass of Cherokee lore in print. Of special interest to ethnologists are the writings of the Cherokee shamans, which provide an unparalleled body of information on an aboriginal religion that was unobtainable from any other U.S. tribe.

Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee syllabary. Lithograph by an unknown artist, probably from a painting by Charles Bird King. (Smithsonian Institution)

Little accurate information is available concerning the life of Sequoyah, sometimes known as George Gist or Guess or other variants. Born in the 1760's or 1770's, probably in Tennessee, he was the son of a Cherokee woman and a white or halfbreed trader. Reared by his mother in the traditional tribal manner and becoming a silversmith or blacksmith, he never learned English, but around 1809 became interested in writing and printing, which he recognized as a powerful civilizing force. He spent years experimenting with symbols to decipher the Cherokee language. Finally, in 1821 he completed a syllabary, consisting of 84 characters, each of which represented a syllable. Because it was a phonetic rendition of the language, the syllabary could be learned in a short period of time. Within a few months after the Eastern Cherokees endorsed the syllabary, thousands of Indians had mastered it and were learning to read and write. In 1822 Sequoyah traveled to Arkansas to introduce the syllabary to the Western Cherokees. The following year he settled in Arkansas, and in 1828-29 moved with the Western Cherokees to Indian Territory, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. He died in 1843 or 1844, probably in Mexico, while searching for a band of Cherokees who, according to tribal lore, had migrated to the West in 1721.

As early as 1824 the Eastern Cherokees printed portions of the Bible. Four years later, at their capital in New Echota, Ga., they began publishing the first Indian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, a weekly in Cherokee and English. This technique made news and literature available to the older generation, most of whom were fluent only in the native tongue, as well as to youths, many of whom had been schooled in English. In 1837 at Park Hill Mission, in Indian Territory, the Rev. Samuel A. Worcester began printing in the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and English languages. Other mission presses printed in the languages of the other Five Civilized Tribes, using their syllabaries.

Sequoyah's Cabin
Sequoyah's Cabin. (Oklahoma Industrial Development and Park Department)

Sequoyah's contribution to the Cherokee Nation has been recognized in many ways. Dunring his lifetime the U.S. Government honored him with a monetary award, and the Cherokees granted him a pension and medal. His name is immortalized in the giant Sequoia trees of California and with the world's other great alphabet inventors on the bronze doors of the Library of Congress. Finally, his statue is in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

Sequoyah's Cabin State Park preserves on its original site the cabin constructed by Sequoyah in 1829. A typical one-room frontier home of hewn logs with stone chimney and fireplace, the cabin has undergone minor restoration. It is enclosed in a stone shelter, which features relics and documents associated with Sequoyah's life. Near the shelter stands a relocated log structure, dating from 1855, that once adjoined the cabin.

NHL Designation: 12/21/65

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Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005