The Cherokee Indians, a branch of the Iroquois nation, can trace their history in this region back more than a thousand years. Originally their society was based on hunting, trading, and agriculture. By the time European explorers and traders arrived, Cherokee lands covered a large part of what is now the southeastern United States.
Cherokee society was a matriarchy. Children took the clan of the mother, and kinship was traced through the mother's family. Women had an equal voice in the affairs of the tribe. Marriage was only allowed between members of different clans. Property was passed on according to clan alliance.
Unfortunately, the Cherokees did not enjoy prosperous times for long. Gold was discovered on Indian lands in Georgia. Political pressure was exerted by President Andrew Jackson to confiscate Indian lands and remove the Cherokees to the West. Numerous injustices against the Cherokee Nation culminated in the signing of the Treaty of New Echota. Those who signed the treaty did not have the authority to represent the entire Cherokee Nation. Nevertheless, the treaty stood.
Among those in hiding was Tsali, who had become a hero to many Cherokees for his resistance to forced removal. Tsali was being sought because of his role in the deaths of several soldiers. To prevent further hardships for the Cherokees still in hiding, Tsali eventually agreed to surrender and face execution. Due in part to Tsali's sacrifice, many of those in hiding were eventually allowed to settle among the Cherokees of western North Carolina. This was to be the beginning of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees.
The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains