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Cherokee Women In Crisis

Trail of Tears, Civil War, and Allotment, 1838-1907

Written by Carolyn Johnston

Publication Year: 2003

Explains how traditional Cherokee women's roles were destabilized, modified, recovered, and in some ways strengthened during three periods of great turmoil.

American Indian women have traditionally played vital roles in social hierarchies at the family, clan, and tribal levels. In the Cherokee Nation, specifically, women and men are considered equal contributors to the culture. With this study, however, we learn that three key historical events in the 19th and early 20th centuries—removal, the Civil War, and allotment of their lands—forced a radical renegotiation of gender roles and relations in Cherokee society.

Carolyn Johnston (who is related to John Ross, principal chief of the Nation) looks at how Cherokee women navigated these crises in ways that allowed them to retain their traditional assumptions, ceremonies, and beliefs and to thereby preserve their culture. In the process, they both lost and retained power. The author sees a poignant irony in the fact that Europeans who encountered Native societies in which women had significant power attempted to transform them into patriarchal ones and that American women struggled for hundreds of years to achieve the kind of equality that Cherokee women had enjoyed for more than a millennium.

Johnston examines the different aspects of Cherokee women's power: authority in the family unit and the community, economic independence, personal autonomy, political clout, and spirituality. Weaving a great-grandmother theme throughout the narrative, she begins with the protest of Cherokee women against removal and concludes with the recovery of the mother town of Kituwah and the elections of Wilma Mankiller and Joyce Dugan as principal chiefs of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokees.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Contemporary American Indians


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p. vii


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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

Growing up in Cleveland, Tennessee, we were surrounded by Red Clay, the council ground where the Cherokees met when they had to leave Georgia, the sacred city of Chota just to the north near Loudon, and Rattlesnake Springs where they left from on the Trail of Tears. Nothing was ever taught in the schools about the Cherokees ...

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pp. 1-8

In February 1757, the great Cherokee leader Attakullakulla arrived in South Carolina to negotiate trade agreements with the governor and was shocked to find that no white women were present. Because Cherokee women regularly advised his nation's council on matters of war and peace, he asked: ...


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1. Cultural Continuity

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pp. 11-35

When the Europeans encountered the Cherokees in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were shocked to find that women had so much sexual freedom and held considerable political, economic, and domestic power. To them, Cherokee women represented sexual danger. ...

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2. Early Catalysts for Change

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pp. 36-55

In 1825, a hired girl named Mary had "criminal intercourse" with a young Cherokee, Robert Sanders, at Carmel mission in Georgia, and Moody Hall, a missionary of the ABCFM, described the incident that followed: "We burned their beds and cabin. Cherokee take such 'abominable crimes' lightly."1 ...

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3. The Trail of Tears

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pp. 56-78

Stockades were going up on the Hiwassee River in 1838. Eventually, numerous stockades would imprison the Cherokee Nation in anticipation of removal from their ancestral lands.1 Cherokee women's power traditionally originated in their roles as mothers (bearers of life) and as cultivators of the earth (sustainers of life). ...


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4. The Civil War

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pp. 81-105

Feather beds dragged outside and ripped open ... feathers flying in the wind, children hiding behind their mothers crying as their homes were burned, husbands and fathers shot before their eyes ... livestock killed or taken ... long trains of ox-wagons, mile upon mile of refugees-some moving slowly north toward Kansas, ...

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5. Reconstruction

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pp. 106-124

After the horrors of the Civil War, the western Cherokee Nation once again began to rebuild its institutions of government and education. The crises of removal and the Civil War forced in!o the open the debate over meanings of gender. In some ways, removal legitimized both male political power and women's exclusion from the process; ...


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6. Allotment

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pp. 127-144

On June 16, 1906, Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were jointly admitted to the Union as the state of Oklahoma. On November 16, 1907, in Guthrie, a symbolic marriage occurred as part of the inaugural ceremonies for the new state government. A nearly white Cherokee woman in a stylish dress ...

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pp. 145-158

In 1984 at Red Clay, Tennessee, a few miles from where my sister lives, a reunion of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokees occurred. This was the first time the two groups had come together since removal in 1838. In an emotional ceremony the two Cherokee groups lit the eternal flame, ...


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pp. 159-196


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pp. 197-212


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pp. 213-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384661
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817350567

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Contemporary American Indians
Series Editor Byline: Heidi M. Altman See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 650060141
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cherokee Women In Crisis

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cherokee women -- Social conditions.
  • Cherokee women -- Government relations.
  • Indian allotments -- United States -- History.
  • Indians of North America -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • Trail of Tears, 1838-1839.
  • Cherokee women -- History.
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