In this essay, we analyze a letter written in the Cherokee syllabary from inmates at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1951. We seek to explain how the letter serves as a model for language perseverance. We place the letter in the postallotment period of American Indian history, focusing on the unique circumstances engendering the letter's creation as a remarkably legible sample of Cherokee handwriting. Considering the imperial legacies of translation, we ask: How can we understand this letter in and on its own terms, and, more generally, how can we translate Cherokee-language manuscripts in ways that create alternatives to the imperial legacy of translation? To answer these questions, we argue, requires that language perseverance and preservation efforts be treated as mutually sustaining through decolonial translation methods, methods that we attempt to advance with a digital archive project. Within the letter we find a team working together to learn to use the Cherokee syllabary despite restrictive contexts, surveillance, and scrutiny from those outside the language community. In the process of the letter's translation, we find evidence of a team of community members, translators, students, and linguists working together to advance language learning and documentation.