The Native Indians of North America

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the North American Indians. I have scratched around for info on the Net and at the local library and this site is all about what I found.

The Native Indians of North America

The Indian tribes of North America have always fascinated me. They are very diverse and range from hunters and gatherers to fisherman. The different tribes range from fewer than 50 members to more than 50,000 members. The settlement of whites and warfare caused many tribes to leave their ancestral grounds, and this brought them into conflict with other tribes. Those tribes that suffered from disease and losses in war merged with other tribes, and original tribal identities were lost. By the early 1900’s many of the Indian languages became unused or lost. By the late 1900’s, traditional housing gave way to wood-frame houses. Their food-types also changes by the early 1900’s. The grocery stores on reservations are almost identical to those of any other town or city of the same size. They’re still hunting big game, but not with bows and arrows. They use rifles now. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 involved the systematic and forced removal of tribes in the Southeast and Great Lakes regions to the west of the Mississippi. In 1837 the US government established Indian Territory, today known as Oklahoma and tribes from the east of the Mississippi were moved to these new lands. The first tribes that given land in Indian Territory were the 5 largest tribes from the Southeast; the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. These tribes adopted many aspects of the European culture, and as a result became known as the Five Civilized Tribes.

The tribes of North America can be divided into nine specific regions:


1. The Northeast

Major Language Groups: Algonquian and Iroquoian

Dominant Lifestyle: Sedentary

Dominant Tribes: Iroguois Confederacy (eastern area) Chippewa (Great Lakes area)

Key Food Source: Maize

2. The Southeast

Major Language Groups: Muskogean

Dominant Lifestyle: Sedentary

Dominant Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choktaw, Creek and Seminole

(The Five Civilized Tribes)

Key Food Source: Maize

3. California

Major Language Groups: Penutian

Dominant Lifestyle: Sedentary

Dominant Tribes: There was no dominant tribe in California.

The largest tribes were the Chumash, Hupa, Pomo and Yurok.

Key Food Source: Acorns pounded into meal

4. The Southwest

Major Language Groups: Uto-Aztecan/Tanoan

Dominant Tribes and Lifestyles: Apache (nomadic)

Pueblo (sedentary)

Navajo (sedentary)

Key Food Source: Maize

5. The Plains

Major Language Groups: Siouan (northern area) Caddoan (Texas)

Dominant Lifestyle: Nomadic

Dominant Tribes: Sioux

Key Food Source: Buffalo

6. The Northwest Coast

Major Language Groups: Salishan/Nadene

Dominant Lifestyle: Sedentary

Dominant Tribes: Tlingit, Haida, Kwakiutl, Chinook

Key Food Source: Salmon

7. The Great Basin

Major Language Groups: Uto-Aztecan

Dominant Lifestyle: Nomadic (also sedentary in the foothills of the Rockies in northern Idaho and

northwest Montana)

Dominant Tribes: Shoshone and other related tribes such as Paiute, Nez Percé and Spokane

Key Food Source: Small Game

8. The Arctic

Major Language Groups: Eskimo-Aleut

Dominant Lifestyle: Nomadic (summer), Sedentary (winter)

Dominant Tribes: Eskimo

Key Food Source: Sea mammals

9. The Subarctic

Major Language Groups: Athapaskan

Dominant Lifestyle: Nomadic

Dominant Tribes: Chipewyan

Key Food Source: Caribou


The Five Civilized Tribes


Geographical Region: Southeast (Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee)

Linguistic Group: Iroquoian

Principal Dwelling Type: Rectangular thatched house

Principal Subsistence Type: Hunting, maize

The Cherokee were one of the largest tribes in the Southeast and were among the earliest to adapt to European civilization. Their name is written Tsalagi in their own language, and they were called Chalakki by the Choctaw, whose language was the language of trade in the Southeast.

When De Soto made contact with them in 1540, the Cherokee had developed a very complex culture and society in the region surrounding their capital city, Echota (Itsati), near the present site of Madisonville, Tennessee. In the seventeenth century their capital was moved to New Echota (Ustanali) near present-day Calhoun, Georgia. In 1729 an estimated 20,000 Cherokee were living in 64 towns and villages.

Even as European civilization was gaining a foothold on North America’s Atlantic coast, the Cherokee were expanding their own empire to the west. The defeated the Tuscorora of the Carolinas in 1711, drove the Shawnee out of the Cumberland River country in 1715 and late contributed to the breakup of the Catawba. The 1755 defeat of the Creek in the Battle of the Taliwa was a turning point in the struggle for control of the northern Georgia country. Subsequent warfare with the British ended in Chief Attakullakulla’s peace treaty, signed in Charleston in 1761.

After their defeat by the Chickasaw in 1768, the influence of the once powerful Cherokee began to decline. After a series of wars and the loss of considerable territory to white settlers, Chief Dragging Canoe (son of Attakullakulla) concluded the treaty of 1777 and moved a portion of the Cherokee tribe to Chickamauga Creek near Chattanooga, Tennessee. After taking the name Chickamauga, the western Cherokee began a series of wars with the whites that continued until the Cherokee removal in 1839 to Indian Territory.

The eastern Cherokee, meanwhile, became successful farmers and developed an advanced municipal structure in their towns and villages. They built large houses and owned large herds of cattle. They went so far in their emulation of white plantation owners that some prominent Cherokee even acquired Negros as slaves.

In 1808 Chief Charles Hicks set down Cherokee legal code in written form. At the same time, Sequoia (Sequoya), a Cherokee from Alabama, was in the process of developing what was to be the first written (nonpictorial) language to originate in North America. He developed an 85 character alphabet that contained every inflection needed to write the Cherokee language, and by 1822 many Cherokee were reading and writing in their own language. Sequoia’s alphabet was cast in metal type, and books and periodicals were published. The bilingual (Cherokee-English) Cherokee-Phoenix was first published at New Echota on 21 February 1828.

With a population of about 13,000, the Cherokee Nation under Chief John Ross was a force to be reckoned with, and in 1828 Georgia placed it under state jurisdiction. The Cherokees sued the state in the US Supreme Court and lost. In May 1836 a treaty was ratified by the US Senate that called for the Cherokee to give up their lands in Georgia in exchange for new lands in Indian Territory, effective in May 1838. Some Cherokee were removed peacefully and some by force. Of those who made the 800-mile trek during the winter of 1838-39, over 4000 died.

On 12 July 1839 the eastern and western Cherokee merged as ‘one body politic, under the style and title of the Cherokee Nation’. The nation was established in the northeast corned of Indian Territory, and on 6 September 1839 a constitution was adopted. A public school system was established in 1841. Two years later 18 schools were in operation, and by 1851 there were two ‘seminaries’ of higher learning. A Cherokee printing house was established in 1844 and began publication of the Cherokee Advocate, a bilingual newspaper utilizing Sequoia’s alphabet.

With the start of the Civil War in 1861, the Cherokee, under Chief John Ross, became allied with the Confederate States of America and a Cherokee regiment was organized. The commander of this regiment, Stand Watie, reached the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate Army.

The business of the Cherokee Nation resumed after the war, but by 1889 white settlement of nearby ‘Oklahoma country’ brought pressure on the Indians to sell their lands to whites. On 7 August 1902 Chief T M Buffington called a special election in which the Cherokee people chose to each take 110 acres of land from the Cherokee Nation. In March 1907 the Cherokee Nation ceased to exist, and on 30 June 1914 the Cherokee national government officially went out of business, although Chief William Rogers remained in office through 1917 to sign deeds.

The Cherokee population, like that of most tribes, fluctuated dramatically in the nineteenth century. In 1808, when Chief Hicks first set down the Cherokee legal code, there were 12,395 eastern Cherokee living in the towns of the east, plus roughly 2,000 western Cherokee in Tennessee. In 1835, prior to their removal to Indian Territory, there were 16,542 eastern Cherokee in the east (of which nearly 25% perished in the journey), and about 6,000 western Cherokee in Indian Territory. By the Civil War, the combined Cherokee Nation was said to have had a population of 21,000, but in 1867 the number had dwindled to 13,566.

In the twentieth century, the population in Oklahoma (former Indian Territory) increased from 41,693 ate the time of dissolution of the Cherokee Nation government in 1914 to 45,238 in 1930. Over the next half century many Cherokee left Oklahoma, so that by 1982 the Cherokee tribe at the Tahlequah Agency in Oklahoma numbered only 42,992. In North Carolina the descendants of those Cherokee who returned to the East numbered 6,110 at the Cherokee Agency and Reservation.



Geographical Region: Southeast (Mississippi)

Linguistic Group: Muskogean

Principal Dwelling Type: Rectangular thatched house

Principal Subsistence Type: Maize

The Chickasaw were once part of the Choctaw tribe whose language is virtually identical, and their name means ‘they left as a tribe not a very great while ago.’

When encountered by De Soto in 1540, they were living in present-day Mississippi, although their legends speak of their having migrated from the west. As De Soto discovered first hand, they had a reputation as skilled warriors. Their record of victories during the eighteenth century is exemplary of the skill that made them a leading military force in the lower Mississippi valley: they defeated the Shawnee in 1715 and 1745, the Caddo in 1717, the Cherokee in 1768 and the Creek in 1795.

Despite their hostility to other tribes, the Chickasaw traded extensively with the English throughout the eighteenth century and signed a treaty with the newly formed United States in 1786. In 1837 the US government decided to remove the Chickasaw to Indian Territory, where an agreement had been reached to settle them on Choctaw lands and to give them Choctaw citizenship.

In 1855 a new arrangement was made granting them their own land within Indian Territory, on land formerly part of the Choctaw Nation. The capital of this new Chickasaw Nation was named in honor of the late great Chickasaw chief, Tishomingo, who had died on the journey west in 1838 at the age of 102.

The governments of the two nations were suspended during the Civil War and re-established in 1866. The governments of all the Indian Territory tribes were dissolved in 1906 prior to the entry of Indian Territory into the United States as part of Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Tribal Protective Association was formed in 1929.

The population of the Chickasaw tribe was 2,290 in 1780, down from an estimated 3,300 at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1890 there were 6,400 Chickasaw, and 5,350 still lived on the Chickasaw reservation in Oklahoma in 1944. In 1985 the Ardmore Agency of the Chickasaw tribe in Oklahoma had a population of 9,020.



Geographical Region: Southeast (Mississippi)

Linguistic Group: Algonquian

Principal Dwelling Type: Rectangular thatched house

Principal Subsistence Type: Maize, fish

The Choctaw, whose original name okla homa means ‘red people’, originated in the lower Mississippi and were once related to Chickasaw of the same region. The tribal legends tell of a nanih waya (‘productive mountain’) built by a great red man who then created the red people. Nanih Waya is thought to be a mound that was located in Winston County, Mississippi, the site of the last, great national council of the Choctaw in 1828.

The Choctaw first came across the white man when they were attacked by De Soto on 18 October 1540. There was little further contact until the eighteenth century, by which time the population of the tribe numbered as many as 20,000 in 115 villages. In the early eighteenth century they became allied with the French against the English, the Chickasaw and the Natchez. By 1736, however, a pro-English faction had developed within the tribe. After the British defeat of the French in 1763, a treaty was signed in 1765 between the English and the Choctaw, although the latter remained largely sympathetic to the French. The tribe supported the Americans during the Revolutionary War, and in 1786 signed their first treaty with the United States at Hopewell, South Carolina.

After 1820, the pressure for the removal of all Indians to west of the Mississippi led to the Choctaw being assigned lands in present-day Oklahoma, where some Choctaw hunters already had gone in search of game. A treaty providing for the final removal of the entire Choctaw Nation was signed at Dancing Rabbit Creek, Mississippi on 28 September 1830. In the treaty, the Choctaw traded their Mississippi lands for the new lands, which constituted the entire southern swath of the region that would come to be known as Indian Territory. The constitution of the new Choctaw Nation was adopted on 3 June 1834.

In 1837 the Choctaw granted the Chickasaw the right to settle within Choctaw Nation \, and in 1855 a portion of the Choctaw Nation was set aside for the formation of a Chickasaw Nation. During the Civil War, both nations allied themselves with the Confederate States of America, and formed military units that fought with the Confederacy in Arkansas and Indian Territory. At the time of the postwar re-establishment of the two nations in 1866, an idea evolved for a merger of all the tribal governments within Indian Territory into a single Indian government. It was a Choctaw delegate, Allen Wright, who suggested the name ‘Oklahoma’ for such a territory. In 1890 a territory was formed out of part of Indian Territory and named Oklahoma, and in 1907 all of the Indian Territory and Oklahoma territory lands joined the United States as the state of Oklahoma. With the establishment of the state in 1907, tribal government was largely dissolved, although the offices of principal chief, national attorney and mining trustee were retained until 1948. The present system of a Choctaw Tribal Council retains the office of principal chief.

By the terms of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Choctaw Tribal Council was officially established in Mississippi to represent the Choctaw that remained in the traditional Choctaw homeland adjacent to the historic Nanih Waya mound. A constitution was passed in April 1945, and in 1973 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was persuaded to name a Choctaw as head of its Choctaw Agency in Mississippi. The mid-summer Choctaw Fair is an important social event for the Mississippi band of the Choctaw and includes the tribal championship in Choctaw stickball, a game which had been a tradition among Choctaw since prehistoric times.

In Mississippi most Choctaw are bilingual and 90% of Choctaw homes use the native tongue as their primary language.

In 1831, prior to their removal to Indian Territory, the Choctaw population in Mississippi was 19,554. At the close of the removal in 1837 there were 12,500 in the new Choctaw Nation, with 2,500 recorded to have died enroute to the new lands. In 1904 there were 17,775 Choctaw in Indian Territory (soon to become the state of Oklahoma), including 2,225 who had arrived from Mississippi after the Civil War. In 1944 there were 19,000 Choctaw in Oklahoma and 2,232 in Mississippi. In 1985 the Talihina Agency of the Choctaw Tribe in Oklahoma had a population of 20,054 and the Choctaw Agency in Mississippi had a population of 4,599.

Creek (Muskoke)

Geographical Region: Southeast (Georgia and Alabama)

Linguistic Group: Muskogean

Principal Dwelling Type: Rectangular thatched house

Principal Subsistence Type: Maize

Subgroups: Abihki, Atasi, Coosa*, Coweta*, Eufaula, Hilabia, Kasihta* (Cusseta), Kolomi,

Okchai, Pakama, Tukabahchee* (*Foundation tribes of the Creek confederacy, the

principal ‘sticks’ of the Creek Nation)

The Creek were originally one of the dominant tribes in the mid-south and later became known as one of the Five Civilized Tribes. They were known in their own language as Muskoke or Muskoge, by the Shawnee as Humaskogi, by the Delaware as Masquachki and by the British (c 1720) as the Ochese Creek Indians, hence the present name. Their name has been adapted for that of their linguistic group and for Muskogee, Oklahoma, which was a major city of the Creek Nation in Indian Territory.

The Creeks may have made contact with the Spanish as early as 1521, but the certainly were visited by De Soto in 1540. At this time, the Coosa were the dominant subgroup, but by 1700 the chief of the Coweta was referred to as the ‘emperor of the Creek.’ The Tukabahchee may have once been a separate tribe associated with the Shawnee. They were the most populous of the Creek subgroups, with an 1832 population of 1,287.

From their dominant role in the mid-south, the Creeks were pushed westward from the Carolina/Georgia coast after their defeat by the British in the Yamassee War of 1715. By this time, however, other tribes such as the Alabama, Koasati, Natchez and Yuchi began to join the Creek confederacy.

During the American Revolution, the Creeks, under emperor Alexander McGillivray (son of a Scottish father and a Creek-French mother), were allied with the English, and McGillivray (1740-1793) served as colonel in the British Army. After the war, however, McGillivray quickly befriended the victorious Americans.

White encroachment on Creek lands over the next quarter century led to bad feelings an official Creek neutrality in the War of 1812. Though officially neutral, some Creek bands, known as ‘Red Sticks’; took the opportunity to begin raiding white settlements. This evolved into a full-scale civil war, known as the Red Stick War, with neutral Creeks as well as the whites. They sacked Tukabahchee Town and followed this with the massacre of Fort Mims in August 1813. The white men mobilized and met the red sticks on the Tallapoosa River in the decisive battle of the war. On 27 March 1814, the US Army, under General Andrew Jackson and the then pro-American Creeks under Coweta head chief William McIntosh, defeated the Red Sticks in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

The Red Sticks were beaten, but the serious divisions in the Creek Nation continued, as did the violence, and Chief McIntosh himself was shot and killed in May 1825. The internal warfare spilled over into white settlements, and this added fuel to American public sentiment for a removal of all Indians to west of the Mississippi. Some Creeks, such as those under Chief Opotheyahola, agreed to the move to Indian Territory as early as 1832, but it was not until 1840 that the two major Creek factions were reunited in the government of the Creek Nation.

During the American Civil War, the Creeks were once again divided. Opothleyahola’s band attempted to leave the Confederate-dominated Indian Territory for Union-held Kansas, but they were overtaken by Confederate troops and badly mauled. When the Indian governments of Indian Territory were reconstituted in 1866, the entire western portion of the Creek Nation, along with the other nations of the territory, was dissolved in 1906 when the state of Oklahoma came into existence.

The Creek population at the time of their removal to Indian Territory in 1832 was 21,733 and by 1847 it had grown to 14,888. In 1915 there were 11,967 Creek still in Oklahoma, and in 1944 there were 9,900. In 1985 the Creek tribe at the Okmulgee Agency in Oklahoma numbered 42,519.



Geographical Region: Southeast (Florida)

Linguistic Group: Muskogean

Principal Dwelling Type: Rectangular thatched house

Principal Subsistence Type: Mix of wild and cultivated food sources

Subgroups: Alachua, Apalachee, Apachicola, Ays, Chiaha, Mayucas, Mikasuki (Miccosukee),

Ocone (Oconee), Sawokli, Tegesta, Timuqan, Tocabago

The Seminole were originally a branch of the Creek tribe, with whom they share a common language. There is derived from the Creek word for ‘runaway.’ The nucleus of the Seminole was the Ocone band, which lived on the Oconee River in Georgia as late as the early seventeenth century. By the end of that century, the Seminole, the considered separate from the Creek, had migrated south and became the dominant Indian tribe in Florida. The tribe grew even larger when it absorbed the influx of runaway slaves and the Creeks who came south as refugees of the 1813-14 Creek War.

By that time, white settlers in Georgia were beginning to complain that Spain’s ineffective government in Florida was doing nothing to halt cross-border raids by the Seminole. US Army actions against the raiders in 1816 led to the First Seminole War, which ended with General Andrew Jackson’s unauthorized invasion of Florida and his capture of Pensacola. Jackson succeeded in putting a temporary halt to the Seminole raids and the United States then bought Florida from the Spanish. The guerrilla warfare continued through the 1820s, but by 1832 the situation seemed resolved. By the treaties of Payne’s Landing (1832) and Fort Gibson (1834), the Seminole agreed to move west of the Mississippi if new lands could be found. In November 1835, however, Chief Osceola (1804-38) began the Second Seminole War by killing a rival chief who favored removal and by ambushing and massacring a US Army detachment under Major F L Dade. The US Army sent a 10,000-man force into the Florida jungle in search of the 4,000-man army of Osceola, who soon earned the nickname ‘Snake of the Everglades.’ By March 1837, after over a year of fighting, the Seminole were largely defeated. Osceola himself was captured in October and put in irons at Fort Moultrie, where he died in 1838. A peace treaty was concluded in 1839 with provisions permitting the Seminole to remain in Florida rather than be removed to the west. The Indians promptly broke the treaty, and when the Second Seminole War finally ended in 1842, 3,930 Seminole out of a total population of 4,230 were removed to Indian Territory. The Seminole that remained in Florida eluded capture until the government lost interest. When a treaty was finally signed in 1934, it was publicized as ending the longest war in history.

In 1845 the Seminole in Indian Territory were placed under Creek administration, which they reluctantly accepted until they were assigned a tract of land of their own in 1856. In 1866, after having been allied with the Confederate States of America in the Civil War, the Seminole sold their land and bought a new tract of land, which served as the Seminole Nation until Oklahoma statehood in 1906.

At the time of the first US government census of the Seminole in Florida in 1823, the tribe had a population of 4,883. At the time of Oklahoma statehood there were 2,138 Seminole in Oklahoma and 800 in Florida. In 1985 there were 3,869 Seminole at the Wewoka Agency in Oklahoma and 1,376 at the Seminole Agency in Florida.


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