Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Cherokee migrated in prehistoric times from present-day Texas or northern Mexico to the Great Lakes area.
Wars with the Iroquois tribes of the New York area and the Delaware tribes pushed them southeast to the Allegheny and Appalachian mountain regions in modern North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Georgia and Alabama.
There the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto encountered them in 1540.
In 1715 smallpox reduced their population to about 11,000.
During the British and French struggle for control of colonial North America, the Cherokee generally sided with the British, and during the American Revolution the tribe aided Great Britain.
In 1785 they negotiated a peace treaty with the United States, but Cherokee resistance continued for a decade thereafter.
In 1791 a new treaty reconfirmed the earlier one; part of Cherokee territory was ceded to the United States, and the permanent rights of the tribe to the remaining territory were established.
Between 1790 and 1819, several thousand of the tribe migrated west of the Mississippi, becoming known as the Western Band.
In 1820 the tribe established a governmental system modeled on that of the United States,
with an elected principal chief, a senate, and a house of representatives.
Because of this system, the Cherokee were included as one of the so-called Five Civilized tribes.
In 1827 they drafted a constitution and incorporated as the Cherokee Nation.
Meanwhile, valuable gold deposits were discovered in tribal lands, which by previous cessions had been reduced to about 2,830,000 hectares (about 7 million acres) in northwest Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and southwest North Carolina.
In 1819 Georgia appealed to the U.S. government to remove the Cherokee from Georgia lands.
When the appeal failed, attempts were made to purchase the territory. In retaliation the Cherokee Nation enacted a law forbidding any such sale on punishment of death.
In 1828 the Georgia legislature outlawed the Cherokee government and confiscated tribal lands.
Cherokee appeals for federal protection were rejected by President Andrew Jackson.
In 1832 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Georgia legislation was unconstitutional;
federal authorities, following Jackson’s policy of Native American removal, ignored the decision.
About 500 leading Cherokee agreed in 1835 to cede the tribal territory in exchange for $5,700,000 and land in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Their action was repudiated by more than nine-tenths of the tribe, and several members of the group were later assassinated.
In 1838 federal troops began forcibly evicting the Cherokee.
Several hundred escaped to the North Carolina mountains, purchased land, and incorporated in that state;
they were the ancestors of the present-day Eastern Band.
Meanwhile, most of the tribe, including the Western Band, were driven west in a more than 480-km (about 300-mi) forced march, known as the Trail of Tears.
The march west included 18,000 to 20,000 people, of whom about 4000 perished through hunger, disease, and exposure.
In Indian Territory the Cherokee reorganized their government under their chief, John Ross.