Tuesday, May 29, 2012



A manikin of Sequoyah with his daughter at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee

            At the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee the first object you meet is a carving from a wild cherry tree by Virgil Ledford of Sequoyah the famous Cherokee leader.  Across from the statue is a walking stick with the 38 letters of the alphabet he created carved around it. Genius shows itself in many ways and one of the rarest ways I’m aware of is the creating of new alphabet to help ones people read. Sequoyah, a Cherokee Native American saw the need for his people to be able to communicate by writing, and as he worked at his blacksmith shop he began to visualize a way to put sounds on paper.  It is the only time in history that one man, not literate in any language developed a system for writing and reading a language.

            We were visiting the attractive Sequoyah Museum with our twin granddaughters and they found the short film fascinating on one of his difficulties in creating a new alphabet by which his tribe could take advantage of the leaves that talk.   His fellow Cherokees though he was either crazy or a witch because of his preoccupation with developing a form of writing. His wife who resented him because he was spending so much time working on his system and some neighbors burned some of his talking leaves setting his work back two years. 

When he had completed his work with developing letters for sounds his tribe decided a test for him.  His daughter would be kept at a distance while the Elders dictated a message for him to write on his talking leaf.   When she was brought back she quickly read the message and within a short period of time thousands of Cherokees had learned to read and write and by 1825 the Bible had been translated and printed and by 1828 they were publishing a bi-lingual newspaper.

            Born in 1776 he died in Mexico in 1843 while trying to find a lost band of Cherokees.  The giant redwoods in California are named after him.

            The Museum is much more, however, than a tribute to Sequoyah it gives an abbreviated, but impactful history of the Native American’s who lived in this area.  Each group starting with the Paleo-Indians 12,000 years ago, followed by the Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian and more recent Historic Indian has a section with artifacts from their time in history.

            The first room has five impressive displays about Cherokee mythology each starting with the phrase, “This is what the old men told me when I was a boy. . . .” We then learned the forming of the mountains, origin of disease and medicine, the animals and plants, and the forming of the Milky Way.  Because we killed them the animals got together to plot revenge, with the deer being responsible for rheumatism.  Fortunately for the Cherokees for each disease there was a plant that will cure it if then could find it.

            I am well aware of the important of fur trading in the north and west of the U.S., but had not realized its importance in the south.  Trading for deer furs brought many European products to the Cherokee along with guns (35 deer skins) that made them very powerful as a tribe and also moved them toward taking on a European’s life style with houses, farms, and like Sequoyah jobs such as blacksmithing. 

            Despite the fact the Cherokees had fought on the side of Jackson at the battle of Horseshoe Bend he was a major factor in their removal to Oklahoma during the notorious “Trail of Tears.”

            A rebuilt blacksmith shop like the one used by Sequoyah stands outside the museum along with a theater where shows are put on every September the first weekend after Labor Day with Indian dances, music, food and Native American crafts and products. Also on the grounds is a Cherokee Memorial with the remains of Native Americans recovered during the archaeological digs on the sites of the 18th Century Cherokee towns.    

The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee