History of DeKalb
County Alabama - Sequoyah, Cherokee Indian Genius
Sequoyah is celebrated as an illiterate Indian genius
who, solely from the resources of his mind, endowed a whole
tribe with learning; the only man in history to conceive and
perfect in its entirety an alphabet or syllabary.
was born in the Cherokee village of Tuskegee in Tennessee,
near Fort Loudon on the Tennessee River, about five miles
from the sacred or capital town of Echota. Little is known
of his early life, though it is well established that he
grew up in the tribe unacquainted with English or civilized
arts. He was a craftsman in silver work, an ingenious
natural mechanic, whose inventive powers had scope for
development in consequence of an affliction to one of his
legs that rendered him a cripple for life. In young manhood
he removed from the Overhills towns to Willstown in the
present State of Alabama.
Sequoyah, whose English name was George Guess – later spelled Gist, was a
soldier in the War of 1812 against the hostile Creek Indians. On March 27,
1814 his regiment took part in the famous Battle of the Horseshoe that
inflicted a decisive defeat on the Creeks. Soon after the opening of the
nineteenth century, Sequoyah began to realize the magic of writing. He and
other Indians at the time, who occasionally saw samples of writing and
printing, called these mysterious pages the white man’s "talking leaf".
Sequoyah began to dream hazily about an Indian "talking leaf"; he
experimented aimlessly at first, but gradually his conception took practical
shape. This was slow and laborious work for an untutored Cherokee, and to
make his efforts even more difficult, he faced ridicule and menace from his
fellow warrior, who accused him of dealing in a sinister and black art. Even
though his people – one of the Five Civilized Nations – had already attained
a high stage of pastoral civilization, the significance of Sequoyah’s
persistent indoor study was a bit too much for them readily to understand.
Finally, after twelve years of labor and discouragement, he completed his
syllabary, composed of eighty-five symbols, each representing a sound in the
Cherokee spoken language. The simplicity of the syllabary and its easy
adaptability to the speech and thought of the Cherokees enabled many of his
people to master it in a few days. The Indian nation was practically made
literate within a few months.
Sequoyah, in known to have taught in the area for years after his mother
took up residence in Willstown, Alabama during the movement of the Cherokee
Nation to Oklahoma. There is a historical marker in Valley Head, only a few
miles from Sequoyah Caverns, where it is known he taught his alphabet under
a large oak tree and a marker located in the Fort Payne Union Park.
Sequoyah traveled much between his people who had relocated
in the West and those still in the East. In 1843 Sequoyah
departed for the Mexico territory (now Texas) in order to
visit with a band of Cherokees who had settled there. While
on this visit he became ill and died. While his grave has
never been authentically located, his memory will last
forever through his syllabary and through this learning and
culture of a fine body of Americans, the Cherokee people.
Sequoyah, Cherokee Indian Genius...the only man in history to conceive and
perfect in its entirety an alphabet or syllabary