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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.

He 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

Sequoyah, Cherokee Indian Genius...the only man in history to conceive and
perfect in its entirety an alphabet or syllabary


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