Formation of pan-Cherokee traditions
While the five decades of chronic warfare and multiple epidemics had catastrophic effects on the total population of the Cherokee People in the first half of the 18th century, this was also the period of time when a true “Cherokee Tribe” evolved. Of course, Cherokee was a name that Europeans called them. It was not their name for themselves. They were originally an artificial creation of cynical European politicians, but the years of fighting together, mourning together and rebuilding together made them think of themselves as one people, i.e. the Principal People, rather than 14 allied ethnic groups and over a hundred dispersed towns and villages. Words disappeared, blended or evolved. Some cultural traditions and clans disappeared. Fireside stories, origin myths and cultural memories blurred together. The Cherokees became a Native American manifestation of the motto of the future United States – E Pluribus Unum – From many, becomes one,
To appreciate how starkly diverse the traditions of the original Cherokees were, consider the Natchez refugees who became one of their bands in 1730. After a catastrophic defeat in their war with the French, half of the survivors settled in what is now Pine Log, GA and the other half settled in what is now Pine Log, NC. Pine Log is the mistranslation by White missionaries of the Cherokee dialect’s word for Natchez people. In 1730 the Pine Log, GA site was in territory controlled by the Upper Creek allies of the French. After 1763 both Pine Logs were in Cherokee Territory.
The Natchez were still practicing many Mississippian cultural traditions, including human sacrifice, when they were defeated by the French. How long they maintained these traditions after joining the Cherokees, we don’t know. However, they did contribute one of the most outstanding families of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia – the Ridges.
Even today, though, the diverse origins of the Cherokees are visible in the distinctly different physical features of their citizens. There are some who look Algonquian. Some look like Iroquois. Some look like Catawbas. Others look like people from Mexico, Yuchi’s or Creeks. The Qualla, North Carolina Cherokees call the Snowbird, North Carolina Cherokees, “Moon faces” because many of the Snowbirds look like the famous Olmec stone heads in the State of Tabasco, Mexico.
Building construction was the domain of the men. During the late 1600s and early 1700s, the styles of residential and communal buildings varied among individual Cherokee bands. Some council houses were round like those of the Yuchi. Some council houses were square like those of the Apalachee. Other council houses were octagonal like those of the Choctaw. Almost all Cherokee houses were round like those of the Yuchi – while Muskogean houses were always rectangular due to their pre-fabricated construction. In general, Cherokee houses were very much inferior to Muskogean houses in size and quality of construction. Architecture was just not an important concern to the core population of the early Cherokees.