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Southeast Tribes



The Cherokee lived along the fertile rivers of Georgia and the Carolinas and were primarily agricultural, growing corn, beans, sweet potatoes, and squash. They also collected wild plants and relied on fishing and hunting for survival. Members of this matriarchal society lived in log and mud huts stationed around a seven-sided council house that was the center of the village. The Cherokee developed an 80-symbol language and used the printing press to teach it to nearly all of its members by 1810.

The Cherokee first encountered Europeans in 1540 when Hernando de Soto ventured into their territory. Beginning in the 1760s, the Cherokee battled white settlers who wanted their land. War and disease brought by the settlers forced the tribe to withdraw to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and they eventually signed over large areas of their land to the British and then the U.S. With the discovery of gold in Georgia and the signing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by U.S. President Andrew Jackson, the Cherokee were forced to make a six-month trek to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in 1838. Known as the "Trail of Tears," it claimed the lives of 4,000 of the approximately 14,000 Cherokees who began the journey.

  Map of Cherokee tribe  


Known as great hunters and warriors, the Chickasaw lived in the Mississippi Valley region, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. Towns were spread out with a council house used for meetings, ceremonies, and ballgames in the center. Most Chickasaw families had two homes, one made of woven mats and bark roofs for summer and another circular in shape, three feet below ground level, and plastered and whitewashed for winter. In addition, families had a storage building for corn and supplies.

The Chickasaw first encountered Europeans in 1540 when Hernando de Soto explored their region. He was driven out of the area, and the tribe didn't face outsiders again until about 100 years later when English traders arrived. Wanting to barter with these traders, the tribe expanded its hunting ground and began conquering other tribes. The Chickasaw first allied with the British and then with the U.S. to prevent the French and Spanish from taking their lands. By the 1830s, the Chickasaw had signed numerous treaties with the U.S. ceding their land and in 1834 moved to Oklahoma.

  Map of Chickasaw tribe  


Occupying the Mississippi Valley and parts of Alabama, the Choctaw were farmers who lived in a matriarchal society. A peaceful people, the Choctaw saw economic opportunities and sold goods and livestock to the Europeans who ventured into their territory. Between 1801 and 1830, the Choctaw made a series of treaties with the U.S. government, ceding 23 million acres of land. They were forced to relocate to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in 1832. Once on the reservation, the Choctaw adapted to white culture through interaction with missionaries.

  Map of Choctaw tribe  


Living in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek were a dominant tribe of the southeast. Their homes consisted of huts shingled with wood or grass built around a plaza that held a rotunda used for dancing, religious ceremonies, and games. Rooted firmly in their communities, the Creek had vast farms and raised livestock.

The Creek first encountered Europeans when the Spanish established missions in their area. During the colonial era, they were allies of the British against the Spanish. The Creeks went to war with the U.S. in the early 1800s and fought bitterly for their land. When the Creek War of 1814 ended, the U.S. government forced the tribe to relocate to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and seized Creek land as their own.

  Map of Creek tribe  


Farmers living in Mississippi, the Natchez grew corn, beans, and squash, and also relied on fishing and hunting for survival. Their society was organized into two classes, nobility and commoner, which was determined by birth through the female line. Moundbuilding was an integral part of the Natchez culture and tribal religion. They built large, flat-topped mounds, where members of the tribe would gather for social or religious events.

The Natchez first encountered European explorers in 1682. By 1716, the French had established a fort in Natchez territory, which became the center of their colony and a source of conflict between them and the Natchez. The British also wanted control of North American territory, and in the 1720s convinced some of the Natchez to turn against the French. By 1729, war had erupted between the Natchez and the French. The French defeated the Natchez, forcing them to disperse and be absorbed by other tribes, including the Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees.

  Map of Natchez tribe  


Originally part of the Creek tribe, the Seminole migrated to Florida in the early 1700s, when the region was under Spanish control. They lived in houses called chickees, which had no walls and were built on stilts, with a wooden floor and thatched roof. The Seminoles grew corn, beans, and squash and supplemented their diet through hunting and fishing. They were also known for their skill at woodcarving and basketry.

The presence of runaway slaves in Spanish Florida and escalating raids across the U.S.-Florida border by both white settlers and the Seminoles led to a series of major conflicts, known as the Seminole Wars, beginning in 1817. During the First Seminole War, General Andrew Jackson and his forces invaded Florida, killing Seminoles, destroying their villages, and capturing Spanish forts. The Spanish ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819. The Seminoles' resistance to the U.S. government's attempts to relocate them to reservations, first by treaty and then with the enactment of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, led to the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Led by Osceola, the Seminoles used guerrilla tactics to fight the vastly larger U.S. forces. The tribe surrendered when they faced starvation after U.S. troops destroyed their crops and villages; many Seminoles were forced to move to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The few Seminoles who remained, isolated in southern Florida, continued to face settler encroachment and fought back, but were defeated in the Third Seminole War (1855-1858).

  Arrest of Osceola
Arrest of Osceola

Image credits: Florida Center for Instructional Technology (FCIT) at USF.

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