The Cherokee were inhabitants of the southern reaches of the modern United States. Residing in what is today Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, the Cherokee were among the most powerful peoples of their region. They also were among the first natives of North America to establish contact with Europeans, being among the peoples encountered by the Spaniard Hernando de Soto in his journey across the American South.
The permanent settlement of North America by the English, however, placed significant pressure on the relations between the Cherokee and the Europeans. While siding with the English against the French during the French and Indian War, tensions came to a head in 1760 when a dispute between white settlers and the Cherokee exploded into all-out war. During what became known as "The Cherokee War," the Cherokee won a series of impressive victories, including the capture of the English fortress of Loudoun. The English reaction was brutal, the settlers burning entire villages to the ground, and the Cherokee were eventually forced to return to the negotiating table.
After the Cherokee War, the tensions between the Cherokee and the English eased, and with the coming of the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee once again sided with the English against the colonists. This slight would embitter relations between the colonists and the Cherokee and with the victory of the colonists, the Cherokee were left faced with a new, unfriendly country in the midst of their territory. Attempts at reconciliation were made, including the Cherokee's participation in a war against their enemies, the Creek, yet relations remained tense.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which required the Cherokee to abandon their lands in the east and march west, to resettle in the area that is modern Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. While promising to provide the Cherokee with food, protection and shelter, the American government failed in all three respects, turning the forced exile into a death march. Nearly four thousand Cherokee died in what became known as the "Trail of Tears."
Living in the west, the Cherokee managed to survive in the particularly precarious circumstances in which they were placed, yet their general abuse by the American government continued. Over the next seventy years, the lands given to the Cherokee were slowly whittled away by American policy and overeager settlers. By 1906, nearly all their land had been stolen by American settlers or made part of newly-formed states.
The Cherokee would struggle to begin the slow process of reclaiming their native identity. With the discovery of oil in their remaining territory in the early 20th century and changes in American policy granting them more self-sovereignty, the fate of the Cherokee took a decidedly positive turn. Today, the Cherokee are among the most powerful and respected tribes in the United States, with members living in both Oklahoma and in their original homelands in the east.