The Cherokee Indians were one of the most prosperous and progressive tribes in the country. They were also the largest tribe in the southeastern part of the United States. The Cherokee were a branch off the Iroquois Nation. The language they spoke was Iroquian. They got their name from "Chelokee” meaning "people of different speech,” and in their language they called themselves "Aniyunwiya” meaning "principle people.” A Cherokee named, Sequoyah, invented a system for the Cherokees to write their language. There were 86 characters in his syllabary and each were based on individual syllables in the words. Anybody who could speak Cherokee could also read and write it after learning the 86 symbols.
Their native territory included portions of present Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Their population was estimated around 22,500. They lived in small communities, usually located near the river bottoms. Their homes were wooden frames covered with woven vines and saplings plastered with mud. Each community had a council house where ceremonies and tribal meetings were held. The council house was seven-sided to represent the seven clans of the Cherokee: bird, paint, deer, wolf, blue, long hair, and wild potato. Each tribe elected 2 chiefs. A peace chief who counseled during peaceful times and a war chief who made decisions during times of war. "Towns classified themselves as "red” or "white” at any given point in time.” "A red town was in a state of war, under leadership of young men.” "A white town was at peace, with old men at the helm.” (Bender 16). Cherokee was a matriarchy. The children took the clan of the mother and the relatives were traced through the mother's family. Women had an equal say in the affairs of the tribe. Women could also be peace and war leaders depending on their standing among the tribe. Marriage was only allowed between members of different clans.