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The Cherokee nation was unified from an interrelated society of city-states in the early 18th century under the "Emperor" Moytoy, with the aid of an unofficial English envoy, Sir Alexander Cumming. In 1730, Chief Moytoy of Tellico was agreed to be the "Emperor" by the Elector Chiefs of the principal Cherokee towns. Moytoy also agreed to recognise the British king, George II, as the Cherokee protector. A decade prior to this treaty, the Cherokee had fought a war with South Carolina for several years. The title of Cherokee Emperor, however, did not carry much clout among the Cherokee, and the title eventually passed out of Moytoy's direct avuncular lineage. Beginning at about the time of the American Revolutionary War (late 1700s), divisions over continued accommodation of encroachments by white settlers, despite repeated violations of previous treaties, caused some Cherokee to begin to leave the Cherokee Nation. These early dissidents would eventually move across the Mississippi River to areas that would later become the states of Arkansas and Missouri. Their settlements were established on the St. Francis and the White Rivers by 1800. Eventually, there were such large numbers of Cherokees in these areas the US Government established a Cherokee Reservation located in Arkansas, with boundaries from north of the Arkansas River up to the southern bank of the White River. Many of these dissidents became known as the Chickamauga. Led by Chief Dragging Canoe, the Chickamauga made alliances with the Shawnee and engaged in raids against colonial settlements. Other Cherokee leaders who lived in Arkansas were The Bowl, Sequoyah, Spring Frog and The Dutch.

By the late 1820s, the Territory of Arkansas had designs on acquiring the land held by the Arkansas Cherokee. A delegation of Arkansas Cherokees went to Washington, D.C., and were forced to sign a treaty to vacate the Arkansas Reservation. Arkansas Cherokees had two choices: cooperate with the US government and move to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), or defy the US Government and refuse to leave the Arkansas Reservation area. Around 1828, the tribe split, some going to Indian Territory. Others disobeyed the US Government and stayed on the old Reservation lands in Arkansas. Those who stayed on the old Arkansas Cherokee Reservation lands have lobbied the US Government since the early 1900s to be considered a Federally recognized Cherokee tribe. The US Government has ignored their pleas. Today, there are thousands of Cherokee living in Arkansas or Southern Missouri who are relatives of these pre-Trail of Tears Cherokee. (see "We Are Not Yet Conquered" by Beverly Northrup, "The Cherokee People" by Thomas E. Mails, "Myths of The Cherokee" by James Mooney)

John Ross was an important figure in the history of the Cherokee tribe. His father emigrated from Scotland prior to the Revolutionary War. His mother was a quarter-blood Cherokee woman whose father was also from Scotland. He began his public career in 1809. The Cherokee Nation was founded in 1820, with elected public officials. John Ross became the chief of the tribe in 1828 and remained the chief until his death in 1866.

Cherokees were displaced from their ancestral lands in North Georgia and the Carolinas because of rapidly expanding white population, as well as a Gold Rush around Dahlonega, Georgia in the 1830's. See: Indian Removal, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, and Trail of Tears.

Samuel Carter, author of Cherokee Sunset, writes, "Then ... there came the reign of terror. From the jagged-walled stockades the troops fanned out across the Nation, invading every hamlet, every cabin, rooting out the inhabitants at bayonet point. The Cherokees hardly had time to realize what was happening as they were prodded like so many sheep toward the concentration camps, threatened with knives and pistols, beaten with rifle butts if they resisted."[2] In the terror of the forced marches, the Cherokee were not always able to give their dead a full burial. Instead, the singing of Amazing Grace had to suffice. Since then, Amazing Grace is often considered the Cherokee National Anthem.

Once the Cherokees reached Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), tensions ran high and the suspension of the Cherokee Blood Law was ignored. On June 22, 1839, after the adjournment of a tribal meeting, some of the prominent signers of the Treaty of New Echota were assassinated, including the drafter of the Blood Law, Major Ridge, along with John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. This started 15 years of civil war amongst the Cherokees. One of the notable survivors was Stand Watie, who became a Confederate general during the American Civil War. The Cherokees were one of the five "civilized tribes" that concluded treaties with, and were recognized by, the Confederate States of America.

In 1848 a group of Cherokee set out on an expedition to California looking for new settlement lands. The expedition followed the Arkansas River upstream to Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, then followed the base of mountains northward into present-day Wyoming before turning westward. The route become known as the Cherokee Trail. The group, which undertook gold prospecting in California, returned along the same route the following year, noticing placer gold deposits in tributaries of the South Platte. The discovery went unnoticed for a decade, but eventually became one of the primary sources of the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859. Continued...