The truth about the Cherokee Syllabary

as told by the direct descendants of George Guess

by Traveller Bird

copyrighted 2002


Sequoyah George Guess, Tahlontisoge and Sogwili or Soquili.  Who were these people? They are all the same person. However, Sequoyah is not the name of any Cherokee. Writing was not a new discovery of the nineteenth century either. The Cherokee had a written language based upon a ninety-two character syllabary since the fifthteenth century. This is the story of the warrior-scribe that was most responsible for the salvation of that syllabary and the life he lived during the times of the conquest of the Cherokee people by the white invaders and of the great price he paid for his contributions to the good of his people.

Beginning in 1821 and for a quarter of a century afterwards the name Sequoyah appeared in various periodicals and missionary tracts in the United States and Europe as the inventor of Cherokee letters. It was claimed that he was the bastard son of a white trader and a part-Cherokee woman. All of this was, and still is, nothing but lies. The famous painting of Sequoyah is also a fraud. The painting is of Thomas Maw. There was never a painting or photograph made of the man known as Sequoyah.

Thomas Maw

The Cherokee village of Sogwiligigageihiyi, referred to by Anglos as Serowee, Soquee, Skeequoyah, or the Devil’s Gang Place was the origin of the name Sequoyah.

The whites, during the eighteenth century, referred to the Cherokee symbol writing as "the scratchings of the Devil."

The word Skeequoyah (Sequoyah) was used by the whites as having the meaning "devil." Therefore when the missionaries, journalist and historians tagged a Cherokee warrior-scribe with that name they once again insulted an ancient and great people.

The remnant of the Taliwa people from the plateau country of the southwest plains merged with the Cherokees during the fifteenth century and brought their great gift of symbol writing their language with them. Descendants of the Taliwa were sometimes called Saloquoyah, Skeequoyah, and Sorquee. The word Sequoyah has no actual meaning in the Cherokee language.

Tahlontisoge (one who upsets horse) began his life in July 1766 in the village of Sogwiligigageiyi which was located on the Sumac River in the North Carolina mountains in what is today Rutherford County. Sogwiligigageiyi means Redhorse Place in the Cherokee language and was named after Sogwili’s father, Sogwiligigagei (Redhorse), who was Cherokee-Tasgigi, and was one of the scribes of the Anisahoni, or Wild Cat Clan, often misnamed in literature as the Blue Clan. The Anisahoni specialized in writing the script. The misnaming of this clan is just another example of how Cherokee words have been mistranslated and have become accepted as truth.

The mother of Tahlontisoge, Lisi, was Cherokee-Taliwa. She had distinguished herself many times in battle and was appointed the rank of Agiyvgvga or Beloved Woman. She was also a Dasgidigi or medicine woman. As Tahlontisoge grew in age, the people of the village called him simply Sogwili (Horse) and he carried this name for the rest of his life. He received his training and skills and knowledge from the elders, warrior leaders, and from the scribes of the eighteenth century. When he was no more than fourteen years of age, he was chosen as a scribe to keep the records of the Aniwayah (Wolf Clan) to which his mother belonged. Because his mother was Aniwayah, he also would have been.

We can understand through the true history that Sogwili was evidently taught language skills. There already existed a form of writing at the time of his birth. It is known that the Cherokee scribes could read and write a script or symbol language since 1483. They could keep written records of clan activities, certain events, and even send letters between persons and villages. At that time the script used could only be written and read by the trained scribes located among some forty-six villages. The original Scribe Society consisted of those that had the Taliwa blood line and a few others. They taught the young boys not only their own written syllabary, but also the three foreign languages; English, French and Spanish. The scribes used dictionaries given to them by converted Christian Indians. It should be remembered that the Cherokee history of contact with Europeans dates back into the fifteenth century when they first encountered the Spanish.

Very early in the morning of a day during the Spring of 1780, the colonial army came to the village of Sogwiligigagei. They came quickly and silently through the trees and tall cane near the Sumac River. In less than four hours almost all the people in the village had been killed and the homes and crops destroyed. Sogwili’s mother and father, and his three sisters were killed near the river while trying to escape. Many women and children were taken captive and forced to move with the army back to South Carolina probably as slaves. Sogwili and a few others escaped this massacre because they were not in the village that morning. They had been on the perimeter of the village during the night as guards but they witnessed the entire event and tried to call for help from neighboring villages.

Groups of workers from the village of Dragging Canoe (Tsiyogunsi, meaning; the otter lifts it), who would become a great fighting Uguwiyuhi (chief; person of great authority) to his people, came from their village on Crawfish Creek near present day Chattanooga to Sogwiligigagei and buried the nearly one-hundred dead that lay about in various states of mutilation. The soldiers had scalped and cut away the private parts of most.

Sogwili and others remained in the village of Dragging Canoe. His main desire was revenge upon the Anglos for the deaths of his family and his people. He could not have had a greater war leader than Dragging Canoe. It is said that he was adopted by Dragging Canoe. Dragging Canoe had learned English, French and Spanish and was also a member of the Seven Clan Scribe Society.

In the summer of 1780 Sogwili traveled with Dragging Canoe to a settlement on the Ohio River to meet with the Shawnee and other northern tribes. Dragging Canoe and Sogwili recorded what was said in two of the six Cherokee dialects. During the 1780s, the whites came into the Cherokee lands and took whatever they wanted. There was much fighting and Sogwili was an active warrior of the Chickamauga (Crayfish) Cherokees during this time. He also continued to act as a scribe for his people. It is known that in the early 1780s, he was in Florida, where he recorded a speech in Spanish made by Don Estevon Miro, the Spanish governor of Florida. The fact that he could write in the Spanish language indicated that he had received much training in language by then, probably through the efforts of Dragging Canoe. Much of what Sogwili wrote was written in leather-covered ledger books received in trade with the Spanish.

In 1786 while Sogwili and others were scouting on the Saluda River in South Carolina, they came upon two white men near the river who had butchered some Cherokee owned cattle and were busy cutting up the meat. One man was killed and the other was captured by Sogwili and taken to the village.

After some prodding with sharpened end of a piece of green cane, the man told Sogwili that his name was George Guess and that he was a new settler in the area. The Beloved Woman, Oli, mother of Dragging Canoe, pondered over the method to dispose of their unwanted guest. Dragging Canoe was nearby and told Sogwili, "My son, you say you need another name to use among the whites. Now, that man have the name of George Guess. He will need it no longer. You take his name. George is name of white chief over there across the great water. Guess is anybody. We know that from white word book. That white man our guess now." It is recorded that Sogwili accepted Dragging Canoe’s suggestion and accepted the use of George Guess as his formal name.

News of his new name spread through the villages. Battle after battle continued to be fought against the settlers who were stealing Cherokee lands and property, and against the colonial armies, and Sogwili, now George Guess, fought beside his people and recorded in the small black ledger books the works and deeds of the fighting Cherokee people. The people who refused to give up their lands and their ways and had already become separate from those who would make treaties and had given away so much of the Cherokee homelands through treaties that the government never honored.

During the month of December, 1789, when George Guess was twenty-three years of age, he married his first wife, Tsini, the eldest daughter of Tsatsi Ughvi who was a wealthy Cherokee village chief. It was customary for a young couple to live in the village of the wife’s clanspeople and for the husband to become a member of that clan, but because George’s duties as a warrior and scribe among the Chickamauga people of Dragging Canoe required him to be close to his work his clansmen built for him and Tsini a two-room log house on Crow Creek near present day Stevenson, Alabama where his brother Whitepath already lived with his wife. This settlement was known by the Anglos as Crow Town. The Cherokee-Anglo wars continued headed by Dragging Canoe and with the aid of forty-one of the sixty-two villages that comprised the Cherokee Nation.

In the Fall of 1790, a son was born to Tsini and George. They named him Tvsidi (Young Guess). The following year George took another wife, a Shawnee woman whom he had found wandering and dazed from a brutal beating and rape performed by three white men. She was called Tsisdunigisdi (Wild Rose). Another room was added to the little log house.

When the newly elected President, George Washington, ordered the territorial governor, William Blount, to make a peace treaty with the Cherokees (actually it was a treaty meant to take most of the Cherokee lands away forever) in 1791, Dragging Canoe decided that he and his warriors would attend this one treaty making to see what it was really about. During July of that year Dragging Canoe and his assistant chiefs and warriors, including George Guess, traveled to White’s Fort which is today known as Knoxville, Tennessee to hear the words of yet another treaty.

After many gifts had been given to those Cherokees present, the Treaty of Holston was read with certain portions, part of Article 4 and all of Article 14 being part of that deliberately omitted from the reading. The two factions of the Cherokee Nation present, one that would give up tribal lands for a few presents and the other not willing to give up anything, argued heatedly for two days, during which time Dragging Canoe asked to be allowed to read the entire treaty and that was denied him, and finally it was decided to sign the treaty which was considered by the Cherokee based upon what they had been told was only a "peace treaty". It actually gave up a huge portion of the Cherokee lands. This was the first and last time Dragging Canoe and George Guess signed a treaty with the United States of America.

Within a couple of months of the signing of this treaty, the Cherokee lands began to be flooded with the people who were now calling themselves Americans. The first to arrive were rogues who had nothing to lose and everything to gain in the taking of the Cherokee lands. They robbed, stole, killed and even fought among themselves for their prizes. The Cherokee had no choice but to resume fighting to protect their homes and families.

In November of 1791, Dragging Canoe sent a party of seven assistant chiefs to Philadelphia to protest the situation of settlers moving upon the lands not then ceded by treaty. Guess was ill at the time and was not able to go on this journey. Bloody Fellow read from his black book the text, written in the Cherokee syllabary, of Dragging Canoe’s letter to Washington. What they got for their efforts was a request from George Washington for them to help fight their northern and southern neighbor tribes. They flatly refused to agree to do that. Later, when they had returned from their journey, they found that the black book was missing. It appeared later in the hands of Leonard Shaw, one of the officials who had taken them about Philadelphia. He was seen in a Cherokee village with the book and a "friendly" Cherokee was reading it to him. So we know that the United States government definitely had knowledge of the Cherokee symbol writings in 1791.

The next year, March of 1792, Dragging Canoe and a group of warriors took a group of prisoners to White’s Fort to exchange for Cherokees that had been held captive. They were told by Governor Blount that the Cherokee prisoners would arrive the next day and that they should camp in the open area near the fort. Dragging Canoe felt, and was advised by others, that camping there was not a good thing to do and so they moved several miles back down the river and made camp.

Like the many promises made to the Cherokees that were never kept, the next morning did not bring the return of any Cherokee prisoners. Instead, Dragging Canoe and his warriors were ambushed at daybreak by soldiers from the fort. many of the warriors were wounded including George Guess who was shot in the shoulder. The Cherokees escaped through a swamp, taking their wounded with them, and made their way back across the mountains.

In late May of that same year, 1792, Tsisdunigisdi, Guess’ second wife, gave birth to twin boys. They were named Tsuhli (or Tsula); meaning Fox, and Doi which means Beaver. He now had two wives and three sons and wished to remain with his family and clan relatives but the existing conditions would prevent him from doing so. He and other warriors and scribes would be home a short time and then would be away for many weeks fighting the encroaching whites throughout the Cherokee lands.

During November, Dragging Canoe was killed as he and four hundred warriors attacked the stockade at Buchanan near what is present day Nashville, Tennessee. This was a great tragedy for the Cherokee people. For twenty-nine years Dragging Canoe was the power behind the fight against the Anglos to save the Cherokee people and their lands. He was buried with the full honors and ceremonies befitting his position among the people.

The warriors marched again to Buchanan and completely destroyed it. This was their revenge for the death of their great war chief. But, it was not long before the Territorial Governor, William Blount, learned of the death of Dragging Canoe and decided it was the ideal time to strike a death blow upon the Cherokee people. It was decided to attack and burn all the villages within the Cherokee lands leaving only those that would be extremely difficult to reach and, of course, that small percentage that were called friendly.

Destruction spread through out the land as villages were attacked and the inhabitants killed and all their possessions were burned or otherwise destroyed. This continued for several years. During September 1794, the village of Tsisdvnoyi (Crawfish Place) was attacked with cannons that slaughtered the people; men, women and children. George Guess was at Crow Place when the warriors brought word of the villages being attacked and burned. Chief Glass instructed Guess and others to go with and protect the women and children as they fled with little more than the clothes on their backs toward the mountains in North Carolina.

Many villages were attacked and destroyed. Three chiefs, including Bloody Fellow, had been killed. George Guess wrote of the tragedy: "I stand, I look. All around, everywhere I see my dead people. Villages gone in the smoke of the white’s fire. Horses dead. Cattle dead, dogs dead. Canoes gone. Over there, wolves and panthers feast on the dead. The hawk flies above, waiting to strike. All around there is stillness, the dead. Over there, on the river, I hear the guns of the whites..." The Cherokees had lost much.

Doublehead assumed command of the fighting force of warriors. he decided to retreat to the seat of the confederacy at Willstown, on Wills Creek in Alabama. They met with the Cherokee-Creek Chief John Watts and also others who were present. George Guess and other warriors watched, waited and listened as Watts, Doublehead, Bowl, Glass, Whitepath, Will Webber and John McDonald discussed and argued about what course to take. Guess and about two hundred warriors left Willstown in disgust and retreated to Sugar Place in Georgia.

The Cherokee Nation had been struck down by the armies from the Tennessee side and those that were moving up the Coosa River in Georgia. Five days after the armies started this massive invasion upon the Cherokee, the seven Chickamauga towns near the Tennessee River lay in waste. Guess and several hundred warriors returned to the village of Tsatsi Ughvi in the North Carolina mountains.

Two weeks later, Doublehead and John Watts released all the prisoners being held in the nation, and signed the treaty for the resistor faction at Tellico in early November 1794. More Cherokee lands in Tennessee and North Carolina were ceded to the United States and the doom of thousands of Cherokees was sealed.

As the winter of 1794-95 approached, the Chickamauga Cherokees were finally broken. They had lost their great leader, Dragging Canoe, and all their towns had been destroyed. The warriors found that their time had to be spent in trying to keep their families and themselves fed, housed and alive. Guess, still known as Sogwili among his people, the name George Guess was only used in his dealings with the whites and their government, thought much about what was happening to the Cherokees under the United States government and thought also about seeking freedom and independence like other groups of Cherokees who had left the east for new lands in the West which was still controlled by Spain.

The United States government had a plan to ‘civilize the heathen’ and in September of 1795 a meeting was called at Tellico to introduce the Cherokee chiefs to the governments plan which included several speeches by the missionaries Schweninitz and Steiner which said to the Cherokees that the whites would eventually take all their land and that the Cherokee could not associate with the whites as equals until they learned the correct manner of language, dress and habits. These speeches were recorded by Sogwili and they caused his blood to boil. These people, who had killed and stole from the Cherokee were now saying give up your culture, your ways of life, which we don’t like.

Upon the return to the village of Tsatsi Ughvi, the chiefs held a council at which Sogwili made a bold and great decision. It was there decided in 1795 that the ancient requirement of Taliwa blood would no longer be a requirement for admittance to the Seven Clan Scribe Society. It was decided to fight the plan of the government with their own syllabary which was to be taught to all those who wished to learn to write and read their own language. Sogwili was, at that time, the only active scribe among the Cherokee people. Most of the others had been killed or had moved to the West. He began the task of teaching in October 1795 by traveling from village to village. The people were instructed on writing the symbols of the original ninety-two characters of the syllabary and how to read them according which of the original six dialects of the Cherokee language they may have spoken. Six of the original symbols used in the syllabary were the key to the dialects. During late December of 1795, Sogwili’s second wife, Tsisdunigisdi, died giving birth to a baby girl. The little girl lived and his family now included three sons and three daughters.

The task of teaching the language was begun just before the ancient homelands of the Cherokee were invaded from all sides in the spring of 1796 by white settlers with the full blessings of the United States government. So much for the words of any treaties. The Cherokee lands were very desirable and the Cherokee no longer had any choice. The Cherokee had been terribly beaten and divided and were being reduced in the eyes of the whites and their government as something less than human beings. The Cherokee themselves were split between those that wanted to please the ‘Great White Father’ and those who wanted to maintain their traditional ways of life. The majority of Cherokees did not want the government’s programs forced upon them.

Sogwili made the decision to travel West away from the eastern homelands of the Cherokees. He was a traditionalist and was sick in his heart at the current leadership of the Cherokee people and could see nothing good that would come from the alliance with the whites and their government. He told of his decision in council and the village chiefs wished for him to go and see the western country and what it was like and then return. The chiefs said that they want to go to the west also if it was a good land. The chief Tsesi Tsola said that he and another chief, Ganon, wished to go to the west with him. Preparations were made and on the sixteenth day of October, 1797, Sogwili, his wife and six children, and Tsesi Tsola and a group of eighty-nine Cherokees began the journey to the West traveling through the lands of the Creeks and Chickasaws of Alabama and Mississippi. They crossed the Mississippi River at a place known today as Memphis, Tennessee, and continued the journey to a place on the Trinity River in what is today Texas where Chief Springfrog had a Cherokee settlement. Many groups of Cherokees had migrated western, where there was more land and fewer people, during the early seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They sought only independence and happiness.

The group of which Sogwili was a member arrived at Chief Springfrog’s settlement during January of 1798. They were welcomed and lived there for more than a year when in the summer of 1799 they moved to a clear river a day’s journey from Springfrog’s village. The first few years were peaceful. These lands were not yet part of the United States.

Sogwili and several others returned to the southeast in the summer of 1806. There they told of the western lands and their settlement on the Brazos River. The people were encouraged by what they heard and Sogwili assisted in leading a group of more than eight hundred to the western lands. This was the same year that the crops failed in the southeast and the people nearly starved. It was also the year of the smallpox epidemic both in the east and the west. Chief Springfrog and many of his people died as a result of the disease.

This was also the year Doublehead chose to move his people to the west. For the previous ten years, he had signed one treaty after another ceding more land each time to the United States. His decision was one that truly divided the Cherokee people. The government gladly furnished flatboats and promised part of the annuities that were supposed to be paid to the southeastern Cherokees for land cessions. Chief Doublehead, with help from Sogwili and others, including many western Cherokees moved more than five thousand people between 1806 and 1808 to western lands. When Doublehead returned in 1808 to move more people to the west, he was shot and killed by John Ridge, a Cherokee of the ‘New Order.’

The ‘New Order’ Cherokee government was modeled after the concept of leadership by a central leader. This principal leader was selected by the president of the United States and was therefore a puppet placed there in order to control the Cherokee people. There was, at that time, about nine thousand Cherokee who had adopted the way of the whites. The elimination of Doublehead, it was hoped, would stop the westward migration of the people and they would become reconciled to live under this ‘New Order.’

When Sogwili returned to the southeast in 1809 to guide another group to the west, he saw the changes that had taken place. Those Cherokees who lived in northwestern Alabama, northern Georgia, and southeastern Tennessee had adopted the white culture, religion, and materialistic values in order to remain in their ancient homelands and compete as well as they might with the white settlers that now had taken over all the lands in the east. He urged the conservatives still remaining to preserve their heritage; that becoming as the whites would destroy them. He told them that the children must learn to read and write their own language as it was the most effective tool to use against the depreciation of their culture by the whites. He asked the people to use the written syllabary to communicate with each other and with others within the nation and in the west and to keep the language as their own heritage and gift from the ancient ones. He and others with him promised that they would return within a year to aid the nearly three thousand people waiting to migrate to the west.

During the summer of 1810 the cholera epidemic occurred in Texas and the War of Independence began in Mexico. In December, 1811, a huge earthquake on the Mississippi River in Tennessee was felt by Indians as far west as the Colorado River. The place where this happened is known today as Reelfoot Lake. Because of the cholera, which Sogwili contracted, the War, and the calamity caused by the earthquake, Soqwili was forced to wait before returning to the southeast to help other people migrate. The next year, 1812, found the United States at war with England, and the Spanish in the west would also have to be dealt with, and it needed the Cherokees and other eastern Indian tribes to help defend the new nation. It could not allow more of the southeastern Indians to move west where they would possibly unite with the enemies of the United States. Emissaries were sent from Washington to seek allies among the Indians. They found in the Cherokees the future chief, John Ross, George Lowery and his brother John, and John Ridge. The emigration of any other Cherokees would have to wait until the whites stopped fighting among themselves.

Six years had passed since Sogwili was last in the southeastern nation, and during that time his first wife, Tsini, had died from cholera. In 1816, he received a letter from his brother Whitepath and another from his father-in-law Tsatsi Ughvi that the people were ready to move to the west. In September of that year Soqwili returned to the southeast. he had learned from the letters he had received about changes in the nation including the new type of police force known as the Light Horse Guard who patrolled the nation’s borders and allowed only those who had in their possession a pass to enter. Sogwili and his companion, Uhyalug, were careful as they entered the old country and crossed the mountains into North Carolina.

While Sogwili and Uhyalug were staying in the village of Tsatsi Ughvi, he married the youngest daughter of his father-in-law, Eli, who was a recent widow. He was fifty years of age at the time with seven living children and she was thirty-nine. They lived in a house in the village of Tsatsi Ughvi while arrangement s were being made for others the emigrate to the west. When he had received no word from his brother Whitepath in two weeks, he wrote a letter to him on a corn shuck and send it by Uhyalug. While traveling through the mountains, Uhyalug was discovered by the Light Horse Guard. Since he was not a resident of the nation and was from the west he was considered an enemy by the New Order leaders.

The Indian police found the letter to Whitepath and being ignorant of the syllabary they demanded to know what the symbols meant and where he was going with it. Although they beat him, he refused to tell them the meaning of the symbols or his destination. The police took him to John Ridge, known as Major Ridge, at Ridge’s Ferry, on the Tennessee River. At this place the New Order leaders; Major Ridge, Pathkiller, George and John Lowery, Major Ridge’s son, John, and Thomas Sanders, David Vann, and James Brown tortured Uhyalug and still were not told what they wanted to know. They then cut off his nose, ears and fingers. They then asked for some of the fanatic Cherokees of the new religious order taught by the white missionaries to come and told them that Uhyalug was a witch. These fanatics cut him to pieces with knives. Before he died, Uhyalug uttered words of his charm of which the people understood one to be Whitepath. So the leaders, except Pathkiller, and the police went immediately to Whitepath’s village.

They found Whitepath ill and lying on a mat on the floor of his home. They took Whitepath’s wife and threatened bonded slavery for her, and Whitepath was forced to reveal the meaning of the symbols of the syllabary in Sogwili’s letter. Whitepath was forced to lead major Ridge, George Lowery, John Ridge, David Vann, James Brown, and two preachers named Potts and Turtle Fields, along with eight Cherokee police to the village of Tsatsi Ughvi where Sogwili was staying.

There Sogwili and his wife Eli were interrogated and they both proved they could write and read the script. They told of how thousands of the people in the mountains and now many also in the west could do the same. They said how the people did not need the white man’s words or books, that the people had their own language. This infuriated George Lowery and Turtle Fields and they called Soqwili a Sigwoyi, a devil. The preachers, Potts and Fields, said that Sogwili had the devil in him and that he should be killed right there immediately.

The people tied the hands of Sogwili and his wife Eli and placed them on horses and took them to Gigageyi (Red Clay) in Dhunisi (Tennessee) where a council was held to judge them. Among those doing the judging were Charles Hicks, Major Ridge, George and John Lowery, and the white preachers Potts and Fields. Soqwili and his wife were tied to trees there and judged as witches. A knife was given to Major Ridge and John Lowery while others heated an iron rod in the fire.

They branded Sogwili and his wife, Eli, on the forehead and the back with the iron rod and they held Sogwili’s hands against the tree while Major Ridge and John Lowery cut off all his fingers, on both hands, up to the joints.

With the help of Tsatsi Ughvi and others from his village, Sogwili and his wife were rescued from what would have been certain death.

They had to spend many months hiding in a cave in the mountains while their wounds healed. Soqwili’s work of helping more people move to the west away from the traitors who had given the Cherokee lands and the people on them to the whites nearly ended because he was now hunted throughout the eastern lands. Things in the east became even worst than ever before for the Cherokee people. The new written laws which began in 1808 forbade the people to practice the customs of their own ancient culture. They could no longer practice their religious ceremonies, dances, or ball games. Their hair had to be cut short and they had to dress like the whites. They were being shamed and stripped of their dignity and self-respect by the same people that history pretends to have been their great leaders of this period. Sogwili had returned to the lands beyond the Red River near the Comanche people. There they could remain their own masters as long as they could stay away from the whites.

By 1817 the United States Government’s great civilization program was obviously a dismal failure. The majority of the Cherokee wished to be free and independent. They were tired of the programs that had been trust upon them and the hope of removal to the west was still thought of by many. Sogwili removed his people by walking them overland through the southern states to Texas.

The leaders in the east had by now realized their mistake in branding George Guess the Skeenah or Saloquoyah, a devil, and trying to banish the written syllabary of the Cherokee language. They knew that the knowledge of the use of the written language was known about by many and that they had better acknowledge its existence also. They pretended to the government and the public that the Cherokee Nation was becoming civilized and had produced a genius, part white, who had devised a written language.

They knew the real George Guess was somewhere in the West. They also knew he was a marked man and would never come east again. They decided to name a few others George Guess and Sequoyah. A full-blood Cherokee named George Gist was known to be living near Willstown, Alabama. The names being almost the same, it was thought, would be enough to fool the American public.

George Gist, of the Aniwodi (Paint Clan), could not read or write using the Cherokee syllabary. The Eastern leaders knew he had emigrated to the Western Cherokee Nation in 1817 as his name was on the enrollment list. This is man chosen by the leaders to be the inventor of a syllabary that had existed for hundreds of years. Beginning in 1821, this lie was published and accepted by the public and even found its way into history books. A medal was struck in Washington and given to Charles R. Hicks, Assistant Chief to Pathkiller. George Gist was sent the medal in 1832.

George Gist had to leave the Cherokee Nation in 1841 during the guerrilla war in the Indian Territory. He appealed to Indian Agent, P.M. Butler , for help to return to the nation in 1844, but died of a bullet wound before he could return.

In 1828, during yet another round of treaty signings, John Lowery signed the name Sequoyah. The real George Guess (Sequoyah) never signed any treaties with the white government. At about this same time, an artist in Washington decided it would be a great asset to Indian progress to paint a portrait of George Guess. The leaders were at a loss to solve the problem of who to paint, and solved in by substituting Thomas Maw, the son of Hanging Maw. It is his face in the famous painting of Sequoyah. There was never a painting or photograph made of the real George Guess. If there had been it would have been noticed that his ears and all his fingers had been cut off and that he was branded on the forehead. All this done by so-called leaders of the Cherokee people. The fact is less than half of the Cherokee people ever followed this leadership and they paid a great price for it.

In 1817, George Guess and Eli had left the East and returned to their western village on the Brazos River. He never again returned into the homelands of the East. He continued to write and teach the syllabary and to help his people. The warrior-scribe Soqwili, known also as George Guess, and referred to as Sequoyah died on June 9, 1839 on the Brazos River in Texas from the wounds received when he was shot by soldiers. He was wrapped in buffalo robes and buried near the Comanche village and he lies there still.


The modern version has only 86 symbols. The six missing symbols were the key to the six dialects of the Cherokee language. There are only three dialects in common usage today.


Used with permission from 



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