Sequoyah was born in the Cherokee Nation East about 1760. His mother, a fullblood Cherokee woman, was deserted by her white husband before the birth of Sequoyah. His early life was like that of the average Indian boy of his time. He learned no language but that of his mother's people, and he was unable to read or write. He was a man of mature years before he ever saw a book at one of the mission stations. When he learned that the printed characters represented sounds and words and that ideas could be conveyed by such means, his amazement was great. Then he conceived the idea of inventing an alphabet for the use of his own people, so they, too, might read and write. The people of the Nation thought that he was crazy, and that the Indian was not to learn to read. They had a legend that the Great Spirit created a red skinned boy and a white skinned boy. To the red skinned boy he gave talking leaves (books) and to the white skinned boy he gave a bow and arrow. One day while the red skinned boy slept the white skinned boy took his talking leaves and exchanged them with the bow and arrow. From that day on the white people could read, and the red could hunt. And the two were never to follow the other. Therefore, Sequoyah's wife destroyed his work as fast as she could to avoid the wrath of the Great Spirit. But Sequoyah prevailed. At first he tried to make a separate character or letter for each word in the Cherokee language, but finally he succeeded in devising an alphabet in which there was a separate letter for each possible syllable in the language and for the letter "s", or, as he called it, "the hissing sound". By means of this alphabet any Cherokee could learn to read with ease in the course of two or three weeks. Type was cast for the new alphabet, books were printed and within a few years nearly all of the Cherokee people had learned to read. Sequoyah moved to the country of the Western Cherokees, in Arkansas, in 1823, and, six years later, came with them to the new "reservation" in Indian Territory. He was greatly loved by his people, who still honor his memory. He died in 1844, while on a hunting and exploring expedition in Mexico. As a child, while learning to be a warrior, he acquired an injury that caused him to loose the partial use of his leg. This gave him the time and ability to devote to his alphabet.

If you would like to be listed as a researcher of Sequoyah, please contact me at the address below and I will add your information to this page.

Return to Oklahoma Prehistory Index

This information has been compiled from various resources, and through much research. If you would like to add any information please contact me, Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK, at the address below.