Cherokee Potters

I've only come across a handful of Cherokee potters and only a very few pieces of their work. Some of the potters seem to be located in Oklahoma (at the western end of the Trail of Tears) and some are in the area of the Smoky Mountains and southern Appalachians. Today's Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail follows part of a trade route through the southern Appalachians and Smoky Mountains that the Cherokee established long before the Europeans arrived. But then came Andrew Jackson.

Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress in 1830. The Indian Removal Act broke every treaty the US Government had ever signed with the Cherokee, Muskogee-Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and Chickasaw tribes. They were rounded up and shipped west, beyond the bounds of most "American" settlements at the time. What happened on that journey is the story of the Trail of Tears.

Beyond the shame of the Trail of Tears is the fact that most of the tribes so displaced were more civilized and better educated than the Europeans who flooded in to take their land and whatever else they left behind. Between 1831 and 1837, the government of Andrew Jackson forced the removal of about 46,000 Native Americans from the southeastern states and opened some 25 million acres of land for settlement by whites.

The Indian Territory they were sent to had been land set aside by Congress and guaranteed to the tribes forever. Then in 1907-8, Congress reneged on those signed agreements, too, and forced open much of Indian Territory for white settlers. A couple years later Indian Territory became the State of Oklahoma.

About Cherokee Pottery

From what I have seen, like some Navajo potters, Cherokee potters seem to prefer a finish that is more corrugated or with the coils showing. Certain elements in their decoration are essentially universal across the continent (like hand prints, spirals, basket-weave patterns and corrugation). Some Cherokee potters also like decorations that are similar to Navajo carpet designs. Their clay also fires brown with darker fire clouds. I have yet to see any painted Cherokee pottery.

Map of the Trail of Tears
Map of the Trail of Tears

Cherokee Potters


Jane Osti
Joel Queen