When most of us hear the word Sequoyah today, we think of the huge, tall trees on the West Coast. However, as we observe November as National Native American Heritage Month, we learn that these great trees were named to honor a poor, crippled, uneducated and ridiculed half-breed Cherokee Indian who overcame insurmountable odds to bring a gift to his people that was so great that it is unrivaled in all human history.
Sequoyah invented the Cherokee's written alphabet, condensing their spoken language into 86 symbols, each representing a unique sound or syllable of Cherokee speech — the only known case when an illiterate person invented a written language.
As Sam Houston told Sequoyah, "Your invention of the alphabet is worth more to your people than two bags full of gold in the hands of every Cherokee."
Sequoyah was born in the late 1760s near the Cherokee village of Tushkeegee on the Tennessee River near old Fort Loudoun in Tennessee. His mother was Cherokee and his father, Nathanial Gist (Guess or Guest) was an English fur trader. Sequoyah was raised in the old ways of the Cherokee and became a trapper and fur trader going by the name his father had given him, George Gist.
As a result of an early hunting accident, he was given the name Sequoyah, which means "pig's foot" in Cherokee. The Cherokee Advocate (June 26, 1845), however, gave the following explanation for his lameness: "He was the victim
of hydro-arthritic trouble of the knee joint, commonly called 'white swelling'; and this affliction caused a lameness that characterized him during life."
Because of his lameness, he worked for many years as a trader. He also later became a silversmith as well as a blacksmith. Making his own tools, such as hammers and drills, he also constructed his own bellows and forge. After being permanently crippled, he developed a talent for craftsmanship, making silver ornaments and blacksmithing.
He never learned to read or write English, but while in Georgia he became captivated by the white man's ability to communicate by making marks on paper and reading from books, or "talking leaves" as he called them.
In approximately 1809, Sequoyah and some friends were talking in his blacksmith shop, and the conversation led to a discussion regarding the non-Indian method of communicating through writing. Many thought that it was some sort of witchcraft, but Sequoyah understood that the writing stood for words, and he wanted the same thing for his people. He pondered devising a way for the Cherokee to be able to do the same thing, although many of those around him were skeptical.
During the War of 1812, Sequoyah became convinced he was on the right path. Unlike white soldiers, he did not write letters home and could not read military orders. Therefore, after the war, Sequoyah began to concentrate on creating symbols that would make words.
He and his daughter, Ayoka, played games using the symbols. He became obsessed with developing a new Cherokee alphabet writing system because he knew it would help his people. Sequoyah became a recluse in his obsession to perfect the writing system, and he endured constant ridicule by friends and even family members, who said he was insane or practicing witchcraft.
Sequoyah therefore began listening more intently to the individual sounds that made up the words of his native language. After a long study, he realized that there were 86 individual syllables, which were used to make up the many words of the Cherokee language.
Although the system was foolproof and easy to learn, Sequoyah and his daughter were charged with and scheduled to be executed for witchcraft, and were brought before George Lowery, their town chief, for trial. Due to a Cherokee law enacted in 1811, it was mandated to have a civil trial before an execution was allowed to take place. Lowery brought in a group of warriors to judge what was termed a "sorcery trial." For evidence of the literacy claims, the warriors separated Sequoyah and his daughter to have them send written messages between each other until the warrior jurors were finally convinced that the symbols on paper really represented talking.
At the end of the trial, the warriors asked Sequoyah to teach them this new skill. Within a week, all were able to read and write their own language. The warriors are known historically as a fierce group of Cherokees and with their protection and patronage, literacy spread quickly through out the Cherokee Nation.
Within a very few months, a large part of the Nation had achieved literacy, a gift that benefited not only the teachers and missionaries, but that helped preserve history, culture and spiritual practices. Dr. Samuel Worcester urged that type and a press be furnished to his mission so that scriptures could be translated into the native language, and the press evolved into a business which produced a newspaper (The Cherokee Phoenix), hymn books, hand bills and most other printing needs.
Between the years of 1809 and 1821, then, Sequoyah accomplished a feat that no other person in history has done single-handedly. Through the development of the Cherokee syllabary, he brought his people literacy, the gift of communicating through long distances and the ages, and the ability to communicate and preserve their traditions through writings like the white man.
Today, Cherokee is the second most widely used Native American language, spoken by an estimated 20,000 Cherokee in northeastern Oklahoma and another 5,000 near the Qualla Reservation in North Carolina. It is also one of the few American Indian languages to be thriving and growing.
On average, five to ten meth-related arrests take place each week in Walker County.
"It's really supply and demand. Meth is easy to access and this drug is everywhere," said Patrick Doyle, commander of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Drug Task Force, which serves Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga and Dade counties.
Three years ago meth sold for about $1,500 an ounce. Today it sells for $250, Doyle said.
In convenience stores everywhere, people have begun to find their IDs being checked when they purchase cold medicine such as Sudafed, and many are questioning why.
Perhaps the answer can be found at the bottom of a glass pipe. Methamphetamine, sometimes shortened simply to "meth," is commonly manufactured in illegal and hidden laboratories,
made by mixing various types of amphetamine with other chemicals that potentiate it.
Common cold medicines are often used as the basis to produce this drug. Those cooking the meth often extract ingredients from these medicines and combine the substance with other ingredients like battery acid, drain cleaner, and antifreeze.
The dangerous chemicals used in meth production are potentially explosive, which can result in the explosion of meth labs. And because most people cooking meth are users themselves, more often than not they end up with chemical burns, or worse, injuries due to explosion of the "product."
Methamphetamine is a Schedule II substance and comes in several forms, with several street names. One type of street meth, known commonly as "crank," can come in chunks or powder. It is often white or yellow in color and can be sold loose or in capsules. The prescription version, Desoxyn (generic name: methamphetamine hydrochloride), is still legal by prescription and comes in tablets. The most popular form of this drug, however, is crystal meth, commonly known as "ice." It has a clear and crystalline appearance, not unlike shattered glass or frozen water.
If one pays attention to crimes in Walker County, it is evident that the vast majority of arrests regarding drug possession are in relation to meth. This could be due, in part, to the fact that the drug is easy to make and distribute. Heroin is significantly more expensive, narcotics are more difficult to come by, especially in the pill form.
Long-term use of methamphetamine can cause long-term effects such as permanent damage to blood vessels of the heart and brain. This can lead to heart attack and stroke. If snorted, it can lead to the destruction of nasal tissues. It can also cause respiratory issues if it is smoked. The drug itself causes severe tooth decay, malnutrition and severe weight loss, psychosis, disorientation, seizures, and oftentimes damage to the brain that is similar to patterns of Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and epilepsy.
Two common questions
"How do I know if my loved one is using?"
Typically, methamphetamine elicits very strong and intense short-term effects. This includes erratic or bizarre behavior, picking at one's skin, loss of appetite, pupil dilation, violence, hallucinations and hyper-excitability, as well as a disturbed sleep pattern and psychosis. Behavior changes are extremely noticeable.
"Someone I know is using methamphetamine. What do I do now?"
If someone you know is using meth or any other illegal substance, you can leave an anonymous tip with the Walker County Sheriff's Department on their website at walkerso.com.
One reason methamphetamine is wreaking havoc on many regions is the highly addictive nature of the drug. Meth impacts the brain in ways other drugs don't, making it much easier for users to become addicts, and much harder for addicts to give up the habit.
Many meth addicts grow up using — and abusing — alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and valium. But nearly all say they've never encountered anything that was as hard to give up as meth, who almost universally report a euphoric rush and larger-than-life feeling unlike any other drug they've ever tried.
Dr. William Thornbury says meth attacks and transforms the human brain in ways other drugs don't. Thornbury — who has a background in pathology and pharmacy — says one should imagine the brain as a complex set of see-saws that balance chemicals that allow us to do the things we do every day, like thinking, talking, and reacting. Prolonged meth use destroys that intricate balancing act.
"Many drugs affect one transmitter. Unfortunately, methamphetamine and its metabolites affect three different transmitters," Dr. Thornbury said.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that deliver messages in the brain's nerve cells. The first neurotransmitter meth targets is dopamine, a chemical highly involved in the brain's system of reward-driven learning. The brain releases dopamine when it's rewarded with food, sex, even something as ordinary as getting a pat on the back at work. Meth's impact on dopamine is off the charts — beyond anything studied before.
"So when you push that to the extreme you're going to have these super pleasurable experiences, and that alone is very addictive because the brain is going to ask for more," said Dr. Thornbury.
In this regard, meth is like the ultimate abusive lover. Taking the drug causes a massive — but temporary — spike in the users' dopamine levels, filling them with a sense of euphoria. But it's a short-lived sensation, and soon the users experience a crash that leaves them physically and mentally exhausted.
There's only one thing that will get addicts back to the top of the euphoria mountain: more meth.
The second transmitter impacted is norepinephrine, which — among other things — helps regulate a person's fight-or-flight response. And the third neurotransmitter attacked by the drug is serotonin, which helps regulate mood, appetite, and sleep.
So, just to recap: meth addicts are destroying their ability to experience pleasure, to pay attention to anything other than getting more meth, to act rationally, to have normal moods, to eat, and to sleep.
"This is a drug that causes a lot of tolerance, and what we mean in pharmacology when we say 'tolerance' is that it's going to take more of the drug to get the same response," said Dr. Thornbury. "Within a few months you can go from taking five milligrams of the drug to needing 1,000 milligrams of the drug to accomplish the same outcome."
And with meth's unprecedented impact on the brain and body, our region can expect to see countless addicts enslaved by and destroying themselves by this powerful drug.
Walker County's president of the Chamber of Commerce has a lively personality, diverse history, intense work ethic, and soft demeanor.
In a softly lit cafe in Rock City, Lacey Wilson sat, honoring her presidential duties with the chamber. The room was filled with familiar faces of members, all whom she greeted with the same respect one might give a childhood friend or close family member. Outside, the cold air bit the noses of those exploring the Enchanted Garden of Lights. The smell of hot chocolate filled the air as the crowd murmured, eager to hear from not only Chamber president Wilson, but officials from Rock City itself about this year's features.
The Chamber of Commerce is in place in Walker County for the purpose of enhancing lives through business and tourism. Each year, the Chamber holds several fundraisers such as the Walker County Gala and Walker Rocks, which is an initiative to showcase the unique outdoor activities available in the county. The Chamber itself functions as a liaison and advocate between citizens and small businesses locally. For Lacey Wilson, this means that she stays very busy.
In a laid-back setting such as this, it was the perfect opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Wilson.
"I suppose everyone has hobbies," she said when asked about her free time. "But to be fair, I put a lot of time into my work. I try to keep a distinction between work and home. I have a two-year-old, and he's really my world. Some weeks, it can be like a normal eight-to-five job. Other weeks, I have twelve events and barely get to see my office. I love every second."
Lacey said that, when afforded free time, she
likes to spend it traveling, reading, and going to music concerts (her favorite concert having been Garth Brooks).
Before she was the president of the Chamber, Wilson was employed at Blood Assurance. Due to their local networking circle, she joined the Chamber of Commerce while she was still working there. From her tone of voice, it became quickly evident that her time working as not only the marketing manager, but the PR coordinator at Blood Assurance, are times she will cherish.
Behind the resonant voice lies a woman who is not only well respected, but passionate about her work. Those close to Wilson say that she is charming, strong-willed, and "a delight to work with."
The Chamber of Commerce is, in short, an organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interest of businesses locally. That is not to leave out individuals. The Chamber has made sure to specify that its goal is to make connections between individuals and businesses, with the goal of enhancing lives in the area through business and tourism.
Walker County can rest assured that the Chamber of Commerce is in safe and responsible hands.
One piece of local history that is often overlooked sits right in the backyard of many citizens in LaFayette.
Established in 1838, Fort Cumming was a Trail of Tears Cherokee removal fort, named after a Methodist minister named David B. Cumming. Cumming was appointed as an itinerant circuit missionary in 1836 by the Holston (Tennessee) Methodist Conference. Cumming's mission circuit included Georgia, and he requested reassignment to Arkansas in order to accompany the Cherokees when they were removed.
The fort was established by Capt. Samuel Farris and his group of volunteers, who kept a watchful eye over the Cherokee Indians in the fort until their removal. Featuring a stockade, stables, and possibly even military barracks, the fort was — put simply — a holding place for Cherokees rounded up in the Walker County area.
A May 17, 1838, list of Georgia Militia volunteer posts in the Cherokee Nation confirms that one mounted company was stationed at Fort Cumming. Although Farris generally is recognized as commander at Fort Cumming, another militia captain, Benjamin T. Watkins of Campbell County, also held a position of responsibility and actually assumed command for a brief period.
The stockade was a large enclosure of upright logs; the trenches where the logs were placed can still be plainly seen. There was a rifle tower in each corner after the manner of frontier posts, post holes were formed by sawing flared notches in the logs before they were put in the buildings. On the inside of the tower the port holes were eight or ten inches across, thus allowing room for changing the course of the rifle fire.
In a 1915 article for the Walker County Messenger, Frances Stiles, long-time historian for the William Marsh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, mentioned one local citizen who remembered "seeing the old fort when it was about half rotted down." She identifies the fort site as "on the hill just west of the Big Spring where the city of LaFayette gets its water supply." According to Stiles, the watchtower stood on the hill adjacent to and west of the spring. The fort was located in LaFayette on the site where the water plant now sits.
Records of the Peavine Baptist Church north of LaFayette near Rock Spring include the information that Cherokee prisoners also were housed in the original church while waiting to be moved from Georgia to Tennessee.
In his diary of the removal, missionary Daniel Butrick mourns the imprisonment of hundreds of Cherokees in a fort near LaFayette courthouse. Butrick provided the following account of the roundup:
"Found our dear brother Epenetus Aehaia and his wife and children among prisoners. On the 28th May they spent the night at Dogwood Flat, and the next day heard that soldiers were rounding up Georgia Cherokees. They were taken by a company of soldiers and driven to a fort near LaFayette Courthouse, kept with about 500 others for 10 days and driven to the Georgia's Trail of Tears camps. While at the fort the whole company of nearly 500 resolved to have nothing to do with the treaty money."
Around 469 captured Cherokee were moved from Fort Cumming to Ross's Landing in June 1838 before being removed and escorted to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Records indicate that on June 9, 469 Indians were escorted from Fort Cumming to Ross's Landing. That same day, a letter from the commander at Fort Poinsett conveyed a surprising degree of humaneness in a request to send all remaining prisoners from Fort Cumming because they were part of families already in the internment camps. At that time, some 60-70 Indians remained at the post and still more were arriving.
While he may have supervised the process, U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott lacked control over the militia, who, paired with U.S. soldiers, forced around 15,000 Cherokee into stockades and held them for removal. Under orders of Gen. Scott they were considered prisoners of war, though no resistance had been encountered. Conditions in the stockades were less than stellar, and on the journey to Indian territory out west, many Cherokees died. As many as 8,000 Cherokee Indians may have died altogether between the stockades and the trek west. The removal process became widely known as the "Trail of Tears."
Although some sources give start dates for removal as early at 1836, most of these sources refer to LaFayette in general. Fort Cumming was not mentioned until 1838, which is also the year that this post was abandoned.
A state historical marker that stands near the purported site of the post replaced a boulder with a small bronze marker that placed at the site by the Marsh chapter some years before 1935 and that was subsequently stolen.