$100,000 grant awarded to WCU to improve volumes on Cherokee culture

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University has received a $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to edit a manuscript written in the early 1800s describing Cherokee life during that time.

The two-year project will produce an accurate and fully documented copy of the “the single most important collection of documents concerning Cherokee aboriginal and early 19th-century culture,” said Anne Rogers, head of WCU’s department of anthropology and sociology.

John Howard Payne, a noted author, and Daniel S. Butrick, a missionary who worked among the Cherokee from 1817-1847, originally gathered this material, which records virtually every aspect of Cherokee culture. Topics include descriptions of migration myths, religious traditions, early and later versions of Cherokee festivals, ancient and “modern” beliefs concerning the creation of the world, uses of divining crystals, government, national councils, ball play, marriage rules, treatment of children, comparisons between the Cherokee and Jews, historical sketches of early churches, Cherokee behavioral characteristics, physical type, language and dances.

“A published indexed version of the Payne-Butrick manuscript will be of immense value to the Cherokee, scholars, students and general readers,” Rogers said. “While a few published primary sources contain bits and pieces of information about Cherokee culture, these references are scattered, and much of this material is poorly indexed, if at all.”

Rogers and WCU history professor William Anderson will serve as project directors. Rogers has taught classes on southeastern Indians, contemporary Cherokee culture, and Cherokee archaeology for more than 20 years. She has studied the Cherokee language with a native speaker for many years, and is currently examining Cherokee uses of native plants.

Anderson has been involved in Cherokee research since 1978 and has taught Cherokee history for almost 15 years. He has co-authored or edited two books on the Cherokee and written numerous articles and book reviews on Cherokee topics. Anderson is currently the editor of the Journal of Cherokee Studies, a position he has held for three years.

Additional staff includes Jane Brown, part-time instructor in history and anthropology at WCU; Laura Pinnix, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and native speaker of the Cherokee language; and a graduate student selected from the Cherokee history track at WCU.

Western was selected for the project in part because of its location near the reserved lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. WCU maintains a close relationship with the tribe, and offers courses on Cherokee history and culture. Western is the only university with a graduate track in Cherokee studies, and the University’s Special Collections houses one of the largest collections of Cherokee material in the United States.