History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees

James Mooney (from Wikipedia.org)

In reading various books on the history of the Cherokee people I kept hearing one name mentioned repeatedly: James Mooney. So, I bought his book. =)

Mooney was a first-generation Irish American who grew up on the stories of the old country. As a teenage in the mid-1800’s he started to memorize the names of all the Native American tribes in the North America. This led to a job with the newly formed Bureau of American Ethnology. From that point one Mooney would dedicate his life to recording the stories of the Cherokees and other Native American tribes across the country.

His first book, The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, was published in 1891. Nine years later in 1900 his masterpiece Myths of the Cherokee was released. The first half of this book is devoted to telling the history of the Cherokees from their first contact with European explorers in the 1500’s to the end of the nineteenth century.

In order to gain the information necessary for these books, Mooney spent years living among the Cherokees. Most of the time he was in North Carolina and Georgia among the Eastern Band of Cherokees, which were those people who remained in the ancestral land after the Trail of Tears (1838-1839). However, he did make a few visits to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma (then Indian Territory) to collaborate the stories he was hearing in the east.

On a personal level, it was awesome to hear the stories my ancestors would have told each other. Stories about creation, the animals, and the land. In researching my family, I discovered that my great-great-great grandfather Zachariah T. Langley would have been in and around the area Mooney was in the 1880s. Both he and his son, John W.D. Langley, was listed on the Eastern Band’s rolls during this time before moving to Oklahoma in 1890. Most of Zachary’s family, including his mother, would stay in the east among the Eastern Band.

The tribe was introduced to Christian in the early 1800’s. Recognizing the shifting cultural tide, the tribal leaders invited the Moravian Church to start a school within the nation. This opened the door to other groups, most of which were helpful to the Cherokee Nation as a whole. As in, several Christian pastors fought for the tribe against the US Government during the 1830s when the government was forcing them to move west. Though it would be remiss of me if I didn’t note that there were other Christian leaders who were not so kind to the Cherokees. History, like today, is a mixed bag of good and evil.

John W.D. Langley and family

As a side note, I think it is really cool that the Moravian were the first group to engage the Cherokee people. My own personal faith journey was impacted by the history and writings of the Moravian as longtime readers of this site will no doubt know. Though I have yet to personal meet anyone who journeys within that stream of the faith, they have left an impact upon my soul.

In the interest of time I will end this review. It is enough to say that I am incredible thankful for James Mooney’s foresight to record the stories of my people. I am also grateful to the elders of the tribe who told the stories to him. It is a blessing to be able to read these stories over a hundred years later.

Grace and peace.

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