Sequoyah (Pig's Foot) was born near Tuskeegee, Tennessee, in 1776. His father was a white man, Nathaniel Gist, his mother was a Cherokee. Sequoyah was born disabled and was therefore given the name Pig's Foot.

Sequoyah moved to Georgia where he was befriended by Charles Hicks, a wealthy farmer. Hicks taught Sequoyah how to read and write. In 1809 Sequoyah had the idea of developing a Cherokee writing system.

During the Creek War (1813-1814) Major Ridge raised an army of Cherokee volunteers and fought under Andrew Jackson. Sequoyah joined the volunteers and took part in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. While a member of this army Sequoyah realized that the warriors lack of literacy created problems. For example, they were unable to read military orders or write letters to relatives back home. This convinced him he should continue work on his Cherokee writing system.

Sequoyah eventually produced a phonetic system, where each sound made in speech was represented by a symbol. There were 85 letters in Sequoyah's Cherokee alphabet. He taught his daughter to use what he called Talking Leaves. Word spread quickly about Sequoyah's system and in 1821 the Cherokee Nation adopted it as a means of communication.

Sequoyah moved to Arkansas where he worked in a salt mine. He then decided to live in the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

Sequoyah died in Texas in 1843.

Primary Sources

(1) Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1947)

Last spring the Germans had constructed huge tents in an open space in the Lager. For the whole of the good season each of them had catered for over 1,000 men: now the tents had been taken down, and an excess 2,000 guests crowded our huts. We old prisoners knew that the Germans did not like these irregularities and that something would soon happen to reduce our number.