Cherokee Families of Rusk County, Texas

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Cherokee Social Customs

In Cherokee society women enjoyed considerable power and authority.  Much of that social prominence is derived from the matrilineal kinship and matrilocal customs of the Cherokee.  The following description of these customs is taken from the book entitled The Cherokee by Theda Perdue of the University of Kentucky (published 1989):

Matrilineal Kinship System:  In a matrilineal system, people trace their descent through the women instead of the men. In Cherokee society, a person's only relatives were those on his/her mother's side.  Relatives included a person's mother and the mother's mother, sisters, children of the sisters, and brothers of the person - but not the children of the brothers.  Accordingly, the Cherokees did not consider a person to be related by blood to his/her father or to the father's mother, sisters and brothers.

Clan System:  A Cherokee belonged to his/her mother's clan.  Each clan was considered to descend from a common ancestor.  However, there were only seven clans, each of which had a special name.  The English translations of these seven clan names are as follows:  Wolf, Deer, Bird, Paint, Long Hair, Blind Savannah and Holly.  These clans were scattered throughout The Cherokee Nation; almost every Cherokee town had households representing each of the clans.

Matrilocal System:  The Cherokees were not only matrilineal, but were matrilocal as well.  A family lived in the household of the mother.  A man resided with his wife and children in a family unit that usually included the wife's mother, her sisters, her sisters' children and husbands, and her unmarried brothers.  If a husband and wife divorced, a frequent occurrence in Cherokee society, the husband moved out of his wife's household and into the house of his mother and sisters.  Children always stayed with their mother as they were not thought to be related to their father.

Town Councils:  Politically, the Cherokee nation was highly decentralized. The town or village council was the primary instrument of government.  Council meetings were run democratically and the villagers usually debated an issue until a consensus was reached.  Even decisions concerning whether or not to go to war were subject to the same democratic process. Just as women held a powerful status within the family, they were also strongly influential in the Cherokee political structure. Prominent female members of the community, such as Nancy Ward, were able to freely voice their opinions in these town council meetings.

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