Sequoyah, the Cherokee Indian who is celebrated as an illiterate genius who endowed a whole tribe with learning, was born to a Cherokee mother and a German father. When Cherokee Chief Sequoyah moved to Will’s Town, Alabama from the Overhill town of Tuskegee in Tennessee, he enlisted in the Cherokee Regiment, fighting beside Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the War of 1812, which effectively ended the war against the Creek Indians. During the war, he became convinced of the necessity of literacy for his people. He and other Cherokees were unable to write letters home, read military orders, or record events as they occurred.
In the early 1820s, Sequoyah developed the Cherokee alphabet. Sequoyah is the only man in history to conceive and perfect in its entirety an alphabet or syllabary. It was while living in Will’s Town that he finished the alphabet that took him 12 years. Within a few months almost all of the Cherokee Nation could read and write.
Captain John G. Payne arrived in Fort Payne, then known as Will’s Town, in February 1838 and approved a site for an Indian stockade near Big Spring. In March, Captain James H. Rogers, commanding 20 men and two officers, garrisoned at Big Spring and built the stockade which he named Fort Payne in honor of his friend, Captain Payne.
In 1838, the Cherokee Indians, native to the area, were rounded up, placed in stockades and then marched to Oklahoma. The march, of course, is well known as the “Trail of Tears”. The mission workers who had established a mission at Will’s Town in the 1820’s protested; however, the forced removal of the Native Americans continued. In 1838 Sequoyah walked with his people in the Trail of Tears.
Today there is no fort or stockade, just an old chimney standing as a stark reminder of what the Cherokees and other Indian tribes endured. Historic markers now stand where Indians once gathered to learn to read and write using an alphabet created and taught by Indian Chief Sequoyah and one where a fort once stood and held Indians against their will.
While we can’t turn back the clock and undo this tragic act, we can at least bring awareness to it and educate others in the hope that this never happens again to another race of people.
The DeKalb County Tourist Association has worked closely with the Alabama-Tennessee Trail of Tears Corridor Association to see this Trail of Tears route marked as a constant reminder of this great Cherokee Nation. Installment of the Trail of Tears “Trail Blazer” markers began December 18, 2000 in Fort Payne for the John Benge Route. The route is being marked from the Fort Payne Improvement Authority to the visitor center in Guntersville. We hope other communities will continue this project to see the trail “Blazed” from Fort Payne to its end in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.