The National Portrait Gallery
Native Americans


Henry Inman (1801-1846), after Charles Bird King
Oil on canvas, circa 1830

Sequoyah became interested in developing an alphabet, or table of characters, for the eighty-five or eighty-six syllables in the Cherokee language after he had been cripled by a hunting accident in 1809. By 1821 his task was completed and approved by the Cherokee chiefs, with the result that in a short time thousands of his people learned to read and write. After moving to Oklahoma with a western Cherokee in Arkansas, he encouraged the printing of books and a newspaper in Cherokee and became active in the political life of his tribe. Sequoyah's fame is perpetuated in the name of the genus of California's giant redwoods and in the statue of him placed by the state of Oklahoma in Statuary Hall of the national Capitol.