Cherokee Beadwork Jewelry
Photo at Right: 1840 Cherokee Shoe with Beadwork
The Cherokee learned to make jewelry from their Iroquois
cousins. They used natural materials such as shell, nuts, carved
beads, as well as copper, gold and eventually silver to make
beautiful jewelry and add beadwork to their clothing, bags, and shoes.
Buy Cherokee Beaded Jewelry At Right: Cherokee Beadwork Crafted in 2010
European traders began traveling along the Trade Route stopping at Indian
villages along the way. The Cherokee Indians especially loved the seed beads
brought from Europe, because of their bright colors.
As early as 1650, Cherokee Indians began bartering with traders making regular
stops in the Cherokee towns. They especially sought European cloth, glass beads, steel needles,
and silk thread in order to produce beautiful bead patterns on their clothing. The traders
sought the copper, shell, gemstones, and finished clothing and jewelry made by the Cherokee
Their beadwork had developed into a fine art to the point that beaded bags were sought by
Chiefs of other groups, Europeans, and American military officers. The designs were taken from
pottery, basketry and other traditional crafts.
Cherokee beadwork stopped after the U.S. Military removed them from their traditional
homelands in the Southeast to Oklahoma in what is called the "Trail of Tears." For information
about the "Trail of Tears" click here.
When the Cherokees arrived in Oklahoma they saw that the reservation was nothing but bare
rocks and sand and nothing for shelter or food existed. Their culture and beadwork arts were
soon forgotten, replaced by the fight for survival. They began hunting and growing crops, building
homes, schools, and shops.
Oral history passed down from these difficult times, indicate that the Cherokee no longer
wished to be identified as Indian. They began to acculturate into the larger society. For
Cherokee children's survival, they could no longer follow Indian ways or speak the Cherokee
Since the 1980's traditional Cherokee beadwork has seen a revival, with the use of seed beads,
leather backing for pendants and the use of traditional designs and motifs.
Below: Cherokee beadwork sampler, made by girls from the Cherokee Female Seminary,
Oklahoma, ca. 1840s, collection of the Oklahoma History Center.