I had posted some brief comments on this subject, using mostly a dimming memory and a brief glance at a small dictionary to aid me. In response to a challenge for more substantive information, here it is.

My initial impulse is always for the handy EncBrit, which confirms what one poster (Liz?) pointed out, that Sequoyah, aka Sikwayi, aka George Gist, had a Cherokee mom and an Anglo Dad, Nathaniel. Mom's name, although she raised the tad with her people, doesn't come up. Hmph. (One biography gives it as Wah Teh.)

He lived to be 73 or so years old, and laid claim to excellence in a variety of enterprises, which included silversmithing, painting, and killing people. He is also credited with creating the Cherokee syllabary, which, according to at least one entry in the EncBrit, was based on various alphabets. "He experimented first with pictographs and then with symbols representing the syllables of the spoken language, adapting letters from English, Greek, and Hebrew..." [IX:64]

Another entry, from "Writing, Forms of" [19:1040] confusingly contributes, "The study of these writings leads to conclusions that are of primary importance for the history of writing in general: (1) All the new writings that have gone through an extended process of evolution, like the Cherokee writing introduced by an Indian named Sequoyah (more correctly Sikwayi) and the Alaska systems in North America, or the Vai and Bamum systems in western Africa, have evolved from primitive semasiography and have passed successively through the stages of logography and syllabography, showing at times, in the final stage, certain tendencies toward alphabetization. Thus the sequence of stages in writings introduced among "primitives" fully parallels the history of writing in its natural evolution."

Aside from its charming ethnocentrism, the article implies that there was an evolution, even in Sequoyah's system. So what we have today is not what Sequoyah reputedly walked out of the woods with.

So much for the accepted history, as told by Whites.

I had come across an article a while ago, which speculated on the possibility that Sequoyah was not an inventor of the syllabary, but was a member of a secret group of Cherokee scribes, using a writing method that was centuries old. I couldn't find the article again. Instead, I found what I take to be the source of the article, Tell Them They Lie, by Traveller Bird.

The book tells the harrowing story of Sequoyah, whose real name was Sogwili, and who took his name "George Guess" from a White captive. Sogwili was a member of the Seven Clan Scribe Society, which had held the secret of writing since a group of Southwestern people had brought it with them on thin plates of gold. (Mormons must love this part. In fact, the reference to plates of gold is underlined in pen wherever it appears in the book.)

For his part in the conservative Cherokees' resistance to the Whites, "tame" Cherokee captured Sogwili, and cut off his ears and fingers. Because George Guess was already important among the Cherokee, Whites signed his name to various treaties. To provide a picturesque person in the mutilated Sogwili's stead, they had Thomas Maw, son of Hanging Maw, painted as "Sequoyah." And because they needed a tame George Guess, they found an illiterate Cherokee halfbreed named George Gist, who would stand in when he was needed.

The book was published in 1971 by Westernlore Publishers. I could find no references to the book in historical journals, but that may be because I limited my search to what the local library had on hand. Traveller Bird is described as a direct descendant of Sequoyah, and free-lance wildlife photographer.

My reaction to the book was not particularly optimistic. While I have a hard time believing the story of Sequoyah as told in the traditional biographies, Bird's story is equally hard to swallow. Part of the problem is Bird's pronouncement that this is the story as he knows it; if it doesn't agree with what we know, too bad. [1] (Motto?)

Bird uses various footnotes and references, but the critical parts of the story are supported mainly by a cryptic reference to "more than six hundred documents written by George Guess himself on thick ruled ledger books..." My reaction was, if this stuff is out there, why aren't historians eagerly poring over the documents, and doing their damndest to preserve them? Aside from the problem of the "truth," the story itself is certainly more interesting than the traditional biography.

Another aspect of the book that bothered me a lot was Bird's use of "Movie Indian English," a hackneyed rendering of English to make the speaker sound like an illiterate. Bird claims that the use was the result of direct translations from Cherokee, but that sounds stupid to me.

According to the author, there are 13,000 "full blood" Cherokee who believe this story. Many of the claims in the book should be either provable or disprovable, but I think the job needs to go to someone with a more formal training in history than I can boast of. There are enough inconsistencies and weirdnesses in the traditional biography. I am still inclined to believe that the Cherokee may have known "writing" (Talking Leaves, indeed!) before Whites discovered Sequoyah, although much of Bird's story, especially the claimed origins of the Cherokee syllabary from some mysterious southwestern group, is a bit hard to swallow.

[1] I am told that this "pronouncement" is a standard disclaimer among Cherokee story tellers.