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European Contact

Spanish Expedition Endangers Cherokee Indians

The Cherokee had developed a thriving and sophisticated culture by the arrival of Hernando DeSoto’s expedition in 1540, a watershed event that led to drastic and lasting change for the Great Cherokee Nation.

The Spaniards marched across Cherokee land in their search for gold, taking slaves and demanding food and tribute. Perhaps the worst effect of the encounter was the devastating diseases they brought, such as smallpox, measles, and syphilis, against which the Cherokee and other Native Americans had no immunity. Some scholars estimate that up to 95 percent of Native Americans were killed by European diseases within 150 years of Christopher Columbus’ landing.