A sequoia is a giant conifer. Of its several varieties, the redwood tree is especially well-known. These trees are the tallest living things on earth. The term sequoia was taken from the name of the Cherokee Indian who devised the Cherokee syllabic alphabet.
Sequoyah (known in English as Sequoia) lived with the Cherokee tribe in Tennessee. He was the son of a white trader named Nathaniel Gist and a Cherokee woman related to a legendary warrior, King Oconos- tota. Sequoyah’s English name from his father was George Guess, a slight change from Gist. The word sequoyah means «guessed it». Sequoyah became a silversmith and enjoyed singing and athletics. One day while hunting, he had an accident that crippled him for life. Restricted from many of his usual activities, Sequoyah looked into something that had bothered him for a long while, the «talking leaf». Sequoyah and other Indians could not understand how white people could look at paper and read. He decided that the secret of writing, this «talking leaf», was in sounds. After twelve years of work (1809 — 1821), and carefully noting the sounds uttered by the Cherokees, he came up with eighty-six characters representing all the sounds spoken. This alphabet — really a syllabary — enabled the Cherokees to publish in their own language.
The Indian chiefs were not easily convinced that the alphabet had merit and were reluctant to adopt it. The turning point came when the chiefs devised a test by having Sequoyah write a secret message on a piece of paper. They then handed the paper to Sequoyah’s little daughter, who proceeded to read aloud what had been written. The chiefs were amazed, and the Cherokee written language was born.
When Sequoyah was in his seventies, he learned that some Cherokees lived in New Mexico. He set out with a small group to find the legendary lost band of Cherokees. Whether he located his tribal Indians is not known. He died in Mexico shortly after he began his search in 1843. Sequoyah was immortalized in 1847 by having a giant conifer named for him, the sequoia, by the Hungarian botanist Stephen Endlicher (18041891).