Cherokee Betrayal: From the Constitution to the Trail of Tears
Choctaw Indian leader George W. Harkins wrote a Farewell to the American People, We as Choctaws rather chose to suffer and be free, than live under the degrading influence of laws, which our voice could not be heard in their formation. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French philosopher, witnessed the Choctaw removals while in Memphis, Tennessee, in , writing:.
The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. General John E. Wool had sympathy for the Indians and hesitated carrying out the inhumane removal, resulting in Democrat President Martin Van Buren replacing him with General Winfield Scott. From the jagged-walled stockades the troops fanned out across the Nation, invading every hamlet, every cabin, rooting out the inhabitants at bayonet point.
The Cherokees hardly had time to realize what was happening as they were prodded like so many sheep toward the concentration camps, threatened with knives and pistols, beaten with rifle butts if they resisted. Christians ministered to the Indians along the trail, bringing them food and blankets. Not able give their dead a full burial, they simply sang Amazing Grace, resulting in that song being considered as a "Cherokee National Anthem. President Ronald Reagan commemorated the estimated 5, who died from the Federal Government's policy by designating the "Trail of Tears" a National Historic Trail in Oklahoma, which is the Choctaw word for "red people," became home to the Five Civilized Tribes:.
Within 9 hours some two million acres became the private property of settlers who staked their claims for acres to homestead.
Riding as fast as they could, many found desirable plots already taken by "Boomers" who began intruding ten years earlier, and "Sooners," individuals who entered the territory just days or hours sooner than was permitted. In , Lewis Ross, a brother of Cherokee Chief John Ross, was drilling for saltwater-brine to use as a food preservative and found a pocket of oil that produced ten barrels of oil a day for nearly a year.
In , near the town Chelsea, Rogers County, Oklahoma, Edward Byrd drilled and found oil at a depth of only 36 feet, but was hampered by severe government regulations. Andrew Jackson's support for removal of Native Americans began at least a decade before his presidency. The law also gave the president power to pay for transportation costs to the West, should tribes choose to relocate. The law did not, however, allow the president to force tribes to move west without a mutually agreed-upon treaty.
In the years following the Act, the Cherokee filed several lawsuits regarding conflicts with the state of Georgia.
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Some of these cases reached the Supreme Court, the most influential being Worcester v. Georgia Samuel Worcester and other non-Indians were convicted by Georgia law for residing in Cherokee territory in the state of Georgia without a license. Worcester was sentenced to prison for four years and appealed the ruling, arguing that this sentence violated treaties made between Indian nations and the United States federal government by imposing state laws on Cherokee lands.
The Court ruled in Worcester's favor, declaring that the Cherokee Nation was subject only to federal law and that the Supremacy Clause barred legislative interference by the state of Georgia. Chief Justice Marshall argued, "The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory in which the laws of Georgia can have no force. The whole intercourse between the United States and this Nation, is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States.
Andrew Jackson did not listen to the Supreme Court mandate barring Georgia from intruding on Cherokee lands. He feared that enforcement would lead to open warfare between federal troops and the Georgia militia, which would compound the ongoing crisis in South Carolina and lead to a broader civil war. Instead, he vigorously negotiated a land exchange treaty with the Cherokee. Jackson chose to continue with Indian removal, and negotiated the Treaty of New Echota , on December 29, , which granted Cherokee two years to move to Indian Territory modern Oklahoma.
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Only a fraction of the Cherokees left voluntarily. The U. In November, the Cherokee were broken into groups of around 1, each and began the journey west.
They endured heavy rains, snow, and freezing temperatures. Many Cherokee felt betrayed that their leadership accepted the deal, and over 16, Cherokee signed a petition to prevent the passage of the treaty. By the end of the decade in , tens of thousands of Cherokee and other tribes had been removed from their land east of the Mississippi River.
One Choctaw leader portrayed the removal as "A Trail of Tears and Deaths", a devastating event that removed most of the Native population of the southeastern United States from their traditional homelands. The latter forced relocations have sometimes been referred to as " death marches ", in particular with reference to the Cherokee march across the Midwest in , which occurred on a predominantly land route. Native Americans who had the means initially provided for their own removal. Contingents that were led by conductors from the U. Army included those led by Edward Deas, who was claimed to be a sympathizer for the Cherokee plight.
This was at the point when the remaining Cherokee were rounded into camps and pressed into oversized detachments, often over in size larger than the populations of Little Rock or Memphis at that time. Communicable diseases spread quickly through these closely quartered groups, killing many.
These contingents were among the last to move, but following the same routes the others had taken; the areas they were going through had been depleted of supplies due to the vast numbers that had gone before them. The marchers were subject to extortion and violence along the route.
In addition, these final contingents were forced to set out during the hottest and coldest months of the year, killing many. Exposure to the elements, disease and starvation, harassment by local frontiersmen, and insufficient rations similarly killed up to one-third of the Choctaw and other nations on the march.
There exists some debate among historians and the affected tribes as to whether the term "Trail of Tears" should be used to refer to the entire history of forced relocations from the United States east of the Mississippi into Indian Territory as was the stated U. The territorial boundaries claimed as sovereign and controlled by the Indian nations living in what were then known as the Indian Territories—the portion of the early United States west of the Mississippi River not yet claimed or allotted to become Oklahoma —were fixed and determined by national treaties with the United States federal government.
These recognized the tribal governments as dependent but internally sovereign , or autonomous nations under the sole jurisdiction of the federal government. While retaining their tribal governance, which included a constitution or official council in tribes such as the Iroquois and Cherokee, many portions of the southeastern Indian nations had become partially or completely economically integrated into the economy of the region. This included the plantation economy in states such as Georgia , and the possession of slaves. These slaves were also forcibly relocated during the process of removal.
Under the history of U. The establishment of the Indian Territory and the extinguishment of Indian land claims east of the Mississippi anticipated the establishment of the U. Indian reservation system. It was imposed on remaining Indian lands later in the 19th century. Georgia , that e. However, in Worcester v. Georgia , the court re-established limited internal sovereignty under the sole jurisdiction of the federal government, in a ruling that both opposed the subsequent forced relocation and set the basis for modern U. While the latter ruling was defied by Jackson,  the actions of the Jackson administration were not isolated because state and federal officials had violated treaties without consequence, often attributed to military exigency , as the members of individual Indian nations were not automatically United States citizens and were rarely given standing in any U.
Jackson's involvement in what became known as the Trail of Tears cannot be ignored. In a speech regarding Indian removal, Jackson said, "It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.
His point of view garnered support from many Americans, many of whom would benefit economically from the removal. This was compounded by the fact that while citizenship tests existed for Indians living in newly annexed areas before and after forced relocation, individual U. As a result, individual Indians who could prove U.
The Choctaw nation occupied large portions of what are now the U. The removals were only agreed to after a provision in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek allowed some Choctaw to remain.
The chief of the Choctaw tribe, George W. Harkins , wrote to the citizens of the United States before the removals were to commence:. It is with considerable diffidence that I attempt to address the American people, knowing and feeling sensibly my incompetency; and believing that your highly and well improved minds would not be well entertained by the address of a Choctaw. But having determined to emigrate west of the Mississippi river this fall, I have thought proper in bidding you farewell to make a few remarks expressive of my views, and the feelings that actuate me on the subject of our removal We as Choctaws rather chose to suffer and be free, than live under the degrading influence of laws, which our voice could not be heard in their formation.
Gaines decided to remove Choctaws in three phases starting in and ending in The first was to begin on November 1, with groups meeting at Memphis and Vicksburg. A harsh winter would batter the emigrants with flash floods, sleet, and snow. Initially the Choctaws were to be transported by wagon but floods halted them. With food running out, the residents of Vicksburg and Memphis were concerned. Five steamboats the Walter Scott , the Brandywine , the Reindeer , the Talma , and the Cleopatra would ferry Choctaws to their river-based destinations.
There the temperature stayed below freezing for almost a week with the rivers clogged with ice, so there could be no travel for weeks. Food rationing consisted of a handful of boiled corn, one turnip, and two cups of heated water per day. Forty government wagons were sent to Arkansas Post to transport them to Little Rock.
When they reached Little Rock, a Choctaw chief referred to their trek as a " trail of tears and death ". Alexis de Tocqueville , the French philosopher, witnessed the Choctaw removals while in Memphis, Tennessee in In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn't watch without feeling one's heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country.
Nearly 17, Choctaws made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma. Approximately 5,—6, Choctaws remained in Mississippi in after the initial removal efforts. The Choctaws "have had our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died". The Choctaws were the first to sign a removal treaty presented by the federal government.
President Andrew Jackson wanted strong negotiations with the Choctaws in Mississippi, and the Choctaws seemed much more cooperative than Andrew Jackson had imagined.
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When commissioners and Choctaws came to negotiation agreements it was said the United States would bear the expense of moving their homes and that they had to be removed within two and a half years of the signed treaty. The treaty negotiated called for the Seminoles to move west, if the land were found to be suitable. They were to be settled on the Creek reservation and become part of the Creek tribe, who considered them deserters; some of the Seminoles had been derived from Creek bands but also from other tribes. Those among the tribe who once were members of Creek bands did not wish to move west to where they were certain that they would meet death for leaving the main band of Creek Indians.
The delegation of seven chiefs who were to inspect the new reservation did not leave Florida until October After touring the area for several months and conferring with the Creeks who had already settled there, the seven chiefs signed a statement on March 28, that the new land was acceptable. Upon their return to Florida, however, most of the chiefs renounced the statement, claiming that they had not signed it, or that they had been forced to sign it, and in any case, that they did not have the power to decide for all the tribes and bands that resided on the reservation.
The villages in the area of the Apalachicola River were more easily persuaded, however, and went west in This came to be known as the Dade Massacre.
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As the realization that the Seminoles would resist relocation sank in, Florida began preparing for war. The St. Augustine Militia asked the War Department for the loan of muskets. Five hundred volunteers were mobilized under Brig. Richard K. Indian war parties raided farms and settlements, and families fled to forts, large towns, or out of the territory altogether. A war party led by Osceola captured a Florida militia supply train, killing eight of its guards and wounding six others.
Most of the goods taken were recovered by the militia in another fight a few days later. Sugar plantations along the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine were destroyed, with many of the slaves on the plantations joining the Seminoles. The war ended, after a full decade of fighting, in Many Indians were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; others retreated into the Everglades. In the end, the government gave up trying to subjugate the Seminole in their Everglades redoubts and left fewer than Seminoles in peace. Other scholars state that at least several hundred Seminoles remained in the Everglades after the Seminole Wars.
As a result of the Seminole Wars, the surviving Seminole band of the Everglades claims to be the only federally recognized tribe which never relinquished sovereignty or signed a peace treaty with the United States. In general the American people tended to view the Indian resistance as unwarranted.
An article published by the Virginia Enquirer on January 26, , called the "Hostilities of the Seminoles", assigned all the blame for the violence that came from the Seminole's resistance to the Seminoles themselves. The article accuses the Indians of not staying true to their word—the promises they supposedly made in the treaties and negotiations from the Indian Removal Act.
After the War of , some Muscogee leaders such as William McIntosh signed treaties that ceded more land to Georgia. Nevertheless, Jackson retorted that they did not "cut Tecumseh 's throat" when they had the chance, so they must now cede Creek lands. Jackson also ignored Article 9 of the Treaty of Ghent that restored sovereignty to Indians and their nations. Jackson opened this first peace session by faintly acknowledging the help of the friendly Creeks. That done, he turned to the Red Sticks and admonished them for listening to evil counsel. For their crime, he said, the entire Creek Nation must pay.
Eventually, the Creek Confederacy enacted a law that made further land cessions a capital offense. Nevertheless, on February 12, , McIntosh and other chiefs signed the Treaty of Indian Springs , which gave up most of the remaining Creek lands in Georgia. President John Quincy Adams was sympathetic, and eventually the treaty was nullified in a new agreement, the Treaty of Washington Douglas Hurt wrote: "The Creeks had accomplished what no Indian nation had ever done or would do again — achieve the annulment of a ratified treaty.
At first, President Adams attempted to intervene with federal troops, but Troup called out the militia, and Adams, fearful of a civil war, conceded. As he explained to his intimates, "The Indians are not worth going to war over. However, the state moved to abolish tribal governments and extend state laws over the Creeks.
Opothle Yohola appealed to the administration of President Andrew Jackson for protection from Alabama; when none was forthcoming, the Treaty of Cusseta was signed on March 24, , which divided up Creek lands into individual allotments. The Creeks were never given a fair chance to comply with the terms of the treaty, however. Rampant illegal settlement of their lands by Americans continued unabated with federal and state authorities unable or unwilling to do much to halt it.
Further, as recently detailed by historian Billy Winn in his thorough chronicle of the events leading to removal, a variety of fraudulent schemes designed to cheat the Creeks out of their allotments, many of them organized by speculators operating out of Columbus, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama, were perpetrated after the signing of the Treaty of Cusseta. Escalating tensions erupted into open war with the United States following the destruction of the village of Roanoke, Georgia, located along the Chattahoochee River on the boundary between Creek and American territory, in May With the Indian Removal Act of it continued into and after as in over 15, Creeks were driven from their land for the last time.
The Chickasaw received financial compensation from the United States for their lands east of the Mississippi River. In , the Chickasaws had reached an agreement to purchase land from the previously removed Choctaws after a bitter five-year debate. The first group of Chickasaws moved in and was led by John M. The Chickasaws gathered at Memphis on July 4, , with all of their assets—belongings, livestock, and slaves.
Once across the Mississippi River, they followed routes previously established by the Choctaws and the Creeks. Once in Indian Territory , the Chickasaws merged with the Choctaw nation. By , about 2, Cherokee had voluntarily relocated from Georgia to Indian Territory present day Oklahoma. The Cherokee have a rich and storied history. Cherokee courts and schools were established and, in , a Cherokee scholar named Sequoyah invented a written Cherokee language. In , just 7 years later, a Cherokee language newspaper began publishing. In the desire for more land and Georgia gold gave the government an excuse to forcefully remove Cherokee in the Southeast.
More than 16, native people were marched on what would historically become known as the Trail of Tears and relocated to Oklahoma. Others are descended from Cherokee who managed to keep land they owned and did not march West. Under the treaty some Cherokee had taken land and were allowed to remain.
Others hid in the mountains and refused to be relocated. In the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians numbered approximately 1, Presently, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation with over 14, members. Membership in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is only open to people over eighteen years old.
Prospective members must prove they have an ancestor on the Baker Roll of The Cherokee government consists of the following:. All government officials are elected using a democratic voting system. Tribal members are also allowed to vote in state and national elections. The tribe financially pays for schools, water, sewer, fire, and emergency services without assistance from the federal government. Cherokee schools teach the Cherokee language.
To learn more about the amazing history of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, come visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The network of trails is more than