“We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell to our native land, the country that Great Spirit gave our Fathers, we are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us birth it is with sorrow we are forced by the white man to quit the scenes of our childhoodwe bid farewell to it and all we hold dear.” This is the way that Cherokee Vice Chief Charles Hicks described, in 1838, the emotions that must have been felt after the mistreatment and the abuse that was wrought upon the Cherokee Indians. It was a trail of blood, a trail of death, but ultimately it was known as the “Trail of Tears”. In this history of the Cherokee Nation we are trying, but without success, to be as unbiased as possible.
Its the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson is mounting up forces against the Pro-British faction of the Creek Indians. The United States appealed for Cherokee support for aid in war against Tukumsa and another Indian known as Red Sticks. The Cherokee Nation replied with six to eight hundred of their best warriors. It was this war were the Indians fought side by side with Jackson. After a treaty in 1814 was forced on the Creek Indians, the Cherokees filed claims for there lose. There was no promise that their claims would be acknowledged. This would bring on the biggest betrayal on the Cherokee Indians, Andrew Jackson.
Andrew Jackson demanded the session of twenty-three million acres of land to the United States. The Cherokee Nation, however, owned Four million acres of this land. The Cherokees protested again to Indian agent Jonathan Meigs in the War Department. Once again their former ally called these claims “Cherokee intrigue”. Andrew Jackson then suggested with troops already in the field that this would be the perfect time to remove Cherokees as well as Creeks out of Tennessee. The Indian Removal Act was introduced by Andrew Jackson and was passed by Congress in 1830. This act was to force the Indians west of the Mississippi River. This was largely carried out by General Winfield Scott and his army of approximantly seven thousand troops, in May of 1838. When the army arrived in New Echota Georgia thousand of Cherokee Indians would be rounded up with dragnets and penned up in wooden stockades. By June 5, 1838 it was estimated that only 200 Cherokee had escaped. There were between fifteen to seventeen thousand Cherokee held in these crude jails, where they would await their long brutal journey west. This route from Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and finally ending in Oklahoma, would later be referred by Cherokees as Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi, or “the trail on which they Cried”.
The journey on which the Indians traveled would bring many deaths due to starvation, droughts and disease. There were two main ways of travel, by land and river. River travel was difficult if not impossible because low river levels due to the drought. All in all it took 645 wagons, 5000 horses and oxen and river vessels used primarily for the ill. Grant Foreman, Dean of Indian Historians, recorded this appalling period. He stated that the weather was extremely hot, there was a drought, and water was scarce and there were suffocating clouds of dust mixed with the oxygen. He also stated that at least three but, up to five people died per day on the trail. By the end of June 1838 two to three hundred Indians were sick. On June 17, 1838 General Charles Floyd of the Georgia militia wrote to Governor Gilmen of New Echota that they were convinced that there were no longer any Cherokee in Georgia. This would hold true that they succeeded in removing the Cherokee from the state, but not completely from the east. This would bring on a great supporter of the Cherokee people, a white man by the name of John Ross.
John Ross campaigned heavily for the Cherokees. Ross was part of the immigration management committee. Ross persuaded General Scott to approve a budget for the captive Indians of Seventeen cents per Indian per day. This was double the amount figured by congress. This money was for daily rations and luxuries such as coffee sugar and soap. Ross and his committees started to work on indemnities due to Cherokees for abandoned property. All Cherokees where invited to present claims to be forwarded to the U.S. authorities for settlement before they left. Cherokees billed the government for things raging from mansions fully furnished to farm animals and house wares. The government would hope to make this money back by the sale of this abandoned land. The government would consider this a self-supervised removal. These plans and actions enraged Ross arch foe, Andrew Jackson. To Jackson, a retired Indian fighter, this seemed like the Cherokee were getting the last word in a ten-year battle. For his fights and actions Ross would become Chief of the United Cherokee Nation.
Even today there are still battles over Indians rights and lands. To put it best in a current perspective a Seminole Indian Wrote:
“We have been taught that the “Trail of Tears” started in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and ended in Oklahoma, but that simply is not true. The “Trail of Tears” began when the first canvas sail was spotted off the coast of turtle island and it still continues.”
“The trail passes through Oklahoma and goes on through Leavenworth, where our brother Leonard Peltier, is but another land mark on the trail. The trail passes through the Places called poverty, alcohol and substance abuse, desperation, lost culture, you can stop and visit hunger on you travels down the trail.”
“Care must be taken not to trip over broken treaties, and the trail is often slippery with blood. The cries of the people are loud and unpleasant to the ear, misplaced children often wonder aimlessly into your path. The towns of unemployment and welfare are major stops along the way. Construction of the trail crushed and scared the face of Mother; Elders were buried under the ruble. No The trail did not end in Oklahoma, Oklahoma was, and is, just another stop along the trail.”
For a people that so eagerly jumped to a man and his governments aid and fight and die the respect and actions shown in return were far less respectable or commendable than deserved. This would seem more of a punishment given to a dog that attacked its owner. As far as being unbiased we blew it.