1830s Resettlement into Indian Territory
"With heavy hearts we turned our backs upon the graves of our fathers and took up the dismal march for our
new western home, in a wilderness west of the Missouri River. After long and tedious marches, after suffering
great exposure and much loss of life, we reached our new reservation, with but one consolation to revive our
drooping spirits, which was that never again would we be molested. In 1855, at the request of the United States
we leased and sold 12 million acres....(and again more in) 1866 and 1890...
They (the new Americans) care nothing for the fate of the native Americans so their own greed can be gratified."
Choctaw and Chickasaw delegates in reply to the Dawes Commission

Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux,1948

Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux,1948

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1830s Resettlement

1830s Resettlement into Indian Territory

When settlers from Europe first landed on the east coast of America in the sixteenth century they found the ground to be fertile, well suited to farming, so they did not need to venture inland. As more and more settlers arrived they moved further into the interior in the quest for land to cultivate. It was difficult to cross the mountain range, which stood in the way, so for a time the Appalachians marked the frontier of settlement. When the first thirteen states formed the Union this was still the case, as even a cursory glance at a map will show.

As more immigrants arrived from Europe pressure mounted for space, so brave pioneers crossed the mountains in search of new farming land. As a result of their longstanding contact with the newcomers the native peoples of the east had not only adjusted their attitudes and way of life to live side by side with them, many of them became embroiled in their struggles, and fought and died alongside them, be it British against French or British against American. Some intermarried extensively such that even within a family some integrated fully with the newcomers while others continued to live according to their traditional culture. Some became Christian, built schools to educate their children, and even established representative law making systems which emulated the democratic foundation of the United States.

Once the Appalachian Mountains had been crossed settlers poured into the fertile lands beyond, having scant regard for the native Americans who lived there. Initially they were able to live side by side in the vast tracts of land that stretched westward until the very wide river provided another barrier to westward expansion. There was little reason to cross the Mississippi because the land beyond was considered to be of no use.

However, when the new Americans saw the land being successfully tilled they coveted it, and when they ‘discovered’ gold, they wanted to have the wealth it would bring. Pressure of land ownership surfaced most readily where the population was the densest: east of the Appalachians. Efforts made by the native peoples to become ‘civilised’ counted for nothing, as did the lives they had lost in fighting side by side with new American troops. While some laudable individuals protested, mostly the new Americans scrambled for the spoils and history leaves us with the lamentable and at times despicable evidence of how morality, for many, may be negotiable. Moral arguments were ignored, and if the law was not amenable it was changed or reinterpreted. When the native peoples became an obstacle they were ‘removed’, as if promises had never been made. In the process of this individuals made fortunes. Thousands lost their lives in the most heart rending suffering: by starvation, disease, and debility. Treaties were drawn up and promises made that they would last “as long as the waters shall run and the grass shall grow”, only for ‘permanent’ agreements to be redrawn. (1)

One after another the eastern peoples were picked off: Delaware, Seneca, Shawnee, Ottawa, Choctaw, Sauk & Fox, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Potawatomi. Unwillingly, they were mercilessly shifted from their homeland to the barren lands west of the Mississippi which the new Americans regarded to be of such use that it was labelled “The Great American Desert” on their maps at the time ‘removal’ took place.

Following the revolutionary war 1776-1783 the newly independent United States, impoverished by the cost of the conflict, wanted to be able to raise revenue by selling off land, something it could not do when it was occupied, indeed owned by native Americans. The place to do this was Ohio, but while it was native American new American settlers just moved in, ignoring any legal title to it. The presence of the interlopers, estimated at 12,000, caused clashes with the indigenous peoples. Thus if the United States government could gain ‘legal’ ownership it could be justified as a move towards a peaceful resolution and result in a badly needed injection of funds into the Union treasury. In January, 1785 some of the Delaware, Ojibwe, Ottawa and Wyandot signed the Fort McIntosh Treaty. This acknowledged United States sovereignty in Ohio and agreed to a frontier at the Cuyahoga, Tuscarawas and Muskingum Rivers. Congress then sold the land rights to the Ohio Company and a New Jersey syndicate. A similar agreement was signed with the Shawnee at Fort Finney the following year.

However, the chiefs who signed these treaties did not represent their people any more than the American commissioners had the will to control the encroachment of the frontier by its citizens. Incursions by both sides resulted in retaliatory action, so spasmodic armed conflict continued. The American governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, convened a conference at Fort Harmar in December, 1787. The meeting was attended by Wyandot, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Delaware, and Potawatomi. However the native Americans were even divided within themselves. Shawnee and Miami were united in opposition, but the Saginaw branches Ojibwe and Ottawa were militant and showed it by attacking soldiers who were building the meeting house during the summer of 1788. Continued encroachment and retaliation meant that the peace conference was as doomed to failure as all the others.

“by the beginning of the nineteenth century red men were courteously arranging their own doom. The first indication of the white man’s dream of settling the continent ‘s original inhabitants somewhere far from the fertile lands had come in a treaty made with the Delaware Indians in 1778.” (2) Under this treaty the Delawares were promised that they would be able to head a state which would join the Union of ex British colonies. On the strength of this they had fought on the side of the Americans against the British. However nothing was ever to come of the reciprocal commitment.

In 1809 the governor of Indiana territory, William Harrison, met with leaders of the Miami, Powatatomi and Delaware peoples at Fort Wayne. They ceded three million acres of land in central Indiana.

In 1804 Lewis and Clark observed the Kansa living in two villages on the Kansas River with a population of about 300 men. These explorers reported that they formerly lived on the south bank of Missouri river about 75 miles above the mouth of the Kansas, and were more numerous, but were reduced by the attacks of the Sauk and the Iowa. According to Lewis and Clark, the closely related Osage were more numerous. There were three branches of them: the Great Osage, on the Osage River, the Little Osage, farther up the same river, and the Arkansas band, on the Vermilion River, a tributary of the Arkansas. They then numbered some 5,500. By a treaty signed at Ft Clark, Kansas, near Kansas City on Nov. 10, 1808, the Osage agreed to occupy a reservation farther west in present-day southern Kansas, giving up virtually the whole of Missouri today together with northern Arkansas. A similar ‘treaty of peace and friendship’ was made between the Kansa and the United States in 1815. They were then on Kansas River at the mouth of the Saline River, having been forced back from the Missouri by the Dakota. They occupied 130 earth lodges, and their number was estimated at 1,500. In 1818 Osage chiefs sold some of their land north of the Arkansas River.

By the treaty of St Louis, June 3, 1825, the Kansa and Osage ceded to the United States their lands in Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, and relinquished all claims they might have had to lands in Missouri, but reserving tracts for their use. Missouri had joined the Union in 1821. The land retained by the Kansa was a strip to the north of the Kansa River, while the Osage had a similar sized strip to the south, an area 50 miles wide and 125 miles long along the southern boundary of modern Kansas. In their new land they were relentlessly attacked by the Pawnee and others, such that their numbers fell substantially.

The government’s idea was that the land between and south of these two peoples, west of the Mississippi, would be used to resettle the native Americans from the east. Although the outcome involved injustice, heartbreak, starvation, unnecessary suffering and fatalities, this was largely achieved by 1840.

In 1829 Porter estimated the Kansa numbers at 1,200 and those of the Osage at 5,000. According to the Report of the Indian Office for 1843 the figures were 1,588 and 4,102 respectively. By the treaty signed at Methodist Mission, Kansas January 14, 1846, the Kansa ceded to the United States 2,000,000 acres of the east portion of their reservation, and a new reservation was assigned them at Council Grove, on Neosho River, Morris County, Kansas. During the Civil War, on occasions, some Osages fought for the Union. Chief Little Bear led some into the Ninth Kansas Infantry and Chief Four Lodges (Chetopa) with 200 warriors briefly joined the Second Regiment of the Union's Indian Brigade. (3) Despite this demonstration of loyalty the Osage were forced to sell their Kansas lands in 1871 and moved south across the border into Indian Territory. Two years later the land of the Kansa was sold, and with the funds another reservation was purchased in Indian Territory next to the Osage. With the exception of 160 acres, reserved for school purposes, all their lands have now been allotted to individual ownership. The Kansa population plummeted from about 1,700 in 1850 to 209 in 1905. Much of this decrease has been due to epidemics. In the winter of 1852-53 smallpox alone carried off more than 400 of the tribe at Council Grove. At the point the Osage tribal lands were divided in 1906, there were approximately 2,000 of them, again a considerable fall from mid century, since the total had been halved, but not as catastrophic as that of the Kansa.

The Osage ceded over 80 million acres of land to the United States of America in the various treaties and agreements made through to 1868. In return, the tribe has only received compensation of $166,300 in cash, annuities, livestock, horses, farming equipment, and merchandise. By the end of the nineteenth century, owing to intermarriage with new Americans, the majority of the remainder of both these peoples were of mixed race. (4)

Where others like the Miami, Potawatomi and Delaware gave up their lands, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh had the vision and the political acumen to attempt to form a confederation of native peoples against the ‘whites’. Unlike the above mentioned peoples, he stood up to William Harrison’s demands, saying, in 1810:

“the only way to stop this evil is for all red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right to the land….. no tribe has a right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers who demand all and will take no less……Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds and the great sea. Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?” Tecumseh (5)

In October 1811, Tecumseh tried to bring his vision of a united front to reality by canvassing others like the Cherokee Creek and Choctaw in the south. He left his brother, Tenskwatawa, clear instructions to await the massive confederacy which was Tecumseh’s dream. However, when William Harrison invaded the land near the Tippecanoe River Tenskwatawa engaged Harrison’s army with a force drawn from the Winnebago, Potawatomi and Kickapoo, but the alliance was defeated. When Tecumseh returned his efforts had been dashed. However in June 1812 an opportunity presented itself when the Americans and British declared war. Tecumseh led warriors from the Potawotomi, Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Delaware to fight with the British, and they were to be joined by bands of Wyandot, Ojibwe, Dakota, Winnebago and Sauk and Fox. However, by 1813 the British were in retreat, and in the face of Harrison’s army Tecumseh attempted a daring resistance in which he and many of his followers died.

The Five ‘Civilised Tribes’
By the early nineteenth century most of the indigenous peoples of the south east who had long had contact with the new Americans: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw,Creek and Seminole were split between those who wished to maintain their own traditions and those who were gradually integrating their culture with the newcomers. There was a considerable amount of intermarriage which contributed towards integration, peoples like the Creek and Cherokee were adaptable and learned by trading and interaction with the new Americans. They readily assimilated clothing, tools, weapons and farming methods which were suited to their needs. It was in this sense that they were ‘civilized’: that they had been open minded enough to assimilate aspects of the culture of the new Americans. It was to make no difference to the way they were treated by the new Americans. They were not interested in proselytizing their culture, the new Americans just wished to present it as being on a higher plane in order to justify them extending their ownership, wealth and power.

From 1814 to 1824, eleven treaties were “agreed” by which the five “civilized tribes” ceded large parts of their lands in exchange for land on the Great Plains in a vain attempt to appease the Americans and, in doing so salvage at least some of their homelands and protect themselves from further incursion. By negotiating these treaties, with some amenable or corruptible leaders the United States claimed control of over three-quarters of Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina. The fact that so few Creeks, Cherokee and Choctaws moved westwards voluntarily during this period shows to what extent these were freely agreed treaties. They were actually devices by which the USA merely justified their imperialist actions by claiming that they were given legal title to the land. While the United States expressed freedom and democracy as its basic precepts whether this actually applied depended very much on what ethnic group one belonged to.

The Creek, inhabiting parts of today’s Georgia and Alabama, journeyed to exchange skins at the Spanish port of Pensacola which was the centre of trade in Florida. The Lower Creek, so called because they inhabited the lower reaches of the waterways which provided routes inland, were more readily disposed to cultural interchange than those who lived further into the interior. The Upper Creek guarded their traditions more strongly, and became known as the ‘Redsticks’ since they followed the Shawnee mystical belief that carrying this spiritual item in battle offered them protection. In 1813 a peaceful group of Creek were ambushed by American militia led by Colonel Caller. Although the attack initially successfully dispersed the Redsticks, they regrouped and routed the Americans. Bill Weatherford, son of a white Georgian and a mother of mixed Scottish, French and Creek descent, called Red Eagle by the Creek, led a retaliatory attack of Fort Mims. The fort was burned and its inhabitants brutalised. The Americans responded by attacking Creek towns. Andrew Jackson rose from his sickbed and with his left arm still rendered useless by a duelling wound,led Tennessee troops reinforced by Choctaw warriors, traditional enemies of the Creek. Blackwarriors’ Town ( Tuscaloosa,in Choctaw,Tallussahatchee and Artussee were sacked and burned. Davy Crockett, who rode with Jackson, commented:

“we shot them like dogs” (6) (Blackwarriors’ Town or Tuscaloosa,in Choctaw, was named after a sixteenth century chief. It was capital of Alabama at one time.)

At Artussee Jackson’s troops were re-enforced by Cherokee and Lower Creek warriors. The Redsticks were virtually wiped out at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. The Cherokee were prominent in the battle, capturing the Upper Creek canoes to enable their allies to cross the river and engage the enemy. Though they had helped him, Jackson still forced the Lower Creek to cede about 8 million acres, about two thirds of their land. (7) The surviving Upper Creek people joined the Seminole who, in 1814, were strongly resisting the Americans in the Florida swampland. This conflict escalated into full scale war in 1818. Florida was still claimed by Spain at this time.

The Cherokee chief Tahlonteskee, having witnessed the slaughter at Horseshoe Bend, was convinced that moving west was inevitable, so in 1818 he requested that the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions establish a mission in the west. Although Tahlonteskee died before the land was granted in Arkansas, his son John Jolly succeeded him as chief and led 300 of his people into the Great Plains to live next to the Osage. Being farmers, the Cherokee were so different to the Osage, who hunted buffalo, that they were not readily accepted. Conflicts were such that the Indian Agent Major Lovely negotiated further land to be transferred to the Cherokee from the Osage. This made it more likely that the Cherokee still in the east would be pressured to move west, despite their vehement resistance to the idea.

Pressure mounted when the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created in 1824 as an arm of the War Department. “the bureau’s official business was described as the making of treaties to expedite exile” (8) When the Eastern Cherokee adopted a formal constitution for their nation in 1827 and declared themselves to be a sovereign nation, the state congress of Georgia responded by declaring this action illegal. They claimed it violated article 4 of the constitution of the United States, and argued that the Cherokee were tenants on state land. The state congress of Georgia then formally annexed Cherokee land. The Cherokee took their case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against them.

Perhaps the critical trigger for removal came when gold was discovered on Cherokee land at Dahlonega, Georgia in 1828. Georgians poured onto Cherokee land. Jackson’s answer was the final piece in the jigsaw: the Removal Bill was put before congress in 1829. The Cherokee tried to use legal means to safeguard their rights. They sought protection from white settlers, who stole their livestock, burned their towns, and squatted on their land. In 1827 the Cherokee adopted a written constitution. They based this on United States policy; in former treaties, Indian nations had been declared sovereign so they would be legally capable of ceding their lands. Now the Cherokee hoped to use this status to their advantage. The state of Georgia, however, did not recognize their sovereign status, but saw them as tenants living on state land.

The Cherokee again petitioned the Supreme Court in 1831. This time they based their appeal on an 1830 Georgia law which prohibited whites from living on Indian territory after March 31, 1831, without a license from the state. The state legislature had passed this law to justify removing white missionaries who were helping the Indians resist removal. The court this time decided in favor of the Cherokee. It stated that the Cherokee had the right to self-government, and declared Georgia's extension of state law over them to be unconstitutional. The state of Georgia refused to abide by the Court decision. By now the Removal Act had been passed and President Jackson refused to enforce the verdict of the Supreme Court.

In the House of Representatives the bill was hotly opposed by Edward Everitt, among others:

“To remove them against their will by thousands, to a different and distant country, where they must lead a new life and form other habits, and encounter the perils and hardships of a wilderness: Sir I have never heard of such a thing!.................................. They are not barbarians; they are essentially a civilized people......................................... They are planters and farmers, they are tradespeople and mechanics, they have cornfields, looms and workshops, schools and churches, and orderly institutions” (9)

However much such opposition reaffirms one’s faith that not all the new Americans were behind the racist policies, they were clearly outnumbered, for in May 1830 the Great Removal Act was passed by Congress, albeit narrowly by 102-97 votes and President Jackson appended his signature on May 28. Jackson’s champion in the House of Representatives, William Lumpkin even had the nerve to refer to Jackson as “friend and father to the Indians”. ( 10) On an historical level it also clearly shows that in rejecting such arguments as Everitt’s , Jackson and his allies knew exactly what they were doing. Although it is often claimed that ignorance is no defence it is sometimes, in history, posited as an excuse. In this case it can be presented as neither defence nor excuse for those who passed these laws out of self interest did not do this in ignorance.

In 1830 Ohio was ‘crowded’ with native peoples from the east who had been shifted thus far: Seneca, Delaware, Wyandot, Shawnee and Ottowa. The Seneca were the largest of the peoples which comprised the Iroquois League, the others being the Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Cayuga. The Delaware or Lenape had figured in no less than 15 treaties with the USA. between 1778 and 1818, and the Seneca had signed 11. All these treaties, as has been mentioned above, were doomed to failure. The native Americans were not represented fully at meetings and the US government either had no intention of keeping agreements or like the Indian chiefs, they had no power to make its citizens follow them either. Despite some of their leaders having signed away their Ohio lands in February 1831, in practice the Seneca were reluctant to leave. Harassed by the authorities, represented by sub agent Henry Brish, they eventually left in November on a tortuous journey in which most suffered from disease and malnutrition and many died, setting the pattern for subsequent removals. Joined by some Delaware en route they arrived in Indian Territory, which would become Oklahoma, in July 1832 with no means of feeding themselves through the months to come.

The next native peoples to be ‘picked off’ were Shawnee, Ottawa and the remaining Delaware. Again the start was delayed by uncertainty and the native people’s refusal to travel by riverboat. They were right to fear cholera because it was common. In practice, conditions on the trail meant they caught it anyway. Their problems were compounded by drunkenness from consuming cheap rotgut spirits in an attempt to forget their tragic circumstances. The group eventually travelled through Independence, Missouri, the gateway to the plains, on 30 November 1832. Twenty miles further west they came to the Shawnee destination. There were no tools to build homes which the government had promised. The Ottawa would go no further, refusing to travel the extra forty miles to the land which had been ‘allocated’ to them.

The Choctaw had taken the side of the Americans against the British in 1812. They had fought with Andrew Jackson against the Upper Creek Redsticks on the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River. It made no difference. They were accorded the same treatment. Andrew Jackson himself negotiated the removal to ensure that the terms were not too beneficial to the native Americans. Using the tried and tested methods of coercion and bribery with amenable chiefs the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, September 1830, exchanged their homelands in Alabama and Mississippi for land in western Arkansas. Their removal began in the autumn of 1831, and an advance exploring group sent back good reports of fertile land and the availability of buffalo and wild turkey. However, once again the journey of those removed was wracked by disease, cholera, influenza and pneumonia, hunger and extreme weather conditions. Of approximately 18,000 Choctaws who began the journey about one third of them perished. To make matters worse, when they established their homes and cornfields on the Arkansas River it flooded its banks and destroyed what they had worked so hard to create.

Originally from Upper Michigan, the Sauk and Fox had been driven south by the Iroquois, the French and the Ojibwe. The two peoples lived together and established a city, Saukenuk, of wooden dwellings, 30 -100 feet long in clearly defined streets. Their economy was based on agriculture, mining ore (the Fox were smelters) and hunting furs to trade for equipment. Indian agents oversaw the trade and, during his presidency, Jefferson told them to encourage native American chiefs to get into debt, professing that this policy would result in them being willing to cede land. While this was devious it was almost fair compared with the injustice which was to come.

In the war of 1812 between British and Americans Black Hawk, the Sauk leader opted to join the former on the basis that the Americans “make fair promises but never fulfilled them” (11)

In 1832 Black Hawk refused to surrender the Sauk and Fox lands in western Illinois. The state of Illinois invoked the treaty of 1804, but the Sauk and Fox did not recognize it. William Henry Harrison, the American governor of the Indiana territory had induced a few Sauk, including Quashquami, who was not even a chief, to sign away ten million acres of northeast Missouri and western Illinois. All this for $2,500 in presents and a $1,000 annuity over 20 years. Although Blackhawk thought the Ojibwe, Winnebago, and even British would support him, only a few Potawatomi in northern Illinois joined in. Outnumbered near Kishwaukee, Black Hawk’s attempt to parley failed when his truce flag bearers were attacked and taken prisoner. Black Hawk’s response, to attack the militia resulted in a rout, 400 militiamen ran before forty Sauk warriors in what was known as the Battle of Sycamore Creek. Initial success against whisky soaked troops could not be maintained, however, and Black Hawk’s warriors were forced to retreat. Starving and desperate, they split into two groups. One group was captured as they were attempting to cross the Mississippi near the Wisconsin River. The other, led by Black Hawk, was caught in a crossfire between the east bank and a gunboat on the river near the mouth of the Blood Axe River, a tributary of the Mississippi. Black Hawk’s attempts to surrender were ignored and warriors were shot down with their families. Subsequent atrocities committed did not distinguish between the genders and ages of those butchered. How could anyone call this the Battle of Bad Axe River? The decimated and demoralized Sauk were forced to cede their remaining lands in Illinois as well as parts of eastern Iowa. In the aftermath, pressure built to remove the other native peoples from Illinois. At the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi in northern Illinois ceded their remaining lands and agreed to move to Council Bluffs on the Missouri River in southwest Iowa. After a few years, the Illinois Ojibwe merged with the more-numerous prairie Potawatomi. The combined tribe was forced from Iowa in 1846 and removed to eastern Kansas.

Despite being subjected to harassment and the illegal occupation of their land in Alabama, starving and despairing, the Creek still refused to budge. The situation was so desperate they ate the bark off the trees. Hoping to alleviate the stress and bring their hapless position to an end, they signed a treaty in March 1832, which opened a large tract of their Alabama land to white settlement, but guaranteed themselves ownership of the remainder. Contrary to the legal wording, the government did not prevent further theft of their land, which continued, unabated. In 1834-5 many were defrauded of their land by unscrupulous speculators. By 1835 the Creek were so poor they began stealing livestock and crops from white settlers. Some even retaliated by raiding the landgrabbers, burning their homes and property, taking food and killing the squatters. In 1836 the Secretary of War ordered the removal of the Creek as a military necessity, so General Jesup led in eleven thousand troops against Eneah Mico’s eight hundred underfed Creek warriors.

“Most of them were dizzy with hunger..... The Indians were scrawnier than their ponies. Babies bawled for nourishment half dead mothers could not give them. White onlookers marveled at the variety in the Creek faces. Some were white, blond and blue eyed, descendents of generations of intermarriage with Scottish traders.” (12)

Identified as ‘hostiles’, they were manacled and chained before being transported. In 1836 22,000 Creek people were forcibly moved. It has been estimated that about half of them died on the journey west from exposure, malnutrition or disease (mostly dysentery and cholera) or in most cases probably a combination of all three. By 1837, approximately 15,000 Creek people had migrated west. They never did sign a removal treaty.

The Chickasaw was a very aggressive offshoot of the Choctaw who were feared by neighbouring peoples. Like the Creek they signed a treaty in 1832 by which they agreed to move to new lands in the west and the United States government agreed to protect them until they moved. Once again the federal government reneged on its promise. Moving in winter 1837-38, the journey was the, by now, familiar heart rending debacle. Wagons were lost crossing the Mississippi, and disease, starvation and the elements took their toll. When they arrived on the banks of the Clear Boggy River smallpox broke out and decimated those who remained. The United States government reneged on its other promise, to provide land on which they could settle. Therefore they were forced to lease land from the Choctaw and almost lost their tribal identity as a consequence. However, by 1855 they had negotiated to buy the land and so became a discernible people again, until the US government stepped in again in 1907 to appropriate the land for the new state of Oklahoma.

CHEROKEE REMOVAL: The Trail where we Cried
The Cherokee, like so many before them, were cheated. They thought that their embrace of the culture of the new Americans would count for something, unfortunately they were wrong.

“We have learned your religion…… We have read your sacred books. Hundreds of our people have embraced their doctrines, practiced the virtue they teach….. on your kindness, your humanity, on your compassion, on your benevolence, we rest our hopes.” (13)

In 1833, a small faction agreed to sign a removal agreement: the Treaty of New Echota. The leaders of this group were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee nation, and over 15,000 Cherokee - led by Chief John Ross - signed a petition in protest. John Ross’s family was from Scottish- Cherokee intermarriages and he himself married a Cherokee wife, Quati. Ross wrote a letter which included this moving and articulate plea: “We are overwhelmed! Our hearts are sickened, our utterance is paralized, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed, by the audacious practices of unprincipled men…. The instrument in question is not the act of our Nation; we are not parties to its covenants; it has not received the sanction of our people….. we cannot but contemplate the enforcement of the stipulations of this instrument on us, against our consent, as an act of injustice and oppression, which, we are well persuaded, can never knowingly be countenanced by the Government and people of the United States; nor can we believe it to be the design of these honorable and highminded individuals, who stand at the head of the Govt., to bind a whole Nation, by the acts of a few unauthorized individuals.” The Supreme Court ignored such protests, which clearly gave the members of the highest court of appeal more credit than they deserved. Instead it ratified the treaty in 1836, which had been signed by the previously vociferous opponents of removal led by John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. The Cherokee were given two years to migrate ‘voluntarily’, at the end of which time they would be forcibly removed. John Ridge, his father, 'The Ridge', and Boudinot now grabbed the opportunity to receive the rewards for leading the way, with their laden oxen drawn wagons and their black slaves and horses, to the new lands in Indian Territory, Oklahoma. By 1838 only 2,000 had migrated; 16,000 remained on their land. The U.S. government sent in General Winfield Scott with 7,000 troops, who forced the Cherokee into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and, as they left, whites looted their homes.

Then began the march known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease – measles, pleurisy, whooping cough, biliousness, tuberculosis - on their way to the western lands. Ross’s wife Quati died of pneumonia. Once they arrived the leaders of those who had signed the 1836 treaty were sought out and killed. This began a period of civil war among the Cherokee people. Samuel Cloud remembered the tragic journey he made at the age of 9 years:

“We come to a big river, bigger than I have ever seen before. It is flowing with ice. The soldiers are not happy. We set up camp and wait. We are all cold and the snow and ice seem to hound us, claiming our people one by one. North is the color of blue, defeat and trouble. From there a chill wind blows for us as we wait by a frozen river. We wait to die.

My mother is coughing now. She looks worn. Her hands and face are burning hot. My aunts and uncles try to take care of me, so she can get better. I don't want to leave her alone. I just want to sit with her. I want her to stroke my hair, like she used to do. My aunts try to get me to sleep by them, but at night, I creep to her side. She coughs and it wracks her whole body. When she feels me by her side, she opens her blanket and lets me in. I nestle against her feverish body. I can make it another day, I know, because she is here.

When I went to sleep last night, my mother was hot and coughing worse than usual. When I woke up, she was cold. I tried to wake her up, but she lay there. The soft warmth she once was, she is no more. I kept touching her, as hot tears stream down my face. She couldn't leave me. She wouldn't leave me.

I hear myself call her name, softly, then louder. She does not answer. My aunt and uncle come over to me to see what is wrong. My aunt looks at my mother. My uncle pulls me from her. My aunt begins to wail. I will never forget that wail. I did not understand when my father died. My mother's death I do not understand, but I suddenly know that I am alone. My clan will take care of me, but I will be forever denied her warmth, the soft fingers in my hair, her gentle breath as we slept. I am alone. I want to cry. I want to scream in rage. I can do nothing.

We bury her in a shallow grave by the road. I will never forget that lonesome hill of stone that is her final bed, as it fades from my sight. I tread softly by my uncle, my hand in his. I walk with my head turned, watching that small hill as it fades from my sight. The soldiers make us continue walking. My uncle talks to me, trying to comfort me. I walk in loneliness.” (14)

Georgians accused the Seminole of harbouring runaway slaves in Florida, which, at the time of independence, was claimed by Spain. The presence of the fugitive slaves enraged white planters and fuelled their desire to defeat the Seminole. It also suited the US government to put pressure on the Spanish government, whose hold on the area was severely weakened by armed insurrection in its Mexican colony. US troops under Andrew Jackson were sent into Florida in 1817, ostensibly to address the problem of the escaped slaves. The First Seminole War lasted until 1818 and subsequently the US purchased Florida from Spain in 1821, the same year Mexico gained its independence.

Once the Removal Act was in place the US used a similar tactic to that employed with other peoples like the Cherokee. A small group of Seminole was either deceived or coerced into signing a ‘treaty’ which was then used to assert that the enforced theft of land was agreed. The deed was done first at Payne’s Landing in 1832 and was then reaffirmed in 1833 at Fort Gibson. The majority of the Seminole, knowing the truth was different to this manufactured legal document, declared the treaty illegitimate and refused to leave. So began the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842. As in the first war, fugitive slaves fought beside the Seminole who had taken them in. The Seminole fought a relatively successful campaign based on dogged, courageous resistance, and their knowledge of the almost impregnable and unique terrain of the everglades. Resistance centred on the leadership of Osceola and Jumper. They recorded outright victories, annihilating the troops of General Dade near the Hillsborough River and scattering those of General Clinch and Governor Call at Withlacoochee. In an act of treachery at Fort Brooke Osceola was captured and enchained while bearing the flag of truce. He later died of malaria. His role was assumed by Coacoochee, who was not the first or the last native American to eloquently make such an observation:

“Why cannot we live here in peace? I have said I am not the enemy to the white man. I could live in peace with him, but they first steal our cattle and horses , cheat us, and take our lands…………..They may shoot us, drive our women and children night and day; they may chain our hands and feet, but the red man’s heart will always be free”. (15)

Coacoochee and his people finally gave up in 1841, but some fought on, never to give up, even surviving the Third Seminole War (1855-58), when the U.S. military attempted to drive them out. The United States paid some of the remaining Seminoles to move west, but others stayed put, hiding away in the mangrove swamps. Their descendents still live in Florida today.

Thousands of lives were lost in the Second Seminole War. It cost the Jackson administration approximately 40 to 60 million dollars - ten times the amount it had allotted for the whole of ‘Indian removal’. It was the most costly ‘Indian War’ in United States history.

Conclusion 1. The Tyranny of the Law
In the eastern parts of the continent everywhere the story was the same. The citizens of the United States wanted the land and its government used the tyranny of the Law to support their avarice. A newly formed nation which was founded on high flown principles of freedom, democracy and human rights was comfortable in selectively applying those principles only to themselves. The indigenous people were uprooted from their homelands which had often been promised to them in perpetuity and forced to move in unhealthy conditions which encouraged sickness and death. This took place without compensation. However the inhumanity of the removal policy was not a closely guarded secret, even though its application often involved deceit. To alleviate their consciences the policy makers used the law to justify the unjust, and in the debate some new Americans stood up and explained the injustice for what it was, thereby ensuring that the real issues were made public. Nevertheless, moral questions were blithely ignored in favour of self interest, profit and greed. Despite the fact that these peoples had lived in harmony with their surroundings for centuries, many of them employing sophisticated, successful farming techniques, an ideological construct was formed to sanction the legality of theft. Manifest Destiny proclaimed that these savages were not fit to have title to land which the new Americans would exploit so much more efficiently and effectively.

Below I reproduce most of Andrew Jackson's Second Annual Message to the United States Congress delivered on December 6, 1830 since it is very instructive and illuminating. Not wishing to close on this despicable misuse of logic I have then reproduced an equally interesting and informative comment by Tecumseh, the Shawnee statesman.

Conclusion 2. President Andrew Jackson's Second Annual Message delivered on December 6, 1830 to U.S. Congress:

“It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.

The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves. The pecuniary advantages which it promises to the Government are the least of its recommendations. It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. 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,

What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion?”

Jackson then proceeded to justify moving the ‘indians’ on the basis that the new Americans had uprooted to immigrate and would jump at the chance of moving once more to new free land in the west, ironically something which, en masse, he does not seem to have considered as an alternative to uprooting the ‘indians’. He also chose to ignore that the new Americans were, in the main, immigrants because of the parlous circumstances they had faced where they originated – be it economic ruin or religious persecution. He concludes as follows:

“And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.” (16)

Conclusion 3. Why were so many treaties signed?
By 1837, the Jackson administration had “removed” 46,000 native Americans from their land east of the Mississippi, and had secured treaties which led to the removal of a slightly larger number. Most members of the five southeastern nations had been relocated west, and this alone opened up 25 million acres of land to white settlement and to slavery.

There are records of 103 separate treaties made by the USA with native American peoples between 1778 and 1819, although one of these concluded in 1796 is rather different to the others in that it concluded hostilities between the USA and those native Americans who had fought with the British in the Revolutionary War, which had formally concluded with the British 13 years earlier in the Treaty of Paris (Versailles) 1783. The fact that so many treaties were deemed to be necessary in itself questions the degree of permanence which the U. S. government attached to them. Even more astonishing than 102 treaties in forty years is the fact that six peoples came back to the table over 10 times with the Delaware and Powatotomi hitting fifteen times each, the others being the Wyandot (12) Ojibwe (11) Seneca (11) Ottowa (10). (17)

Conclusion 4. The wandering savage
Finally, the comment of the wandering savage hunter with his rude institutions, whose Shawnee people signed 9 different treaties during this time period:

“Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people……. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.” Tecumseh (18)


1. The Long Death, Ralph Andrist, p 8
2. The Trail of Tears, Gloria Jahoda p 19
3. History of the Osage,Sharon Hamilton, www.rootsweb.com
4. statistics gleaned from www.accessgenealogy.com
5. 500 Nations, Alvin M Josephy jr., page 311
6. Gloria Jehoda p14
7. Alvin M Josephy jr. 500 Nations, p319
8. Jahoda, p35
9. quoted in Jahoda p 45
10. Jahoda p 47
11. Jahoda p117
12. Jahoda p154
13. Memorial of the Cherokee Nation to the United States Congress Dec 29 1835, quoted in Jahoda, p 209.
14. Samuel Cloud’s, age 9, account as passed down through generations and written down in Forgiveness in the Age of Forgetfulness by Michael J. Rutledge, 1995 - see the link to History of the Cherokee. Read the full account if you can bear to discover why each day as he passes by Michael spits on the statue of Andrew Jackson. I am surprised that the statue has not been smashed.
15. Jahoda p 273-4
16. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1902. Volume II, By James D. Richardson. Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1905.
17. INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES Vol. II, Treaties, compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904. (Lodged in the Oklahoma State University Library
18. Quoted in: www.tolatsga.org/shaw.html

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© Chris Smallbone March2006