= O-si-yo = Hello
Please check outsome of the articles/rambling of mine over the years. These are in no particular order:
NOTE: Bruce Ross (Cherokee Name - Kuwiskuwi) - A Cherokee historian and genealogist from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, currently living in Scottsdale, Arizona - is a direct descendant of Cherokee Chief John Ross. He is a passionate speaker on the history and traditional culture of the Cherokee. He enjoys speaking before schools and groups across the country, trying to inform and motivate. Mr. Ross has appeared on the Discovery Channel's How The West Was Lost series, and the History Channel's The Cherokee Trail of Tears.
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A-ni-gi-du-wa-gi (The Keetoowah)
by R. Bruce Ross, IV
dohijo?” That is a Cherokee greeting equivalent to the English, “Hello,
how are you?” If you were in good spirits and feeling well, you might
respond, “Osdv, senina?” or “Good, and you?”
Our Cherokee people are the second largest tribe in the United States, with our Tribal Capitol in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma. Our tribe is not native to Oklahoma, where most of us now live, and we are not even native of the Appalachian Mountainous region where the Europeans first made contact with our ancestors. We are members of the Iroquoian linguistic stock and are believed to have moved south from the Ohio river country as long as 3500 years ago.
The Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto was the first white man to come in contact with my people, around 1540. He had been told by other Indians of a people that lived in the mountains and was told that we were called “Chalaki” which has evolved into the present day word, Cherokee. We had always referred to ourselves as ‘A-ni-gi-du-wa-gi’ or more commonly referred to as Keetoowah. (1)
Before the arrival of the European settlers, the Cherokee had lived in towns on the slopes and in the fertile valleys of the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. Our towns were permanent settlements, each with a large area where games like lacrosse were played. A community grainery and a seven-sided domed townhouse were typical structures in each of our towns. We also had communal gardens. The townhouse represented the seven clans of the tribe, and they are: A-ni-gi-lo-hi (Long Hair or Twister); A-ni-sa-ho-ni (Blue or Blue Paint); A-ni-wa-ya (Wolf); A-ni-ga-ta-ge-wi (Wild Potato or Savannah); A-ni-ka-wi (Deer); A-ni-tsi-kwa (Bird) and A-ni-wo-di (Paint of Red Paint). The townhouse often held as many as 500 or more. It was here that important meetings, religious ceremonies and winter dances were held. The houses were gable roofed and all were made of stripped logs plastered with clay and roofed with bark.
Our ancestors were an agrarian people who raised the basic ‘three sisters’ of corn, (maize), squash and beans. Game, fish, greens, and wild fruits were plentiful in the mountainous region. The men did the hunting and protected the villages. The women did the gathering and tended the crops. Family life was important to our people, just as it is today. The grandparents and the elders taught the skills, legends, traditions and history of our people to the young ones. The society was for all intents and purposes a matriarchal one, with the property being handed down through the Mother. When young couples were to marry, they never married within the same clan, and they lived with the clan of the wife and in her town. Polygamy was practiced, but it was not the usual custom. During times of war when many of the warriors had been killed, one warrior might marry an entire family of sisters. It was his duty to protect the women. Either party could dissolve marriages, without ceremony.
There were no rigid laws, although there were taboos, such as marriage between two people of the same clan. Each town had its own leaders, but there was not one chief with dominion over the entire tribe. This didn’t come about until the 1820s.
Each town had two factions, much as we in America have different political parties. The Red, or war, Party represented courage and bravery; it’s symbols were the wolf, fox and the owl. The White factions were the healers, people who could invoke the spirits and these leaders were considered sacred. They conducted the ordinary, day-to-day, affairs of the town except in time of war, when the Red Party took control. Then, as now, life alternated between times of peace and times of war with other tribes. During times of peace, grueling games kept warriors fit and prepared.
We were a spiritual people, who believed in a kinship with all living things and prepared for major events with prayer and fasting. Healers, or shamans, worked with the ill or wounded both physically and spiritually.
We would do well to follow their conservative practices, today. No game was killed unless necessary. Every part was use, either for food, clothing, shelter, tools, utensils or weapons. Before shooting a deer, the hunter would ask its permission and forgiveness; otherwise the deer spirit would follow the trail of blood to the man’s home and strike him with crippling rheumatism. Crops were shared equally, both in good times and in lean.
Now that you have somewhat of a picture in mind of a harmonious life in a beautiful mountainous countryside, in which all needs were abundantly met, I will proceed to tell you of life after the advent of the white man into Indian country.
The first European settlers were English, Scottish and Irish who settled in the Piedmont area - a level, fertile coastal area and well suited to farming. At first there was no cause for alarm. The settlers found the Cherokee to be intelligent, handsome and adaptable. Soon a brisk trade developed. The Cherokee brought furs and skins, much in demand in Britain. The settlers traded metal goods i.e. pots, tools, utensils, guns, cloth and blankets. Unfortunately, they also brought with them to America diseases, against which the Indians had no immunity. In 1738 a smallpox epidemic wiped out nearly half of the Cherokee people and it struck again in 1761 with about the same devastating results.
More settlers came to the ‘new world’ and they moved westward into the mountain land of the Cherokee. The first treaty with the colonists of South Carolina was signed in 1684. The Cherokee nation was recognized and its sovereignty was guaranteed in this and all subsequent treaties.
In 1785, the first treaty with the new federal government of the United States was penned. This treaty ceded a large portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland and Wautaga River valleys. The U.S. government hoped to transform the Indians into farmers, much in the style of the settlers. To some extent, they succeeded, however between 1721 and 1828 some 2000 Cherokee had moved west, beyond the great Mississippi River. One Red Faction was so incensed by the treaty that it seceded from the Cherokee Nation and formed the Chickamauga tribe.
In all, 37 treaties were signed between 1721 and 1835. Almost all began with the words, “in consideration for a tract of land…” Over ninety percent of the original Cherokee lands had been relinquished to non-Indians who wanted it all. Sovereignty of Indian Rights had always been restated, but in reality the white man’s government did more to protect the invaders than the invaded.
The difficulty in communicating precise information between distant communities was one factor making these treaties possible. A number of Cherokee people, especially those of mixed blood were well educated and could read and write the English language. They could understand the complex, legal language of the treaties. However, the majority of the people had always depended upon an oral tradition and could not tell other distant town what was happening in their region.
In the early 1800s a Cherokee silversmith by the name of Sequoyah had begun work on a syllabus, which was to change the course of Cherokee history. Sequoyah, a half German and half Cherokee was also known as George Gist or Guess had been crippled in a hunting accident, could neither read or write English, but he realized the importance of his people having a written alphabet or more accurately, a syllabary. It took him twelve years to complete a workable syllabary. He created 85 characters with each representing a specific sound or syllable of the Cherokee language. Once, about mid way through his work, his wife thinking he’d lost his mind and was doing some form of witchcraft. She then destroyed his work. The only person that held faith in him was his young daughter. It was with her help that he completed the work in 1821 and convinced the elders that this was a workable means of communicating with each other. It was the first time that the Cherokee could read and write in their own language. Within six to eight months of completing his work over 80 percent of the tribe became literate in their own tongue. Thursday, February 28, 1828 was the first printing of the Cherokee Phoenix this newspaper was only four pages in length and published the laws of the Cherokee nation in both English and Cherokee. The Phoenix was published up until the removal in 1838 and was re-started in the west in 1844 as The Cherokee Advocate and remains so today as the tribal publication.
It has always been said that a child could learn to read and write in a matter of a few weeks versus the months or years that it takes the average non-Indian.
The Cherokee at council adopted a constitution (that was based on that of the U.S.) on July 26, 1827. Through this new constitution the Cherokee government hoped to be able to negotiate with the U.S. government on a more equal footing.
One provision of the new constitution called for the election of a Principal Chief by the people. John Ross, a prosperous entrepreneur of only 1/8 Cherokee blood was elected and took office in 1828. Ross, an educated man was familiar with the political figures sympathetic to the cause of the Cherokee. From 1819-1835 he had successfully opposed the ceding of any additional Cherokee lands. He served as a major and adjutant during the war with the Red Stick Creeks under General Andrew Jackson. He, Ross, had been successful in getting Jackson to return 4,000,000 acres of Cherokee land ‘mistakenly’ seized after a war with the Red Stick Creek Indians. That experience led to a healthy distrust of Jackson, with whom he would later deal with when Jackson became President.
In 1829 a petition for redress of grievances was presented to the Secretary of War. Four months later, President Jackson declared that sovereignty could no longer be recognized. During the Revolutionary War, most Cherokee had sided with the British as the lesser of two evils. Further, any land (Cherokee land) held by the British had been confiscated and the Cherokee, as allies of the British, were ‘taken into protection as a dependent people.’
Citizens of Georgia were especially eager to have authority over the Cherokee because gold had been discovered on Cherokee land near Dahlonega, in northeast Georgia. This was a land where the Georgians were technically not permitted to be with out permission of the Cherokee government. The State of Georgia proposed that the Cherokee land be seized and disposed by lottery to citizens of Georgia. In 1829, the Georgia Assembly passed a law stating that ‘No Indian, regardless of degree of blood should be deemed a competent witness in any litigation involving a white person.’
The federal government was of no help to the Cherokee. President Jackson said, “Build a fire under them and they’ll move.” The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act illegal. Georgia increased its harassment, and with the aid of the U.S. government encouraged factions in the Cherokee nation to oppose the Cherokee government’s position. The government campaign to persuade Cherokee to trade Appalachian land had been successful with a few people, but their position was not secure until Eastern Cherokee had ceded more land to pay for land taken from Indians already living in the western country.
In 1834, Georgia surveyed Cherokee land and opened it by lottery to settlers. John Ross’ home was one of those lost. The Georgia Militia smashed the presses of The Cherokee Phoenix.
The federal government sent John F. Schermerhorn to negotiate with Chief Ross to cede the remaining Cherokee territory for $5,000,000. After six months of negotiating, and Ross continually refusing to accept this offer, the Georgia Militia crossed over into Tennessee and arrested Chief John Ross and his houseguest, John Howard Payne.
Once arrested, they were taken to the Vann home at Spring Place, Georgia, where they were kept in the basement for a week. They were released on Dec. 14, 1835. John Ross went, immediately, back to his home in Tennessee to check on his wife, Quatie. He then gathered a delegation to go to Washington to protest the actions of the Georgia Militia. It was while he and his delegation was in Washington that Schermerhorn put together the midnight meeting at New Echota to finalize a fraudulent treaty. About a hundred Cherokee were in attendance but only twenty Cherokee signed this ‘treaty.’ Under the terms of this treaty the Cherokee were to give up all ownership of lands east of the Mississippi River and were to receive about 7,000,000 acres of land in Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) and receive $5,000,000 from which the Cherokee were to pay the cost of their own removal.
Foremost among the signers of this infamous, “Treaty of New Echota” were Major Ridge, his son John and nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie. Major Ridge a planter and Cherokee patriot, was responsible for the enactment of the Cherokee law known as the Blood Law, which decreed that the death penalty for any Cherokee who signs away any Cherokee land without the consent of the Cherokee Council and the Principal Chief. In fact in 1808 when Chief Doublehead had ceded a portion of tribal land, The Ridge (as he was known) was one of his executioners, and as he signed this treaty of 1835, he was heard to have said, sadly: “I am signing my own death warrant.”
His nephew, Elias Boudinot, was the former editor of the Cherokee Phoenix had lost his position when he disagreed with Chief Ross about presenting a united front against removal. Ridge’s son, John, was in Washington when he learned of the signing of the Treaty and he returned to the Nation to support his Father. Stand Watie, Boudinot’s brother was a strong supporter of removal and continued in his hatred for Chief Ross until Ross died. Watie was to become a general officer in the Confederacy during the waning days of the War Between the States.
This group and their supporters were to become known as the “Treaty Party.” They were sincere men, who honestly believed that removal was inevitable ad that they should proceed in moving west without further delay. They felt that the best hope for their people was to secure the best settlement that they could and move on out west.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the majority of the U.S. Senate ignored a petition that had been circulated by the elected Tribal officials, which gathered 15,655 signatures a/o marks of adult Cherokee stating that the ‘Treaty of New Echota’ was not the will of the populous. On May 23, 1836 the Senate of the United States ratified the treaty by a single vote. The Cherokee people were given two years to settle their affairs and make the move voluntarily or find themselves subject to being forcibly removed by the Army of the United States. The Cherokee were granted 13,800,000 acres of land in what is now Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. They were given $5,000,000, which was to pay in full for any depredations, or claims they had and the expense of moving themselves.
In early 1837, the Treaty Party members, about 1200 left by land and by flatboat for Arkansas. The remaining people about 18,000 refused to honor the treaty, which they maintained to be fraudulent. Newspapers and state legislatures, especially in the North also agreed that it had been unlawfully obtained and executed. The Ross Party still believed that the treaty would be overturned and therefore they made no preparations for removal.
The State of Georgia, under the guise of disarming hostile Indians, confiscated all weapons. These were necessary hunting rifles, not military weapons, which had previously been seized. Homes were looted, stock and wagons stolen; even those Cherokee now attempting to leave through Kentucky were harassed.
On May 23, 1838, the orders to begin the round-up of the remaining Cherokee were implemented. 7,000-armed soldiers under the command of General Winfield Scott entered the Cherokee Nation and commenced rounding up every Cherokee man, woman and child. They were marched/driven into hastily build stockades scattered throughout the Cherokee nation.
Immediately after the Cherokee were removed from their property, the white-trash of the civilian ‘society’ followed stealing and destroying everything they could. They even attacked army wagons carrying Cherokee possessions to the stockades. On rich plantations graves were dug up in search of gold or other valuables, believed to have been buried there.
By June 5, 1838 over 8,000 people were in Georgia stockades though many had escaped to the mountains or Tennessee. About 3,000 were to leave by flatboat in June, but the rivers were too low, due to a severe drought, and the fever season had begun. Many escaped, but more died along the way. Of the original 3,000 only about 1,800 arrived in the west. It was then agreed to suspend the removal until fall when the travel conditions would be more favorable. The Cherokee had at long last resigned themselves to the fact that their future lay in the western territory and urged the U.S. government to permit the to take charge of the removal and supervise their own removal.
In the stockades of that dreadful summer, a lack of sanitation, insufficient food, water and medical supplies caused the deaths of literally hundreds of our Cherokee brethren.
The drought continued and the removal was postponed until October. The emigrants were divided into fourteen partied of about 1,000. Each with its own Cherokee leaders called conductors. The cost of removal was now to be $66.00 per man, woman and child for the entire journey. This was considerably more than had been estimated. It had anticipated that more than half would have been able to make the trip on foot, but by October there were so many that were so weak from malnutrition and various diseases, that more wagons were needed. This added expense was deducted from the dwindling funds originally paid for their homelands. The drought finally ended with steady downpours of drenching rain. The wagons were mired in mud over the axles and there was no shelter from the cold. Exposure and lack of adequate clothing and blankets caused many more unnecessary deaths. The first parties arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas on January 4, 1839 and the last party arrived on March 29th. The average time spend on the trek was 181 days. Of the original 18,000 who had begun the removal process, nearly 4,000 died before reaching their destination in the west. This unnecessary loss of life and the depravations suffered by the Cherokee people was to become known as “The Trail of Tears,” because it is said that for every one hundred yards from Georgia and Tennessee to Indian Territory, there is a grave of a Cherokee.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote in his report… “The case of the Cherokee is a striking example of the liberality of the government in all its branches… A retrospect of the last eight months in reference to this numerous and more than ordinarily enlightened tribe cannot fail to be refreshing to well constituted minds… If our acts have been generous they have not been less wise and politic… Good feelings has been preserved, and we have quietly transported 18,000 friends to the west bank of the Mississippi.”
The Cherokee not assembled in the west, the Old Settlers (those that moved west voluntarily prior to the signing of the Treaty), the Treaty Party (those that signed the treaty and then moved west) and the Ross Party (those that recently arrived in the west as a result of removal) were now rejoined in proximity, but not in spirit. Much bad blood remained.
In accordance with the Blood Law, persons unknown executed Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, on the same day (June 22, 1839) in various locations of the Cherokee country in the west.
On July 19, 1839 an Act of Union was signed and eventually amnesty was granted to the remaining signers of the Treaty of New Echota, and to the executioners of those who had carried out the Blood Law. After much heated debate, John Ross was once again elected Principal Chief of the entire Cherokee Nation. He was subsequently re-elected every four years until his passing in 1866.
The site at Tahlequah was selected as the official Capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Constitution was adopted on September 6, 1839 and the ‘new’ government set about to settle in their new homeland. Forests, hills, valleys, rivers and streams covered the terrain. It was going to take a lot of work to get the land to where they could build on it, let alone farm it. In all this took about 10 – 15 years to carve out clearings enough to live on. A police force called Lighthorsemen was established to enforce the laws of the Cherokee Nation. Some of the laws enacted were a ban on fires in January and February, the unauthorized sale of land and the abolishment of alcohol.
Bitter feelings persisted between the Treaty Party and the Ross Party until the President of the U.S. stepped in and put a stop to it in 1846. Compensation was paid to the Ridge family for their losses and monies were given to the Nation, as a whole, in partial restitution for the lands taken from them in the East. The Council with Chief Ross’ guidance decided to establish schools for the Cherokee youth. In 1846, the Cherokee National Male and Female Seminaries were established. Construction began almost immediately and the doors to the Cherokee National Male Seminary (CNMS) opened on May 6, 1851. The Cherokee National Female Seminary (CNFS) opened the next day – May 7, 1851. Today May 7th is considered homecoming for both the CNMS & CNFS on the campus of Northeastern State University (NSU) in Tahlequah. The original CNFS was destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday 1887. Construction began immediately on the ‘New Female Seminary’ (today it is Seminary Hall on campus at NSU and is still used as a classroom). CNMS burned on Palm Sunday, 1910. Northeastern draws its origin from our original Cherokee Seminaries.
At the time of the opening of the seminaries in 1851, Tahlequah was acknowledged as the center of government and Park Hill (just four miles south) was considered the cultural center and was called by many the, “Athens of the Cherokee Nation.”
By 1860 prospects were bright, people were moderately prosperous, tribal differences were at a minimum, commerce and trade were increasing. But again, the Nation was to be divided. This time by a way, not of our making, the War Between the States. Chief Ross tried to convince everyone to remain neutral, but circumstances made that an impossibility. Part of the Nation supported the North (Union) and another part supported the South (Confederacy). As the tide shifted back and forth, farms and homes were destroyed, crops and livestock lost and many killed. Vicious bands of roving outlaws added to the horror.
At the close of the war in 1865, the Nation was told that by siding with the confederacy, they had lost all rights and new treaties would have to be made. Under the terms of the new treaty, slavery was abolished, freedmen were to be adopted into the tribe, and railroads could now cross Indian Territory. 800,000 acres were to be ceded to the government and the Nation must agree to the settlement of other tribes on their lands. Again the Cherokee Nation was shattered, no longer self-governing and facing severe economic and social disasters.
But like the great Phoenix bird, we rose again and rebuilt. In 1867 the Cherokee Capitol Building was completed on the square in the center of Tahlequah. The Female Seminary burned and rebuilt as a three story, steam heated building with hot and cold running water.
Cattle drives were bringing between $200,000 and $300,000 annually for grass rights in the Cherokee Outlet. The U.S. government was pressuring the Nation to sell the outlet for $1.25 an acre. We refused and in 1891 President Harrison ordered the cattlemen off the land, effectively shutting off the revenue. In December of 1891, the Cherokee Nation agreed to the sale of the lands at $1.40 per acre.
The forced sale was part of a plan to break up all Indian Nations and bring them into what the U.S. government saw as the “mainstream.” The Dawes Commission arrived in 1894 to begin the process of allotting the lands of Indian Territory. The Council was united in opposition to the plan, so the commission tried to depict the Nation as a lawless region much in need of regulation. In 1898, the Curtis Acts declared that all tribal governments would cease to exist at the end of eight years, and further decreed that all allotments would go directly to the individual tribal member, rather than to the tribe as a whole. Again, the Cherokee Nation was forced to accept… not what we wanted, but the best we could get.
Many full-bloods refused to register and accept the allotment. Consequently, they and their descendants are not listed on any tribal rolls, and today have no rights as members of the Cherokee Nation. Many non-Cherokees tried to enroll in order to get ‘free land.’
In one last unsuccessful effort to prevent white domination, the Cherokee Nation tried to have the eastern part of present day Oklahoma declared a state, to be known as the State of Sequoyah. Instead the entire area became the State of Oklahoma on November 16, 1907. The Cherokee people had never believed in individual ownership of land, personal property and improvements, yes. The Indian belief was the land belongs to God and no man has the right to own land. Consequently, the Indians of Indian Territory were very easy prey for the slick, unscrupulous, fast talking land developers and lawyers. Oklahoma became a state in 1907; just one year after the tribal governments had been abolished by the U.S. government. By 1915 over 80% of the original Cherokee lands, once held in common by the Tribe for its members, was owned by a white man. Was statehood good for the Indian?
September 6th is the anniversary of the adoption of the Cherokee constitution. Today, it is the date that the Cherokee National Holiday is centered around.
As we face the challenges of the 21st century, proud of our heritage and being aware of the trials and tribulations that our ancestors have faced in the past, we look forward to a bright future for out people as we keep alive our language, our traditions, our arts & crafts and our remembrance of our ancestors. It is on our shoulders as to how we pass the world to our children. We must always be ready to stand up in unity in the face of adversity for the preservation of our culture.
(1) = According to legend as related by my Father, when DeSoto came in contact with the Choctaw (who were occupying the lands to our west and southwest) he asked them who were the people living to the east. Once they were able to get past the language barrier the Choctaw responded, “Chelaki” which is the Choctaw word for ‘people living in the east.’ It was written down by the Spaniards and taken back to Europe and was first seen in print in England in 1603. At that time the word was spelled ‘Chiroque.” Seventeen years later was the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock commencing the onslaught of the Europeans coming to this continent. Over the next several decades, the white Europeans continued to move westward and to the southwest, eventually bringing them into contact with our people, and the Choctaw. And since we lived east of the Choctaw we must be the Chiroque. Well we didn’t give much credence to this ‘new’ name, as we figured that, ‘ah these Europeans will only be here until they’ve gotten what they want and they’ll move on.’ I think we can finally admit we were wrong.
After they’d been here quite awhile, and kept calling us Chiroque, we came up with a word in our tongue ‘Tsa-la-gi’ which sounds a lot like Cherokee. We know that the word Cherokee is not the original name for our people since the consonant ‘R’ does not exist in our language.
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Dawes Act of 1887: Indian Lands/Lives Changed Forever
by R. Bruce Ross, IV
two decades of the 19th century brought a devastating change to the everyday
life in the Indian Nations across America. The Congress of the United
States passed the General Allotment Act of 1887, which was the first step
in preparation for the eventuality of statehood for Indian Territory and
Oklahoma Territory. The Dawes Act and the Curtis Act of 1898 insured
that there would be no more tribal ownership of land. These lands
were to be allotted to individual tribal members.
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, land, which had been held in common by the tribes, was to be allotted to individual tribal members. Think about that for a minute. Just how much real estate sense do you think these new landowners (the Indians) had? Having never owned land before they now had to deal with ownership, plus the buying and selling of land. The more traditional Indians believed (and believe) in the concept that - No man has the right to own land. This is God's land and if we wish to live on a particular plot of land, then we should have the right to do so. If we want to build a house on this land, then so be it. But to own land, no way. Only God has the right to own land. It was the Indian's ignorance of real estate that gave the, greedy, white 'land developers' a very strong foothold on Indian lands after statehood. This is one reason that within fifteen years of statehood, there were over a hundred white attorneys living in Muskogee, Oklahoma and the majority of them were millionaires - all due to their taking advantage of the Indians, and hood-winking 'em out of their lands.
The Dawes Act was named for Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts. He was considered, by those in the know, in Washington to be an authority on the American Indian. Of course, our tribal leaders of Indian Territory didn't have any problem with this. We held (and hold) firm to the tenet that an 'authority' on the American Indian should come from Massachusetts, or Washington, D.C.
In 1887, the General Allotment Act - known as the Dawes Act, was approved and set aside the Indian landholding system of title to tribal territory vested in the Indian Nation and substituted the system of private, individual, fee-simple ownership of the land.
The President of the United States directed the survey of each Indian Nation and reservation, the preparation of tribal rules and the assignment of an allotment of acres to each family head, single persons under 18 and orphans under 18, and to other single persons under 18. This Act also conferred United States citizenship upon each allottee.
Exempted from the Act were the lands of the Seneca Nation of New York and the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Osage, Sac & Fox, Miami and Peoria tribes of Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
The central and western portions of Indian Territory were subject to liquidation and the Commission was assigned the task of negotiating allotment contracts with the tribes. They were to prepare allotment rolls, supervise, survey and register allotment selected by native enrollees or assign allotments to those who refused to participate.
In 1902, the Kiowa leader, Lone Wolf, lost a suit against the Secretary of the Interior to keep him from taking tribal land and converting it to public use.
In 1898, Congress passed the Curtis Act, which abolished tribal governments, requiring the citizens of the abolished Indian Nations to submit to allotment, instituted civil government for the Territory and provided a guide for statehood.
Essentially what the U.S. government was saying was, "You Indians don't have a tribal government to represent you anymore. So if you have a complaint bring it before the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and they'll help you resolve it." YEAH, RIGHT?!?!?!?!
One access to Indian land in the allotting process was through tribal rolls and one became eligible for allotments of land by marriage to Indians, by adoption into the tribes and by claiming Indian descent.
Cherokees, Choctaws, Seminoles, Creeks and Chickasaws had been slaveholders before the War Between the States. Reconstruction treaties required these tribes to confer tribal citizenship upon their former slaves.
Over 400,000 persons claimed Indian descent, or as former slaves of these tribes. Indian leaders formed tribal citizenship commissions, examined all applicants’ qualifications and rejected 75% of the claimants. Only 101,000 persons were deemed eligible.
The Act was in effect until 1934 and liquidated the reservations and nations of 67 tribes of the Indian Territory, land of the Kickapoos and Potawatomis in Kansas, the Sioux in Nebraska and the Dakotas, the Cheyenne and Arapahos in Wyoming, the Gros Ventres and Blackfeet in Montana, Jicarilla Apaches in New Mexico, Mohaves of the Colorado River, several Pacific Northwest tribes including the Yakimas, Nez Perces and Spokanes, and certain Pima bands in the desert Southwest.
America had an insatiable appetite for Indian land and they demanded a share in that final partitioning of the tribal estates as the surplus lands surrendered to homesteading.
Non-Indians shared in allotment through marriage, adoption and claim of Indian or freeman descent. When Congress repealed the General Allotment Act in 1934, Indians were in possession of less that one-third of their original allotted lands.
Native Americans are bringing suits to the Indian Court of Claims to obtain compensation for lands appropriated after 1887. They are also suing, in federal court, for restitution of tracts of tribal lands by federal agents for public and private use.
This methodical decimation of life on tribal lands, that were originally 'owned' by the tribes - as a whole, was quite probably the most cataclysmic phenomenon displaying man's inhumanity to his fellow man.
The belief of most traditional Indians, or in today's vernacular - Native Americans, is that all things are interwoven. Man is tied to the earth, as are the animals. Anthropologists have been studying the various Indian tribes for years, and publishing reports about their 'in depth studies' (which may have taken six or eight months - or moons in white man talk). Some people still try to convince themselves that statehood for Oklahoma was good for the American Indian. In the words of a cousin (who was almost twenty years old in 1907) when asked about statehood -- "It weren't good! It weren't good!" It makes one wonder if it weren't good then, just how good is it today?? This is a lot like President Andrew Jackson saying that he advocated the removal of the Southeastern tribes to Indian Territory - "for their own good." President Jackson was a most ardent supporter of removal and essentially drew up the plans for removal, himself. He used every method at his disposal to insure that his plans were carried out. The Indians of the southeast were (for all intents and purposes) doomed before they even started to comply with the dictates of the white man. All of President Jackson's removal efforts came to fruition after he left office and President Van Buren was in office. A tragedy for those sympathetic to the plight of the Indians unfolded in the latter part of the 1830s with the forced removal of over 50,000 Indians.
NOTE: Between ten and twelve thousand members of the Five Civilized Tribes - Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations died as a direct result of President Jackson's -- trying to do something "For their own good."
Portions reprinted from "The Centennial Legacy of the General Allotment
Act" by Arell Morgan Gibson - Chronicles of Oklahoma, Fall, 1987.
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How Much Must We Endure?
by R. Bruce Ross, IV
after the beginning of the 19th Century, the Cherokee people were a tribe
of both mixed bloods and full-bloods. Each with his own idea about
what was best for the tribe as a whole. Until 1828 the Cherokee had
had on one person as the Head, or Principal, Chief. They only had
town chiefs and clan chiefs. It became apparent that the influences
of the white man were more than they could handle without some form of
an organized governmental entity representing their interests. It
wasn’t until 1828 that they finally elected their first Principal Chief,
Prior to the advent of the white man, the Cherokee were living south of the Ohio River and east of the Tennessee River, on lands where their ancestors had lived and were buried, lands where they were to be buried, and remain until the Spirit called to join those who had gone before. The Cherokee believed that life was simple, and that only people other than they tended to complicate it. It was (and still is by most true traditionalists) believed that if you walk the ‘White Path’ you will soon be with the Spirit (God) in a place where you shall be forever be at peace.
Before the whites, and in some cases, even today, the Cherokee lived in a matrilineal society. There are seven Cherokee clans to which everybody belonged. The clans are: A-ni-gi-lo-hi (Long Hair or Twister); A-ni-sa-ho-ni (Blue or Blue Paint); A-ni-wa-ya (Wolf); A-ni-ga-ta-ge-wi (Wild Potato or Savannah); A-ni-ka-wi (Deer); A-ni-tsi-kwa (Bird) and A-ni-wo-di (Paint of Red Paint). No one was permitted to marry within his or her own clan. Once a marriage took place the young man would leave his home and go live with his wife’s clan. The women owned the property and held equal footing with the men on all decisions affecting the raising of the family. The women were also permitted and encouraged to take part in the council meetings. This made the Cherokee more attuned to the needs of each other and made for a much more harmonious way of life. This lifestyle was disrupted, forever, when the white man came on the scene.
The Cherokee were a peace loving race and only fought to defend what was theirs or when provoked beyond reason. Once engaged in a fight the Cherokee were an extremely fierce opponent. Between the time of the arrival of the Europeans and the 1820s, the Cherokee people endured more than their share of infringements, fraudulent treaties, greed and treachery. The Cherokee tried to continue to persevere and raise their families as they and their ancestors had been raised. But it wasn’t to be. All the Cherokee wanted was to be left alone to raise their children in the ‘old way’ as traditions had shown them.
The coming of the white man to the lands of the Indians brought many changes to their way of life. The Europeans began to intermarry with the Indians and have children. This caused many new problems for a people who had (since the beginning of time) had no disease, no greed, and no natural enemies. Not that the white man were in Indian country, they brought disease, insatiable greed, especially for land. They caused feuds between tribes and started little wars, which eventually grew into major conflicts.
John Ross, the son of a Scotsman and a ¼ blood Cherokee maiden was chosen as the first elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1828. Ross’ father was farsighted enough to realize that education was the key to the future. Therefore Ross received his training by private tutors and at the Kingston Academy in southeast Tennessee. Growing up in an Anglo-Indian world, he was no stranger to the situation, as it existed among his people. True, he was by blood, only 1/8 Cherokee, but his heart and mind was totally Cherokee. His Mother allowed him to wear the traditional clothing of the Cherokee on special occasions. This helped to instill in him a pride in the Indian way and the realization that the Cherokee must retain their integrity. This meant, in his opinion, that the leadership of the tribe must obtain the education necessary to take the Cherokee people into the future in the land, with it’s new people, the whites. This also meant that the Cherokee would have to deal with the laws passed by the white man. Early in his life he gained the respect and support of the full-blood and most of the mixed bloods, too. Ross had been a most ardent supporter of the cause of the Cherokee for over fifteen years by the time he was elected Principal Chief.
In 1816, he accepted his first appointment as a delegate to Washington, D.C. This followed a fact-finding mission to the Cherokee living in the west in 1809. That mission on behalf of Chief Pathkiller made him realize that he was dedicated to the goal of uniting his people. His career of service spanned six decades only ending with his death on August 1, 1866. He constantly worked for the advancement and protection of his beloved Cherokee Nation, and was doing so at the time of his passing. Chief Ross, practically on his deathbed, was a staunch supporter of not dividing the tribe, after the War Between the States, as advocated by the Southern Cherokee led by Stand Watie. Ross used every means at his disposal to press the Union faction’s cause to stop a treaty to sever the tribe. This final negotiation by the stalwart Chief of the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government cost the tribe the loss of certain rights, but it was by far the most lenient of the reconstruction treaties negotiated by any Indian tribe in Indian Territory. Most important to Chief Ross, was that the integrity of the tribe was maintained and the Cherokee Nation remained one tribe. Sadly, he passed away before the treaty was finalized, but he had the knowledge of its consummation.
Once John Ross became Principal Chief, he set about to persuade the governments of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina to negotiate an equitable treaty that would allow the Indians to remain on their ancestral lands. At every turn he met strong opposition. Shortly after he became Principal Chief his people were driven out of Tennessee. They, and he, moved to the area round Rome, Georgia, where within a few months Ross and a delegation of Cherokee were in Washington City when word came down that gold had been discovered on Cherokee land in northeast Georgia, near Dahlonega. Georgia immediately annexed all of the land around where the gold was discovered. This caused Chief Ross to protest to President Andrew Jackson, that that land had been promised to the Cherokee, ‘forever.’ Georgia confiscated the Cherokee lands anyway. This laid the groundwork for the Enabling Acts of 1830, which severely affected the life for the Cherokee for the rest of their time in that state.
Chief Ross was becoming increasingly more aware that with a man like Andrew Jackson in the White House, that the future of the Cherokee in their ancestral homeland was shaky, at best. Jackson, known for his hatred of the Indians, was not the person that any Indian wanted in the Presidency. His election spelled disaster for the Cherokee. All they had to look forward to was to try and ‘hang on’ until the elections of 1832, when there might be a candidate more sympathetic to the plight of the Indians living in the southeast. Their faith in and support of Henry Clay gave the Cherokee a false sense of victory, and caused them to ignore the rumblings within their own boundaries.
A small band of Cherokee had agreed to try and convince the rest of the tribe to ‘sell out’ their lands and move west, beyond the great Mississippi River. Through much treachery and avarice this group, known as the Treaty Party’, headed by Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie made plans to secrete a treaty. One which if presented to the Senate in Washington would be ratified without difficulty.
These so-called leaders met in secret with the Commissioners of the U.S. Gen. William Carroll and John F. Schermerhorn to set up a time and place to meet and ink a treaty ceding the remaining lands in the east to the government.
Even though several years before, the tribal council had passed a law, referred to as the Blood Law, which stated that anyone signing over any additional land without consent of the tribal government would be executed. The Ridges, Boudinot and Watie were fully aware of this ‘Blood Law’ when they signed the “Treaty of New Echota.” In fact Major Ridge is reported as having said as he signed the treaty, “I am signing my own death warrant.” Parties unknown executed Major Ridge, Elias Boudinot and John Ridge in the early morning hours of June 22, 1939 after arrival in Indian Territory. Stand Watie was wounded, but survived.
Upon hearing of the executions, Chief Ross asked those around him, “How much must we endure?”
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Growing Political Problems for the Cherokee People (1829-1836)
by R. Bruce Ross, IV
the discovery of gold near Dalonegah, Georgia and the election of Andrew
Jackson to the Presidency in 1828, the fate of the Cherokee was virtually
sealed, as was the fates of the other tribes residing in the southeastern
United States. Jackson arrived in Washington¸ D.C. on March
4, 1829 with the intention of removing the Indians to a desolate land west
of the Mississippi River where they would be “out of the way” of the white
man’s expansion and exploitation of the ancestral lands of the Indians
of the southeastern United States. President Jackson and the Governors
of Tennessee and Georgia set about a bureaucratic process of enacting oppressive
laws. Laws that would make life unbearable for the Cherokee people
living within their respective states as well as the non-Indians living
among the various tribes.
Georgia passed a set of laws in 1830, (called the Enabling Acts) which would remove the ‘blight’ from ‘their’ state - the Cherokee Indian. The laws passed by the Georgia legislature were without regard for the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation, or the acculturation of the Cherokee people into the white society. The Cherokee people had, in fact, taken to the white ways rather easily by adopting a constitutional form of government¸ establishing a court system¸ electing their own public officials, and having their own newspaper, printed in both English and in Cherokee.
President Jackson was know for having no fondness for the Indians, and it was this hatred linked with the westward expansion of the white man and the lure of gold that caused the Enabling Acts to be passed in Georgia. A couple of examples of these laws are: The Cherokee people can not congregates in groups of more than three (this prohibited the tribal council from meeting, thus shutting down the government of the tribe); a Cherokee could not bring charges against a white man, nor could a Cherokee testify in a white man’s court and any non-Indian living on Indian land must sign an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to the State of Georgia. These laws essentially stripped the rights of the Cherokee and anyone residing with them.
In 1831 the Rev. Samuel A. Worcester refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance. He was arrested by the Georgia Militia and hurriedly tried, convicted and sentenced. He received four years at hard labor. In 1832 his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices ruled in his favor, in the case Worcester vs. Georgia declaring the laws passed by the State of Georgia to be unconstitutional and ordered the release of Rev. Worcester. President Jackson is reported to have said, “Chief Justice (John) Marshall has rendered his decision, let him enforce it.” Upon hearing this comment by the President, the Governor of Georgia decided that he did not have to honor the ruling of the Supreme Court and kept Rev. Worcester in prison for another four months, before finally releasing him.
The Cherokee Nation under Principal Chief John Ross was constantly trying to carry on an amicable relationship and keep the lines of communication open with the government of the United States. This was extremely difficult and required all the tact and patience that the tribal officials could muster, as the President was determined to ‘rid’ himself, as well as the states in the southeast of all the Indians living there. The government was offering up to $1,000 per family to voluntarily move to the lands west of the Mississippi. The majority of the Cherokee remained loyal to their ancestral homeland, to Chief Ross and the elected tribal officials. They kept faith that the two governments would reach an equitable agreement that would permit the Cherokee to remain in their ancestral homelands. Unfortunately, there was a small group of ‘dissident’ Cherokee tribal members who had been meeting in secret with agents of the U.S. government and even negotiated a fraudulent treaty with them. This treaty ceded the last of the Cherokee holding in the southeastern U.S. This group became known as the ‘Treaty Party’ or ‘Treaty Faction.’ They were led by Major Ridge (a hero of the Red Stick War of 1813), his son John Ridge, his nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie. This so-called treaty is known as the ‘Treaty of New Echota’ and was signed about midnight by no more than 100 Cherokees on December 29, 1935. The treaty was then sent to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
Chief Ross and his followers learned about this treaty the next day and immediately set about to circulate a petition throughout the Cherokee Nation to submit to the U.S. Senate that this so-called treaty was not the will of the people, but created only to carry out the wishes of Jackson and benefit the pockets of a dissident faction of tribal members. The petition also stated that it was entered into in the dark of night by an unauthorized delegation. Within two weeks the tribal officials had secured 15.655 signatures on this petition and carried it to Washington, D.C. and presented it to the U.S. Senate, in hopes that it would serve as enough evidence to stop the ratification, yet on May 23, 1836 the U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of New Echota.
It had passed the Senate by only one vote. The die had been cast as the Cherokee had two years to finalize their affairs in their homeland and either voluntarily move themselves west of the Mississippi or be forcibly removed by the Army of the United States.
Exactly two years to the day, soldiers entered the Cherokee Nation and began the round-up. During the harsh, dry summer and freezing winter of 1838 and 1839, nearly one-fourth of the Cherokee Nation died on what was to become known as the “Trail of Tears.” This was approximately 4,000 Cherokee (predominantly the aged, the infirmed and small children)
When this writer asked a tour director at The Hermitage - the home of Andrew Jackson (A National Historic Landmark), “Why did he (A. Jackson) hate the Indians so much?” The answer he got was, “President Jackson didn’t hate the Indians, and he had them moved for their own good.”
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Georgia Compact – 1802, a Foundation for Removal
by R. Bruce Ross, IV
of the white settlers on land traditionally belonging to the Indian Nations
began with the arrival of the first Europeans. Throughout the colonial
period attempts wee made by the British to control the situation.
Such measures as the Proclamation Line of 1763, which prohibited settlement
west of the Appalachian Mountain range failed to stem the tide of European
Although the new United States government made hones attempts to deal fairly with the Indian Nations, it was evident by 1800 that the old measures were not working. The desire for land was stronger than the humanitarian feelings many had toward the Indian Nations. The effect was clearly evident in the State of Georgia during the administration of Thomas Jefferson. By the 1830s, the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’ (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole) were forced out of their homelands as a direct result of this demand for more land, but a look at the two parties involved in the Compact of 1802 will provide an understanding of the events leading up to the Indian removal, “The Trail of Tears.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786 that, “It may be regarded as certain that not a foot of land will ever be taken from the Indians, without their own consent. The sacredness of their right is felt by all thinking persons in America as much as in Europe.” Few doubt Jefferson, the private man, honestly had such humanitarian feelings toward the Indian Nations. Even the public Jefferson, at times, showed his humanitarian feelings. In 1803 he wrote to William Henry Harrison, “Our system is to live in perpetual peace with the Indians…” But he failed to reprimand Harrison for his negative treatment of the Indians with whom he had dealings.
This obvious conflict in Jefferson’s actions was evident in the whole policy, which did a complete turnabout from humanitarian to removal. Many, including Jefferson¸ honestly believed the Indians would be left alone on the west bank of the Mississippi River in the newly acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase.
However, the conflict in policy was not as clearly evident in the direction Georgia set out to take once the colonies formed into states. During the colonial period Georgia, the thirteenth colony to be organized¸ served as a buffer between the British, to the north and the Spanish to the south, with little chance to expand. After the Revolutionary War and the formation of the American government, Georgia found itself surrounded by other established settlements without claim to much external land and a high percentage of its internal land under the control of Indian tribes. There was little chance the weakest state would have the political clout necessary to gain control of external lands. Thus, Georgia set out to gain control over the internal lands.
As states were formed, each made an agreement with the U.S. government to give up all claims to lands outside their established boundaries the agreement by which Georgia gave up what little claim she had to outside lands also included an important clause about the internal lands held by the Indian tribes, in particular the Cherokee.
The Georgia Cession, often referred to as the Georgia Compact, was signed on April 26, 1802 by the United States Commissioners (James Madison, Albert Gallatin and Levi Lincoln) and the Commissioners of the State of Georgia. The agreement as written, was signed by President Thomas Jefferson, who then sent it on to Congress for ratification. Georgia gave up claim to external lands I exchange for one million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($1,250,000) to be paid the state by the national government from sale of the ceded lands.
Furthermore, the agreement stated in Article IV that – “The United States shall, at their own expense, extinguish, for the use of Georgia, as early as the same can be peaceably obtained, on reasonable terms, the Indian title to the country…” This document set the stage for the forced removal of tribes in other states and territories.
In spite of his personal humanitarian motives, Thomas Jefferson did not consult directly with the Indian Nations before submitting this document to Congress. The fate of the Cherokee Nation was written on the wall, without any input from them or concern for their rights as a Nation, or as individuals. American Indian policy was set on a road of forced so-called humanitarianism, which only listened to the side it wanted to hear.
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The Cherokee Nemesis ~ “Old Hickory”
aka Andrew Jackson
by Kuwiskuwi (R. Bruce Ross, IV)
article is a personal synopsis surrounding the events leading up to the
forced removal of an entire Indian tribe, the Cherokee. By order
of the United States government, the Cherokee and other tribes, living
in the southeastern united stated during the early 19th century, were removed
from their ancestral homelands, in many cases by force. This is written
by a Cherokee citizen who sees these things through both the eyes of an
Indian and an Anglo. I mention this to avoid any embarrassment, to
you the reader for the manner in which I make the following statements.
Please keep in mind that – in the eyes of the Cherokee, if you were to put President Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson in the same room with Adolph Hitler, Hitler would come much closer to wearing a halo than “Old Hickory.” Here’s another comment explaining the total lack of esteem in which I hold, “Old Hickory” - “I (and many others) refuse to carry a $20 bill, I don’t want a picture in my pocket of that poor excuse for a human being.”
Regardless of my low opinion of former President Jackson, I will never refer to him as Jackson, Andrew, Andy or anything other than President Jackson. He was the President of the United States; even though he probably wasn’t eligible(1) to have served in that high office ~ he does deserve the title of respect that that office carries. It’s just too bad that he even won the election in 1828 and worse yet, re-elected in 1832.
Prior to learning some of the history of this era, one cannot believe that a ‘civilized’ government such as that of the United States of America could treat the indigenous people (the Indians of all tribes) the way it did. I assure you that certain elected officials of the U.S. government have carried out some very atrocious and malicious acts under the auspices of “for the good of the people.”
When 1828 arrived, two specific events occurred, which in their finality ended nearly a thousand years of a somewhat tranquil life for the Cherokee and other tribes in the southeast. The one, which added fuel to the removal issue or extrication of the Cherokee, was the discovery of gold by the white man, on Cherokee land, near Dahlonega, in northeastern Georgia. It is said that the streets of Atlanta are paved with gold. This isn’t true, but in 1958 the citizens of Dahlonega presented the State of Georgia with a gift of gold. The metal was pounded into thin sheets and attached to the top of the State House in Atlanta. The gold dome remains as a lasting symbol to the first of the gold rushes in America.
The Cherokee controlled the land in the gold region, but by 1830 more than 300 ounces a day were being produced in the area, and not by the Cherokee. The Georgia legislature began to plan their removal almost immediately after the discovery of gold. This eventually led to the "Trail of Tears."
The other devastating event of 1828 was the election of Andrew Jackson to the Presidency of the United States of America. His hatred of the Indians was common knowledge at that time, and he did nothing to change this perception.
Together these two events spelled doom for the Cherokee and the four other tribes (known as, The Five Civilized Tribes) of the southeast region of the U.S. – Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole.
The reason the discovery of gold would prompt ill feelings toward the true owners of the land. Pure and simple – Greed… but the reason for President Jackson’s hatred of the Indian is not quite as simple. In fact, no one knows for sure why he hated the Indians so much. During the War of 1812 and after his successes in New Orleans, he was the commander of the U.S. forces in the Red Stick Creek wars at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. His forces consisted of 600 Cherokee and Lower Creek tribal members. During the battle General Andrew Jackson was directing the frontal attack of a Creek fortification that had been built within the projection of land created by a bend in the Tallapoosa River in eastern Alabama. With his Lieutenant, John Ross they were directing the Cherokee attack on the rear of the fortification but were faced with crossing the river itself. Junaluska and two other warriors swam the Tallapoosa River in the dark and took the Creek warriors' canoes in spite of gunfire from the Red Stick Creeks, which wounded one of the three Cherokee, an Indian named Whale.
This action gave Jackson the upper hand in what had been a situation stacked against him. In the ensuing battle Junaluska drove his tomahawk through the skull of a Creek warrior when the Red Stick Creek had General Jackson at his mercy.
In 1830 the Indian Removal Act became law at the urging of President Andrew Jackson who was directing the forced removal of the Cherokee from their native lands. Chief John Ross failed to get an audience to plead their cause. At which time he, Chief Ross, asked Chief Junaluska to make an attempt to convince the President that removal to an unknown land a thousand miles away was not in the best interest of the Cherokee people. President Jackson did grant Junaluska an audience and heard his plea, but curtly ended the meeting, saying, "Sir, your audience is ended. There is nothing I can or will do for you." The fate of the Cherokee was sealed.
When the removal did eventually become a reality, Chief Junaluska looked at the terrible atrocities committed upon his people and said, "Oh my God, had I known at the battle of the Horseshoe what I know now, Jackson would not have lived."
Also in 1830 and at the urging of the President, the State of Georgia passed a series of laws called the Enabling Acts, that were without regard for the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation, or the acculturation of the Cherokee into the ‘white society.’
The Cherokee had indeed, taken rather quickly to the ways, customs and manner of the white man. They had adopted a constitutional form of government in 1826 and had established a court system, elected their own officials to serve in the Tribal Senate and on the Tribal Council.
The Enabling Acts of 1830 essentially stripped the rights of a sovereign nation. A couple of examples of the laws are: A Indian can not bring charges against a white man; the Cherokee can not congregate in groups of more than three; any non-Indian residing on Indian land must sign an ‘Oath of Allegiance” to the State of Georgia. Refusal to abide by these laws was punishable by four years at hard labor.
The Reverend Samuel A. Worcester, residing within the confines of the Cherokee Nation, refused to sign this ‘oath’ and was arrested by the Georgia Militia, hurriedly tried, convicted and sentenced to 4 years at hard labor. Finally in 1832, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the majority opinion declaring the laws of the State of Georgia to be unconstitutional and ordered the release of Rev. Worcester.
President Jackson, upon hearing of the ruling from highest court in the land said, “John Marshall has rendered his decision, now let him enforce it.” As a result of the President’s refusal to abide by the Court’s ruling, the Governor of Georgia (Wilson Lumpkin) took this to mean that he did not have to abide by the ruling, either. It was four months after the decision was handed down that the Reverend was finally released from prison.
The Cherokee Nation’s government under the leadership of Chief John Ross and his council was constantly trying to keep an amicable relationship with the government of the United States. This was extremely difficult due to the Executive Branch’s determination to rid the southeast of the Indian element and make way for the white man to settle the lands belonging to the Indian.
The Indian agents that had been assigned to represent the U.S. in Indian country were using dubious means to entice the Indians to move west. It even reached the point where the U.S. was offering up to $1,000 per family to move west of the Mississippi.
Most of the Cherokee (mainly the full-blooded element) remained loyal to their elected officials and desired to stay and fight for the right to remain on the lands of their fathers and grandfathers. There was a small, yet vocal, contingent of Cherokee that were bent on selling out their land holdings and move west. This contingent, the ‘nay-sayers’ were disruptive during meetings yelling about how they were all going to be killed if they stayed. Some of these rantings even convinced a few of the elected officials to become dissenters, also.
Acting on behalf of President Jackson, the Commissioners of the United States, Gen. William Carroll and John F. Schermerhorn met secretly (without the knowledge of the tribally elected officials) with a small (less than 100) dissident Cherokee at New Echota, Georgia on Dec. 29, 1835. The purpose of this meeting was to ink a treaty with a delegation of Cherokee ceding the last of their lands to the U.S. Talks went on for a few hours until finally about midnight a treaty had been reached and was signed by 20 Cherokee citizens, none of whom were authorized to act on behalf of the tribe. This fraudulent treaty became known as ‘The Treaty of New Echota.’
Upon hearing of the nefarious action, Chief Ross and his councils immediately set about circulating a petition calling for the U.S. Senate to not ratify this fraudulent treaty. Within three weeks Chief Ross and his supporters had secured the signatures (or marks) of 15,655 adult Cherokee. The petition affirmed that the so-called ‘treaty’ that was secured at New Echota on the night of December 29, 1835 was not the will of the people. This petition was taken personally by Chief Ross to Washington and presented to the United Stated Senate.
Senator Henry Clay, of Kentucky, was the Cherokee Nation’s greatest supporter and ally. Sen. Clay immediately set out to garner support among his colleagues in the Senate to vote against ratification. President Jackson knew of Sen. Clay’s feelings and sympathies for the Cherokee and pulled out all stops to get that treaty ratified. (2)
Ratification came before the U.S. Senate for a vote on May 23, 1836. After a long and heated debate, a vote was taken and the treaty was ratified. It passed by the slimmest of margins, ONE VOTE. The fate of the Cherokee had been sealed with this ratification. The treaty allowed for two year to pass before the Army of the United States would come in and forcibly remove the Cherokee to lands west of the Mississippi. This period was set up so that those who wished to do so could voluntarily move westward and to finalized the affairs of the tribe in their soon to be former homelands.
The United States was so eager to get ‘rid’ of the Cherokee that, exactly two years to the day, on May 23, 1838 General Winfield Scott led 7,000-armed soldiers into the Cherokee Nation and began a mass round-up of the Cherokee. The elderly, the infirm, the children everybody was rounded up lie cattle and thrown into numerous crude and hastily built stockades throughout the Cherokee countryside. These stockades were designed to house them until they could be removed west. Countless diseases spread throughout the camps, causing many unnecessary deaths among the Cherokee.
Many events led to the removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral homelands but, none of them more devastating and demoralizing than knowing that they had been betrayed by some members of their own tribe. It has been estimated that nearly one-fourth (approximately 4,000) of the Cherokee tribe died either in the stockades or enroute to what is today Oklahoma. This journey has since become known as the Trail where they died, or “The Trail of Tears.”
In the late 1800s an anthropologist met with a small group of Cherokee citizens that had survived the relocation process. An elderly Cherokee lady responded to a question regarding her family during the removal, in this manner: “During the winter of ’38 they all died. They died on that terrible trail. That’s where we cried, and that’s where we died. I saw my Mother die as she was giving birth to my brother. I saw so many die during that time. It was so cold and there was little food and there weren’t enough blankets to keep warm.” This somber statement, tearfully given, has defined the Cherokee’s arduous journey into the unknown as, “The Trail of Tears.”
Further information regarding this issue is in the same pages of an account of an 1819 conversation: “Simon Kenton met Jackson only once after 1783. This was in June 1819, when President Monroe was making his tour through the Western states. Monroe, accompanied by General Jackson, stopped over at the home of Richard C. Anderson at Bear Grass, near Louisville, Kentucky. Marshall Anderson, son of Richard C. Anderson and brother of Governor Charles Anderson of Ohio, was present and states in his notes that while all the other gentlemen were on the porch or in another room, his father (Richard C. Anderson) and General Jackson were talking alone about matters of early history. He stood by and listened to them and at the time his father asked this question: “General Jackson, where were you born?” And Jackson’s answer, immediately given, was: “I was born at sea.” In view of these comments recorded at the time by persons not in contact with one another, there is very good reason to believe that Andrew Jackson was not a native American and that his age has been altered by twelve years; that he was not, in fact, born after his father’s death, nor was he born in South Carolina, but instead was born in a ship at sea in 1755, the year his parents were immigrating from Ireland to America, and this birth occurred either three days before it reached American soil. It is probable that when Jackson became an important American figure militarily and politically, he realized that his foreign birth made him constitutionally ineligible for the Presidency and so, to overcome this, thereafter gave his birth date as being twelve years after he was actually born. This would indeed clarify many puzzling discrepancies about where Andrew Jackson was and what he was doing during the early years of his life.”
(2) = In the
1832 Federal election, Andrew Jackson defeated Henry Clay for the Presidency.