The issues to consider with the study of the “Trail of Tears” relate to the problematic relationships of race in the early history of the United States. The forced removal of Native America took place while the U.S. grappled with the contradictions in its own national ambitions. The nation had potential wealth, glimpsed in the territorial “western reserves”; it also possessed a captive working force of generations of African slaves, ready to work the soil and produce wealth for a mercantile class of entrepreneurs. But the absence of any mention of Native America who resided in the “free land” -- that the U.S. looked forward to -- and the presence of human chattel bondage, permitted by laws throughout the entire nation, ran counter to the ideas of the Enlightenment, which the nation’s “Founders” used to justify their revolution, republican government, and leadership.
Race, however, in the early U.S. should be best understood in the context of the times under study, mainly, the First Age of Imperialism. The U.S. produced a revolution that allowed the colonists to be imperialists; and this definition better fits the policies of the nation’s leaders and its policies towards the biggest, inherent contradictions of the modern U.S.: Native American removal and African American slavery. A group of “enlightened” leaders, the Founders, and their heirs, promoted the growth of a nation that displayed the best characteristics of an “imperial-republic,” one that perpetually expanded in size and spread its cultural and social institutions to promote, enrich, and reinforce the political health of that nation. With that, the removal of Native Americans from their western lands takes place against the expansion of African American slavery.
“Freedom on the Frontier Means Slavery”
“Frederick Jackson Turner, the great historian of the late 19th century, said it was on the frontier that democracy was born, that American ideas of equality were born, individualism. But the frontier also carried with it the expansion of slavery. The westward expansion of slavery was one of the most dynamic economic and social processes going on in this country. The westward expansion carried slavery down into the Southwest, into Mississippi, Alabama, crossing the Mississippi River into Louisiana. Finally, by the 1840's, it was pouring into Texas. So the expansion of slavery, which became the major political question of the 1850's, was not just a political issue. It was a fact of life that every American had experienced during this period.”
-- Eric Foner, historian, author
The origins of colonization in the Western Hemisphere began with the slavery of native people, and American society, specifically the United States, was an heir to that tradition of slavery. The first slaves white European colonists had in the North American colonies were “Indians.” The Spanish, and their Portugal rivals, began by enslaving natives; Europeans in the Caribbean and North American continued the practice. Wars against Native America -- Bacon’s Rebellion, King Philip’s War, and the Yamasee War -- produced captives who became forced laborers for the ends of their lives; and the colonial coast of North America soon swelled with a trade of native bodies, all while Africans began to arrive on the coast as slaves, too.
Two things took place simultaneously in this time. The formation of race as a means of expressing and organizing political and economical power in American society took shape; and Native America and African America -- under the conditions of the shared experience of slavery, as a physical space that both reacted to, took shape. The groups, in other words, began to produce examples of hybridity through the process of ethnogenesis. New racial groups began to emerge in American society, a process of creolization that would best typify the course of U.S. history as it justified and implemented national expansion in the nineteenth century.
American colonists on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line (the geographical demarcation between north and south colonies, then states) recognized their numerical inferiority -- 1 to 4 in some southern colonies -- and through policies of law under the aegis of civilizing methods, these white American elites looked to set the groups of Indians and Africans against one another. They would choose the institution of slavery as the best method to achieve a “divide-and-conquer” strategy, with the hope that the status of slavery -- who was a slave, who was not -- would accomplish the goal to defeat alliances between the two races within a great ethnogenetic cradle that had developed on the backwoods frontier, where both groups could unite. The frontier was where white Americans wanted to settle and any competition required a process of ‘weeding out.’
Independence from the British during the Revolutionary War merely confirmed to the Founders that the racial problems on the frontier would persist and create more violence. Wars with British allies, the Cherokee indians, continued after independence, as more and more American settlers crossed the Appalachian mountains to colonize their perceived national patrimony. The best course white American elites saw, and chose to pursue, followed the advocation of the slavery system, urging its adoption by Native America and other hybrid peoples.
From the very beginning of United State’s policy toward the Indians, missionaries (as well as government agents) played a critical role in the civilization/christianization of the indigenous inhabitants of North America. George Washington’s Indian policy stated that ‘missionaries of excellent moral character should be appointed to reside in their nation who should be well supplied with all the implements of husbandry and the necessary stock for a model farm.’ It went further to state ‘It is particularly important that something of this nature should be attempted with the Southern nations of Indians, whose confined situation might render them proper subjects for the experiment.’ With the establishment of the first model farms and missions among the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeastern United States, a key element in this civilization process was the implementation of African slaves as laborers in the building and operation of the model farms and missions.
“Five Civilized Tribes”
“I rejoice, brothers, to hear you propose to become cultivators of the earth for the maintenance of your families. Be assured you will support them better and with less labor, by raising stock and bread, and by spinning and weaving clothes, than by hunting. A little land cultivated, and a little labor, will procure more provisions than the most successful hunt; and a woman will clothe more by spinning and weaving, than a man by hunting. Compared with you, we are but as of yesterday in this land. Yet see how much more we have multiplied by industry, and the exercise of that reason which you possess in common with us. Follow then our example, brethren, and we will aid you with great pleasure.”
--Thomas Jefferson, “To the Brothers of the Choctaw Nation,” 1803
What the white elites and their missionary agents created was the “Five Civilized Tribes.” In many ways, understanding how Native Americans of the Old Southwest, the Mississippi region and its tributaries, came to embrace slavery, and also, adopt other western institutions, requires a recognition of the project that national leaders foisted onto indians in the west. The plantations and towns and schools and laws Native America would embrace were seen through the eyes of white American elites who wanted to civilize indians. The U.S. government saw a problem on the frontier, one expressed by ethnogenesis and cultural hybridity, which also threatened notions of “whiteness,” with the threat of American colonists moving west and ‘going native.’ There was also the worrying prospect of more outbreaks of violence by native resistance to American expansion. So too, did the specter of a “dying race” influence the better Enlightenment-tinged minds of the Founders to ‘save’ the ‘lowly natives’ from extinction. But the idea of the “Five Civilized Tribes” is best understood as a solution to, what the Founders perceived, as the greatest threat to peace and prosperity of the young American republic. White elites favored slavery as a system to promote civilizing Native America because elites believed slavery promoted American republican government and supported the institutions that would make the U.S. a superior civilization.
Americans in the 19th century thought of or spoke of their country as in Jefferson phrase -- an "empire of liberty." And the history of the United States was conceived of as part of the progress of mankind and the spread of liberty throughout the world. And you can see this in graphic illustrations of the period -- of liberty leading people westward. And progress was the essence of the American story. Now, in the South, southern slaveowners insisted that slavery was absolutely essential to that story of progress. Without slavery, you could not have civilization, they said. Slavery freed the upper class from the need to do manual labor, to worry about economic day-to-day realities, and therefore gave them the time and the intellectual ability to devote themselves to the arts and literature and mechanical advantages and inventions of all kinds. So that it was slavery itself which made the progress of civilization possible.
-- Eric Foner, historian, author
What developed in the Five Civilized Tribes is also worth mentioning because of the serious efforts the ‘five nations’ would make to fit within the national fabric of a territorially-expansive system built to add new states, and concomitant republican governments, to the federal union; and due to the great efforts the natives of the Old Southwest made, a great deal of difficulty exists in the effort to separate fact from fiction. But in the effort of studying the history of the Trail of Tears, one of the formative figures in the deportation of the Five Civilized Tribes is the Cherokee indian named Sequoyah. One one hand, his life in the early nineteenth century reads as a national formation story alongside that of the United States,’as he was born in 1776 on the frontier between white colonists and Cherokee indians in the shadow of the wars between the two groups, which had turned particularly destructive for the natives and, in the wake of destruction, white elites felt justified in their support of Sequoyah. For it was in his embrace of white culture and development of the Cherokee syllabary, or alphabet, that the seeds of the successful civilization project lay. American missionaries, it should be noted, supported Sequoyah and the development of his language; it became convenient for their purposes to say that the project would succeed, and Native America could learn to be ‘good, productive, democratic’ Americans.
But the ambition of the white Americans like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to promote “civilization” among the natives should not obscure the efforts of certain groups to adapt to the United States, either through the claim of their independent sovereignty or, through their recognition of nominal suzerainty to American power and embrace of republican systems of government that allowed them to join a union of American states.
The term “Five Civilized Tribes,” then, should be known to mean the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians -- with some qualifications and clarifications to follow. The term came more into use after their removal to Indian Territory, or Oklahoma. But the term also meant significant to both whites and natives about the purposes of these tribes to ‘assimilate’ to U.S. supremacy.
The term indicated the adoption of horticulture and other European cultural patterns and institutions, including widespread Christianity, written constitutions, centralized governments, intermarriage with white Americans, market participation, literacy, animal husbandry, patrilineal descent, and even slaveholding.
But the efforts of Native Americans in the Old Southwest, now known as the Southeast, came with great efforts to refashion themselves, a process that took place within the larger history of the natives’ struggle to survive and adapt to diseases that wiped out entire villages in the Mississippian civilization, and wars against European invaders that touched off internal civil wars among tribal members. To go from a thriving culture of moundbuilders with complex socio-political kingdoms to one of feast-or-famine against the onslaught of imperialism could never be said to be easy. And it was not. But Native America in the years of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries learned to adapt for survival and, through a process of cultural hybridity, created a contact culture with European traders and settlers that proved resilient, and potentially, adaptable to life on a continent with invaders who organized their political and economic societies through the establishment of nation-states. They were expert traders, hunters, and eventually, entrepreneurs, who contributed to the expansion of the European colonies on North America’s shores. Still, despite the impact of near-genocide, Native America still controlled the interior of the continent, and proved a force that Americans in the U.S. would need to negotiate with. The ability of natives to embrace western ideas and adapt them to their own cultural realities made them a dynamic force, producing new problems that whites, natives, and slaves would soon be forced to react to or against.
American settlers wanted land; their desire for more land has sometimes been used to explain the partial motivations of the Revolution; after the war, settlers had less restriction to impede their movement west, but another British-era obstacle remained, the indians. Colonization patterns had already touched off the Cherokee Wars at the close of the eighteenth century. The opening of the nineteenth century left settlers undaunted. They would not relent, and land speculation bloomed as one of the most vital industries of the young American economy. As long as people would buy, men in power with connections to land contracts would sell.
The greatest moment of land speculation took place within the youngest of the American colonies. Georgia, founded in the first decade of the eighteenth century, laid claim to the western lands as far as the Mississippi River. While other states had relinquished their claims to western territories, Georgia held onto to their ‘backyard.’ Georgia, by the statehood and admission to the U.S., was defined by its coastal settlements -- and not much else. It had very little to claim to the interior of its state and territories other than the former colonial charter and ‘lines on a map.’ The state government attempted to spur development of the interior, and in ambitious strides, attempts at counties rose up as far west as the Mississippi. But the state government in Georgia did not possess the finances to insure the success of these ventures, especially in the face of two challenges: Native America proved powerful in this region, both with the Creek and Cherokee; and an international controversy between the U.S., Great Britain and Spain created conditions in nearby Florida that threatened the sovereignty of any state-led venture.
A group of land speculators from Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia touched off a land controversy that would lead to the U.S. government’s involvement in Georgia’s western territories, and the rest of the state. The speculators made up different companies, but with one word in common, “Yazoo.” This signified their interest in the lands of the same names, the Yazoo Lands, claimed by Georgia; and the speculators sold tracts and tracts of the land, nearly thousands of acres each, to white American settlers who wanted to do one thing: own plantations filled with African American slaves. Called the Yazoo Land Fraud, the speculators had actually sold land that they did not own, and in no way could they represent the true title to land. When purchasers of the Yazoo lands learned of the fraud, they petitioned the state government of Georgia, and then the U.S. government for a refund of their money. The state of Georgia, already cash-strapped, attempted to nullify the bills of sale, but proved unable to pay back the money or force the speculators to make refunds. Worse, some land purchasers refused the refund and wanted the actual land. The state government finally made an offer to the U.S. government for the possession of the Yazoo Lands that the nation government would accede to, and the Yazoo lands then became federal lands. This became the 1802 Compact. The U.S. would eventually turn the territory into the future states of Alabama and Mississippi. White American settlers relished the lands, for they possessed excellent soils for the slave-plantation system to thrive. But for settlement to proceed, the U.S. government was required to abide by this 1802 Compact. One of the issues would be the removal of the indians who lived in there, and not just in the Yazoo Lands, but in the entire state of Georgia.
“White Indians, Black Indians -- No Indians!”
“A Creek said to a Cherokee... ‘You Cherokees are so mixed with whites we cannot tell you from the whites.’ The Cherokee... replied: ‘You Creeks are so mixed with the Negroes we cannot tell you from the Negroes.’ ”
Georgia’s desire to relocate the Native Americans, for the sole purpose of the development of its state, does not fully explore the hatred that white Americans expressed in their relations with indians in the backcountry. The desire to remove indians was not just expressed in Georgia, but in other regions, mainly, the new states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Removal, as accomplished by treaties, had taken place in Tennessee and Kentucky. Nations like the Choctaw acceded to the demands of state governments, but they did so of their own volition. No one forced them to move; or at the very least, voluntary relinquishment of homelands did not take the form of state-led removal. But periods of intense treaty making did presage states, and later the federal government, to forcibly remove Native Americans. Any actions of violence were done by private citizens, who raided indian lands.
The salient issue of Indian Removal lay with the nature of the transformations on the tribes themselves, as their ability to adapt to white invasions that took the form of disease epidemics and organized warfare meant that Native American looked less and less traditional; and because of the transformations wrought upon indian cultures by war and plague, indians societies changed in their outward appearances, and in some fashions, appeared -- even emulated -- European, and later American, colonists.
This transformation from traditional values to western forms explained the appearance of what American missionaries would begin to refer to as the “Five Civilized Tribes.” While native elites attempted to use their adaptive energies for the survival of their peoples, and in some ways, like the Creek and Cherokee, attempted to enter the national fabric of the United States, the changes produced their own sets of problems that led to tension and conflict within Native America, which ultimately affected white colonists on the frontier, and was later, exploited by state governments for the purpose of territorial consolidation.
“Indian Civil War and Ethnogenesis”
The first stirrings of societal conflict that would presage the Trail of Tears came from out of the Muscogee tribe, called by the first European explorers, the Creek. Part of the Mississippian culture of the river valley, the Creek had endured each successive wave of plagues.
The Muscogee earned recognition for their decision to ally with the Americans in their fight for independence against the British. Soon after war, they received a great deal of attention from George Washington’s ‘civilizing’ efforts, embracing Christianity in its outward forms and, more importantly, adopting societal practices and customs that gave the Muscogee nation the appearance of a westernized tribe. Most importantly, for white American elites who owned slaves, the Muscogee also practiced human chattel bondage.
While good relations and adopting Western culture momentarily served them well with American southerners -- especially the practice of slavery -- traditionalists among Native America, both inside the Muscogee tribes and outside, from other tribes, resented what they saw as the erosion of traditional values and customs, which the Muscogee seemed to choose. The most intense form of traditional revivalism came from the Great Lakes region, as the Shawnee ‘war chief’ Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, led a movement defined by its spiritualism and political fervor for Native America to return to its pre-European culture and unite in an effort to stop American expansion. The War of 1812, which climaxed with Shawnee-led power and influence, saw the Muscogee touched and transformed by these native revivalist stirrings, creating an atmosphere of renewed violence on the frontier, where American settlers were attacked by the Upper Creek and, in an attempt to overturn the power of the Lower Creek, who made up the elite classes, transformed Mississippi valley into a scene of civil war. T traditionalists who called themselves the “Red Sticks were only defeated when white Southern elites banded behind the Tennessean Andrew Jackson, who led the militias of the states against the Red Sticks, until their final defeat at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814.
The immediate effect on the Old Southwest (Southeast) region saw the Muscogee, even the ones who stayed loyal to the U.S., lose territory to American settlers, either though the Treaty of Ft. Jackson in 1814, or later fraudulent treaties, such as the Treaty of Indians Springs. In either case, permanent divisions had occurred within Muscogee society. The greatest took place among the Red Sticks faction, or the Upper Creek. Many fled south into the Spanish possession of Florida, taking with them their African American slaves. Some slaves outright escaped -- again, into Florida and joined the African American maroon colonies of previously escaped slaves. The blending of cultures of native and African served as the process of ethnogenesis, creating the Seminole indian tribes. Florida now became a region of indians hostile to American intrusions, and the Black Seminoles, the mixture of natives and freed slaves, served to threaten the interests of white elites and their plantation system based upon slavery. With Jackson’s later invasions of Florida during the War of 1812, and later incursions by Jackson, along with the military adventures of other American opportunists, the U.S. government took notice of the significant problems created by the Creek War: hostile traditionalists in the Mississippi River and an African-indian alliance in Florida.
“Indian Nations can become American States Too”
Any study of the Trail of Tears and Indian Removal looks for the convenient explanations for the event, sometime focusing on the economic potential white American colonists saw in the territories of Native America. While economic value of the land stands as an accurate explanation’ and for places like Georgia, rich in minerals and best expressed by the Georgia Gold Rush in 1829, indians did stand in the way of the development of the land, the racial element of the story better explains, augments, and expands the explanation for the forced relocation of indians.
The racial qualification of economics was never more true than for Cherokee, a true ‘state’ and ‘nation’ in every sense of the imagined word; the Cherokee went to great lengths to adjust their cultures for admission into the U.S. as the first ‘indian state.’ The Cherokee had repeatedly lost land, starting in 1802. Still, their commitment to the American system produced a society that outwardly looked to comply with western norms.
In 1827, the Cherokee Nation was created:
Led by principal chief (the equivalent of president) John Ross, counselor Major Ridge, and Charles Hicks, who were known as the "Cherokee Triumvirate," this new political entity eventually witnessed the adoption of a written constitution, council, mounted police force, and many other Western-influenced institutions. The new capital at New Echota (near Calhoun in present-day Gordon County), reflected a major demographic change for the Cherokees, whose core areas of settlement had shifted to northwest Georgia.
It is important to note at this point that Africans and mixed bloods were not just religious leaders among the “exile” communities of Muskogees and Seminoles, the same also existed within the communities of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. Most of the early records of the missionaries note that their earliest converts were the enslaved African-Americans within Native American communities...Within the cultural nexus of the integrated community of the early American frontier, a unique synthesis grew in which African and Native American people shared a common religious experience. Not only did Africans share with Native Americans, the process of sharing cultural traditions went both ways. From the slave narratives, we learn of the role that Native American religious traditions played in African American society.
Gold fever brought American settlers into northern Georgia; and the state demanded that the U.S. abide by the 1802 Compact and remove the indians; but the main tensions of the removal could be explained by differences in culture, as traditionalists within the Cherokee Nation, and ones willing to work with the federal government, now followed the same fate as the Muscogee and fought with one another. What makes the issue of race so important to the story, pushing back the story of ‘gold fever’ by white settlers for a time, is how the presence of African American slaves in Cherokee society served as an issue of the loss of native traditions, while also challenging issues of white supremacy, through the fear of ethnogenesis on the frontier.
The hero of the War of the 1812, Andrew Jackson, now became U.S. president in 1828. As a resident of the frontier, he wanted as little-as-possible government interference in the lives of white Americans; but he plan to use federal power for the accomplishment of one goal, the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes. In 1830, the U.S. Congress enthusiastically supported his ambition and passed the Indian Removal Act. The Cherokee who staked their future on the statehood of their nation attempted to block removal through the use of the U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisprudence to decide the constitutionality of the Removal Act. The court’s decision in Worcester v Georgia suggested the national independence of the Cherokee; but the decision did nothing to stop Jackson’s use of force to remove the Cherokee and the other “civilized tribes.” The split that took place within the Cherokee Nation represented the schisms among other tribes, such as the Muscogee and the Seminole. One side, led by Ridge, consented to Jackson’s offer of financial compensation once removal to “Indian Territory” had taken place. Their decision to sign the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 ran against the interests of much stronger traditionalists, led by Ross, who believed in the power of the law. The removal that soon took place took the form of other removal efforts by the U.S. that explained race on the frontier in the presence of American expansion that took the form of a specific type of whites-only slavery.
Slavery and race took a big place in the debate, and later process, of Indian Removal. That matter -- as for the Seminole, and later the Cherokee -- became not only the removal of natives, but blacks, either free or not, who belonged to a social order that permitted ethnogenesis, and so, made white American elites in the South uncomfortable.
In 1835, the movement to free the African slaves of the Cherokee nation was put into motion by several “influential men” of the nation. Arrangements were being made to emancipate the slaves and receive them as Cherokee citizens. The following December, the “treaty party” of the largely assimilated slave-owning Cherokees, signed the Treaty of New Echota relinquishing all lands east of the Mississippi and agreed to migrate to Oklahoma. According to Missionary Elizur Butler, the Treaty of New Echota effectively prevented the abolition of slavery within the Cherokee Nation. Though the signers of this treaty were ultimately punished for treason, the impact of this treaty would be disastrous upon Cherokee and African alike for many years.
“Black Slavery for Whites Only”
The fate of the Seminole indian provides an excellent opportunity to talk about race and slavery in the context of U.S. expansion that provoked Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears. The origins of the Seminoles took place among the maroon colonies of runaway slaves in Florida, and later augmented by defeated bands of Creek (Muscogee) indians, along with their own slaves. In the early 1820s, General Jackson led punitive expeditions into Florida to destroy what white American slave owners saw at the greatest threat to the institution, the presence of free blacks in Florida. Unable to annihilate the Seminole and exhausted by the war, the U.S. government gave up an area of central Florida to the Seminole. Jackson’s presidency merely renewed his obsession to destroy the Seminole; and with the 1830 Removal Act, he forced some Seminole leaders to sign the Treaty of Payne’s Landing in 1832. Most refused and the Second Seminole War began in place of ‘conciliatory’ relocation. The form the war would take, a frustrated effort by a constantly revolving-door of U.S. military leaders to command a swelling force of 30,000 citizen soldiers, does not tell the whole tale of removal, as it was the presence of the Black Seminole, and slaves, that allowed the U.S. government to succeed in removing the majority of the nation and tribe to Indian Territory. White Floridians were encouraged to seize Black Seminoles to own as slaves; and the U.S. government offered up another tactic, best expressed as “divide-and-conquer.”
During the conflict, the United States Army initiated a policy, devised by Gen. Thomas S. Jesup, to divide the two races by offering the maroons their freedom if they surrendered. When maroon leaders entered into negotiations with the army, many Seminoles felt not only betrayed but cheated out of their legal property.
The pace of the war took its toll, as Seminole and Black Seminole joined the groups of Native Americans who either willingly went west to Indian Territory, or in other cases, faced imprisonment and transport in barges under-guard of U.S. soldiers and state militias to Indian Territory, the future U.S. state of Oklahoma.
For the Choctaw, who belonged to the same Muskogean language group as the Creek and Chickasaw, a series of treaties had reduced their lands from 1796 until the final Treaty of Dancing Rabbit on 1830. While promised lands by Washington and Jefferson -- only if they stayed loyal to the U.S. -- American settlers continued to whittle away their lands, until, finally, “Sharp Knife,” as President Jackson was first known to natives, reneged on his old promises to the Choctaw, his allies in the Creek War, and forced the Choctaw to move in a series of three western migrations to Indian Territory. 12,500 left their homeland, of which 2,500 died from the elements and outbreaks of disease. Indian agents failed to provide the guides to help them west, nor did the agents supply the Choctaw with the supplies the U.S. government had promised in the treaty. Choctaw that were unable to march west because of weather were promised river passage on boats, but they were stuck in camps to wait for the steamships, and in the time they waited grew sick, with some dying. The eastern press saw these migrations, and called them a “trail of tears and death.” The name stuck and was used to describe other forced relocations of the eastern nations of Native America.
The Muscogee, wounded and divided by the Creek War, had endured the fraudulent Treaty of Indian Springs, where the half-indian chief William McIntosh attempted to sign away all the lands to the state of Georgia, but even with the ability to nullify the treaty, still recognized the power of Georgia, as well as the approaching power of the U.S. government. For the Creek, who relented and signed the Treaty of Washington in 1826, their attempt to maintain a “civilized” way of life encouraged them to move west across the Mississippi River into Arkansas. But still, in a region where white settlers looked to expand the economic system of slavery, Creek indians with slaves could not be permitted. The relations between indian and African were too close for the liking of whites; and soon after, when war broke out between the Creek and U.S. government in Arkansas, the Creek were forcibly moved west by the U.S. military.
“One More Trail of Tears”
The Cherokee who agreed to the terms of the Treaty of New Echota left for Indian Territory with their slaves, while the dissenters stayed in the hope to wear out white settler raids. By 1838, though, the arrival of U.S. soldiers, under the command of General Winfield Scott, saw the full military invasion of the remaining Cherokee Nation. He issued orders for the creation of military districts for the organization of removal; he instructed every soldier on which indians were to be marched, and the full implementation of removal. Three major detentions camps served as the source for relocation to the west; and the camps grew infested with disease. A missionary wrote down his observations.
The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners. They have been dragged from their houses, and encamped at the forts and military posts, all over the nation. In Georgia, especially, multitudes were allowed no time to take any thing with them except the clothes they had on. Well-furnished houses were left prey to plunderers, who, like hungry wolves, follow in the trail of the captors. These wretches rifle the houses and strip the helpless, unoffending owners of all they have on earth.
Cherokee were put on wagon trains, rail cars, and barges, and sent west down the Tennessee River to new relocation centers to be sent further west. The entire process would see the movement of 15,000 - 17,000 indians. One in four would die on the 1,200 mile forced march. Estimates put the Cherokee death toll at 4,000, but other accounts by missionaries add an additional more.
The total death toll of the Indian Removal Act is somewhere between 5,000 and 25,000. The Cherokee, along with the Seminole, were almost the last to begrudgingly leave their homelands. They carried with them a way of life that earlier Americans lauded as ‘civilized.’ As they built their nations in Oklahoma, they largely continued their support for the institution that most advertised to white Americans the willingness of indians to practice American customs. Slavery. In the end, the lesson was not lost on the American soldiers who forced Native Americans and African Americans to move west.
“Let us make no mistake about the nature of this endeavor. As General Jessup, the leader of the campaign stated it in 1836, ‘This, you may be assured, is a negro, not an Indian war: and if it be not speedily put down, the South will feel the effects of it on their slave population before the end of the next season.’ [And another soldier saw it the same way] “[O]n our part had not been commenced for the attainment of any high or noble purpose.... Our national influence and military power had been put forth to reenslave our fellow men: to transform immortal beings into chattels; and to make them to property of slave holders; to oppose the rights of human nature; and the legitimate fruits of this policy were gathered in a plentiful harvest of crime, bloodshed, and individual suffering.”