Baltimore Sun – August 1839
By Roman Ramsey
John Ross was elected chief of the Cherokee Nation today in Oklahoma, their new homeland (6). The events that lead up to this election in the west were as follows. As you may remember, the removal of the Indians began nine years ago, with the Indian Removal Act, signed by president Andrew Jackson. The act promised land in the west to the Indians, protected forever by the government from settlers. Though the act applied to all the Indians in the east, the Five Civilized Tribes were affected the most strongly. The relocation was technically voluntary, but often enforced through military response. When the Choctaw Indians agreed to their removal in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in September of 1830, five thousand were successfully relocated, seven thousand hid from the government, and four thousand died from cholera and malnutrition, a real tragedy for all those involved. In 1832, the Creek tribe signed a treaty that provided government protection over individual family land plots, but squatters and settlers forced them out and pressured the natives into the illegal sale to multiple bidders. The military finally intervened in 1836 and drove the Indians to the west, where thousands died from exposure and starvation. The Chickasaw nation signed a removal treaty in 1832 as well, agreeing to find land in the designated Indian Territory in the five coming years, but the land was occupied by squatters and sold within the supposedly protected period of time (3).
The Cherokee nation was resistant to the relocation being forced on them by the United States government. By 1828, the tribe had developed an alphabet, a written language, and a bicameral legislature with a constitution in their villages in the South Appalachians (FOF). They call themselves Ani’-Yun’ wiya, the Principal People. Their culturehas developed to become more European in nature, relying on agriculture, fishing, and hunting. However, this community was not granted equal protection from the law; whites could seize their land at any time. In the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. the State of Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall declared the tribe a “domestic dependent nation” (5) and as a territory within the state, the community was separate and therefore not subject to the state government’s rulings, though President Jackson did not enforce this resolution.
The government and a few members of the Cherokee tribe constructed the Treaty of New Echota, although the treaty was only favored by 500 of the 17,000 individuals of the nation. At the signing of the treaty, some Indians emigrated but the majority refused until May 23, 1838, the deadline for voluntary removal. General Winfield Scott implemented the treaty by moving the Indians to temporary housing near the villages: 13 stockades in Georgia, five in North Carolina, eight in Tennessee, and five in Alabama. The Indians were then transferred to 11 different internment camps in Tennessee and Alabama (5), with no time to prepare or gather personal possessions. A military report from July 1838 said, “the seven camps in and around Charleston, Tennessee, contained more than 4,800 Cherokees: 700 at the agency post, 600 at Rattlesnake Spring, 870 at the first encampment on Mouse Creek, 1,600 at the second encampment on Mouse Creek, 900 at Bedwell Springs, 1,300 on Chestooee, 700 on the ridge east of the agency, and 600 on the Upper Chatate. Some 2,000 Cherokees were camped at Gunstocker Spring 13 miles from Calhoun, Tennessee” (5). Five thousand Cherokees were taken immediately to Indian Territory and the rest were placed under military guard in the camps through the summer of 1838, where three thousand died of food shortages and disease. In the trips to come in 1838 and 1839, a thousand more died (3), totaling about one fifth of the population (6). An eastern band of Cherokees cited a treaty from 1819 that granted them American citizenship and the land they inhabited off the reservation. The state of North Carolina recognized their rights during the forced removal and the one thousand Cherokees who escaped the roundups became part of the eastern tribe (5, 6).
The Cherokees traveled to their new territory by boat and on foot (6). The population was divided into 16 detachments of one thousand individuals. Three of these detachments, about 2800 Indians, traveled on steamboats and barges on the water to their new territory. The first group left on June 6th from Ross’s Landing on the Tennessee River and arrived near Fort Coffee on June 19th, 1838. The next two detachments suffered from disease and drought in the camps and did not arrive until later in the summer of 1838. The remaining Cherokees walked on roads in detachments ranging in size from 700 to 1,600. A route to the north was the more popular than the root to the south or the variations of the two. The travel happened in the winter, so ice, road conditions, and distress caused deaths every day (5). The journey has become known the Cherokees as Nunna daul Tsuny or the Trail of Tears (3).
The Cherokee population has been developing in their new homeland and their government has been reestablished. John Ross, the newly elected principal chief, was an essential emissary to much of the journey into the new territory and therefore was chosen for the position of leadership in their capital, Tahlequah (4, 5).
1) Brinkley, Alan. The unfinished nation: a concise history of the American people.. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.
2) “Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherokee_Nation_v._Georgia>.
3) Denial, Catherine J. “Trail of Tears.” In Rohrbough, Malcolm J., and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of American History: Expansion and Reform, 1813 to 1855, Revised Edition (Volume IV). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHIV232&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 18, 2013).
4) “John Ross.” Cherokee Nation. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2013. <http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/Chiefs/JohnRoss.aspx>.
5) “The Story | Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.” The Story | Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Trail of Tears Association, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nationaltota.org/the-story/>.
6) “Trail of Tears.” National Parks Service. National Parks Service, 16 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/trte/index.htm>.