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Georgia Takes a Strong Stand

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


"The State of Georgia has taken a strong stand against us, and the United States must either defend us and our rights or leave us to our foe. In the latter case she will violate her promise of protection, and we cannot in future depend upon any guarantee to us, either here or beyond the Mississippi.

"If the United States shall withdraw their solemn pledges of protection, utterly disregard their plighted faith, deprive us of the right of self-government, and wrest from us our land, then, in the deep anguish of our misfortunes, we may justly say there is no place of security for us, no confidence left that the United States will be more just and faithful toward us in the barren prairies of the West than when we occupied the soil inherited from the Great Author of our existence."

As a last resort the Cherokees carried their case before the Supreme Court, and implored that body to restrain the State of Georgia from her unjust interference with their rights.

The reports of the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. the State of Georgia fill a volume by themselves, and are of vital importance to the history of Indian affairs. The majority of the judges decided that an Indian tribe could not be considered as a foreign nation, and therefore could not bring the suit. Judge Thompson and Judge Story dissented from this opinion, and held that the Cherokee tribe did constitute a foreign nation, and that the State of Georgia ought to be enjoined from execution of its unjust laws. The opinion of Chancellor Kent coincided with that of Judges Thompson and Story. Chancellor Kent gave it as his opinion that the cases in which the Supreme Court had jurisdiction would "reach and embrace every controversy that can arise between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia or its officers under the execution of the act of Georgia."

But all this did not help the Cherokees; neither did the fact of the manifest sympathy of the whole court with their wrongs. The technical legal decision had been rendered against them, and this delivered them over to the tender mercies of Georgia: no power in the land could help them. Fierce factions now began to be formed in the nation, one fur and one against the surrender of their lands. Many were ready still to remain and suffer till death rather than give them up; but wiser counsels prevailed, and in the last days of the year 1835 a treaty was concluded with the United States by twenty of the Cherokee chiefs and headmen, who thereby, in behalf of their nation, relinquished all the lands claimed or possessed by them east of the Mississippi River.

The preamble of this treaty is full of pathos: "Whereas, The Cherokees are anxious to make some arrangement with the Government of the United States whereby the difficulties they have experienced by a residence within the settled parts of the United States under the jurisdiction and laws of the State governments may be terminated and adjusted; and with a view to reuniting their people in one body, and seeming' a Permanent home for themselves and their posterity in the country selected by their forefathers without the territorial limits of the State sovereignties, and where they can establish and enjoy a government of their choice, and perpetuate such a state of society as may be most consonant with their views, habits, and condition, and as may tend to their individual comfort and their advancement in civilization."

By this treaty the Cherokees gave up a country "larger than the three States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined, and received there for five millions of dollars and seven millions of acres of land west of the Mississippi." This the United States "guaranteed, and secured to be conveyed in patent," and defined it by exact boundaries; and, "in addition to the seven millions of acres of land thus provided for and bounded," the United States did "further guarantee to the Cherokee nation a perpetual outlet west, and a free and unmolested use of all the country west of the western boundary of said seven millions of acres, as far west as the sovereignty of the United States and their rights of soil extend."

The fifth Article of this treaty is, "The United States hereby covenant and agree that the lands ceded to the Cherokee nation in the foregoing article shall in no future time, without their consent, be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any State or Territory."

In the sixth Article is this promise: "The United States agree to protect the Cherokee nation from domestic strife and foreign enemies, and against intestine wars between the several tribes."

Even after this treaty was made a great part of the nation refused to sanction it, saying that it did not represent their wish; they would never carry it out; hundreds refused to receive any longer either money or supplies from the United States agents, lest they should be considered to have thereby committed themselves to the treaty.

In 1837 General Wool wrote from the Cherokee County that the people "uniformly declare that they never made the treaty in question. So determined are they in their opposition that not one of all those who were present and voted in the council held but a day or two since at this place, however poor or destitute, would receive either rations or clothing from the United States, lest they might compromise themselves in regard to the treaty. These same people as well as those in the mountains of North Carolina, during the summer past preferred living on the roots and sap of trees rather then receive provisions from the United States. Thousands, I have been informed, had no other food for weeks."

For two years, to the very last moment allowed by the treaty-they clung to their lands, and at last were removed only by military force. In May 1838, General Scott was ordered to go with a sufficient military force to compel the removal. His proclamation "to the Cherokee people remaining in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama opens thus:

The President of the United States with a powerful army to cause you, in obedience to the treaty of 1835, to join that part of your people who are already established on the other side of the Mississippi. Unhappily the two years which were allowed for the purpose you have suffered to pass away without following, and making any preparation to follow; and now, or by the time this solemn address shall reach your distant settlements, the emigration must be commenced in haste, but I hope without disorder. I have no power by granting a further delay to correct the error that you have committed. The full moon of May is already on the wane, and before another shall have passed away every Cherokee man, woman and child in those States must be in motion to join their brothern in the West.

The tone if this proclamation, at once firm and kindly, could not fail to profoundly impress the unfortunate people to whom it was addressed. "My troops," said the humane and sympathizing general, "already occupy many positions in the country that you are to abandon, and thousands and thousands are approaching from every quarter, to render resistance and escape alike hopeless. All those troops, regular and militia, are your friends. Receive them 'and confide in them as such; obey them when they tell you that you can remain no longer in this country. Soldiers are as kind-hearted as brave, and the desire of every one of us is to execute our painful duty in mercy.

"Chiefs, headmen, and warriors, will you then, by resistance, compel us to resort to arms? God forbid. Or will you by flight seek to hide yourselves in mountains and forests, and thus oblige us to hunt you down? Remember that in pursuit it may be impossible to avoid conflicts. The blood of the white man or the blood of the red man may be spilt; and if spilt, however accidentally, it may be impossible for the discreet and humane among you or among us to prevent a general war and carnage. Think of this, my Cherokee brethren 1 I am an old warrior, and have been present at many a scene of slaughter; but spare me, I beseech you, the horror of witnessing the destruction of the Cherokees. Do not even wait for the close approach of the troops, but make such preparations for emigration as you can, and hasten to this place, to Ross's Landing, or to Guinter's Landing, where you will be received in kindness by officers selected for the purpose. This is the address of a warrior to warriors. May its entreaties be kindly received, and may the God of both prosper the Americans and Cherokees, and preserve them long in peace and friendship with each other."

The reply of the council of the Cherokee nation to this proclamation is worthy to be put on record. They make no further protest against going; they simply ask the privilege of undertaking the whole charge of the removal themselves. They say: "The present condition of the Cherokee people is such that all dispute as to the time of emigration is set at rest. Being already severed from their homes and their property, their persons being under the absolute control of the commanding general, and being altogether dependent on the benevolence and humanity of that high officer for the suspension of their transportation to the West at a season and under circumstances in which sickness and death were to be apprehended to an alarming extent, all inducements to prolong their stay in this country are taken away. And however strong their attachment to the homes of their fathers may be, their interests and their wishes are now to depart as early as may be consistent with their safety."

The council therefore submitted to General Scott several propositions: 1st. "That the Cherokee nation will undertake the whole business of removing their people to the west of the river Mississippi." Their estimates of cost, and arrangement as to time, intervals, etc., were wise and reasonable. To their estimate of $65,880 as the cost for every thousand persons transported General Scott objected, thinking it high. He said that he was "confident" that it would be found that out of every thousand there would be "at least five hundred strong men, women, boys, and girls not only capable of marching twelve or fifteen miles a day, but to whom the exercise would be beneficial; and another hundred able to go on foot half that distance daily." He also objected to the estimate of the ration at sixteen cents as too high.

The council replied that they believed the estimate reasonable, "having the comfortable removal of our people solely in view, and endeavoring to be governed, as far as that object will allow, by the rates of expenditure fixed by the officers of the Government. After the necessary bedding, cooking-utensils, and other indispensable articles of twenty persons, say, four or five families are placed in a wagon, with subsistence for at least two days, the weight already will be enough to exclude, in our opinion, more than a very few persons being hauled. The great distance to be travelled, liability to sickness on the way of grown persons, and the desire of performing the trip in as short a time as possible, induce us still to think our estimate of that item not extravagant. Whatever may be necessary in the emigration of our people to their comfort on the way, and as conducive to their health, we desire to be afforded them; at the same time it is our anxious wish, in the management of this business, to be free at all times from the imputation of extravagance." They added that the item of soap had been forgotten in their first estimate, and must now be included, at the rate of three pounds to every hundred pounds of rations.

General Scott replied, "As the Cherokee people are exclusively interested in the cost as well as the comfort of the removal," he did not feel himself at liberty to withhold his sanction from these estimates. In the report of the Indian Commissioner, also, it is stated that "the cost of removal, according to the Indian estimate, is high;" but the commissioner adds, "as their own fund pays it, and it was insisted on by their own confidential agents, it was thought it could not be rejected."

Noble liberality! This nation of eighteen thousand industrious, self-supporting people, compelled at the point of the bayonet to leave their country and seek new homes in a wilderness, are to be permitted, as a favor, to spend on their journey to this wilderness as much of their own money as they think necessary, and have all the soap they want.

The record which the United States Government has left in official papers of its self congratulations in the matter of this Cherokee removal has an element in it of the ludicrous, spite of the tragedy and shame.

Says the Secretary of War: "The generous and enlightened policy evinced in the measures adopted by Congress toward that people during the last session was ably and judiciously carried into effect by the general appointed to conduct their removal. The reluctance of the Indians to relinquish the land of their birth in the East, and remove to their new homes in the West, was entirely overcome by the judicious conduct of that officer, and they departed with alacrity under the guidance of their own chiefs. The arrangements for this purpose made by General Scott, in compliance with his previous instructions, although somewhat costly to the Indians themselves, met the entire approbation of the Department, as it was deemed of the last importance that the Cherokees should remove to the West voluntarily, and that upon their arrival at the place of their ultimate destination they should recur to the manner in which they had been treated with kind and grateful feelings. Humanity no less than good policy dictated this course toward these children of the forest; and in carrying out in this instance with an unwavering hand the measures resolved upon by the Government, in the hope of preserving the Indians and of maintaining the peace and tranquility of the whites, it will always be gratifying to reflect that this has been effected not only without violence, but with every proper regard for the feelings and interests of that people."

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs says, in his report: "The case of the Cherokees 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."

A further appropriation had been asked by the Cherokee Chiefs to meet the expense of their removal (they not thinking $5,000,000 a very munificent payment for a country as large as all Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut together), and Congress had passed a law giving them $1147.67 more, and the commissioner says of this: "When it is considered that by the treaty of December, 1835, the sum of $5,000,000 was stipulated to be paid them as the full value of their lands, after that amount was declared by the Senate of the United States to be an ample consideration for them, the spirit of this whole proceeding cannot be too much admired. By some the measure may be regarded as just; by others generous: it perhaps partook of both attributes. If it went farther than naked justice could have demanded, it did not stop short of what liberality approved. If our acts have been generous, they have not been less wise and politic. A large mass of men have been conciliated; the hazard of an effusion of human blood has been put by; good feeling has been preserved, and we have quietly and gently transported eighteen thousand friends to the west bank of the Mississippi."

To dwell on the picture of this removal is needless. The fact by itself is more eloquent than pages of detail and description could make it. No imagination so dull, no heart so hard as not to see and to feel, at the bare mention of such an emigration, what horrors and what anguish it must have involved. "Eighteen thousand friends!" Only a great magnanimity of nature, strengthened by true Christian principle, could have prevented them from being changed into eighteen thousand bitter enemies.

For some years after this removal fierce dissensions rent the Cherokee nation. The party who held that the treaty of 1835 had been unfair, and that the nation still had an unextinguished right to its old country at the East, felt, as was natural, a bitter hatred toward the party which, they claimed, had wrongfully signed away the nation's lands. Several of the signers of the treaty, influential men of the nation, were murdered. Party-spirit ran to such a height that the United States Government was compelled to interfere; and in 1846, after long negotiations and dissensions, a new treaty was made, by the terms and concessions of which the anti-treaty party were appeased, a general amnesty provided for, and comparative harmony restored to the nation.

The progress of this people in the ten years following this removal is almost past belief. In 1851 they had twenty-two primary schools, and had just built two large houses for a male and female seminary, in which the higher branches of education were to be taught. They had a temperance society with three thousand members, and an auxiliary society in each of the eight districts into which the country was divided. They had a Bible Society and twelve churches; a weekly newspaper, partly in English, partly in Cherokee; eight district courts, two circuit courts, and a supreme court. Legislative business was transacted as before by the national council and committee, elected for four years. Nearly one thousand boys and girls were in the public schools.

In 1860 the agitation on the subject of slavery began to be felt, a strong antislavery party being organized in the nation. There were stormy scenes also in that part of the country nearest the Kansas line. For several years white settlers had persisted in taking up farms there, and the Cherokees had in vain implored the Government to drive them away. The officer at last sent to enforce the Cherokees' rights and dislodge the squatters was obliged to burn their cabins over their heads before they would stir, so persuaded were they of the superior right of the white man over the Indian. "The only reason the settlers gave for not heeding the notices was that they had been often notified before to quit the reservation; and, no steps having been taken to enforce obedience, they supposed they would be allowed to remain with like security in this instance."

"It is surprising," says the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "to see the growing disposition on the part of our citizens to wholly disregard our treaty obligations with Indian tribes within our borders; and it is to be hoped that in future their rights will be held more sacred, or that the Government will in every instance promptly see that they are observed and respected."

In the fist year of the Civil War a large number of the Cherokees took up arms on the rebel side. That this was not from any love or liking for the Southern cause, it would seem, must be evident to any one who believed that they were possessed of memories. The opportunity of fighting against Georgians could not but have been welcome to the soul of a Cherokee, even if he bought it at the price of fighting on the side of the government which had been so perfidious to his nation. Their defection was no doubt largely due to terror. The forts in their vicinity were surrendered to the rebels; all United States troops were withdrawn from that part of the country. They had no prospect of protection from the Government, and, as if to leave them without one incentive to loyalty, the Government suspended the payment of their annuities.

The Confederate Government stepped in, artfully promising to pay what the Northern Government refused. It would have taken a rare loyalty, indeed, to have stood unmoved in such circumstances as these; yet thousands of the Indians in Indian Territory did remain loyal, and fled for their lives to avoid being pressed into the rebel service; almost half of the Creek nation, many Seminole, Chickasaw, Quapaw, Cherokee, and half a dozen others, over six thousand in all fled to Kansas, where their sufferings in the winter of 1862 were heart-rending.

That the Cherokees did not lightly abandon their allegiance is on record in the official history of the Department of the Interior. The Report of the Indian Bureau for 1863 says: "The Cherokees, prior to the Rebellion, were the most numerous, intelligent, wealthy, and influential tribe of this superintendency (the southern). For many months they steadily resisted the efforts made by the rebels to induce them to abandon their allegiance to the Federal Government; but being wholly unprotected, and without the means of resistance, they were finally compelled to enter into treaty stipulations with the rebel authorities. This connection was, however, of short duration, for upon the first appearance of United States forces in their country an entire regiment of Indian troops, raised ostensibly for service in the rebel army, deserted and came over to us, and have ever since been under our command, and upon all occasions have proved themselves faithful and efficient soldiers." In the course of the next year, however, many more joined the rebels: it was estimated that between six and seven thousand of the wealthier portion of the nation cooperated in one way or another with the rebels. The result was that at the end of the war the Cherokee country was ruined.

"In the Cherokee country," says the Report of the Indian Bureau for 1865, "where the contending armies have moved to and fro; where their foraging parties have gone at will, sparing neither friend nor foe; where the disloyal Cherokees in the service of the rebel government were determined that no trace of the homesteads of their loyal brethren should remain for their return; and where the swindling cattle-thieves have made their ill-gotten gains for two years past, the scene is one of utter desolation."

The party feeling between the loyal and disloyal Cherokees ran as high as it did between the loyal and disloyal whites, and it looked for a time as if it would be as impossible to make the two opposing parties in the Cherokee nation agree to live peaceably side by side with each other, as it would to make discharged soldiers from Georgia and from Maine settle down in one village together. But after long and troublesome negotiations a treaty was concluded in 1866, by which all the necessary points seemed to be established of a general amnesty and peace.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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