Dissolving Cherokee Government

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, that great American visionary Thomas Jefferson proposed that Indian nations be moved to territories west of the Mississippi River so that they would not hinder American economic development. Government policies during the first half of the nineteenth century forced the removal of many Indian nations and thousand of Indian people to new “reservations” in the west. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Manifest Destiny and American greed caught up with the removed Indian nations. The governmental mantra became assimilation and the idea that reservation lands and resources should be developed by non-Indians.

In 1893, Congress established the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes (commonly known as the Dawes Commission) to persuade the leadership of the Indian nations in Oklahoma to give up title to their land so that it could be allocated to individuals. The primary governmental concern at this time was for Indians to become assimilated into the dominant culture. In addition, dissolution of tribal governments would clear the way for what had been Indian Territory to become a part of Oklahoma and for Oklahoma to become a state. Powerful non-Indian groups pushed for this as an opportunity to make a profit. With regard to the Cherokee, an Indian nation which had been removed from their aboriginal homelands and had created an American-style democratic government in the west, this meant that the United States sought to dissolve the Cherokee government.

In 1894, the Cherokee told the Dawes Commission that something as momentous as allotment must be discussed by the people at length. Furthermore, they suggested that the United States first settle all outstanding claims from previous treaties. Historian Andrew Denson, in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, reports:

“This reluctance to embrace allotment left the American commissioners mystified and angry. Advocates of the policy at this time were convinced that common landholding and tribal government were doomed.”

There were at this time 41,824 Cherokees in the west and of these 8,703 (21%) were classified as full-bloods.

In 1895, Cherokee leader Bird Harris proposed that the Cherokee move to Mexico in order to preserve their culture and heritage. A large meeting was held at which Harris proposed a large reservation—100 miles by 300 miles—in Mexico. As an alternative to Mexico, he suggested Colombia. E.C. Boudinot traveled to Washington, D.C. to discuss the possibility of Cherokee emigration with the foreign ministers of Mexico and Venezuela.

In 1896, the Dawes Commission was empowered by Congress to determine tribal citizenship. Ken Carter, in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, writes:

“The loss of control over citizenship was a serious blow to the power of the tribal governments that made it almost impossible to defend themselves against the government’s determined efforts to abolish them.”

The government’s rationale for giving the Dawes Commission power to determine citizenship was based on allegations that the tribal rolls were loosely kept. With regard to the Cherokee roll, Kent Carter, in another article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, reports:

“Throughout its existence, the Dawes Commission held firmly to the philosophy that it did not matter if a person had Cherokee blood because if he or she did not meet all the requirements of the various laws passed by Congress and the numerous opinions issued by government attorneys, they were not eligible for enrollment. It is a philosophy that drove contemporary lawyers to distraction and drives present day researchers to tears.”

The Curtis Act in 1898 extended the provisions of the Dawes Act over Indian Territory. This act allowed the federal government to break up the Indian reservations into individual allotments. At this time there were almost no Indians in the Territory who favored allotment. Theda Perdue and Michael Green, in their book The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Southeast, write:

“Frustrated at the unwillingness of the tribes to negotiate allotment agreements, Congress simply mandated allotment and the termination of tribal governments.”

The Act stipulates that tribal governments would continue to exist only to issue allotment deeds to tribal members and to terminate any other tribal business.

The Cherokee objected to the bill and sent a delegation to Washington to testify but they were not allowed access to the rooms where committees were debating the bill. Corporate representatives, on the other hand, had free access to the committees. Business historian H. Craig Miner, in his book The Corporation and the Indian: Tribal Sovereignty and Industrial Civilization in Indian Territory, 1865-1907, describes the vote:

“There was no quorum; a roll call would have revealed that there were only a dozen men in the Senate.”

While the Cherokee opposed the Curtis Act, in the 1899 case of Stephens versus Cherokee Nation, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Curtis Act.

In 1900, a delegation of Cherokee traveled to Mexico with the intent of finding out if a reservation could be established for them in the Mexican states of Sonora or Sinaloa.

The Board of Indian Commissioners in 1901 declared that the purpose of the Indian Office (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was “to make all Indians self-supporting, self-respecting, and useful citizens of the United States.”

In 1901, all members of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma were granted citizenship by an act of Congress. This meant that every Indian adult male was a registered voter. This was an attempt to increase the number of voters in Oklahoma territory so that it could gain statehood.

In 1902, the Dawes Commission attempted to force enrollment on the Cherokee. Many of the full bloods, members of the Kootoowah Society, refused to submit to the process. In her book The Cherokees, Grace Steele Woodward reports:

“Hiding from the agents in inaccessible and out-of-the-way places known only to Keetoowahs, they eluded capture as long as possible. And many of these full bloods when captured purportedly preferred imprisonment to enrollment.”

In 1903, the Five Civilized Tribes Executive Committee passed a resolution asking each tribal council to petition Congress for statehood for Indian Territory.

In 1903, the Cherokee elected William C. Rogers as principal chief. The Indian Chieftain reported:

“So far as the chief’s election is concerned, the last political battle that the Cherokee will ever engage in has been fought out.”

The article concludes:

“As the nominal head of a defunct nation the chief will have little authority.”

In 1905, Cherokee chief William C. Rogers refused to call for tribal elections as the U.S. Congress had declared that the Cherokee government would not continue past 1906. Nevertheless, the elections were held and many opponents to Rogers were elected. Rogers notified the tribal council that he did not consider it to be legally elected. While Rogers was in Washington, D.C, the tribal council voted to impeach him and named Frank Boudinot as principal chief. However, the secretary of the Interior simply re-appointed Rogers to the position.

In 1905, the Cherokee Keetoowah Society, composed primarily of full-bloods, became incorporated. However, the Keetoowah were soon factionalized, and Redbird Smith and his followers who were opposed to allotment formed the Nighthawk Keetoowahs.

In 1905, representatives from the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw nations held a convention at which they drew up a constitution for the state of Sequoyah, which would be separate and distinct from Oklahoma Territory which was seeking statehood. The call for the convention was issued by W.C. Rogers, the Cherokee Principal Chief, and by Green McCurtain, the Choctaw chief. The issue of whether Oklahoma should be one state or two was summed up by the Muskogee Phoenix:

“There are in Indian Territory some few persons who desire two states made of the two territories and who honestly believe this can be done. There are some persons who desire conditions to remain as they now are and who know that to fight for two states is to fight for no statehood legislation, and this makes them especially active.”

In her book And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes, Historian Angie Debo reports:

“The constitutional convention was characterized even by a hostile newspaper as the most representative body of Indians ever assembled in the United States.”

The constitution for the state of Sequoyah was submitted to the voters: the turnout was light, but the vote was strongly in favor of it. The measure was presented to Congress which simply ignored it. According to Angie Debo:

“There was never the slightest chance that Congress would consent to the admission of two Western, radical, and probably Democratic, states in the place on the map that could be occupied by one.”

Congress, in 1906, passed an Act to Provide for the Final Disposition of the Affairs of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma. The Department of the Interior took over the Indian schools, school funds, and tribal government buildings and furniture. The law provided that the President may appoint a principal chief for any of the tribes. If a chief failed to sign a document presented to him by U.S. authorities, he was either to be replaced or the document could be simply approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

Congress passed the Oklahoma Enabling Act in 1906 as one step in the creation of the state of Oklahoma. The Act combined Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. With regard to Indians, the Act imposed a condition on the state constitution: Oklahoma cannot limit federal authority over Indians within its boundaries.

In 1906, the Cherokee Nighthawk Keetoowah Society changed Redbird Smith’s title from Chairman to Chief as a political statement which pointed out that the Cherokee now have no principal chief.

The state of Oklahoma was created in 1907. With statehood, tribal governments in the area were dissolved. Indians constituted only 5% of the population of the new state.

The Cherokee Trail of Tears

By the first part of the nineteenth century, many non-Indians in the United States, particularly in the southern states, felt strongly that there should be no Indians in the United States. They felt that all Indians should be forced to move from their ancestral homelands to new “reservations” located west of the Mississippi River. In general, the concept of removal stemmed from two concerns of the Southern non-Indians: economics and race. Southerners lusted for the farm lands held by Indians and Indians were felt to be racially inferior.

The primary argument in favor of Indian removal claimed that European Christian farmers could make more efficient use of the land than the Indian heathen hunters. This argument conveniently ignored the fact that Indians were efficient farmers and had been farming their land for many centuries. Historian David La Vere, in his book Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory, writes:  “It mattered little that the Southeastern Indians had long been successful agriculturalists; in the government’s eyes they were still ‘savages’ because they did not farm the ‘correct’ way, as women still controlled the fields and farming.”

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The Act passed 28 to 19 in the Senate and 102 to 97 in the House. In making the case for Indian removal, Lewis Cass, the Secretary of War, wrote in the North American Review:  “A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community.”

In 1838, General Winfield Scott began preparation for the removal of the Cherokee. He explained to the Cherokee that there would be no escape: his troops were to gather up all Cherokee. If they attempted to hide in the forests or mountains, he told them that the troops would track them down. He drew up plans to gather the Cherokee in a few locations prior to sending them west. Brian Hicks, in his book Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears, writes:  “Soldiers were told to swarm Cherokee houses without warning, giving the Indians no time to put up a fight or even pack their belongings. Families would be taken at once and brought into one of several camps. The men must be polite and not use profanity.”

The United States Army rounded up the Cherokee who were living in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama. Mounted soldiers, using their bayonets as prods, herded the Cherokee like cattle. One of the soldier-interpreters for the Army wrote:  “I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes and driven at bayonet point into stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and headed for the West.”

If there were no adults home when the soldiers came to the Cherokee farms, then the children were taken in the hopes that their parents would follow. The vacant farms were then occupied by non-Indians who took over the Cherokee houses, used Cherokee furniture, utensils, and tools, and harvested the crops which the Cherokee had planted and tended. They also robbed Cherokee graves, stealing the silver pendants and other valuables which had been buried with the dead. One non-Indian observer wrote:  “The captors sometimes drove the people with whooping and hallowing, like cattle through rivers, allowing them no time even to take off their shoes and stockings.”

There were 3,000 regular soldiers and 4,000 citizen soldiers who assisted in the expulsion of the Cherokees. These soldiers often raped, robbed, and murdered the Cherokee. Some of the soldiers who were ordered to carry out the forced removal refused to do so. The Tennessee volunteers went home, saying that they would not dishonor Tennessee arms in this way. Many civilians who witnessed the treatment of the Cherokee signed petitions of protest.

The Cherokee were herded into animal corrals with no sanitary facilities. The stockades were so overcrowded that it was difficult to find room to sit down. They were not provided with adequate food and water. Brian Hicks writes:  “These stockades were like fortresses, two hundred feet wide and five hundred feet long with walls between eight and sixteen feet high. There was a single gate. Inside each of these camps a few small cabins ringed a great field.”

The Cherokee were then force-marched some 1,500 miles to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River (now the state of Oklahoma.) During this march, 8,000 Cherokee died. The Cherokee call this episode in their long history Nunna daul Isunyi, which means “trail where we cried”. Others call it the Trail of Tears and often refer to it as the most disgraceful event in American history and as one more piece of evidence about the genocide which was attempted against American Indians.

The Cherokee were not at war with the United States. At this time, there was no American who could remember any unprovoked violence by the Cherokee. The Cherokee were known to be good neighbors and had adopted much of the European manner of living, including Christianity.

In Georgia, however, the press reported on the Cherokee removal with these words:  “Georgia is, at length, rid of her red population, and this beautiful country will now be prosperous and happy.”

The Cherokee were not the first tribe that was moved in this fashion, nor were they the last. The Trail of Tears was not an event which suddenly happened: rather it was the culmination of more than 30 years of actions and attitudes. It was an expression of states’ rights; it was an expression of greed for land; it was a denial of Native American tribal sovereignty; and it was an expression of the government’s inability to understand Indian people. One of the important points of conflict was the government’s concern for individually owned land and the Indian view that land was not to be owned by the individual, but by the tribe.

We talk about the Trail of Tears and similar events so that others may not repeat the errors of the past. It is important that we remember and that we talk about this today. In many ways the political climate of the United States today is similar to that which led up to the Trail of Tears. Let us recall these things now so that we can say: “Never again!” Never again should the United States act in such a callous manner toward those who gave this country so much of its heritage.

Dragging Canoe, Cherokee Leader

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Cherokee were not a single political nation, but a linguistic and cultural grouping of about 50 villages. Dragging Canoe was born about 1730 somewhere in Tennessee. His father was Attakullakulla, a peace chief.

Dragging Canoe first appears in the written European histories in 1775 when the Transylvania Company met with the Cherokees in a treaty council at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River. The Transylvania Company, represented by Richard Henderson and Daniel Boone, wanted to acquire most of what is now Kentucky and middle Tennessee. The proposed treaty called for the Cherokee to give up a great deal of land in exchange for guns, ammunition, beads, trinkets, and blankets. The value of the goods was about $50,000.

Attakullakulla refused to sign and warned the colonists that a dark cloud now hung over the land. Other chiefs opposing the land sale were Dragging Canoe, Tuckasee, Terrapin, and Tanase Warrior. Dragging Canoe agreed to part of the sale but felt that the Cherokee should not part with the Cumberland, which he called the “bloody ground,” indicating that this was traditional hunting territory. Because of his opposition to the sale, Dragging Canoe left the conference. Withdrawing from a council was a traditional way of showing disagreement.

Boone plied the chiefs, including Oconostota and Attakullakulla, with whiskey. The chiefs were so drunk that the interpreter had to guide the hands of Oconostota and Raven Warrior as they signed the treaty known as the Sycamore Shoals Treaty. With this treaty, the Cherokee lost their traditional Kentucky hunting grounds. Journalist Stanley Hoig, in his book The Cherokees and Their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire, writes:  “The Transylvania purchase marked not only the beginning of Cherokee resistance to the loss of their land but also the decline of tribal influence for the old chiefs.”

The American Revolution began in 1776 and both the American rebels and the British sought Indian allies in this war. Emissaries from the Iroquois, Shawnee, Delaware, and Ottawa travelled to the Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River to meet with the Cherokee and to persuade them to form an alliance against the American revolutionaries. Shawnee leader Cornstalk told them:  “It is better for the red men to die like warriors than to diminish away by inches. Now is the time to begin. If we fight like men, we may hope to enlarge our bounds.”

The Shawnee produced a wampum War Belt which was about nine feet long. Dragging Canoe accepted the belt and the warriors joined him in singing a war song.  In spite of the persuasive words of the northern Indians, however, the Cherokee remained divided on this issue. The older Cherokee, such as Attakullakulla and Oconostota, objected to the war; but some of the younger warriors, such as Dragging Canoe, Doublehead, Young Tassel, and Bloody Fellow, sided with Cornstalk.

Dragging Canoe led a war into Kentucky and returned with four scalps. He then began making plans to attack the colonists. Nancy Ward, wanting to protect the colonists who had befriended the Cherokee, secretly warned some of the traders. As a result the colonial settlements began building forts. Two hundred warriors under the leadership of Dragging Canoe and Abram set out to attack the Kentucky settlements. The colonists repulsed the first attack, killing 13 Cherokee and wounding Dragging Canoe. As the Cherokee withdrew, they burned a number of isolated cabins in the area and took 18 scalps.

The American response to the Cherokee attacks called for them to be driven from the country. Thomas Jefferson declared:  “I hope the Cherokees will now be driven beyond the Mississipi [sic]”

Historian Colin Calloway, in his book The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities, reports:  “The Cherokees had forfeited their rights to their land: private seizures of Indian lands, illegal before the war, now became a patriotic act.”

American forces from North Carolina and Virginia, with the aid of Catawba scouts, invaded Cherokee country. Thirty-six towns, along with their cornfields and livestock, were destroyed. South Carolina offered a bounty of 50 pounds for each Cherokee scalp and 100 pounds for each Cherokee prisoner. In Georgia, American forces (the Georgia Militia) attacked Cherokee towns seeking the complete destruction of the Cherokee nation. They burned homes, destroyed crops, and indiscriminately killed men, women, and children.

While the Cherokee national council urged neutrality in the war between the colonies and England, eleven Cherokee towns withdrew from the council and allied themselves with the British.

In 1777, representatives from the State of Virginia negotiated a peace treaty with the Cherokee in which the Cherokee admitted defeat, ceded their lands east of the Unicoi Mountains, and agreed to give up prisoners, including black slaves. Dragging Canoe, however, refused to honor the treaty and withdrew to the Chickamauga Creek area. Dragging Canoe’s people were thus known as the Chickamauga.

 In 1778, Cherokee warriors from the Chickamauga towns under the leadership of Dragging Canoe joined British forces to fight against the American rebels in Georgia and South Carolina. The Americans, taking advantage of the absence of the Cherokee warriors, attacked the Chickamauga towns. Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History, reports:  “The brave troops totally destroyed eleven towns without much effort, for Dragging Canoe and all the fighting men were away from home.”  Most of the women and children escaped to the woods and only four Cherokee were killed. The Americans captured 20,000 bushels of corn as well as ammunition.

In 1779, the Chickamauga under the leadership of Dragging Canoe established five new towns near Lookout Mountain in Tennessee: Nickajack, Running Water, Lookout Town, Long Island, and Crowtown. The towns were protected and provided Dragging Canoe and his warriors a base from which they could attack the American frontier settlements. In addition to Dragging Canoe, the other Cherokee leaders at this time include Doublehead, Pumpkin Boy, Bench (also known as Bob Benge), Will Webber, Bloody Fellow, the Bowl, Middlestriker, John Watts, Little Owl, and the Badger.

In 1780, Dragging Canoe led his Cherokee warriors in raids against a number of American frontier towns. The Americans retaliated by burning the Cherokee village of Chota in Tennessee. In their attacks against the Overhill Cherokee, the Americans claimed to have destroyed 50,000 bushels of corn and 1,000 houses. While Dragging Canoe’s Chickamauga were allied with the British, the Overhill Cherokee were actually American allies. The Americans, it would seem, were unable to determine which Cherokee towns were allied and which were enemies.

In 1782, the newly formed United States and the British obtained a provisional peace, ending the Revolutionary War. The British army returned home to England. However, Dragging Canoe continued his fight against the Americans even though the British had left. Cherokee historian Robert Conley writes:  “He continued to talk with representatives of other Indian tribes with the goal of forming a confederation of all tribes to hold back further encroachment of Americans onto Indian land.”  Dragging Canoe met with the Choctaw, Creek, Shawnee, Chickasaw, and other tribes.

In 1788, Dragging Canoe’s Cherokee warriors attacked American troops at the Hiwassee River in Tennessee and obliged them to retreat. The following year, American forces defeated the Cherokee under the leadership of Dragging Canoe at the battle of Flint Creek, Alabama.

In 1791, the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Holston which was intended to end hostilities between the United States and the Cherokee. The treaty gave the United States the exclusive right to trade with the Cherokee and prohibited the Cherokee from entering into diplomatic relations with other foreign powers, individual, or state. Signing the treaty for the Cherokee were Dragging Canoe, Bloody Fellow, Doublehead, Lying Fawn, John Watts, and Little Turkey.

The treaty called for the United States to advance civilization among the Cherokees by giving them farm tools and technical advice. The United States promised that the land remaining to the Cherokee would be theirs forever. In addressing Cherokee concerns over settlers, Article VIII gave the Cherokee the power to punish United States citizens who settled on Cherokee lands. The treaty states:  “If any person, not an Indian, shall settle on any of the Cherokees’ lands, he shall forfeit the protection of the United States, and the Cherokees may punish him.”

 In 1792, Cherokee leader Dragging Canoe died. John Watts assumed his leadership position.

Cherokee Government and the English

The primary unit of government among the Cherokee was the town. Each town—perhaps 50 at the time of first European contact—was autonomous. The government of each town was not tied to the government of other towns. These Cherokee towns were loosely affiliated into three groups: (1) the Lower Towns on the headwaters of the Savannah River (including the towns of Keowee and Estatoe), (2) the Middle Towns on the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River (including Etchoe, Stecoe), and (3) the Upper Towns (Overhill and Valley) on the Lower Little Tennessee River and the headwater of the Hiwassee River (including Settico and Tellico).

Each Cherokee village had two governments: a white government which governed when the village was at peace, and a red government which governed during times of war. The white government included the chief who was given the title Beloved Man; the chief’s advisor; counselors from each clan; a council of elders; a speaker; messengers; and ceremonial officers. The red government included the Great War Chief; the Great War Chief’s Second; seven war counselors; a War Woman; the Chief War Speaker; messengers; ceremonial officers; and scouts. The fate of captives and war prisoners was decided by the War Woman.

Among the Cherokee, all were able to participate in the councils. Cherokee society tended to be egalitarian rather than hierarchical. The chiefs had an advisory role and their power lay in their ability to persuade through oratory. According to historian John Finger in his book The Eastern Band of Cherokees 1819-1900:  “There were no leaders in the European sense, no king or prince who wielded coercive authority over others.”

After the chiefs spoke, each person had an opportunity to speak. Issues were discussed until consensus was reached. The council did not pass laws nor regulate conduct, but sought to resolve differences and difficulties.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, Cherokee government had to face the challenges of co-existing with intruding English colonists. According to the English worldview, there was only one legitimate form of government: a monarchy in which power was passed down through the paternal line from father to son. The English had a great deal of difficulty in trying to understand the matrilineal system of the Cherokees and other American Indian nations in which each person belonged to the mother’s clan.

The English viewed leadership as coercive—that is, the leader had the right to tell others what to do. The idea of consensus, the basis of Cherokee government, was an alien concept to them. In their dealings with the Cherokee and other Indian nations, the English preferred to impose their own concepts of an authoritative monarchy on Indian nations.

Another point of conflict between the English view of government and the Cherokees was over the role of women. While English women had few rights, Cherokee women were full participants in Cherokee government. Women were important in Cherokee government because of their leadership within the matrilineal clan system. In the war council, women were present and were consulted with regard to strategy. Grace Steele Woodward, in her book The Cherokees, reports:  “Custom dictated that an assemblage of war women or Pretty Women be present at every war council. And since the war women had themselves won previous honors in wars and were the mothers of warriors, they played an important role in Cherokee war councils.”

Initially, the English sought to establish a trading relationship with the Cherokees. In 1673, Virginia trader Abraham Wood sent James Needham and Gabriel Arthur out from Fort Henry to establish trade with the Cherokee at their capital of Chota. The English colony was in need of Cherokee furs, hides, beeswax, and bears’ oil for export to England.

In 1684, the formal government-to-government relationship between the Cherokees and the English was established with a formal treaty between the English and the Cherokee towns of Toxawa and Keowa.

At a meeting with the leaders from 37 Cherokee towns in 1721, the British governor, being more comfortable with a single leader, simply appointed Wrosetasatow (Mankiller or Outacite) as the supreme chief or “king” of the Cherokee. The English felt that it would be easier to deal with only one chief to fix the boundaries between the Cherokee nation and the European settlements.

With a common danger from the English settlers, the Cherokee villages came together to elect a principal chief to represent all of the villages in 1721. The concept of Cherokee nationality as opposed to village autonomy began to emerge. According to historian Marion Starkey in The Cherokee Nation:  “The Cherokees, a reasonable people, willing to learn from their enemies, found this innovation of practical value and did not discard it.”

At this time, it was estimated that the Cherokees were living in 53 towns which ranged in population from 62 to 622. The total Cherokee population was estimated at 10,434.

In traditional Cherokee government, when individuals did not agree with the line of reasoning that was gaining acceptance within the council, they would simply withdraw. Thus, in 1721, a group of Cherokee led by Yunwi-usgaseti (Dangerous Man) moved west across the Mississippi River to escape the colonists’ insatiable demands for land and the Cherokee government’s acquiescence to these demands. After Yunwi-usgaseti’s group crossed the Mississippi River there was no further communication with the Cherokee who remained behind in the Southeast. However, oral tradition records that many years later a runner came from the west to report that they were still living at the base of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1730, Sir Alexander Cuming traveled to the Cherokee town of Keowee. He brazenly entered the council house wearing pistols and a sword (a violation of Cherokee tradition) where 300 town elders were meeting. He demanded that they recognize the authority of the English King and threatened to burn down the council house if they did not. Journalist Stanley Hoig, in his book The Cherokees and Their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire, reports:  “Cuming’s audacity, however, overwhelmed the Cherokee leaders, and they on bent knee pledged their loyalty to the Crown of England against the French in North America.”  Cuming appointed Moytoy of Tellico as the Cherokee “emperor.”

In reviewing the historical accounts of this event, Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History, concludes: “The story is absurd.” Conley acknowledges that Cuming visited the Cherokee and talked with people in the townhouses, but points out that “whatever he accomplished, he certainly embellished the tale for the benefit of King George.”  Conley writes:  “It is easy to believe that the egotistical King George II was taken in by Cuming’s fabrication. What is astonishing is that almost all historians ever since writing about the Cherokees have also been gullible enough to accept it at face value. In the first place, it has always been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get all Cherokees to agree on anything. In the second place, the Cherokees have always (at least since the time of the killing of the Ani-Kutani) been almost fanatical about democracy.”

With regard to Moytoy being selected as “emperor”, it was more likely that the Cherokee selected Moytoy to be their trade representative in dealing with the English traders.

In 1753 the Cherokee villages delegated to the town of Chota the power to negotiate trade and diplomatic relations for the entire Cherokee nation. In a trade agreement with the Carolinas, Old Hop was declared the Cherokee emperor by the British.

In 1753, a delegation of Cherokee leaders under the leadership of Attakullakulla met with the British governor in South Carolina. The Cherokee assured the British of their loyalty. The British governor informed the Cherokee that the purpose of the council was to establish peace between the Cherokee and the Creek. Attakullakulla argued with the governor, telling him that when he had spoken with the King, the King had asked the Cherokee to avenge the lives of his people taken by the Creek. While the governor insisted that he spoke for the King, Attakullakulla said that he should go to England to speak with the King in person. Attakullakulla reminded the governor of the treaty which the Cherokee signed in England which had promised them goods. He said:   “I remember the great King George’s talk, for the paper said the governor of Carolina was to supply us with all kinds of goods, but if he did not, we might have them in Virginia.”  In the end, the governor agreed to provide the goods.

In 1755, the British governor of South Carolina met with the Cherokee to ask them to sell their landholdings in areas in which there were no active Cherokee towns. Old Hop, unaccustomed to speaking with the British, asked the Cherokee council to select someone to represent the welfare of the Cherokee people. The council selected Attakullakulla. Attakullakulla presented a young boy to the British governor saying:  “I have brought this child that when he grows up he may remember our agreement this day and tell it to the next generation that it may be known forever.”

As a result of the council, the Cherokee agreed to provide the British with warriors and to give up their land in South Carolina. In return, the British agreed to provide the Cherokee with guns and ammunition and to build forts to protect the Cherokee.

While the Cherokee nation had changed its government during their interactions with the English colonial government and had begun to function with regard to its national interests rather than just the interests of the individual villages, there were even more challenges to their form of government ahead.

In 1776 a group of American colonists signed the Declaration of Independence which condemned King George III for preventing the colonists from appropriating western lands which belonged to Indian nations. The Revolutionary War divided the Indian nations as both the British and the newly formed United States tried to obtain Indian allies. As a result of the war, the Cherokee nation’s government had to change again to meet the incessant demands of the newly formed United States.

The Theft of the Cherokee Outlet

In 1836, under the terms of the Treaty of New Echota, the Cherokee were given a narrow strip of land some 225 miles long and 60 miles wide in what would later become Oklahoma. This strip of land, known as the Cherokee Outlet, was in addition to their reservation and was intended to provide them with a perpetual outlet from their reservation to lands in the west for hunting. The area within the Outlet contained more than 8 million acres of land.

When the Civil War broke out, the United States withdrew its troops from Forts Cobb, Arbuckle, and Washita, leaving the Indians open to attacks from the Plains tribes and from non-Indians. In addition, the federal government, afraid that annuity payments might fall into the wrong hands, withheld the annuities which were owed to the tribes. These actions not only violated the removal treaties of the Indian nations in Indian Territory, they also undermined the credibility of the United States. The Confederacy moved into the vacuum left by the federal government and held treaty councils with the tribes.

The Civil War divided the Cherokee into two groups: the Ridge or Treaty Party led by Stand Watie and E. C. Boudinot, and the Ross or Non-Treaty Party led by John Ross. Ross issued a Proclamation of Neutrality with regard to the war.

Following the Civil War the United States, ignoring the fact that many Cherokees had supported the Union, imposed a new treaty on the Cherokee Nation. The new treaty allowed the United States to settle other Indian nations in the Cherokee Outlet and to dispose of the land. A number of tribes—Kaw, Osage, Pawnee, Ponca, and Tonkawa—settled in the area.

The Cherokee Outlet was invaded by Texas cattlemen who grazed their herds on Cherokee land while en route from Texas to the northern markets. The Cherokee government solved this problem by charging a per head fee for grazing privileges. In 1883, the Texas cattlemen formed the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association under the laws of Kansas. The Cherokee under the leadership of Dennis Bushyhead then leased the grassy meadows of the Cherokee Outlet to the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association for $100,000 for five years. The agreement was felt to beneficial for both the Cherokee and for the cattlemen. Soon after the lease was signed, dissident Cherokee, angry at being denied free use of the Outlet, claimed that the Association had gained exclusive use of the area through illegal means. Complaints concerning bribery and corruption were lodged with the Department of the Interior.

When the lease with the cattlemen expired in 1888, the Cherokee agreed to renew the lease of the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association for the exclusive use of the Cherokee Outlet for $200,000 per year. The federal government, however, warned the Cherokee that they would consider the lease to be invalid.

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison announced that no livestock would be grazed in the area known as the Cherokee Outlet in Indian Territory. This move deprived the Cherokee Nation of a substantial part of its operating budget and brought an end to their lease with the Cherokee Live Stock Association. The move was part of a government effort to get the Cherokee to sell this land.

In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison closed Cherokee Outlet to the cattle growers who were legally leasing the lands from the Cherokee. Federal troops then occupied the area and forcibly removed the cattle growers and their herds from the land. Having lost the major source of revenue for their schools and government, the Cherokee were forced to cede the Outlet lands. The government forced the Cherokee to sell their Outlet lands for $1.25 per acre (a total of $10.2 million).

In 1893, the Cherokee Outlet was opened to non-Indian settlement, resulting in Oklahoma’s largest land run. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people attempted to stake out claims for the land.

In 1948, the Cherokee filed suit before the Indian Claims Commission to recover the real value of the Cherokee Outlet lands. One expert from Oklahoma State University testified that the land had been worth $10.01 per acre at the time it was taken by the government. Experts testifying on behalf of the government claimed it was worth $1.70 per acre. The courts awarded the Cherokee an additional $14.7 million for the lands. The Indian Claims Commission noted that the conduct in the original transaction had been unconscionable.

Preparing the Cherokee for Removal

Since its founding, the United States, and particularly the states that compose it, has been uncomfortable with having Indians nations within its boundaries. Motivated by a combination of greed, racism, and religion, non-Indians debated two basic solutions to the Indian “problem”: removing Indian nations from the United States by relocating them west of the Mississippi River, and/or genocide. These solutions began with law in 1830 with the passage of the Indian Removal Act.

In 1835, American settlers invaded Cherokee territory and filed lawsuits against the Indians. The Indians, under state law, were not able to testify against the Americans so the Indians always lost. Some Americans stripped Indian men and women and flogged them. When General Ellis Wool attempted to protect the Cherokee, the state of Alabama accused him of disturbing the peace and interfering with the rights of Alabama citizens.

In 1835, the United States presented the Cherokee with a new treaty. The offer which the United States presented to the Cherokee was simple: if the tribe signed the treaty, the Cherokee would surrender their ancient homelands and move to the west. If the Cherokee did not sign, then the United States military would herd them at bayonet point from their homes and move them to the west.

Seeing no realistic alternative, some Cherokee leaders – primarily Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot, Andrew Ross, James Starr, Stand Watie, James Rogers, Thomas Watie, Archilla Smith, John A. Bell, Charles Foreman, George W. Adair, and others of the Treaty Party – signed the Treaty of New Echota.  None of those signing the treaty had been authorized by the Cherokee Nation to sign it. In signing the treaty, all realized that they had violated Cherokee law, a law with a death penalty.

Under the terms of this treaty, the Cherokee were to give up all of their lands east of the Mississippi and to move to what is now Oklahoma and Arkansas. Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross repudiated the treaty because it had been signed by a minority of the Cherokee leaders. The United States, however, contended that they had informed the Cherokee that all leaders who did not attend the treaty conference would be considered to have approved any document signed by the negotiators.

In 1836, Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross met with President Andrew Jackson in a courtesy visit. Jackson brought up the issue of removal, indicating he would be unable to protect the tribe as long as they lived among non-Indians.

That same year, Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross addressed the U.S. Senate, providing them with an outline of the abuse and injustice done to the Cherokee. He presented them with two protest resolutions – one signed by 3,250 North Carolina Cherokee and one representing more than 12,000 Cherokee – asking that the Treaty of New Echota not be ratified.  While the government claimed that the Cherokee General Council had approved the treaty and that 500 Cherokee were present when it was adopted, neither was true. It had been signed by a few dozen Cherokee, many of whom had already agreed to emigrate. The Senate, by a margin of one vote, ratified the treaty.

As soon as the new treaty was ratified by the Senate, President Andrew Jackson issued a proclamation that the United States no longer recognized the existence of any government among the Cherokee in the Southeast. Furthermore, the Cherokee were warned that any resistance to removal would be met by force through the army.

In 1836, General Ellis Wool forwarded Cherokee protests over removal to Washington, D.C. He explained:  “It is, however, vain to talk to a people almost universally opposed to the treaty and who maintain that they never made such a treaty.”  He also reported:  “Many have said they will die before they will leave the country.”

In response, President Jackson rebuked the General for forwarding the Cherokee protests, declaring them to be disrespectful of the President, the Senate, and the American people.

In 1836, Major W.M. Davis, appointed to enroll the Cherokee for removal, reported that the removal treaty  “is no treaty at all, because it is not sanctioned by the great body of the Cherokee and made without their participation or assent. I solemnly declare to you that upon its reference to the Cherokee people it would be instantly rejected by nine-tenths of them, and I believe by nineteen-twentieths of them.”

In 1936, Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross visited the Western Cherokee. He conferred with the chiefs and visited relatives. The Indian agents in the area had been ordered to arrest him and so Western Cherokee Chief John Jolly met with Ross in private to avoid any possible legal trouble.

In 1837, Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross was denied a meeting with President Martin Van Buren. He found that the new President was intent on retaining President Andrew Jackson’s policies regarding Cherokee removal.

The Cherokee National Council sent a delegation which included John Ross, Elijah Hicks, Situwakee, and Whitepath to Washington, D.C. in 1838 to present Congress with a petition signed by 15,665 people protesting their removal treaty. However, the governor of Georgia has informed the President that any delay in Cherokee removal would be a violation of the rights of the state. President Martin Van Buren refused to grant the Cherokee request for a delayed removal. With this the stage for a rapid removal of the Cherokee to the west was set. The event which would become known as the trail of tears would follow.

Cherokee Treaty Claims

By 1830, the American government had decided that American Indians had no place in the United States and passed legislation calling for their removal to lands west of the Mississippi River. As a part of this removal effort, the Americans negotiated a series of treaties with the various Indian nations in which the Indians ceded their lands and were given new lands in the west.

In 1835, the United States presented the Cherokee with a new treaty. The deal that the United States offered the Cherokee was simple: they could sign the treaty and move west, or the military would come in and they would be marched west at bayonet point. In either case, the Cherokee would have to abandon their ancient homelands, their farms, and the graves of their ancestors.

A few Cherokee leaders – primarily Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot, Andrew Ross, James Starr, Stand Watie, James Rogers, Archilla Smith, John A. Bell, Charles Foreman, George W. Adair, and Thomas Watie– signed the Treaty of New Echota in Georgia. None of those signing the treaty had been authorized by the Cherokee Nation to sign it. The signers would become known as the Treaty Party. Upon signing the treaty, Major Ridge said: “I have signed my death warrant” in reference to the Cherokee law which called for the death penalty for those who sold Cherokee land without the consent of the National Council.

Under the terms of this treaty, the Cherokee were to give up all of their lands east of the Mississippi and to move to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross repudiated the treaty because it was signed by a minority of the Cherokee leaders. However, the notice which had been sent to the Cherokee notifying them of the treaty council indicated that those leaders not in attendance would be considered to approve any document signed by the negotiators.

Most historians today view the Treaty of New Echota as a fraud. Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History writes:  “The entire procedure was illegal, but it was what the United States government wanted, and it was accepted by the U.S. Congress as legal and binding on the entire Cherokee Nation.”

In the treaty negotiations, the Cherokee were assured that the United States would respect the Nation’s right to self-government and that the Cherokee would never be included in any state or new territory without the consent of the Cherokee people. The Americans promised the Cherokee that they would respect Cherokee borders and they would remove all unwanted American intruders.

Under the terms of the treaty, the United States promised to pay the Cherokee $5 million.

As soon as the new treaty was ratified by the Senate, President Andrew Jackson issued a proclamation that the United States no longer recognized the existence of any government among the Cherokee in the Southeast. Furthermore, the Cherokee were warned that any resistance to removal would be met by force through the army.

Ten years after the treaty had been signed and ratified by the Senate, the Cherokee had still not been paid. In 1845, the Cherokee sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. to secure an adjustment of the claims and other unsettled business of the nation. The delegation, under the leadership of John Ross, included Richard Tayler,  John Looney, Aaron Price, David Vann, Joseph Spears, and Thigh Walker. The tribe was owed $5 million as a part of the Treaty of New Echota. Brian Hicks in his book Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and  the Trail of Tears, writes:  “The United States government refused to live up to its end of the bargain, officials inventing any number of excuses. Some refused to recognize the tribe as long as Ross was chief.”

In 1846, the United States negotiated a new treaty with the Cherokee. All of the Western Cherokee groups—the Old Settlers, the Treaty Party, and the National Party—as well as the Eastern Cherokee were present for the treaty signing. Under the new treaty, the United States promised to reimburse the Cherokee Nation for sums which were unfairly deducted by the United States from their payment for their eastern lands. According to some accounts, the rivals Stand Watie of the Treaty Party and John Ross of the National Party shook hands at the end of the signing. Other accounts claim that this is just a legend stemming from wishful thinking.

The new treaty also declared that Cherokee lands in Oklahoma were to be for the use and occupancy of all Cherokee. The treaty guaranteed every Cherokee accused of a crime the right to a trial by jury.

Grace Steele Woodward, in her book The Cherokees, writes:  “After the Treaty of 1846 the Cherokee Nation enjoyed a golden era of prosperity and progress unsurpassed by its territorial neighbors. In the era that followed the treaty, education, building projects (both private and public), churches and missions, improvement societies, agriculture, domestic arts, and animal husbandry thrived in the Nation.”

With regard to the Eastern Cherokee, the new 1846 treaty upheld the rights of the Cherokee who had remained east of the Mississippi.


The Cherokee Civil War, 1842 to 1843

After their removal to Oklahoma in 1838, the hostile rivalry between two Cherokee political factions—the National Party which had resisted removal and the Treaty Party which had favored removal—became violent. In 1842, James Foreman, a member of the National Party, and Stand Watie, a member of the Treaty Party, encountered each other in a grocery store. Watie accused Foreman of killing his uncle, Major Ridge. The argument quickly grew physical and Watie killed Foreman.

Following the incident, groups of armed men from both factions began to assemble. There were rumors that an outbreak of civil war within the Cherokee Nation was imminent and that Foreman’s death had been a part of a larger conspiracy in which others were marked for assassination. The American Indian agent met with the Cherokee near the grocery store. During the course of his investigation, the agent had found that the rumors of a conspiracy were without foundation. The agent urged Foreman’s friends and the members of the National Party to allow the law to take its course. Instead of seeking revenge, he urged them to allow Watie to face trial.

Stand Watie was concerned that he would be tried in a Cherokee Court. Since John Ross, the leader of the National Party, was the principal chief, and the Cherokee government seemed to be biased toward the National Party, Watie did not feel that a fair trial in a Cherokee court would be possible. However, since the incident occurred in Arkansas, outside of the Cherokee Nation, he was tried in Arkansas.

At the trial, James Foreman was described as a violent man. Witnesses testified that Foreman had come into the store expecting trouble while Watie had not. The jury debated for about five minutes and Watie was acquitted on a plea of self-defense. The attacks were seen as a renewal of a Cherokee feud and armed guards gathered for the protection of the National Party adherents. The killing of James Foreman and the acquittal of Stand Watie were seen by many as another step in the escalation of violence among the Cherokee.

The following year, the violence escalated when a group of Treaty Party men, under the leadership of George West, attacked and killed Isaac Bushyhead, a member of the National Party. The murderers then escaped into Arkansas where they would be out of reach of Cherokee tribal justice.

Violence against the National Party continued. In separate attacks, David Vann was attacked and beaten with clubs, but was carried off to safety by friends. Judge Elijah Hicks was forewarned about the attack and escaped. Many of the Treaty Party people, fearing retaliation, fled from the Cherokee nation, leaving most of their personal goods behind.

There were rumors that Chief John Ross was going to be assassinated and so the Cherokee General Council posted several dozen Cherokees around his home. While the warriors guarded his home for several weeks, there was no attempt on his life.

The animosity between the two factions continued to simmer, with occasional outbreaks of violence for another couple of decades.

A Cherokee Murder

Following the Trail of Tears in 1838, there were three groups of Cherokee living in Oklahoma: (1) The Old Settlers who had moved to the west prior to the 1830 Indian Removal Act, (2) the Treaty Party who had signed the removal treaty and had been moved in relative comfort, and (3) the National Party who had been forcibly removed by the military. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee came together under a new constitution. The first challenge to this new constitution came in 1840.

In 1840, Archilla Smith, a member of the Cherokee Treaty Party, got into a frivolous dispute with John MacIntosh. In his anger, Smith stabbed MacIntosh to death. Under the new Cherokee Constitution, Smith was arrested and tried for murder.

Stand Watie, another prominent member of the Treaty Party, was the counsel for the defense. Watie pointed out that there was no real evidence that Smith had actually done the killing. He argued that the government’s witnesses had been inconsistent in their testimony. In addition, Watie argues that if Smith had indeed killed MacIntosh, then the death should be considered self-defense rather than murder. He pointed out that MacIntosh had provoked Smith and, given the violence of the times, MacIntosh had been killed in self-defense. Watie asked the jury to find Smith not guilty.

Watie’s words did not convince the jury. Smith was found guilty and sentenced to be hung. A petition for pardon was presented to Chief John Ross with “a desire that peace and harmony prevail.” With the tensions among the various factions in Cherokee society at the time, the petitioners implied that hanging Smith would lead to more violence.

Ross did not respond to the request and Smith was hung. Later some people would claim that Ross had ignored the petition because of his animosity against Watie. Ross was the leader of the National Party and Watie was one of the leaders of the Treaty Party. Forced to defend his actions, or, rather non-action, Ross would claim that the Cherokee chief had no power to grant pardons which would undo the will of the court.

As a result of this trial, many members of the Treaty Party faction were skeptical about the impartiality of the Cherokee government and its courts.

Interference with Cherokee Government

In 1839, the Cherokee in Oklahoma had gathered to create a new government. They adopted the Act of Union which was to be their new constitution. Under this constitution, they then selected John Ross as Principal Chief. However, John Ross had been the leader of the Cherokee who had been force-marched from Georgia to Oklahoma and was known for his opposition to removal. The United States in its foreign policy—Indian tribes are designated as nations by the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court, thus fall under the realm of foreign policy—had traditionally opposed any democratically elected leader who has criticized U.S. policy. The U.S. response to this democracy is a blatant attempt to overthrow it, by force of arms if necessary.

In 1840, the Secretary of War directed the army to declare martial law among the Cherokee, to dissolve their government, and to call together all factions of the Cherokee to form a new government. Under the directive, neither John Ross nor William Shorey Coodey would be permitted any voice in the new government.

In Washington, D.C., the John Ross faction, commonly known as the National Party, prepared a memorial to Congress outlining the steps they had taken to re-establish their government in their new home and the difficulties created by the opposing parties and by the military. In response, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for the Secretary of War to provide:   “copies of all orders and instructions issued from the department to any officer of the army, or to any agent of the Government, requiring his interference with the Cherokee Indians in the formation of a government for the regulation of their own internal affairs.”

Before the Secretary of War could respond to the request, the Cherokee opposing John Ross, known as the Treaty Party, filed their own memorial outlining the wrongs imposed upon them by the Ross faction and asking Congress to intervene.  While both President Martin Van Buren and the Secretary of War refused to see John Ross and William Shorey Coodey, they warmly welcomed Stand Watie, John Bell, and William Rogers, all members of the Treaty Party.

The U.S. House of Representatives sided with Ross and charged President Martin Van Buren and the War Department with unjustified interference in Cherokee affairs.

The Cherokee After Removal

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, many prominent and influential Americans, particularly those from the southern states, had decided that the United States should not contain any Indians. Pretending that their primary concern was the “protection” of the Indians, they pressured Indians to move across the Mississippi River using open threats and harassment. In response some Cherokees began moving from their homelands in Georgia and Tennessee to the Southern Great Plains. When it became apparent that most Indians would not move voluntarily, the United States passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Under the legal authority of this Act, in 1838-1839, the United States military forcibly and brutally force-marched thousands of Cherokee to their new home in what would become Oklahoma.

Upon their arrival in Oklahoma in 1839, some 13,000 Cherokee immigrants were to be issued subsistence rations by a government contractor. The government contractor, however, had little interest in Cherokee welfare and focused instead on enhancing profits with the government contract. The flour and meal which was provided to the new arrivals following their forced march was infested with weevils. Realizing that no-one in the government cared about these Indians, the contractors seized the opportunity to get rid of cattle which would be otherwise unsalable while charging the government for prime beef. Cherokee chief John Ross called the meat “poor and unhealthy.” When his complaints received no response, he purchased rations for the people from another private contractor.

In Oklahoma, the Cherokees faced the task of forming a new government. Three different groups were involved: (1) the Treaty Party which had the support of the Old Settlers and the planters, (2) the National Party which had the loyalties of two-thirds of the Cherokee population and was loyal to principal chief John Ross, and (3) the Keetoowah Society which had been formed prior to removal to prevent removal and considered itself to be a sacred institution rather than a political institution. American officials generally worked to discredit John Ross and the National Party as they viewed the Treaty Party as true patriots. The American officials generally portrayed Chief John Ross as a villain and the recent arrivals as “savages.”

John Brown, the first chief of the Western Cherokee, declared that the Eastern Cherokee had accepted the hospitality of the Western Cherokee and therefore they should live under the Western Cherokee government. However, John Ross argued for the continuation of the eastern Cherokee government. The Cherokee Nation—that is, the eastern Cherokee—had a written constitution and they had a far more elaborate law code than the Western Cherokee. The eastern Cherokee also constituted a major of the Cherokees in Oklahoma.

A constitutional convention was held and was presided over by Sequoyah, an Old Settler. Sequoyah and Jesse Bushyhead (an eastern Cherokee Baptist minister) worked out a compromise. The convention passed an Act of Union which was intended to unify the nation. The Old Settlers were guaranteed one-third of the seats in the new legislative body.

In the formation of the new government, John Ross was selected as principal chief; Joseph Vann, an Old Settler, was selected as second chief; and Young Wolf, an Old Settler, was chosen as speaker of the National Council. The Act of Union established the laws by which the Cherokees could live in harmony among themselves and deal with the American government which was threatening not only their traditional way of life, but their very existence.

In the Act of Union, the Cherokees made reference to inalienable rights and stated that each Cherokee had specific God-given rights. Since the Cherokee had the same God as that of the United States, this meant that the Cherokees should have the same political standing as other Americans. However, President James Polk stated:

“The Cherokees have been regarded as among the most enlightened of the Indian tribes; but experience has proved that they have not yet advanced to such a state of civilization as to dispense with the guardian care and control of the government of the United States.”

While American officials attempted to oust John Ross from the government, the United States did recognize the Act of Union as the Cherokee constitution.

The Act of Union did not bring about harmony or union. The animosities that divided the Cherokees continued. A group of 100 to 150 Cherokees associated with the National Party met in secret to discuss what to do about the Treaty Party. They felt that the men who signed the Treaty of New Echota were traitors and should be executed. They drew up a list of those who were to be killed and then drew straws to determine who would do each killing. John Ross did not attend the meeting.

The first to be killed was Elias Boudinot, the first editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, as the law of blood revenge was revived. Two other leaders of the Treaty Party, Major Ridge and John Ridge, were also murdered. Stand Watie managed to escape assassination. As signers of the Treaty of New Echota, all of these leaders were in violation of Cherokee law and the penalty for this violation was death. In one day, the prominent leaders of the Treaty Party were eliminated. These actions increased the friction between the two main Cherokee groups as those who had committed the murders now became targets of revenge.

The Council of the Cherokee Nation met shortly after the murders and declared that the three men had been outlaws since they had signed the removal treaty. The Council thus decreed that the killings were legal executions.

Stand Watie, distraught over the murders of his brother, uncle, and cousin, vowed revenge and began to raise a militia to kill John Ross.

The Secretary of War (who was in charge of Indian Affairs at this time), after listening to members of the Treaty Party, declared that the legitimate government of the Old Settlers had been illegally overthrown by Ross and the National Party. The American government demanded the arrest of those who had murdered the Treaty Party leaders. The American government refused to pay Cherokee annuities to the Ross government.

The divisions among the Cherokees continued to disrupt the peace and harmony of the nation for more than a generation.

Lost Identity

I was born in Hampton, Virginia. I lived in Newport News, Virginia until the age of seven. My story starts as a young child with horrible night terrors. My dreams have always played a large role in my life. I remember playing long hours then laying down on my couch and just going into a deep meditation. I remember it clearly. Everything was black, except for lines of color, mostly greens and pink swirling. I remember at the age of four going into one of these deep trances and trying to “remember who I am”. Trying to remember..life before my birth.

Aside from that, I remember the night terrors. Dark, evil dreams that to this day disturb me. My Mother tried everything. Painting a cat on my bed to “watch over me”. When that failed they purchased a new bed. Finally, my Grandfather told my Mom that she should make a dream catcher with me. You see, my Grandfather was part Cherokee and French. Except, he tried to hold on to as much Cherokee culture as he can.

The dream catcher was the only thing that worked. I remember one dream in particular. I was standing in a dark catacomb. Terrified. Then a monk entered the doorway and told me “remember you are asleep”. I was age four. Ever since then, I have been able to lucid dream. I believe that “monk” was my spirit guide.

I also believe that the location of my birth and early childhood was no coincidence. Growing up there. Jamestown and the surrounding cities on the James River. I remember learning about it and going on field trips in school. I wore my moccasins that my family got while visiting Oklahoma. (I got to feed a black bear in a cage, I remember loving on him and feeling sad that he was pinned up. I remember looking into his eyes and my Mothers fear to let me close. I had no fear though.)

Anyways, I learned about Jamestown when I was in school, age 6. I learned about my own heritage, Cherokee, English, French and Irish. I remember being filled with anger. I remember my love for nature and for animals.

My entire life people have caught me speaking to animals, mostly my cats, and they tell me “Becky, it’s JUST a cat”. I’ve always been angered about that. How people look at non-human beings as if they are things and not sacred life forms. I look into the eyes of an animal, and I see a being that is on a higher plane than we are.

This post is really jumbled. But there are so many things that have always circled my mind. Our mandalas and art depicting the Trail of Tears hangs in my families den….yet….they’ve become nothing but decoration. Many nights, when everyone is asleep, I go into the den and look at the mandalas and art. I think what they mean. I think about my Grandfather. His gift with plants. And his silent but obvious clinging to that side of our ancestry.

I have looked up my ancestry on my Fathers side. Apparently, Norweigan Vikings that settled in England. One of my ancestors, William Jarrett, was the man who helped John Smith with the plans on how to revive the Jamestown colony. Except, he was a pirate. So no credit went to my family lol. Except when they took land in Virginia and named it “Jarratt Virginia”.

My Father says that he has no Native American blood. I don’t think that is correct. Reading the stories of our ancestors, they were highly involved in the first settlements of Virginia. It would be nearly impossible if they did not mix with Powhatan. However, it’s highly probable that they did but it is forgotten as most Native American heritage, culture and identity have been forgotten.

Killed off.

Blotted out.

Erased from history.

Except that it lingers in the DNA of many people who have found themselves connected to the land, the plants, the animals and a great mystery that lingers within them, even from a very early age.  

Cherokee Families

When the Europeans arrived in North America, they simply assumed that their concept of family was universal, moral, natural, and divinely-inspired. If there were any other kinds of families they must be immoral and inferior. For the Europeans, family implied a male-dominated institution, one run by the male in the household and whose children belonged to him. When Europeans encountered the Cherokee family, they: (a) were simply oblivious to the differences and superimposed their own concepts on it; (b) were totally baffled by the differences; and/or (c) assumed that the Cherokee family was immoral and unnatural.  

The Cherokee:

At the time of European contact, the Cherokee were divided into three broad groups: (1) the Lower Towns along the rivers in South Carolina, (2) the Upper or Overhill Towns in eastern Tennessee and northwestern North Carolina, (3) the Middle Towns which included the Valley Towns in southwestern North Carolina and northeastern Georgia and the Out Towns. There were some cultural and linguistic differences between these groups. The Cherokee language is a part of the Iroquoian language family.


Understanding the Cherokee family begins with an understanding of Cherokee clans. First of all, clans are not just a bunch of people who are somehow vaguely related to each other. Clans are corporate entities with names, traditions, oral history, and membership rules. Traditionally, the Cherokee were a farming people and the fields were farmed by the clans. The land was owned by the village and allocated to the clans.

Membership in a Cherokee clan is determined by the mother: you belong to your mother’s clan. Among the Cherokee, as with many other American Indian tribes, clan membership is the most important thing a person has and was the most fundamental of Cherokee rights. To be without a clan is to be without identity as a Cherokee.

The Cherokee had seven clans:

Blue: (A ni sa ho ni) Also known as the Panther or Wild Cat clan

Long Hair: (A ni gi lo hi) The Peace Chief was usually from this clan

Bird: (A ni tsi s kwa)

Paint: (A ni wo di) Many of the medicine people were from this clan

Deer: (A ni ka wi)

Wild Potato: (A ni ga to ge wi) Also known as the Bear, Racoon, or Blind Savannah clan

Wolf: (A ni wa yah) Many war chiefs came from this clan


Among the Cherokee, individuals were not allowed to marry members of their own clan or members of their father’s clan. They were, however, encouraged to marry members of their maternal grandfather’s clan or their paternal grandfather’s clan. In general, marriage was regulated by the women of the village. This does not mean that women were told who to marry. No relative-not her mother, nor her uncles, nor her brothers-had any compulsory authority over her.

Premarital chastity was unusual and there were no cultural prohibitions against fornication or adultery. Cherokee women determined with whom they would have sexual relations. Cherokee marriage was not seen as binding on either the husband or wife. Married Cherokee women also enjoyed great latitude with regard to sexual freedom. Women were free to dissolve a marriage at will.

Cherokee women resided with their kinswomen, that is, with members of their own clan. They owned the homes and shared in the agricultural products of the clan’s fields.

Cherokee men often married women from outside of their own village. The men were expected to live in their wives’ village. Women, of course, owned the house.

The Cherokee wedding ceremony was brief and simple: it involved an exchange of gifts. It was not a religious ceremony and often involved only the two clans involved.

Fathers and Uncles:

Fathers had no official relationship to their children because their children belonged to a different clan. Fathers might love their children and provide them with some care, but still the children belonged to the mother’s clan. A father did not have the right to punish his children. In fact, if a father were to harm his children, the children’s clan (that is, the clan of their mother) could hold him responsible.

The traditional roles of uncles-more specifically, the mother’s brothers-were very important in traditional Cherokee culture. Traditional Cherokee education was based on the role of the maternal uncles. For a young boy, this meant that the most important men in his childhood were his uncles, not his father. It was his maternal uncle who would teach him about warfare and hunting. The uncle was the disciplinary and tutorial authority within the clan.

The designation “maternal uncle” was also different in Cherokee society than in European society. This simply indicated that the man was a member of the mother’s clan. The maternal uncle did not have to have the same mother as the mother.

Pea Ridge National Military Park

The most celebrated event in American history is the Civil War. Each year, thousands of people dress up in period costumes and reenact popular battles. The American landscape is littered with state parks, national parks, and historic markers celebrating the Civil War. This war not only divided the Americans, but also the Indians, particularly those living in Oklahoma. Many of the tribes, such as the Cherokee and the Creek, were divided between their loyalties to a slave-owning confederacy and to the federal government.

One of the early battles in the Civil War which involved Indians occurred in Arkansas in 1862 at a place known as Pea Ridge. Nearly a century later, in 1956, the Arkansas congressional delegation proposed legislation to make this battlefield a national military park. Congress responded by passing the act which created the Pea Ridge National Military Park.

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge 12

The Pea Ridge National Military Park is shown above.

Confederate Monument

The Confederate monument at Pea Ridge is shown above. Long before the Pea Ridge battlefield was declared a national monument, many Union and Confederate veterans attended reunions at the site. The first of these was held in 1887, some 25 years after the battle. The veterans dedicated monuments on the battlefield to both the Union and Confederate dead.

The Cherokee at Pea Ridge:

Prior to the Civil War, the Cherokee in Oklahoma were a deeply divided nation. The Civil War exacerbated this division: John Ross, a slave owner and principal chief, supported the Union and spent the war attempting to lead a government in exile; Stand Watie, a southern sympathizer, replaced Ross as principal chief and led Cherokee troops for the Confederacy. Stand Watie, who held the rank of Colonel in the Confederate Army, formed the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles and commanded this regiment at Pea Ridge.

At the Battle of Pea Ridge almost 1,000 Cherokee made up two Confederate regiments. These Indian regiments were a part of the division commanded by General McCulloch.

In spite of the fact that the Union forces were outnumbered and outgunned by the Confederates, the Battle of Pea Ridge was a decisive victory for the Federal Army.

After the battle, Watie commanded a brigade of Native American troops. He led his troops in 18 battles and major skirmishes. In 1864, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. When he surrendered to Federal troops in June 1865 he was the last Confederate general to surrender.

Stand Watie

General Stand Watie is shown above.


Shown above are Cherokee Confederates at a 1903 reunion.  

Trail of Tears:

The Pea Ridge National Military Monument is also a part of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. A portion of the pre-war Old Telegraph/Wire Road in the Monument includes 2.5 miles of the Trail of Tears.

In 1838, the United States Army rounded up the Cherokee in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama and then force-marched them 1,500 miles to Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears – called Nunna daul Isunyi in Cherokee which means “trail where we cried” – resulted in the death of an estimated 8,000 Cherokees. The Cherokees were forced to abandon their property and their unharvested crops. Mounted soldiers, using their bayonets as prods, herded the Cherokee like cattle.

The Cherokee were removed in 13 different groups which traveled by different routes.

The Cherokee and the United States, the First Decade

The United States came into existence in its current governmental form with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. Under the Constitution, the federal government, not the states, was to be involved with the Indian tribes. For the Cherokee, one of the largest tribes in the American southeast, the creation of the United States led to a decade of conflicts with the Americans which set the stage for dramatic changes in Cherokee culture and culminated in the nineteenth century Trail of Tears.  

In 1787, militia from the State of Franklin attacked the Cherokee town of Coyatee, Tennessee, burned the council house, and destroyed the Cherokee corn. The militia then went to Chota where they held council with Cherokee leader Corn Tassel, accusing the Cherokee of killing two men. At gunpoint, Corn Tassel and Hanging Man were forced to sign the treaty of Coyatee which surrendered to Franklin all of the Cherokee land north of the Little Tennessee River. There was little concern for the new American Constitution which required legal dealings with Indians to be conducted at the federal level. As a side note, the two men which the Cherokee were accused of killing were actually killed in 1782 in Ohio by non-Cherokee Indians.  

Following the forced treaty negotiations with the State of Franklin, the Americans asked a number of Cherokee to attend a council. The Cherokee came to the council under the white flag of truce and some, such as Corn Tassel, flew the American flag at their homes to signify their alliance with the United States. At the council, Corn Tassel, Long Fellow, Abram, and several other national Cherokee leaders were axed to death by the Americans. As a result of this unprovoked attack on their leaders, the Cherokee abandoned their town of Chota and many moved into northwestern Georgia.

Creek leader Alexander McGillivray reacted with anger when he hears of the murders:

“I don’t know what to think of a government that is compelled to wink at such outrages.”

In 1787, a Cherokee war party under the leadership of Bloody Fellow attacked Gillespie’s Fort, Tennessee, killing 28 people, most of them women. The Cherokee left a note telling the Americans that when they left Cherokee land the killing would stop. In addition to Bloody Fellow, Taken Out of the Water, Glass, and John Watts, all war captains, signed the note.

Also in 1787, Dragging Canoe’s Cherokee warriors attacked American troops at the Hiwassee River in Tennessee and obliged them to retreat.

By 1787, it was evident to some Cherokee that peace with the United States was not a possibility and that the Americans, obsessed with greed for Cherokee land, would not rest until the Cherokee people were exterminated. They began to look for a new home outside of the United States. Some Cherokee under the leadership of Toquo asked the Spanish colonial government for permission to settle in Spanish territory west of the Mississippi River. The Spanish government approved the establishment of six Cherokee villages along the Saint Francis River in what is now Arkansas and Missouri. This marked the beginning of the Cherokee migrations west of the Mississippi.

One of the first major pieces of legislation dealing with Indians was the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act which Congress passed in 1790. The Act  forbids the private purchase of Indian land; provides for the punishment of non-Indians who commit crimes in Indian country; and licenses those who trade with Indians. Purchase of Indian land must be done at a treaty council held under federal auspices. The Act intended to guarantee fair trading practices with Indians and to establish the integrity of Indian lands by declaring invalid all land acquisitions not sanctioned by the federal government.

In 1791, the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Holston which was intended to end hostilities between the United States and the Cherokee. The treaty gave the United States the exclusive right to trade with the Cherokee and prohibited the Cherokee from entering into diplomatic relations with other foreign powers, individual, or state. Signing the treaty for the Cherokee were Dragging Canoe, Bloody Fellow, Doublehead, Lying Fawn, John Watts, and Little Turkey.

The treaty also called for the United States to advance civilization among the Cherokees by giving them farm tools and technical advice. The United States promised that the land remaining to the Cherokee would be theirs forever.

In addressing Cherokee concerns over settlers, Article VIII gave the Cherokee the power to punish United States citizens who settled on Cherokee lands. The treaty stated:

“If any person, not an Indian, shall settle on any of the Cherokees’ lands, he shall forfeit the protection of the United States, and the Cherokees may punish him.”

Following the signing of the treaty some Cherokee were dissatisfied and in 1792 they sent a delegation to Philadelphia. Six Cherokee chiefs, including Bloody Fellow and Northward, met with President George Washington and with Secretary of War Henry Knox. They complained about the Treaty of Holston and Bloody Fellow recounted the arguments over the Cherokee boundaries and how they had finally given in. He asked that the $1,000 annuity be raised to $1,500 and the Secretary of War signed an agreement to this effect as an additional article to the treaty.  Following the meeting, Bloody Fellow was given the new name of Eskaqua (Iskaqua) which means Clear Sky and was designated as a general by the Americans.

The Cherokee at this time, while they recognized linguistic and cultural associations, did not have a central council or government. The Cherokee nation was composed of several loose confederacies of affiliated towns. Among the Cherokee, the towns were loosely affiliated into three groups: (1) the Lower Towns on the headwaters of the Savannah River (including the towns of Keowee and Estatoe), (2) the Middle Towns on the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River (including Etchoe, Stecoe), and (3) the Upper Towns (Overhill and Valley) on the Lower Little Tennessee River and the headwater of the Hiwassee River River (including Settico and Tellico). Under pressure from the American settlers, the various towns began to come together occasionally in council.

In 1792, President George Washington appointed an agent to take up residence among the Cherokee and to provide them with instruction in “civilization.” The agent was to be a liaison between the United States and the Cherokee and to promote American interests among the Cherokee.

In 1792, the Cherokee National Council met at Esanaula. Little Turkey, recognized as the Beloved Man (Principal Chief), presided over the meeting. Hanging Maw spoke as the Beloved Man of the Northern Towns and Badger (Occunna) spoke as the Beloved Man of the Southern Towns. A speech from President George Washington was read to the council. The chiefs were disturbed that American settlers were not being removed. The council opposed American boats traveling freely up and down the Tennessee River.

Armed conflicts and threats of armed conflicts between the Americans and the Cherokee continued in 1792. In Alabama, the Chickamauga Cherokee under the leadership John Watts and Bob Benge formally declared war on the United States and put out a call to all Cherokee warriors. John Watts then read the 600 warriors a letter from the Spanish governor which promised them all of the provisions which they would need for war. Bloody Fellow talked against going to war. The words for peace, however, went unheeded as the warriors painted their faces black and prepared for war against the Americans. The war captains included John Taylor, Tahlonteskee, Glass, Fool Charles, and Breath. The war party was delayed, however, when Whiteman Killer arrived with a canoe load of whiskey.

A mixed group of Cherokee, Creek, and Shawnee warriors attacked Buchanan’s Station, four miles south of Nashville, Tennessee. The Americans repelled the attack and Cherokee war leader John Watts was seriously wounded.

In a message to Congress addressing the problems with the Cherokee and the Creek, President  George Washington in 1793 called for the establishment of commerce with the Indians as the solution to the Indian problem. Thomas Jefferson, in a report to President Washington, said:

“The Indians had the full, undivided and independent sovereignty as long as they choose to keep it, and this might be forever.”

The violence between the Cherokee and the Americans continued in 1793. In Kentucky, Cherokee warriors Doublehead, Pumpkin Boy, and Bench ambushed two Americans. After scalping them, the Cherokee then stripped the flesh from their bones, roasted it, and ate it.

An American militia group attacked a camp of friendly Cherokee in Tennessee who were meeting with American agents. Cherokee leader Fool Charles was killed and Hanging Maw was wounded. As a result of the attack, the Cherokee united for a time under the leadership of John Watts. The leader of the militia group was arrested, tried, and acquitted.

In Tennessee, a Cherokee war party under the leadership of John Watts attacked the settlement home of Alexander Cavet, a household of three men and ten women and children. The Americans surrendered as John Watts promised to spare their lives. As they came out, however, Doublehead attacked the Americans with a war ax, killing all except for one boy.

In 1794, a delegation of Cherokee, including Taken Out of Water, Northward, Doublehead, John McLemore, and Arthur Coody, were invited to Philadelphia to reaffirm the Treaty of Holston. Doublehead managed to increase the Cherokee annuity from $1,500 to $5,000.

In 1794, the informal, undeclared, and often deadly war was continued. In Tennessee, an American boat loaded with trade goods was fired upon by the Cherokee as it passed through their territory. In the exchange of fire, two Cherokee were wounded. A war party under the leadership of Whiteman Killer caught up with the boat farther downstream, killing all of the Americans, and capturing the boat’s cargo. In retaliation for the attack on the boat, the American infantry destroyed the Cherokee towns of Nickajack and Running Water. Cherokee leader Breath was killed.

In 1794, the Cherokee met with the Americans at Tellico, Tennessee, to discuss peace. Approximately 40 chiefs signed a treaty of peace. Those signing included Bear at Home, Thick Legs, Broom, Little Turkey, John Watts, Glass, Pathkiller, Stallion, and Tallatuskee. With this treaty a relative peace settled on Cherokee country.

The peace was soon broken: in Alabama, Cherokee warriors under the leadership of Bowl attacked an American settlement on the Tennessee River. The Cherokee council denounced this action and offered to help in the arrest of Bowl. Bowl and his followers crossed the Mississippi and settled in Spanish territory in present-day Missouri.

Nearly a decade after the adoption of the Constitution, in 1796, President George Washington published an open letter to the Cherokee Nation. Washington promised the Cherokee that the federal government would enforce treaties honorably and ensured Cherokee survival as a people and a nation. While Washington, as a man of personal integrity, was undoubtedly sincere in these promises, and his words were accepted by the Cherokee as a sacred vow, the United States would not keep its commitments to the Cherokee.

Tennessee was admitted to statehood in 1796. The new state contained a great deal of Cherokee land, and the new state’s leaders, most of whom were involved with land speculation, put pressure on the federal government to obtain this Cherokee land.

The Cherokee migrations west of the Mississippi River continued as more people attempted to find peace in Spanish territory. The journey west, however, was not without difficulties. In 1796, a group of Lower Town Cherokee loaded their families and supplies into six canoes to move to Missouri. They were, however, attacked by a Chickasaw war party under the leadership of William Colbert.

After a bit more than a decade of dealing with the new United States government, the Cherokee council met at Tellico, Tennessee in 1798 to sign a new treaty which would renew the previous treaties. The new treaty, in response to insatiable American obsession for land, called for new land cessions, and provided for an additional $1,000 in annuities. Signing the treaty for the Cherokee are Bloody Fellow, Little Turkey, Taken Out of Water, Doublehead, and Tahlonteskee.

This was not the last treaty which the Cherokee would sign, nor would it be their last land cession: this first decade of interaction with the newly formed United States simply set the stage for ongoing conflicts, demands for Cherokee cultural extermination, and efforts by the Cherokee to ensure their continuation as a distinct people.

Traditional Cherokee Government

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For many centuries the traditional Cherokee tribal government-a government focused on the town-had served the people well. It was not until the arrival of the Europeans with their strange notions of hierarchical governments and their inability to understand Indian nations that the traditional government began to break down.

The primary unit of government among the Cherokee was the town. Each town-perhaps 50 at the time of first European contact-was autonomous. The government of each town was not tied to the government of other towns.  

The Cherokee towns were loosely affiliated into three groups: (1) the Lower Towns on the headwaters of the Savannah River (including the towns of Keowee and Estatoe), (2) the Middle Towns on the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River (including Etchoe, Stecoe), and (3) the Upper Towns (Overhill and Valley) on the Lower Little Tennessee River and the headwater of the Hiwassee River (including Settico and Tellico).

Each Cherokee village had two governments: a white government which governed when the village was at peace, and a red government which governed during times of war. The white government included the chief who was given the title Beloved Man, the chief’s advisor, counselors from each clan, a council of elders, a speaker, messengers, and ceremonial officers. The red government included the Great War Chief, the Great War Chief’s Second, seven war counselors, a War Woman, the Chief War Speaker, messengers, ceremonial officers, and scouts. The fate of captives and war prisoners was decided by the War Woman.

The Cherokee Peace Chief was in charge of domestic issues and the ceremonial life of the town. The War Chief dealt with matters involving outsiders: not just war, but negotiations, alliances, trade, and other external matters. The colonial governments and the United States dealt almost exclusively with the War Chiefs and were often unaware of the existence of Peace Chiefs.

Each Cherokee town had a council which was an assembly of all men and women. The council met nightly in the council house which was the largest structure in the town. In the seven-sided council house people would sit with their clans, with the leaders sitting near the center. Within the council house no weapons were permitted.

Among the Cherokee, all were able to participate in the councils. The chiefs had an advisory role and their power lay in their ability to persuade through oratory. Unlike the Europeans, there was no king or prince who had coercive authority. After the chiefs spoke, each person had an opportunity to speak. Issues were discussed until consensus was reached. There was an emphasis on deliberation, on the process of reaching consensus. The council did not pass laws or regulate conduct.

With regard to the protocol of speaking and listening in the council meetings, it would have been offensive for any person to interrupt another. The focus was on gaining consensus, on listening to all opinions: it was an attempt to avoid controversy. When individuals realized that they did not agree with the majority opinion, they would often withdraw so that they would not disrupt the ability of the council to achieve consensus.

Women were important in Cherokee government because of their leadership within the matrilineal clan system. In the war council, women were present and were consulted with regard to strategy. The war women or Pretty Women had to be present at every war council. The war women were women who had themselves won previous honors in wars and they were the mothers of warriors. Within the war councils, the women played a crucial role.

One of the overriding principles in Cherokee culture that impacted traditional Cherokee government was the concept of egalitarianism. The Cherokee viewed all people as equal and from this worldview the idea of coercive government is reprehensible. Thus, leaders and the council could not force conformity on the people: they could only attempt to persuade everyone that certain actions would be for the common good.  

The Eastern Cherokee and the Right to Vote

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The struggle of African-Americans to obtain the right to vote has been well documented, but the struggle for American Indian voting rights is less well-known and more complex. The voting rights battles fought by the Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina provide one aspect of this battle.  

General Background:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the United States government decided that American Indians, like immigrants from other countries, should be fully assimilated into American society. However, a series of court rulings and legal opinions declared that not only were American Indians not citizens, they could not become citizens without Congressional action. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act which allowed Indians who had taken allotments to become citizens. Following World War I, Congress passed an act making all Indians who had served in the military during the war citizens. Finally, in 1924 Congress passed legislation declaring all Indians to be citizens.

The Eastern Cherokee:

In 1920, a large number of Eastern Cherokee – including Cherokee women – registered to vote. As a result of Cherokee participation in the election, Republicans won almost every office in Jackson County by narrow margins. The Democrats protested the election results claiming that the Cherokee were not eligible to vote. As a result, Cherokee votes were thrown out on the basis that the Cherokee were non-citizen wards of the United States.

Two days after passing the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, Congress passed a bill to allot the Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina. The bill, written prior to the passage of the Citizenship Act, provided that the Eastern Cherokee would become citizens only after receiving and registering their allotments. The State Attorney General took the position that the Eastern Cherokee were, therefore, not citizens because this bill superseded the Indian Citizenship Act. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, on the other hand, took the position that they were citizens. Local registrars assumed that the Cherokee were not citizens and did not allow them to register to vote.

The following year, the federal government assumed trusteeship for Eastern Cherokee land and informed county officials that they could not tax Indian property. This was the first time since the Eastern Cherokee acquired these lands in the 19th century that they had not had to pay property taxes. For those who felt that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote, this provided another reason to prohibit Indians from voting.

Congress passed an act to clear up the confusion of the citizenship of the Eastern Cherokee in 1929. The act reaffirmed Eastern Cherokee citizenship under the Indian Citizen Act of 1924 and declared that this citizenship had not been repealed or abridged with the passage of the Eastern Cherokee Allotment Act two days later. Local officials in North Carolina, however, ignored Congress and continued to deny the Eastern Cherokee the right to vote.

The following year, Eastern Cherokee leader Henry M. Owl was denied the right to register to vote. The registrar refused to register Indians because they were not citizens. In response, Congress passed yet another act once again reaffirming citizenship for the Eastern Cherokee. Local newspapers protested Congressional interference with local affairs. Despite the explicit and repeated directives from Congress, county registrars continued to deny Cherokees the right to vote.

A report by the Solicitor General in 1937 found that North Carolina denied Indians the right to vote claiming that Indians were illiterate. The superintendent of the Cherokee Agency reported:

“We have had Indian graduates of Carlisle, Haskell, and other schools in stances much better educated than the registrar himself, turned down because they did not read or write to his satisfaction.”

In 1940, Congress passed the Nationality Act which again conferred citizenship on American Indians and required that Indian men register for the draft. In response, the Eastern Cherokee tribal council drafted a resolution which argued that the fact that the Eastern Cherokee were denied the right to vote in North Carolina also denied them fair treatment and equal rights by county draft boards. The council asserted that

“any organization or group that would deprive a people of as sacred a right as the right of suffrage would not hesitate to deprive them of other constitutional rights including the three inalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if the opportunity to do so presents itself.”

Following World War II, county registrars in North Carolina refused to register Eastern Cherokee war veterans to vote. The Cherokee appealed the decisions to the governor and attorney general, but nothing was done.

After lawsuits by Indian veterans in Arizona and New Mexico declared that Indians were citizens and had the right to vote, resistance to Indian voting in North Carolina was reduced and the Eastern Cherokee began to participate in American democracy.  

American Indian Biography: John Rollin Ridge, Cherokee Writer

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When John Rollin Ridge died in 1867 he was eulogized as one of California’s great poets and political commentator. To understand his life and what motivated him, we must start by looking at his parents: John Ridge and Sarah Bird Northrup.

In the early 1800s, the Cherokee were borrowing many European ideas. Feeling that reading and writing were important, the Cherokee invited Christian missionaries to live among them and to operate schools. The Brainard School opened in 1817 with 26 Cherokee students. Soon it was suggested that some Cherokee might enroll in the new school operated by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions at Cornwall, Connecticut. Soon a number of Cherokee students were enrolled at the school.

The curriculum at the Cornwall school included a heavy dose of religious training, working on the school’s farm (classified as “agricultural education”) and courses in geography, history, rhetoric, surveying, Latin, and natural science.

One of the Cherokee students at the school was John Ridge. However, he had problems with his hip which were aggravated by the cold winters.  By 1821, his condition had worsened and so he was removed from the dormitory and placed in a private room in the Northrup home. It was there that he met and fell in love with the fourteen year-old Sarah Bird Northrup. Sarah’s family responded by sending her away to live with her grandparents. John wrote to his mother and asked for her permission for him to marry Sarah. John’s mother, insisting that he should marry a Cherokee woman, did not give her consent to the marriage.

In spite of the opposition from both families, John Ridge and Sarah Bird Northrup were finally married on January 27, 1824 in Connecticut. In order to avoid being mobbed, the couple immediately left Connecticut for Cherokee country in Georgia. The Cherokee were used to having non-Cherokee men marry Cherokee women and were dismayed to find that the Christian citizens of Cornwall, Connecticut were strongly opposed to having Cherokee men marrying non-Cherokee women.

John Rollin Ridge was born to John Ridge and Sarah Bird Northrup Ridge at Running Waters in the Cherokee Nation on March 19, 1827. John Ridge at this time was practicing law and had a half-interest it the ferry at New Echota. The family farm consisted of 419 acres and was run with the help of 18 slaves.

By 1835 the pressure from the State of Georgia and from the United States to have the Cherokee move west of the Mississippi had intensified. Census records at the time show that there was little difference between the Cherokee and non-Cherokee in terms of material culture. They lived in the same kind of homes, they raised the same crops. However, the Americans, fueled by racism and greed, wanted Cherokee land. The Cherokee at this time were divided into two factions: the Ridge party and the Ross Party. The Ridge Party led by John Ridge, Major Ridge (John’s father and John Rollin’s grandfather), and Elias Boudinot (also known as Buck Watie) saw that removal was inevitable, while the Ross Party, under the leadership of John Ross, opposed removal.

On December 29, 1835, twenty members of the Ridge Party signed an agreement with the United States in which the Cherokee would exchange their lands in the east for nearly 14 million acres of land in the west. In addition, they would receive $4.5 million and an annuity to support a school. John Ridge, Major Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were among those who signed the treaty. Upon signing, Major Ridge remarked: “I have signed my death warrant” in acknowledgement that the Cherokee nation had a law mandating death to those who sold Cherokee land.

In 1836, the Ridges and other members of the Ridge party left their traditional Cherokee homeland for Indian Territory. They settled near present-day Southwest City, Missouri and their 18 black slaves set out to clear the land and plant the crops.

The Ross Party and other Cherokee would later be forced to move to Indian Territory at bayonet point in a journey called the Trail of Tears.

In 1839, three execution squads set out to enforce Cherokee law. One of these squads forced their way into the home of John Ridge, and dragged him from his bed to the yard. While John Rollin Ridge and other members of the family watched, some of the  men held John Ridge’s arms and legs while others stabbed him 29 times. They then threw him into the air and let his bleeding body crash to the ground. The execution squad then marched over his body, stamping on him as they passed. John Rollin Ridge would later write:

“My mother ran to him. He raised himself on his elbow and tried to speak, but the blood flowed into his mouth and prevented him. In a few moments he died, without speaking the last words which he wished to say.”

The execution squads also killed Major Ridge and Elias Boudinot that day. They thus eliminated the leaders of the Ridge Party.

Following the executions, the Ridge family fled to Fayetteville, Arkansas. John Ridge died without a will, leaving behind a fairly large estate consisting of slaves, stock, and other personal property. Due to the chaotic state of the Cherokee nation, the estate was not immediately settled and thus the Ridge family found themselves often short of funds.

John Rollin Ridge received much of his formal education in Arkansas. In 1843, he enrolled in the Great Barrington Academy in Massachusetts. While enrolled in the Academy, he heard that his uncle Stand Watie had killed James Foreman, the assassin of Major Ridge. He wrote to his uncle:

“You cannot imagine what feelings of pleasure it gave me when I heard of the death of him who was the murderer of my venerable and beloved grandfather.”

In the same letter he also expresses extreme dislike – some would say hatred – for John Ross.

By 1847, John Rollin Ridge had moved back to Cherokee country, had married Elizabeth Wilson (a non-Cherokee), and had purchased a farm. The estate of John Ridge was settled and John Rollin received two slaves and other items. At this time, he began writing poetry under the name of Yellowbird as well as articles on Cherokee history and politics.

In 1849 John Rollin Ridge had an argument with his neighbor over a missing stallion. During the argument, John Rollin killed David Kell, a pro-Ross man. Fearing that he could not receive a fair trial in the Cherokee Nation because of John Ross and his followers, John Rollin Ridge fled to Missouri. Later it was determined that Kell had been encouraged by Ross supporters to provoke a fight with John Rollin in order to have an excuse to kill him.

In 1850, John Rollin Ridge, his brother Aeneas, and a slave named Wacooli joined a large party which was headed for the California gold fields. His intention was to engage in mining and amass a fortune. However, the journey to California proved to be more expensive and more difficult than he had thought. Along the way, he had to abandon a wagon, equipment, and clothing. Eventually he arrived in Placerville to find that thousands of people were already digging for gold. He soon learned that gold mining was hard physical work and that very few gold miners ever struck it rich.

John Rollin Ridge arrived in Sacramento looking for a job-any job that was honest. It was here that he met the local agent for the New Orleans newspaper True Delta and wrote a sample article. The agent quickly realized that it was a well-written article and John Rollin Ridge became a correspondent for True Delta. Thus he began his newspaper career in California.

The writings and poetry of John Rollin Ridge were soon appearing in a number of California publications including Alta California, Golden Era, Hesperian, Marysville Herald, Daily Union, and Hutching’s California Magazine.

In 1854, his book The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit was published. The book was widely read and frequently plagiarized. While John Rollin Ridge claimed that the story was true and was important to the early history of the state, there are some literary critics today who classify the work as a novel.

While working in the newspaper field, his dream was to establish a newspaper that would be devoted to Indian affairs, to defend Indian rights, and to provide Indians with powerful friends. He wrote:

“I want to write the history of the Cherokee nation as it should be written and not as white men will write it and as they will tell the tale, to screen and justify themselves.”

This is a dream which he would never realize.

In 1855, John Rollin Ridge became the main writer for the California American, an organ for the Know Nothing Party. One of the Party’s main tenets was that foreigners were unfit for citizenship and that Catholics should be denied citizenship as they were loyal to a foreign power.

In 1857 the Daily Bee began publishing in Sacramento with John Rollin Ridge as its editor. As editor of the Bee Ridge defended female journalists and writers. He wrote:

“The lady-writers of America are among the very best of our contributors to the literature of today.”


As editor of the Daily Bee John Rollin Ridge published many anti-Mormon articles. He opposed the creation of a Mormon state in Utah. He argued against mixing religion and politics. He wrote:

“A minister of the gospel, therefore, in the United States, who would speak of politics in the pulpit, and seek to array religion and politics together, is nothing better than a vile incendiary, torch in hand, in the very temple of our liberties, and deserves to be looked upon as a common enemy, taken down from the position which he disgraces, and branded with universal contempt.”

While at the Daily Bee, John Rollin Ridge began writing about Indians. While Ridge agreed with the popular opinion that the “digger” Indians were inferior, he disagreed with the popular notion that genocide was the solution. Ridge felt that California’s Indians were inferior to the Indians of the East and to those of South America.

The term “digger” Indians was used at the time to refer to a number of different tribes. The term comes from their practice of digging for roots.

With regard to Indians in North America since the European invasion, Ridge wrote:

“The Indian’s rights have been best respected, since the first white settlement of this continent, in those places where he has held his ground by bow and gun, tomahawk and scalping knife; where he has shown himself a warrior, and ready to mingle his blood with the soil upon which he grew, rather than leave it; where he had met encroachment upon his rights, or what he deemed his rights, by the torch of midnight conflagration and the death-menacing war whoop and the death-dealing tomahawk; where he has made it unsafe to lie down at night or to get up in the morning or to journey forth by day-There has his title to land been recognized and there has he been negotiated with and there have mutual terms of peace been subscribed to and respected.”

In 1857, writing under the name Yellow Bird, John Rollin Ridge provided a sketch of Si Bolla, a leader of one of the “digger” Indian bands. The account expressed admiration for the man’s intelligence and speaking ability. Although Ridge considered the “diggers” to be inferior, he defended them against the Americans who persecuted and enslaved them.

John Rollin Ridge left the Daily Bee to become the editor of the Express in Marysville. He then became the editor of the short-lived Marysville News. He then joined the Daily National Democrat whose banner proudly proclaimed: “The Voice of the People is the Voice of God.”

In 1861, Ridge became the editor of the anti-Lincoln and antiabolitionist Evening Journal in San Francisco. While he felt that Lincoln and the abolitionists would destroy the Union, Ridge declared his support for the Union and declared that the Evening Journal would be independent from any political party.

After a few months with the Evening Journal, Ridge moved to another San Francisco paper, the National Herald. His main assignment at the National Herald was to write on political affairs.

While in San Francisco, John Rollin Ridge wrote three long works on the American Indian for the Hesperian. In the first article, he speculated on the origin of the Indians, noting characteristics that are similar to those of the Greeks, Persians, Jews, and Chaldeans. The second article centered on the religious beliefs of the Indians and their mythology. The third article focused on Indian priests, prophets, and medicine men. In his discussion of the Medawin (the priests), he writes:

“The secret grips and signs [of the Medawin] have been recognized as identical with some of the grips and signs of Free Masonry.”

In 1862, Ridge left San Francisco to take a temporary position with the Beacon in Red Bluff. While at Red Bluff, Ridge wrote a number of articles about the Cherokee in which he criticized Cherokee chief John Ross.

After a few months in Red Bluff, he traveled to Weaverville where he helps establish the Trinity National. Following the demise of the paper after only a few issues, he wrote for a number of other papers.

John Rollin Ridge died on October 5, 1867 and was buried in Grass Valley, California. The cause of death was diagnosed as “brain fever” or encephalitis lethargia. The Alta California wrote:

“as a poet, he deserves a prominent position, and as a general writer he was forcible, elegant and polished, his chief forte being that of politics.”

In 1933, the Native Sons of the Golden West erected a marker on his grave which reads in part:

“John Rollin Ridge-California poet, Author of ‘Mount Shasta’ and Other Poems.”


American Indian Biography: Attakullakulla, Cherokee Chief

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Ask some non-Cherokees to name some prominent historical Cherokee leaders and there are three names which frequently come up: (1) John Ross, the chief who led the Cherokee during the first half of the nineteenth century, (2) Sequoia, the genius who created Cherokee writing, and (3) Wilma Mankiller, the well-known twentieth century chief. There are, however, many other prominent Cherokee historical figures and there were powerful chiefs before John Ross. One of these was Attakullakulla.  

Attakullakulla was born into a prominent Cherokee family. During his youth he was trained by the elders to assume a position of responsibility. As an adult he became well-known for skills at oratory, diplomacy, and negotiation.

In 1730, Attakullakulla was among the Cherokee leaders who were taken to England to meet with King George. At that time, he was the head warrior of Tassatchee and was known by the name of Oukah Ulah (also spelled Ookounaka and Oukandekah). The English, blissfully unaware of Cherokee government, simply assumed that he was the “King” of the Cherokees.

Upon meeting King George, the Cherokee presented him with a number of gifts, including the “crown of Tannasee” (a crown made from opossum tails), scalps from their enemies, and five eagles’ tails.

During their four months in England, the Cherokee were grandly entertained, taken to fairs, and given gifts. They also competed with the King’s archers and were entertained by plays which included sham fights and acrobats. They also negotiated a treaty of friendship and trade with the English.

After his return from England, Attakullakulla maintained a strong friendship with the English. When the French approached the Overhill Cherokee towns in 1736 to open the doors for peace and trade, Attakullakulla refused to attend the meeting.

In 1738, Attakullakulla was captured by the Ottawa who were French allies. He spent more than six years as a captive.

In 1753, the governor of Carolina called for a meeting with the Cherokee for the purpose of concluding a treaty of peace between the Cherokee and the Creek. Attakullakulla informed the governor that when he had met with King George in England that the king had asked him to avenge the English lives taken by the Creek. When the governor tried to insist that he now spoke for the king, Attakullakulla simply told him that he would go to England again and meet with the king. Attakullakulla’s personal experience with the king plus his knowledge of the treaties with England enabled him to negotiate a favorable agreement with the governor.

In 1755, the governor met with 506 Cherokee chiefs, headmen, and warriors in Saluda near the present-day Greenville, South Carolina. Attakullakulla stood before the group with a bow in one hand and a sheaf of arrows in the other and acted as the principal spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation. The English accounts of the meeting describe Attakullakulla as having “the dignity and graceful action of a Roman or Grecian orator, and with all their ease and eloquence.”

At the meeting Attakullakulla presented a child to the governor saying:

“I have brought this child that when he grows up he may remember our agreement this day and tell it to the next generation that it may be known forever.”

Attakullakulla also asked that the proceedings of the meeting be written down so that it could be kept forever. In this way, he acknowledged both the Cherokee oral tradition and the English practice of writing.

Attakullakulla then gave the governor some earth and some corn and asked that they be sent to the king as a symbol of Cherokee recognition of English authority. Then he raised the bow and quiver over his head and told the governor that this is all the Cherokee have for their defense. He then asked for guns and powder so that they could fight those who were enemies of the English.

Following the meeting, Attakullakulla became the most powerful Cherokee leader of the time and through his influence he held the Cherokee to their ties with England. To demonstrate Cherokee loyalty to England, Attakullakulla with Cherokee war leader Oconostota led a series of raids against the French and their Indian allies on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

In 1759, Attakullakulla, Oconostota, and other Cherokee leaders met with the Governor of North Carolina. While they were originally met with peace, the leaders were soon imprisoned and forced to sign a new treaty under duress.  

In 1760, Old Hop, the Cherokee Beloved Man (supreme chief) died. Instead of Attakullakulla, Standing Turkey was named as the new Beloved Man. Attakullakulla’s support of the English had eroded his support among the Cherokee. The Cherokee then went to war against the English traders and colonists.

The following year, the Cherokee sought peace with the English. Attakullakulla served as one of the primary negotiators for the new treaty.

During the next 20 years, Attakullakulla helped negotiate numerous treaties and agreements with the English. As a result of these treaties, the land controlled by the Cherokee shrank as the English hunger for land seemed to be endless.

Attakullakulla died around 1780 (he was about 80 years old) and the leadership of the Cherokee passed to a younger generation including Dragging Canoe (Attakullakulla’s son) and Bloody Fellow.  

Prison Camps & The Trail Of Tears (Part 2)

( – promoted by oke)

(this is a repost)

Mark Anthony Rolo: Recalling the Trail of Tears

“The Trail of Tears began 170 years ago this week. We should recall it not as an aberration but as a logical outgrowth of an inhumane policy. And we should insist, in its memory, that Indian treaties and Indian sovereignty be honored.

When President Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokee Nation off its Georgia homelands, the U.S. government signed a treaty with the Cherokees, promising them a $5 million payment upon successful removal west of the Mississippi.

October: For most Cherokee, the “Trail of Tears” begins.


The Legend of the Cherokee Rose.


No better symbol exists of the pain and suffering of the Trail Where They Cried than the Cherokee Rose(pictured at top of page). The mothers of the Cherokee grieved so much that the chiefs prayed for a sign to lift the mother’s spirits and give them strength to care for their children. From that day forward, a beautiful new flower, a rose, grew wherever a mother’s tear fell to the ground. The rose is white, for the mother’s tears. It has a gold center, for the gold taken from the Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each stem that represent the seven Cherokee clans that made the journey. To this day, the Cherokee Rose prospers along the route of the “Trail of Tears”.


Military forts were already in place when theroads leading to those forts were being made more passable. Yet with no “removal treaty” known to Cherokees, settlers sarcastically made references to the military forts becoming the Cherokee’s new homes. Principle Chief John Ross was so alarmed by the forts, roads, and cruel teasing that he traveled all the way to Washington to express his grave concerns to Andrew Jackson.

Jackson hypocritically told them:

“You shall remain in your ancient land as long as grass grows and water runs.”

Principle Chief John Ross also tried desperately to escape the peril of Treaty of New Echota (the “removal treaty” which no true representative of the Cherokee Nation ever signed) for his people by sending a letter to the U.S. Senate and House, dated September 28, 1836:

Cherokee letter protesting the Treaty of New Etocha  from Chief John Ross, “To the Senate and House of Representatives”


By the stipulations of this instrument, we are despoiled of our private possessions, the indefeasible property of individuals. We are stripped of every attribute of freedom and eligibility for legal self-defence. Our property may be plundered before our eyes; violence may be committed on our persons; even our lives may be taken away, and there is none to regard our complaints. We are denationalized; we are disfranchised. We are deprived of membership in the human family! We have neither land nor home, nor resting place that can be called our own. And this is effected by the provisions of a compact which assumes the venerated, the sacred appellation of treaty.

The U.S. Senate and House ignored his plea, and when 31 forts with adequate roads were in place to be transformed into prison, concentration, and death camps…the Cherokee received this letter from General Winfield Scott on May 10, 1838:

Address to the Cherokee Nation


“Cherokees! The President of the United States has sent me with a powerful army, to cause you, in obedience to the treaty of 1835 [the Treaty of New Echota], to join that part of your people who have already established in prosperity 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 without making any preparation to follow; and now, or by the time that this solemn address shall reach your distant settlements, the emigration must be commenced in haste, but I hope without disorder.

Being Forced by the U.S. military to the internment, concentration, or death camps:


During the roundup intimidation and acts of cruelty at the hands of the troops, along with the theft and destruction of property by local residents, further alienated the Cherokees. Finally, Chief Ross appealed to President Van Buren to permit the Cherokees to oversee their own removal. Van Buren consented, and Ross and his brother Lewis administered the effort. The Cherokees were divided into 16 detachments of about 1,000 each.

“I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west….On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold and exposure…”

Private John G. Burnett

Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company,

2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry

Cherokee Indian Removal 1838-39

The military forts which were transformed into prison, concentration, and death camps were naturally armed with rifle towers and weaponry.1100 Cherokee were held as prisoners for almost 6 months at FORT HETZEL with no restroom facilities and little nourishment.



Starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient, and energy intake, and is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation (in excess of 1-2 months) causes permanent organ damage and will eventually result in death.

I would be tempted to say that the soldiers intentionally fed the Cherokee less in order to alleviate sanitation problems, if it weren’t for the facts that several Cherokee died in the internment camps and on the Trail of Tears, due to a murderous philosophy:



Eugenics is a new term for an old phenomena which asserts that Indian people should be exterminated because they are an inferior race of people. Jefferson’s suggestion to pursue the Indians to extermination fits well into the eugenistic vision. In David Stannard’s study American Holocaust, he writes: “had these same words been enunciated by a German leader in 1939, and directed at European Jews, they would be engraved in modern memory. Since they were uttered by one of America’s founding fathers, however…they conveniently have become lost to most historians in their insistent celebration of Jefferson’s wisdom and humanity.” Roosevelt feared that American upper classes were being replaced by the “unrestricted breeding” of inferior racial stocks, the “utterly shiftless”, and the “worthless.”

The soldiers must have wanted them dead, for transferring dead bodies out of the internment camps and disposing of them must have been more inconvenient, than giving a prisoner a shovel to cover up feces, while they also died of diseases.

Having given Wilma Mankiller’s book away last summer, I think an earlier paragraph from my last diary referred to what occurred at Fort New Echota (at least), because the Cherokee were supposed to have been given corn, I remember:

Fort New Echota (Fort Wool):

General Scott was shocked during a trip to inspect Fort New Echota when he overheard members of The Guard say that they would not be happy until all Cherokee were dead. As a result, he issued meticulous orders on conduct and allowed actions during the action. Troops were to treat tribal members “with kindness and humanity, free from every strain of violence.” Each Cherokee was to receive meat and flour or corn regardless of age. Scott’s orders were disobeyed by most troops that were not directly under his control.NEW ECHOTA

Here was the paragraph:


The reader needs to understand that the Cherokee are a matriarchal society. Plainly put: the clan mother can trump the chief, women choose HER mate based on HIS cooking skills, and a man knew he was divorced if all his things were outside when he got home. So when the soldiers raped the women in the prison camps and on the Trail of Tears, they raped the tribe’s leaders as well. It was about taking away power. When the soldiers passed the women around like whiskey bottles raping them, it was about taking away power. When the soldiers scalped the women’s genitalia and wore their vaginas on their hats, it was about raping power to the most excruciating degree imaginable. I think it’s common knowledge how soldiers identified “leaders” in concentration camps and killed them, in order to keep the hostages under control. Still, one hundred and fifty-one years later nuns are raped and tortured…

Last of all, what happened in Fort Cumming may be ambiguous, but let us assume the “horrors that occurred inside the walls” were similar and at least equal to the extermination via internment camps and relocation against the Cherokees that occurred at the other forts, if not worse.

Fort Cumming:


…Strangely missing from detailed physical description of the fort is any mention of the horrors that occurred inside the walls.

The 13 groups of 7 clans left in late August through late September of 1838, arriving January through March of the proceeding year.


They would lose their land 50 years later with the Land Run of 1889. While 12 groups traveled by wagon on land, Chief John Ross’s group traveled by water by boat.

Strong seasonal rain made the dirt roads too muddy to travel, their horses could not graze enough to be sustained, and hunting was scarce. The U.S. government gave them very little food to take. Even if they had been able to maintain their horses and wagons, they still would have had to walk across the frozen Mississippi or Ohio River, or be trapped in between them.


Looking across the river today, one can only imagine the suffering that was taking place more than 150 years ago. Disrespectfully uprooted, homeless, they were embarking on a long journey in worn-out moccasins in the unforgiving dead of winter.  Enduring river crossings, ice floes and relentless winds, they had only a blanket for warmth – if they were lucky.  You imagine huddling around a fire, comforting your mother while she gets weaker and weaker … wondering, as she, when the suffering would end, and whether she would even live to see it.

I forgot that was why they walked with little or no shoes across jagged ice and snow for miles upon miles. You only get that at the museum, because there is a large approximately 6 x 4 picture of the Mississippi River in the winter covered in snow with jagged ice. I don’t know how as many survived as they did; nearly 2000 Cherokee died on the Trail Of Tears. The least number of reported total deaths is 4000, combining the deaths at the internment camps. The greatest estimated number is 8000.


Two-thirds of the ill-equipped Cherokees were trapped between the ice-bound Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during January. Although suffering from a cold, Quatie Ross, the Chief’s wife, gave her only blanket to a child.

“Long time we travel on way to new land. People feel bad when they leave Old Nation. Women cry and make sad wails, Children cry and many men cry…but they say nothing and just put heads down and keep on go towards West. Many days pass and people die very much.”

Recollections of a survivor:

She died of pneumonia at Little Rock. Some drank stagnant water and succumbed to disease. One survivor told how his father got sick and died; then, his mother; then, one by one, his five brothers and sisters. “One each day. Then all are gone.”

The last things I remember about going through the exhibit are the stories constantly being told through audio with representative statues. Voices are heard over each other, yet surrounding voices are soft enough to hear the one you’re currently at with clarity.


The soldiers forced the Cherokees to abandon their dead at the side of the road.

Amidst the surrounding voices in the museum was the voice of a Cherokee survivor expressing how her grandfather died. Her grandfather had to sneak away for a couple days to hunt for food, so that she and others could live. The few soldiers wouldn’t notice, apparently. She tells how as a little girl, she knelt beside him as he died. What I recall the most was her saying, “Grandfather, Grandfather?” I think a soldier hit him, but I can’t exactly recall. She had to just keep walking.

An elder once told me how some still walk the Trail Of Tears, to remember and honor their ancestors by their graves of stones. “But it takes about 6 months to do it,” he said. I heard another elder tell a group about his family’s forced relocation, “When my relative’s relatives died, they buried them, picked up their pipes, and moved on.”

Now I know why I repeated that to myself over and over again.

Mitakuye Oyasin

(All my relations)

Detailed map:


Remember that the small groups of Cherokee would forage for food as they proceeded, so the map is only a general representation of the routes.


Cherokee Prayer:


As I walk the trail of life

in the fear of the wind and rain,

grant O Great Spirit

that I may always walk

like a man