The Removal of the Cherokee west of the Mississippi
“Bearing a people with all its household gods into exile,
Exile without an end, and without an example in story.”
But a few years have passed since the Cherokees were in the peaceful occupation of an immense and fertile territory in the northern part of Georgia. They numbered not far from eighteen thousand, and were increasing in a ratio, which attested their power of self-support and improvement. They had made advances far beyond most of their red brethren in the arts of agriculture and manufactures. A system of legislation adapted to their capacities and wants had been established, and, generally speaking, the nation exhibited a praiseworthy spectacle “of sobriety, industry, and good order. They were in possession of about eight millions of acres of land, and their ability and inclination to cultivate it may appear from the statistics of their stock and agricultural implements. In 1826, they were the owners of seven thousand six hundred horses, twenty-two thousand cattle, forty-six thousand swine, and two thousand five hundred sheep. There were in use among them two thousand nine hundred and forty-three ploughs, and one hundred and seventy-two wagons. They occupied their territory under the treaties entered into, and within the bounds assigned, at the negotiations between the con federate states and the Indian tribes of the south, at the close of the revolutionary war.
In the year 1802, when the long vexed question of the boundaries of the state of Georgia was finally settled, the United States stipulated to extinguish the title of the Cherokees to the lands then in their possession, “as early as the same could be peaceably obtained, upon reasonable terms.”
As the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi increased in power and population, they became more and more impatient of the existence of self-governing and independent tribes within their boundaries, and began to exert a control over them in some instances exceedingly unjust and oppressive. Strong efforts were made to induce an emigration of these Indians to the west, which were in some measure successful, and, prior to 1889, a cession or sale of a very large district had been obtained from the Cherokees. The members of this tribe, naturally attached to the beautiful country in which they had passed their lives, finally determined to retain possession of what remained of their lands, and to allow of no further sales to whites.
In December, of the above year, the state of Georgia passed a series of acts, which justly aroused the fears and indignation of the Indians, and excited a feeling of sympathy in their behalf, as powerful as extensive. The laws of the state were declared to be in full force over all the Aborigines within its limits; the regulations and provisions of the Cherokee council were declared invalid and void; heavy penalties (amounting to years of imprisonment at hard labor) were awarded against any Cherokee who should “endeavor” to oppose emigration; and it was even enacted, by the fifteenth section, “that no Indian, or descendant of an Indian, within the Cherokee nation of Indians, shall be a competent witness in any court of Georgia, in a suit in which a white man is a party, unless such white man resides within said nation.”
Notwithstanding the adverse opinions of many of the ablest jurists in the country, as to the constitutionality or validity of these and other provisions of the Georgia legislature, and even a decision against them in the Supreme Court of the United States, they were, to a certain extent, enforced. The situation of the Indians became, in con sequence, so precarious and uncomfortable, that a considerable party was formed among them of those favorable to migration. At the head of this faction was Major Ridge, while the celebrated John Ross was the leader of those opposed to the movement a very large majority of the nation.
Matters continued in a disturbed and unquiet state, until 1835. At this time, the Rev. J. T. Schermerhorn was deputed by the United States executive to bring about a treaty whereby the Cherokees should remove peaceably, receiving a reasonable compensation for the improvements which they should leave behind them.
The negotiation appears to have been conducted as most Indian treaties have been, wherever a specific object was to be gained. Notice was given of a council to be held, and a collection of those favorable to the proposed emigration ratified a treaty by which the whole tribe was bound to remove within two years. Notwithstanding the obvious want of authority on the part of those individuals to bind the nation, and a remonstrance signed by the thousands who opposed the treaty, it was ratified by Congress. An appropriation was made for the indemnification of those who should suffer loss by being torn from their homes, and for the other expenses attending the iniquitous transaction, and nothing was left to the unhappy Cherokees but submission.
Present Location and Condition of the Other Tribes of the Southern States
No resistance was made, as, indeed, any opposition would have been utterly fruitless. The United States forces, sent to overawe the Indians and enforce compliance with the cruel edict, found no call for their services. With a commendable spirit of energy and perseverance, the Cherokees, with their brethren of the neighboring tribes of the south, have pursued the arts and refinements of civilization in their new homes at the west. They are now set down as numbering not far from twenty-six thousand, of whom by far the larger portion is located west of the Mississippi. A considerable settlement, however, still exists in North Carolina.
The Creeks or Muscogees have been continually emigrating westward since the era of the difficulties between the southern states and the Indians within their limits, in 18289, et seq. They enjoy a tolerably systematic form of government, and are in many respects prosperous.
Without going into a particular description of the condition of the other emigrating nations, we will conclude this subject with the remarks of Mr. Schoolcraft, upon “The problem of civilization,” to be solved in the future history of these races. “Whatever doubts have existed, heretofore, in regard to the satisfactory solution of this question, they must now give way before the cheering results that have attended the philanthropic efforts that have, from time to time, been made, and are at present going on among the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks. These tribes yielded their country east of the Mississippi, rendered dear to them by the associations of youth, their traditions, and the graves of their fathers. They had learned the great truths of Christianity, and the arts of agriculture, and of civilized life; yet they gave up all, and sought a new home in the far-off wilderness, and have made in that wilderness fruitful and rich farms, and flourishing villages. Some of their schools are of a high order. The gospel ministry is well attended. Some of their constitutions are purely republican. The people are increasing in numbers. Peace dwells within their limits, and plenteousness within their borders; civilization upon Christian principles; agriculture and the mechanic arts; and schools. “With these primary and fundamental principles of human happiness, civilization among them is no longer problematical.”