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The HISTORY of

TRAIL of TEARS

In the early nineteenth century, most of white America was consumed by hatred and greed. The southern Indians would not find safety or solace in their successful efforts at becoming acculturated. They were still widely regarded as inferior beings who were no longer feared and possessed much of the wealth the greedy newcomers desired. This proved to be a lethal combination for many proud tribes.

In 1829, gold was discovered on Cherokee lands and thousands of whites, in blatant violation of treaties, invaded the Indian nation's borders to stake claims. By removing its federal troops, executive government gave free reign to Georgia officals. Determined to force the Indians from their state, they quickly passed laws making it illegal for Cherokees to mine gold, testify against a white man, or to hold political assemblies for any purpose other than ceding land. This made it impossible for tribesman to seek justice, or for the Indians' government to function. Repeated Cherokee appeals to Washington officials had zero effect. Ignoring the Indians' plight, Jackson told a Georgia senator to just "build a fire under them. When it gets hot enough, they'll move."

In the fall of 1829, the Cherokee National Council, met in violation of the Georgia law and ordered the death penalty for anyone who sold tribal lands. Sadly the law came much to late to be effective and on May 28th, 1830, Congress passed the Removal Act, directing the forced removal of the eastern tribes to the west.

The Choctaws, who fought on the American side during the War of 1812 under Chief Opothleyahola, were ironically the first to feel the cruelty of legislation. With bribes and coercion, federal negotiators seduced the tribe into signing the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. This agreement gave up Choctaw lands in Alabama and Mississippi and pushed the tribe to western Arkansas. During the next four years, some four thousand of the thirteen thousand Choctaws who headed west died of hunger, disease, accidents and exposure during the arduous trek to their new homes. Approximately seven thousand members, remained in Mississippi, eventually becoming permanent residents of that state.

In 1832, the Creeks signed a separate treaty surrendering all their land in Alabama. Though starving and despondent, most of tribesman defied the move. White land speculators, various pioneering families, and cotton farmers needing new fields invaded, driving the Creeks from their land and livestock. Eventually, bands of desperate Lower Creeks formed raiding parties, burning the invaders' houses and barns often killing the pioneers and stealing food.

At one point, McIntosh's old nemesis Opothleyahola, although bitterly opposed to removal, assisted an American army against the rebellion. The government rewarded Opothleyahola by ordering the immediate removal of the entire tribe. During the summer of 1836, eight hundred Creek "hostiles" in manacles and chains, together with their families, were forcibly and cruelly removed to western Arkansas. Soon afterward, Opothleyahola and his followers also departed for the West. It was a horrific journey, during which thousands died. At its conclusion, several Indians were reported to have asked their guards, "We are men.....we have women and children, why should we come like wild horses?" It was estimated that the Creeks lost as much as forty five percent of their population totalling twenty-two thousand during their removal.

With the Choctaws and the Creeks removed, the government turned their attention to the more acculturated, and therefore more irritating, Cherokees. From 1830-38, John Ross made repeated trips to Washington, trying to forestall their ultimate removal. He met many times with members of Congress and with President Jackson, with whom he had served during the Creek War, all in vain. Twice the Cherokee nation sought the protection of the Supreme Court. In 1831, it sued the State of Georgia to halt the illegal seizure of Cherokee property and to establish that the tribe was not subject to Georgia's jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled, in Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, that the Court did not have jurisdiction in the matter. In his decision, however, Chief Justice John Marshall, an anti-Jacksonian and Federalist of the old school, rendered a relevant, new definition of the relationship of the tribes to the American government. Henceforth, he wrote, they should considered "domestic dependent nations" whose relationship to the "United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian." Although it implied that the government was obligated to protect the Cherokees, the Jackson administration scoffed, and chose to ignore the decision.

In 1832, the Cherokees and supporters brought a second case to the Supreme Court, Worcester vs. Georgia, stemming from Georgia's arrest and imprisonment of Samuel A. Worcester and other missionaries charged with living among the Cherokees without securing a state permit or swearing allegiance to Georgia. This time, Justice Marshall ruled unmistakably in favor of the Indians, ruling that jurisdiction over the Cherokees belonged exclusively to the federal government, and that Georgia had no power to pass laws affecting the tribe. "The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation {the Cherokees}," he wrote "is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States." The Cherokees were thrilled and believed that Georgia had been stripped of its power over them and that their land laws had been restored to their nation. Despite their elation, however, Jackson again ignored the Courts decision and encouraged Georgia to do likewise. It is rumored Jackson had privately stated "John Marshall has rendered his decision, now let him enforce it."

In 1833, the State of Georgia held a lottery of Cherokee land and holdings. Indian leaders, including Ross and John Ridge, the son of Major Ridge one of the nation's most prominent men, were among those who lost their plantations and moved their families to Tennessee. Throughout the State of Georgia, indians were evicted from their homes and robbed of their fields and livestock.

By 1834, the once-united Cherokees were bitterly divided. Under Major Ridge one side supported removal, the other was led by Ross and strongly opposed it. The following year, Ridge secretly traveled to Washington and negotiated a treaty with the government, selling the Cherokees' lands for five million dollars. Upon his return and ultimate disclosure, the Cherokees' National Council unanimously rejected the treaty. Nevertheless, the Ridge faction met again secretly in New Echota and with full understanding of the consequences... signed it.

Despite Ross's angry protests, the United States Senate ratified the New Echota treay which gave the Cherokees three years to give up their lands and move west. During those years, Ross campaigned tirelessly without success to have the treaty annulled. Meanwhile, although Ridge and his family and followers emigrated to Indian Territory, the great majority of the Cherokee people under Ross's leadership made no preparations to leave.

Finally, in the summer of 1838 General Winfield Scott, who found his assignment most distasteful, arrived in Georgia with seven thousand soldiers and orders to forcibly remove the Cherokees. Thousands of Cherokees were rounded up at bayonet point and held by the army at camps to await the journey west. A few groups escaped to the mountains and managed to evade troops. Cherokee traditons tell of heroes and heroines and their sacrifice for others.

One of these heroes was a proud elder named Tsali who was known to whites as Charley, he killed a soldier who had brutally prodded Tsali's wife with a bayonet in one of the stockades. Escaping, Tsali and his wife and sons fled to join other Indian families who were in hiding from the soldiers in the forests and caves of the Smoky Mountains. When General Scott heard of the soldiers death, he ordered troops to hunt down Tsali and his family. Organizing a band of refugees, Tsali avoided capture although the troops pursued him relentlessly through the mountains. Finally, when Scott learned that two more soldiers had been killed, he announced in frustration that he would abandon the search for all the other refugees hiding in the mountains if Tsali and his sons would give themselves up. When he learned this, Tsali turned himself in to save the rest of the people. A final cruel blow awaited him. The army forced some of Ridge's treaty party to form the firing squad that executed him - three of his sons, and a brother. True to his promise, however, Scott ignored some four hundred traditional Cherokees who remained in the mountainous country evading removal. Their descendants are still there today, recognized as the nation of Eastern Cherokees.

The emotional degradation and physical hardships the tribe suffered on their removal to the west became known as the Trail of Tears. It claimed a heavy toll in lives. Ross received permission to take over removal from the army, and organized the people into thirteen parties. Ross and his wife left Georgia with the last contingent. On the grueling forced march that took the parties an average of six months to complete, Ross's wife was among those who died of hunger, exposure, or despair. It is estimated that of the eighteen thousand Cherokees who were rounded up for the trip, approximately four thousand were lost....

  Native Man a poem from the Heart..

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