Based on your reading in the webtext, respond to the following prompt in two to three paragraphs:
Consider the following statement: “In preparing for the Cherokee Removal, state and federal officials were motivated solely by desire to seize the Natives’ land.”
Does this statement present the full picture? In two or three paragraphs, explain how you would revise this statement to present a more complex explanation of the motivations that drove state and federal officials, as well as white citizens of Georgia, during the years immediately preceding the Cherokee Removal.
The Tragic Journey West
In 1835, about 400 supporters of the Treaty Party—a small fraction of the 16,000 Cherokee then living east of the Mississippi—met with a federal negotiator in the Cherokee capital of New Echota. On December 29, the group’s negotiating committee approved the Treaty of New Echota*, under which the Cherokee would relocate to Indian Territory in return for $5 million (along with another $500,000 in educational funds), and land equal to the amount they were giving up. To see the text of the treaty, click on this link.
The original treaty also contained a clause that would have allowed individual Cherokee to remain east of the Mississippi and become American citizens if they gave up claims to their land, but President Jackson rejected that provision. (Perdue and Green, 2004)
The Cherokee Removal was dramatized in a 2009 documentary, “We Will Remain: The Trail of Tears.” To see all or part of this documentary, click here. You can watch as much of the documentary as you’d like, but the part relevant to the Trail of Tears consists of Segments 18 – 28. You will have to log into Shapiro Library with your SNHU credentials to access this streaming video.
John Ross promptly denounced the treaty and the Cherokee National Council declared it a fraud, but the U.S. Senate ratified it in 1836 by a single vote. Under terms of the treaty, Cherokee had two years to move west voluntarily, before the U.S. Army would begin a “forced removal.” Relatively few Cherokee, virtually all of them supporters of the Treaty Party, relocated willingly.
In 1838, Jackson’s successor, President Martin Van Buren, ordered General Winfield Scott to begin forcibly removing the Cherokee. But the initial removal operation, involving about 3,000 Natives, resulted in hundreds of deaths and desertions; Scott suspended the operation and placed the remaining Cherokee in 11 internment camps. Eventually, Principal Chief John Ross—bowing to the inevitable, but also hoping to safeguard his position as leader once the Cherokee arrived in Indian Country—signed a contract with the government to oversee the relocation plan. (Prucha, 1984)
Ross arranged for 12 wagon trains, each with roughly 1,000 Cherokee, to make the thousand-mile trip west. (Ross and other National Party leaders traveled in greater comfort aboard the steamboat Victoria.) Starting out in October and November, the wagon trains endured harsh winter conditions during the three- to four-month journey, and hundreds more perished. This is the phase of the Cherokee Removal commonly known as the Trail of Tears*.
Estimates for the total number of deaths during the Cherokee Removal vary widely, from a low of 2,000 to a high of 6,000. The most commonly cited figure is 4,000; this number takes into account those who died during the initial Army removal operation; in the internment camps; and on the wagon trains. (Prucha, 1984; Anderson, 1991)
The move west did nothing to heal the divisions within the Cherokee leadership. Followers of the Treaty Party, many of whom had relocated voluntarily, aligned themselves with the Old Settlers who had arrived before 1830. Ross and his National Party followers arrived in early 1839, and he promptly asserted his position as Principal Chief; the following June, three of the leaders of the Treaty Party—Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot—were assassinated by supporters of the National Party.
The killings set off a wave of intertribal violence that lasted for a decade, and fierce rivalries within the tribal leadership lasted throughout the American Civil War. (Wilkins, 1970) When John Ross died in 1866, the Cherokee Nation was still bitterly divided.
The following passage is excerpted from “To Overawe the Indians and Give Confidence to the Whites: Preparations for the Removal of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia”. Read the passage and then answer the question following it, keeping in mind the concept of historical complexity*.
Click on the title of the article to read, download, and print a copy of the text. These readings are provided by the Shapiro Library. This reading is required. You will have to log into Shapiro Library with your SNHU credentials to access this article.
“To Overawe the Indians and Give Confidence to the Whites:” Preparations for the Removal of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia”
Familiar accounts of Cherokee Nation removal narrate a story of the spring of 1838 when the Cherokees were surprised in their fields or at their dinner tables, rounded up like animals, and forced into stockades. Confined and guarded, they suffered for months without adequate supplies, food, or sanitation; they died by the hundreds from exposure or disease. These narratives, which understandably focus on the terror of removal, obscure important developments that occurred between treaty ratification and removal enforcement. Georgians interpreted Cherokee resistance as the prelude to a violent uprising. Their irrational fears combined with suspicion of the federal government to make removal preparations in Georgia a haphazard and brutal affair….
Military preparations for Indian removal in Georgia began in the spring of 1836 and ended in the spring of 1838. In those two years federal and state officials set up and unsteadily expanded military operations. They did so in a state deeply hostile toward Indians and resentful of federal authority. Georgians received little comfort from the Cherokee expulsion treaty or from the government’s substantial removal procedures. Convinced of Cherokee treachery and their own vulnerability, citizens pressed the governor to build forts, hand out weapons, activate troops, and disarm or arrest Cherokees. They considered and repeatedly described the Cherokees as hostile, regardless of contrary evidence. Concerned about the volatility of Georgians and unable to fathom the Cherokees’ response to the treaty, governmental authorities prepared for war inside the Cherokee Nation….
Conditions in the state remained volatile as former governor George Gilmer returned to office in 1837. Worried that intemperate whites were more likely than resolute Cherokees to spark violence, he appointed new agents in the Cherokee counties. Their charge was to monitor Cherokee attitudes and behavior, and, just as importantly, to report any abuse of Cherokees by white Georgians. In early December 1837 Gilmer demanded that Joseph Henry in Walker County, Lacy Witcher in Paulding County, Benjamin Chastain in Gilmer County, and George Kellogg in Forsyth County “report immediately whether Indians in your agency have been disturbed in their occupancy and what steps have been taken to protect them.” Peaceful and timely removal, he emphasized, depended on their protection of Indian rights until May 23, 1838. If Georgians failed in their responsibilities, the governor considered a bloody conflict inevitable.
Meanwhile, the federal government moved swiftly to implement the terms of the New Echota treaty. Within days of treaty ratification, the government called war hero John Ellis Wool from Troy, New York, to take command of the new Army of the Cherokee Nation. By June, Wool was on his way to the Cherokee Agency in Athens, Tennessee, to establish a military base. Fort Cass became headquarters for the removal of the Cherokee Nation.
The organization of federal removal proved erratic, which complicated procedures and produced an army of uncertain abilities. General Wool was one of three career military officers who led the Army of the Cherokee Nation in a two-year period. One year after arriving in Tennessee, Wool departed for his court martial on charges of mistreating Alabama citizens and property.13 The army then summoned Colonel William Lindsay of Limestone, Alabama, to replace him. Lindsay commanded during the second year, but one month before the treaty deadline he ceded command to General Winfield Scott. All three commanders faced suspicious state authorities, an assortment of ill-prepared troops, hostile Georgians, and a Cherokee Nation wholly resistant to dispossession. Under the circumstances, removal preparations could hardly have proceeded smoothly.
Since they had a signed and ratified treaty, authorities assumed the Cherokees would emigrate voluntarily to Indian Territory. Government agents who met with Cherokees concluded that emigration was eminent and conveyed their assurances to others. Wool wrote that the daily reports he received induced him to believe “that a large portion of the nation was prepared to submit to the treaty and to remove west at the proper time.” As he met with the headmen of Cherokee towns, however, Wool soon learned the extent of their opposition to the treaty. After only three weeks as commander, he began warning the federal government that the majority of Cherokees considered the treaty fraudulent.14 He recognized that their opposition signaled widespread rejection of voluntary departure, and that some degree of military action would be necessary.
The following readings offer additional insights about the Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears:
- The Price of Cherokee Removal: A brief article that looks at the Cherokee Removal from an economic perspective, measuring the total cost of the removal. You can read it at this link. This reading is required.
- “Removal, Reunion, and Diaspora”: An analysis of the complex political dynamics that characterized the relationship between different groups of Cherokee who migrated West before 1838, and those who endured the Trail of Tears. This essay is Chapter Three of The Cherokee Diaspora, by Gregory D. Smithers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015). You can read it at this link. This reading is optional.