the great mass of the people think only of the love we have to our land for...we
do love the land where we were brought up. We will never let our hold to this
land go...to let it go it will be like throwing away...[our] mother that
(Letter from Aitooweyah, to John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokees.)
National policy to move Indians west of the Mississippi developed after the
Louisiana Territory was purchased from the French in 1803. Whites moving onto
these lands pressed the U.S. government to do something about the Indian
presence. In 1825 the U.S. government formally adopted a removal policy, which
was carried out extensively in the 1830's by Presidents Andrew Jackson and
Martin Van Buren. The result was particularly overwhelming for the Indians of
the southeastern United States - primarily the Cherokee, Chickasaws, Choctaws,
Creeks, and Seminoles - who were finally removed hundreds of miles to a new
Traditionally the Cherokees had lived in villages in the southern Appalachians -
present-day Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, western North
Carolina, and South Carolina, northern Georgia, and northeastern Alabama. Here
in a land of valleys, ridges, mountains, and streams they developed a culture
based on farming, hunting, and fishing.
The Cherokees took on some of the ways of white society. They built
European-style homes and farmsteads, laid out European-style fields and farms,
developed a written language, established a newspaper, and wrote a constitution.
But they found that they were not guaranteed equal protection under the law and
that they could not prevent whites from seizing their lands. They were driven
from their homes, herded into internment camps, and moved by force to a strange
Cherokee situation was further complicated by the issue of state's rights and a
prolonged dispute between Georgia and the federal government. In 1802 Georgia
was the last of the original colonies to cede its western lands to the federal
government. In doing so, Georgia expected all titles to the land held by Indians
to be extinguished. However, that did not happen, and the Principal People
continued to occupy their ancestral homelands, which had been guaranteed to them
to remove from this land has no abiding place in our hearts, and when we move we
shall move by the course of nature to sleep under this ground which the Great
Spirit gave to our ancestors and which now covers them in their undisturbed
Cherokee Legislative Council
New Echota July 1830
resented the Cherokees success in holding onto their tribal lands and governing
themselves. Settlers continued to encroach on Cherokee lands, as well as those
belonging to the neighboring Creek Indians. In 1828 Georgia passed a law
pronouncing all laws of the Cherokee Nation to be null and void after June 1,
1830, forcing the issue of states' rights with the federal government. Because
the state no longer recognized the rights of the Cherokees, tribal meetings had
to held just across the state line at Red Clay, Tennessee. When gold was
discovered on Cherokee land in northern Georgia in 1829, efforts to dislodge the
Principal People from their lands were intensified. At the same time President
Andrew Jackson began to aggressively implement a broad policy of extinguishing
Indian land titles in affected states and relocating the Indian population.
eastern tribe had struggled harder or more successfully to make white
civilization their own. For generations the Cherokee had lived side by side with
whites in Georgia. They had devised a written language, published their own
newspaper, adopted a constitution, and a Christian faith. But after gold was
discovered on their land, even they were told they would have to start over
again in the West."
The West, a documentary by Ken Burns and Stephen Ives
friends, circumstances render it impossible that you can flourish in the midst
of a civilized community. You have but one remedy within your reach, and that is
to remove to the west. And the sooner you do this, the sooner you will commence
your career of improvement and prosperity."
President Martin Van
Buren ordered the implementation of the Treaty of New Echota in 1838, and U.S.
Army troops under the command of Gen. Winfield Scott began rounding up the
Cherokees and moving them into stockades in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,
and Tennessee. Altogether 31 forts were constructed for this purpose - 13 in
Georgia, five in North Carolina, eight in Tennessee, and five in Alabama. All of
the posts were near Cherokee towns, and they served only as temporary housing
for the Cherokees.
As soon as practical,
the Indians were transferred from the removal forts to 11 internment camps that
were more centrally located - 10 in Tennessee and one in Alabama. In North
Carolina, for example, Cherokees at the removal forts were sent to Fort Butler,
and by the second week in July on to the principal agency at Fort Cass. By late
July 1838, with the exception of the Oconaluftee Citizen Indians, the fugitives
hiding in the mountains, and some scattered families, virtually all other
Cherokees remaining in the East were in the internment camps.
According to a military
report for July 1838, the seven camps in and around Charleston, Tennessee,
contained more than 4,800 Cherokees: 700 at the agency post, 600 at Rattlesnake
Spring, 870 at the first encampment on Mouse Creek, 1,600 at the second
encampment of Mouse Creek, 900 at Bedwell Springs, 1,300 on Chestooee, 700 on
the ridge east of the agency, and 600 on the Upper Chatate. Some 2,000 Cherokees
were camped at Gunstocker Spring 13 miles from Calhoun, Tennessee.
of Cherokees did not leave the mountains of North Carolina. This group traced
their origin to an 1819 treaty that gave them an allotment of land and American
citizenship on lands not belonging to the Cherokee Nation. When the forced
removal came in 1838, this group--now called the Oconaluftee Cherokees - claimed
the 1835 treaty did not apply to them as they no longer lived on Cherokee lands.
Tsali and his sons were involved in raids on the U.S. soldiers who were sent to
drive the Cherokees to the stockades. The responsible Indians were punished by
the army, but the rest of the group gained permission to stay, and North
Carolina ultimately recognized their rights. Fugitive Cherokees from the nation
also joined the Oconaluftee Cherokees, and in time this group became the Eastern
Band of Cherokees, who still reside in North Carolina.
Trail Where They
nu na hi du na tlo hi lu i
by one Indian peoples were removed to the West. The Delaware, the Ottawa,
Shawnee, Pawnee and Potawatomi, the Sauk and Fox, Miami and Kickapoo, the
Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. In all some 90 thousand Indians were
relocated. The Cherokee were among the last to go. Some reluctantly agreed to
move. Others were driven from their homes at bayonet point. Almost two thousand
of them died along the route they remembered as the Trail of Tears."
Documentary: The West (Ken Burns/Stephen Ives)
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.