The Cherokee Trail of Tears
The forced relocation of American Indians began with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In 1838 the Cherokee Indians became the fifth major tribe to experience forced relocation to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Along the trail nearly 4,000 Cherokee died of starvation, exposure, or disease. The forced removal of the Indians remains a black mark on American history, and reminds those who desire freedom, that all people deserve a life of liberty regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.
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Treaty of New Echota
December 30, 1835 | Georgia
The Treaty of New Echota meant forced emigration for the Cherokee Indians. Cherokees who favored removal, known as the “Ridge Party” led by John Ridge, engineered the treaty which agreed to pay the Cherokee nation $4.5 million to leave Georgia peacefully. The bulk of the Cherokee nation opposed this treaty and rejected its terms. However, the treaty commissioner, John F. Schermerhorn, went ahead without the support of the Cherokees or Chief John Ross. On December 30, 1835, a pro-removal council met at New Echota, Georgia. On that day, twenty-one Cherokees signed away all the Cherokee land east of the Mississippi river. Even though none of the Cherokee Council signed the document or even took part in the drafting of the treaty, the U.S. government used this document to force the migration of over 16,000 Cherokees into the Indian Territory. The treaty gave the Cherokees two years to migrate, and in 1838 the government forcibly removed the Cherokees via the path that is now called the “Trail of Tears,” where thousands died on the way to their new government-regulated home.
Removal as described by witnesses
June 18, 1838 | Cedartown, Ga.
The reason for this was that the nation had become a refuge for thieves, murderers, old Tories of the Revolution, and men who had left their wives and children and taken up with Indian squaws. The Indians could not correct these evils, and it was necessary for the State to extend
her laws and protect herself.
Rev. William J. Cotter(1917:56).
In 1802, when all the controversy over the Yazoo Land Fraud was in the air, Thomas Jefferson convinced Georgians to sell all the western lands to the federal government. This included the future states of Alabama and Mississippi. As part of the compensation, Jefferson promised to remove all the Indians from the state as soon as possible. That was before it became a political issue in the North and, of course, several presidents later. Georgia was screaming about federal betrayal. In this perspective one might say the problem of Indians and the removal atrocities were the fault of the Federal Government and they would be partly right. The state had done nothing to impede removal, had fought for it in Washington D.C., had weathered the slings and arrows of Northern animosity on the subject and, with Andrew Jackson in charge, had finally won: the president would have the Cherokee removed no matter what the Supreme Court said. In 1832, Creeks had agreed to move west and in 1835 the Treaty or Ridge Party of the Cherokee had signed a treaty for removal by 1838.
Since the early 1830s some Indians had opted for removal and signed up to go west, being appraised and their property paid for by funds earmarked by the Federal Government for such purposes. These abandoned properties were claimed by intruders until the state government began renting them to whites from neighboring counties. The Land Lottery of 1832 was then employed to assign abandoned property to settlers en masse. For 6 years whites and Indians lived side by side in the Cherokee lands, not without friction and not without wholesale theft of Indian property. Finally the time arrived for the Cherokee to leave.
To prepare for removal the Federal Government built a series of forts in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina, not for the purpose of incarcerating Indians but to warehouse supplies and soldiers given the task of enforcing the removal. Many “forts” were merely encampments and had no walls or buildings associated. Sarah Hill, in her treatise on the removal (2005), listed the following forts in Georgia:
Fort Buffington (Canton, Cherokee County)
Sixes (Cherokee County)
Fort Floyd (Dahlonega, Lumpkin County)
Fort Hetzel (Ellijay, Gilmer County)
Fort Gilmer (Rock Springs, Murray County)
Fort Newnan (Blaine, Pickens County)
Encampment at Chastain’s (Blue Ridge, Union County)
Fort Hoskins (Springplace, Murray County)
Fort Campbell (Blaine, Forsythe County)
Fort Cumming (Lafayette, Walker County)
Fort Means (Kingston, Floyd County)
Cedar Town (Polk County)
Camp Scott (Rome, Floyd County)
Perkins, Dade County
Fort Wool was named after Gen. John E. Wool, A New York soldier who was a hero of the War of 1812. Wool had been picked to lead the removal efforts of the U.S. Army, but was soon replaced by Gen. Winfield Scott. Wool had second thoughts about the veracity of removing the Cherokee and was sympathetic to their plight in Georgia.
If I could I would remove every Indian tomorrow, beyond the reach of the white men who, like vultures, are watching, ready to pounce on their prey and strip them of everything they had (Eisenhower 1999: 189).
Gen. Scott was busy with the Creek or Second Seminole War, which can be seen as an action designed to remove all the Creeks and Seminoles from Alabama and Florida. In many cases captured Seminoles or Creeks were summarily marched onto boats and sent packing to New Orleans for shipment to Oklahoma. The Cherokee were next.
An 1835 census of Georgia recorded 8,936 Cherokees — plus 776 Cherokee-owned black slaves and 68 intermarried whites — living in North Georgia, most of them in small towns and log-house farmsteads. Their property included 6,000 dwellings and outbuildings, 80,000 head of livestock, and 63,000 peach trees (Hill 2006).
By the end of 1838 no Cherokee were left in Georgia, Alabama or Tennessee. It had taken only 20 days to remove them in what can only be described as a mass round up. Contrary to popular belief all the Cherokee were not involved in the trail of tears. In fact many Cherokees had gone West in 1817, creating what was called the Western Band of Cherokees. Between then and March, 1838, many others had gone to Oklahoma. In fact those on the trail of Tears were the holdouts from the Ross party, the Ridge Party having already removed to Oklahoma, Indian Territory.
By fighting removal to the last minute, that remaining group subjected themselves to the massive roundup, incarceration and removal, sometimes on foot, down the trail of tears in the midst of a cruel winter.
Late removal parties:
Here are some parties leaving under their own supervision, the difference in numbers also reflects desertions and births.
DETACHMENT DEPARTED ARRIVED DEPART ARRIVE DEATHS
Hair Conrad Aug 23, 1838 Jan 17, 1839 729 654 57
Elijah Hicks Sep 1, 1838 Jan 4, 1839 858 744 54
Jesse Bushyhead Sep 3, 1838 Feb 27, 1839 950 898 38
John Benge Sep 28, 1838 Jan 17, 1839 1200 1132 33
Situwakee Sep 7, 1838 Feb 2, 1839 1250 1033 71
Old Field Sep 24, 1838 Feb 23, 1839 983 921 57
Moses Daniel Sep 30, 1838 Mar 2, 1839 1035 924 48
Choowalooka Sep 14, 1838 Mar , 1839 1150 970 NA
James Brown Sep 10, 1838 Mar 5, 1839 850 717 34
George Hicks Sep 7, 1838 Mar 14, 1839 1118 1039 NA
Richard Taylor Sep 20, 1838 Mar 24, 1839 1029 942 55
Peter Hildebrand Oct 23, 1838 Mar 24, 1839 1766 1311 NA
John Drew Dec 5, 1838 Mar 18, 1839 231 219 NA
Source: New American State Papers, Vol. 2 pages 58, 59.
Oloocha, the Widow of Sweetwater, for whom Sweet Water Creek in Douglas County, Georgia is named, described her round up from the Etowah District near Carroll County, Georgia, in her 1842 Claim:
The soldiers came and took us from home, they first surrounded our house and they took the mare while we were at work in the fields and they drove us out of doors and did not permit us to take anything with us not even a second change of clothes, only the clothes we had on, and they shut the doors after they turned us out. They would not permit any of us to enter the house to get any clothing but drove us off to a fort that was built at New Echota. They kept us in the fort about three days and then marched us to Ross’s Landing. And still on foot, even our little children, and they kept us about three days at Ross’s Landing and sent us off on a boat to this country (Skin Bayou Claim 258) .
The descriptions of what happened to those rounded up are appalling. Though Gen. Scott ordered humane treatment and the officious round up of Indian property, reports of beatings and looting prevail to this day. In one set of accounts, by Anthropologist James Mooney, who later lived with the Cherokee, soldiers removed Indians at bayonet point, accompanied by beatings and houses burning in the background:
…Under the orders of Gen. Winfield Scott, troops were stationed at various points throughout the Cherokee country, where stockade forts were erected for the purpose of coralling the Indians preparatory to removal. From these forts large squads of troops were sent out to search with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in the coves of the mountains and to make prisoners of all the occupants, however and wherever they might be found. Families at dinner were startled by the sudden gleam of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows and oaths along the weary miles of travel leading to the stockades. Men were seized in the fields all along the roads. Women were taken from their wheels, and
children from their play. In many cases, as they turned for one last look as they crossed the ridge, they saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and to pillage. So keen were these outlaws on the scent that in some instances they were driving off the cattle and other stock of the Indians almost before the soldiers had started their owners in the other direction. Systematic hunts were made by the same men for Indian graves to rob them of the silver pendants and other valuables deposited with the dead. A Georgia volunteer, afterwards a colonel in the Confederate serv ice, said: ‘I fought through the Civil War. It has been my experience to see men shot to pieces and slaughtered by thousands. But the Cherokees' removal was the cruelest work I ever saw.'(Mooney 1975: 124)…
The Reverend William J. Cotter took issue with Mooney and others, reminiscing when he was a 14 year old boy; his father working to supply one of the removal forts:
I feel justified in saying that there were neither blows nor oaths on the way to the fort. Men were not seized anywhere, nor were their houses in flames. Not one hoof of cattle was driven away, not one Indian grave disturbed, and there was no lawless rabble. I have never seen on any page of history such a malignant, unmitigated, slanderous absurdity. On reading it my blood boiled. This is a slander upon General Scott and every man in that command, and now it reaches to the second and third generations of those noble men. (1917: 47, 48)…
Not only did Cotter and his father supply the troops and Indians with supplies, but they were detailed to pick up the belongings of the Indians who had been rounded up:
In hauling the stuff from the cabins a file of six or more men went with me as a guard. They forced open the doors and put the poor, meager household effects into the wagons, sometimes the stuff of two or three families at one load. After following me a mile or two the guards galloped away, leaving me in worse danger than any one else; for if there had been an Indian hiding out, I would have been the one to suffer.
But few of the Indians ever went back to their homes. We turned the cows and calves together, as they had been apart a day or two. Chickens, cats, and dogs all ran away when they saw us. Ponies under the shade trees fighting the flies with the noise of their bells; the cows and calves lowing to each other; the poor dogs howling for their owners; the open doors of the cabins as we left them — to have seen it all would have melted to tenderness a heart of stone. And in contrast there was a beautiful growing crop of corn and beans (1917: 39).
But Cotter was only in one location, serving one fort out of many. In other locations things were not going as well. As would be expected, Gen. Scott called on the Georgia Militia to help not only with the Creek War, but the removal as well. Many served in both endeavors and some until 1842 when the War was ended. Most militia units merely did their job and then went home, but some left their mark on the whole affair. The activity of the Paulding County Militia was a black mark on the entire operation.
John Witcher of Paulding County was also a justice of the Inferior Court of Cherokee County by the election of 1832. He had served in both the War of 1812, commanding troops and the 1835 Creek War, commanding local militia. With the
looming removal, Witcher sought to become involved from his former home of Paulding County. He was aided in this by W.H. Adair, who wrote Governor Gilmer asking for armed men at Cedartown.
Milledgeville Dece. 15th 1837
To His Excellency George R. Gilmore
Sir in answer to your letter under date of the 22nd ult. I take this oppertunity of saying in relation to theIndians in Paulding County that there are any Considerable settlement of Indians. This Town is the nearest Cherokee vilage to the Creek country and besides have intermarried with the Creek Indians and consequently have many of the renegade Creek Indians lurking about this Town. In addition to this the whole of the Cedar Town Indians belong to the Ross party and oppose emmigration. From this state of things my belief is that a small force should be stationed at Cedar Town as a rallying point say 25 or 30 men. What makes this more important is, that the distance from Cedar Town to New Echota where the principle force is stationed is considerable and in case of any difficulty the necessary assistance would be too distant. If a few of the regular troops were stationed in Cedar Town they would answer every purpose.
With Sentements of esteem your Excellency obt. servt.
W. H. Adair
Hill (2006) picks up the story:
…Soon after, Witcher urged the governor to call into service his mounted company of 43 men, and by April 1838, he had received his munitions from Capt. Buffington in Canton.
Although the federal command under Maj. Payne was assigning troops to specific locations, Witcher apparently enjoyed the support of some local citizenry. In mid-May, Gen. Scott declined a request from a group of prominent white Cedar Town residents to muster in Witcher’s company. Nonetheless, Witcher continued to act as leader of the Cedar Town militia. Agent Lacy Witcher (relationship unknown) complained to the governor that John Witcher and his company were often intoxicated, unfit for service, and antagonistic toward the Indians, who had remained friendly and peaceful. After John Witcher’s company camped near Cedar Town and shot at passing Indians, many had moved away. Gilmer acknowledged that Witcher was serving in defiance of the state, but took no immediate action.
When Floyd learned of the Cedar Town controversy, he promptly dispatched a staff officer to investigate and arrest Witcher if necessary. On June 18, Floyd accepted Witcher’s “explanation,” which has not been located, and Gilmer cautioned against punishing him if the Indians had been removed “as the object of punishment will have passed.” Such was the political power of the local citizens during the removal crisis.
The story of Witcher’s company is instructive as an indicator of the governor’s lack of control over the local militia, the local popularity of rogue groups in the removal process, and the choices Cherokees were forced to make between flight, accommodation, and resistance. Witcher’s behavior as organizer of an armed and unauthorized mob beyond the reach of discipline represents the worst expression of Georgia’s callous behavior regarding the removal of Indians (Hill 2006).
Captain John Witcher’s Company Mounted Volunteers, Paulding County:
John Witcher Capt.
John Ledbetter 1st Lt.
Joel W. Butts 2cd Lt.
John Hackney 1st Sgt.
R.W. Pollard 1st Sgt.
John W. Barton 2cd Sgt.
John Stocks 3rd Sgt.
Castello Wright 4th Sgt
Thomas Stocks 1st Cpl.
B.W. Witcher 2cd Cpl.
Joseph Walthal 3rd Cpl.
E.D. Chisolm 4th Cpl.
James H. Hobbs
Jesse R. Johnson
William T. Jones
Some of Witcher’s men were known Pony Club members and there can be little doubt some of the many white men who were said to accompany his militia were members as well. No other militia unit in the removal raised more suspicion nor created more chain of command action than that of Witcher’s unit.
Much has been written of the rabble that followed the troops in the Indian round up, burning houses and stealing everything in sight. Moodey’s version is born out by some of the soldiers involved. Ed Noland’s eyewitness account in Whitmire (1990) is a good example:
The people do far as my observation went are poor and lazy, dirty and slothful, particularly in Georgia. Their only aim is to dispossess the Indians of their lands. Tricks and dishonesty in all its distorted forms is resorted to effect their purpose.
The government is bound to protect these poor people, yet, alas with shame I confess it, it is aiding and abetting these vultures in human form, to draw the last drop of blood in the veins of these unfortunate people (1990: 13, 14).
Another Militia trooper, From Forsyth County, Ga., Capt. James Word wrote Lt. John McKay with certainty that Cherokee property would fall into the hands of
the white rabble.
…And while upon this subject, I will inquire, what shall be done with the Indians' property? Shall it be left a prey to waiting white men who are now ready to seize all and hold it as their own? (Cashin 1994: 138). . .
Word’s premonition came to pass as Indian property was seized by groups of roaming whites. As Indians awaited steamboats or wagons for the removal days turned into weeks. To alleviate problems with supplies, some Indians were allowed to try and retrieve their property left behind;
Treaty Party members had prepared for removal and therefore saved much of their property, but those caught in the roundup often had no more than the clothes they wore when captured. In the stockades, the soldiers had built almost no shelters inside the 16-foot-high walls, and thus most Cherokees slept exposed to the elements. Also, because they had no implements with which to cook, the Cherokees often ate their daily ration of salt pork raw. Eventually, Scott ordered his officers to allow a few women outside the walls to hunt for fruit and edible plants. A few men also received permission to return to their homes to retrieve property, but usually they found the abodes had been stripped bare by roving hordes of whites who followed the soldiers as they collected the Cherokees (Logan undated: 42)...
The Treaty Party and most of its followers had proceeded to Oklahoma in a timely fashion and did not have the troubles the late parties experienced. John Ridge was quick to blame the deaths during the trail of tears and the atrocities committed by Georgia’s white rabble on John Ross:
But there was justice in the General’s claim that a great deal of the Cherokee’s trouble was their own fault for having placed too much faith in John Ross. Many of their hardships might have been avoided if they had put their affairs in order and prepared themselves for the exodus. ”If Ross had told them the truth in time”, John Ridge complained bitterly, “they would have sold off their furniture, their horses, their cattle, hogs, sheep and their growing corn.” The soldiers had no time to let the Cherokees do what they should have done beforehand. It was for that reason that so much of their stock and personal property was lost (Wilkins 1989: 322).
The white rabble and the Pony Club would have a field day stealing from the Indians, taking horse cows hogs, personal effects and even whole crops ripening in the fields. The state of Georgia Allowed it and the Federal Government allowed it because it was their policy to have the Indians removed at all costs. Gen. Wool was replaced for not sticking to this policy:
Wool’s orders were to “apply force only if hostilities are initiated by the Cherokees,”
a mandate he found farcical considering the wretched state of the Indians. Although Wool staunchly believed in removal -- he warned John Ross that resisting the treaty would do the Cherokees “much evil” -- the general nonetheless sympathized with the plight of the Cherokees. He ordered his troops to protect both whites and Cherokees,allowing “no encroachments on either side” and suppressing the sale of whiskey. Wool’s loose interpretation of his orders angered Jackson, who believed the acute stress of living day after day with scurrilous whites would break down the resistance to the Treaty of New Echota by John Ross and his followers (Logan: undated: 35)…
Now that there were no more Indians in Georgia, all there could celebrate the new lands created, the property taken and the victory of those who hated the Cherokee so much. History has a way of condemning those responsible for heinous acts against a weak and poorly equipped foe. In the Case of Georgia, there is the accusing finger left in indelible ink, by 4,000 claims cached in hidden places, almost unknown to most Americans. These claims, made mostly in 1842 by the Cherokee in their new homes in Oklahoma, not only are a litany of stolen property but a list of the culprits involved in thefts of all kinds.
1994 Cashin Ed, ed., A Wilderness Still The Cradle of Nature: Frontier Georgia Beehive Press: Savannah.
1917 Cotter, William Jasper, Charles O. Jones, My Autobiography, Publishing House Methodist Episcopal Church, South:
1999 Eisenhower, John S. D., Agent of Destiny: the Life and Times of General Winfield Scott, Univ. of Okla Press: Norman.
1985 Foreman, Grant, Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians Univ. of Oklahoma Press: Norman.
2006 Hill, Sarah, Cherokee Removal: Forts Along the Georgia Trail of Tears, The National Park Service/The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division: Atlanta.
May 21, 2006 Hill Sarah H. Sarah Hill: Historian Documents Georgia's Role in Trail of Tears, The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Undated Logan, Charles Russell, The Promised Land: The Cherokees, Arkansas, and Removal, 1794-1839, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: Little Rock.
1999 Marks, Paula Mitchell, In a barren land: American Indian dispossession and survival, Harper Collins Publishers: N.Y.
1900 Mooney, James, Myths of the Cherokee, 19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897-1898, part 1: page3-576, GPO: Washington, D.C.
1975 Mooney, James, Historical Sketch of the Cherokee, Aldine: Chicago.
Undated The New American State Papers 1789-1861: Indian Affairs VOL 11: Gales and Seaton: Washington D.C.
2003 Rozema, Vicki, Voices from the Trail of Tears, John F. Blair: Winston-Salem.
1990 Whitmire, Mildred E., Ed., Noland’s Cherokee Diary: A U.S. Soldier’s Story from Inside the Cherokee Nation, The Reprint Co., Publishers: Spartanburg.
1989 Wilkins, Thurman, Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People, Univ. of Oklahoma Press: Norman.
HISTORY OF THE PONY CLUB now available
GOOGLE: history of the pony club ray henderson.
1800 ? | Munford, Tennessee
My story is more of a question about land that the Cherokee owned(with my story). My history goes back to my Great Grandmother Zora, who was a full blooded Cherokee and married my Great Grandfather, they kept her family's 300 acres and farmed it. Zora died at 105 in the 1970's, I was born in 66, my Mother has told me our history of her family, and I hold it in the highest regauard. Not claiming the fame of the Cherokees's by any means, not sure I qualify to do so.
Now to my question and story, I bought a home in 2001, in Munford Tennessee, bad vibe there, but I had 12.5 acres and was rasing a lil mini farm. The divorce and court stuff happens, I lost this property 3 times because of erronous property changes which were made apparent with my research, regained and had the property forsale and a realestate person told me that there was a problem with the land. Well I have title insurance blah blah, and all would be ok. Not so this time it was for sure, at which time my Mother stepped in and bought my loan out, in 05(wonderful gesture) that was until I was moving.
My brother was helping me remove my property, in 2005, from one of the barns that was once a little house, and we found a trunk in the attic of the make shift barn. We inspected the contents and found spectalces, paperwork, etc some dating back to the 1800 hundreds(about the property) scared of the Tipton County Assersors Office, I reluctanly called Memphis, Tn and was told that they would promptly take the trunk, well I hung up very fast. Not sure about the authenticity of this paperwork, but people seem interested in it.
As I researched I was told that no Cherokee's or for that matter any Indian culture resided here. These statements alone I am trying to find out more imformation on how to see if these documents maybe true and that possibly more land might have been obtained illeagally from the Indians in this area.
Munford, Tennesse use to be known as Mt. Zion. Not trying to open up old wounds, but these people have fought me over this piece of property for years trying to take easement rights, well rights, etc. My point is if they are so concerned with this property, I bet it hides more deciet and theft on their part.
Any help would be grately appreciated!
Help finding Cherokee ancestor
July 2012 | Columbia, TN
Looking to find a Cherokee relative that was on the trail of tears. All we know is they called him 'George' (and I don't think he was real nice).
Also trying to track back the Choctaw side but trying to concentrate more on the Cherokee right now. Any suggestions how to find?
We have a relative who found some of this but I have yet to receive any of it.
Thanks for any suggestions for finding!