Trail of Tears
In 1830, Congress enacted a law authorizing the President of the United States to set aside territory west of Missouri and Arkansas Territory for the use of Indians east of the Mississippi River. The land which had been explored by DeSoto and Coronado was the possession of the Quapaws and Osages a little more than a century ago. The Quapaws held the territory between the Red River and the Canadian and Arkansas, and from the Mississippi River west for several hundred miles. The territory from the Arkansas to the Missouri belonged to the Osages.
The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 suggested the removal of the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to the new country where they would have plenty of room. In 1804, the next year after the Louisiana Purchase, Congress enacted a law from which we quote:"The President of the United States is hereby authorized to stipulate with any Indian tribes owning land on the east side of the Mississippi and residing thereon, for an exchange of lands the property of the United States on the west and settle thereon."In 1808, the Osages ceded to the United States most of the territory in what is now the State of Missouri and all of Arkansas north of the Arkansas River. Arkansas was organized as a separate territory in 1819. In 1818, the Osages ceded to the United States more land between the Grand River and the present western boundary of Arkansas. By two treaties in 1818 and 1824, the Quapaws sold all of their territory to the United States at a price the equivalent of one-twelfth a cent per acre. Then they were located with the Caddos on the Red River, where many of them literally starved to death. Later they were removed farther north to the Osage territory and the remnant now lives in Northeast Oklahoma.
The Five Tribes east of the Mississippi, especially the Cherokees, Creeks, and Choctaws, had not waited until this territory was acquired by the United States, to explore and settle the country west of the Mississippi. Such settlements were made without the authority of the United States or of the respective Indian nations before definite treaties to that end had been negotiated with the United States. As early as 1777, Cherokees and Choctaws were ranging over the present Arkansas and Louisiana areas. A few Cherokees, dissatisfied with the Hopewell Treaty in 1785, came West and settled on the White River and the Arkansas River. A Choctaw band led by Pushmataha crossed the Mississippi in 1807 and attacked the Osages. Straggling bands of Creeks had also crossed the Mississippi. In 1817 the United States assigned land in Arkansas to the Cherokees. In 1818-19 many more Cherokees came from the East. In 1828 the Western Cherokees, (those who had already moved to Arkansas) were assigned seven million acres in Northeast Oklahoma and gave up their land in Arkansas.
Concessions of territory to the United States by the Indians east of the Mississippi, both north and south of the Ohio River, were made, year after year, until they had lost nearly all of their lands. Among the first concessions were trade routes. For instance, by the terms of the Greenville Treaty in 1795 with the Wyandots, Shawnees, Ottawas, Chippewas, Potawatomies, Miamis and other tribes in the territory north of the Ohio, five well-defined travel routes were specified over which citizens of the United States might travel through Indian nations. It will help us in our understanding of the status of the Indians at that time, to keep in mind the fact that the Indian tribes were regarded as sovereign, independent nations. In the treaty to which we have just referred is the following clause:"If any citizen of the United States, or if any other white person or persons shall presume to settle upon the lands now relinquished by the United States [to the Indian nations] such citizen or other person shall be out of the protection of the United States."In 1802 a federal law was passed subjecting
United States citizens to a fine and imprisonment if they entered the Indian nations north of the Ohio River without federal passports.
In the early treaties with the Indians the terms "relinquish" and "cede" occur frequently. The Cherokees and other nations "relinquished" and "ceded" their territory until they had surrendered their ancestral lands. But as we shall see, further along, that is not the darkest side of the picture.
An effort was made by the celebrated Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, to form a confederacy of the Indian nations from the Great Lakes to the Gulf through which could be effected agreements that no lands should be sold to the United States by any nation in the confederacy without the consent of all the nations in the league. Tecumseh's plans went deeper: he wished not only to drive the white man back across the mountains, but to enlist all the Indian tribes as allies of Great Britain in the War of 1812. In 1811, on the Tombigbee, near where Columbus, Mississippi, is now located occurred the memorable midnight debate between Tecumseh and the Choctaw chieftain, Pushmataha, in which Tecumseh was defeated. Enraged, he charged Pushmataha with being a coward. Here is a part of Pushmataha's reply which may be found in "Oklahoma Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow":"Halt, Tecumseh! Listen to me. You have come here, as you have gone elsewhere, with a purpose to involve peaceful people in unnecessary trouble with their neighbors. Our people have had no friction with the whites. Why? Because they have had no leaders stirring up strife to serve their selfish personal ambitions. You heard me say that our People are a peaceful people. They make their way, not by ravages upon their neighbors, but by honest toil . . . I know your history well. You are a disturber. You have ever been a trouble maker. When you have yourself been unable to pick a quarrel with the white men, you have stirred up strife between different tribes of your own race. Not only that, you are a monarch; and unyielding tyrant within your own domain: every Shawnee man, woman, and
child must bow in humble submission to your imperious will. The Choctaws and Chickasaws have no monarchs. Their chieftains do not undertake the mastery of their people but rather are they the people's servants, elected to serve the will of the majority. The majority has spoken on this question and it has spoken against your contention. Their decision has become the law of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and Pushmataha will see that the will of the majority, so recently expressed, is rigidly carried out to the letter!"In 1802, Georgia ceded to the United States its territory west from the present state of Georgia to the Mississippi River. Out of this territory the states of Alabama and Mississippi were constituted. One of the conditions of the cession was that the United States would extinguish Indian titles to land in Georgia "as early as same could be peaceably obtained on reasonable terms." The years passed without this being done, and Georgia became more and more restless. As we have already seen, many of the Cherokees had gone West, but most of them preferred to remain in the old nation where the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee join. They were increasing in numbers and growing in wealth and culture. In 1821, Sequoyah announced the invention of the Cherokee alphabet and he is enrolled in the Hall of Fame in the National Capitol. The Cherokee Phoenix was published from 1828 to 1834 at New Echata, Georgia, the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. Ellas Boudinot, who had returned from a mission school in Cornwall, Connecticut, was editor. At that time it was claimed that half of the adults could read their own language, The Cherokees had comfortable homes and good schools.
In 1824, President Monroe urged the Cherokees to sell their lands since he believed that their sovereignty as an independent nation should cease, but he conceded that there was no obligation to remove them by force. In 1828 Georgia passed a law effective in 1830, declaring that no Indian or descendant of an Indian residing within the Creek or Cherokee Nations (the Creek Nation extended from Alabama into Georgia) should be deemed a competent witness or
a party to any suit to which a white man migbjt be a party. All laws and customs of the Indians were declared void. Georgia was given jurisdiction over the Cherokee lands in Georgia. Indians were not to be allowed to dig gold on their own land. Another law provided that no white man should be permitted to reside in the Cherokee Nation, within the limits of Georgia, without first taking the oath of allegiance to the governor of Georgia. Rev. S. A. Worcester, a Congregationalist missionary among the Cherokees, was arrested and sentenced to four years' imprisonment in the penitentiary. His case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and we have seen a copy of the decision written by Chief Justice John Marshall, reversing and annulling the judgment of the trial court and issuing a mandate for the release of Worcester. But the mandate of the United States Supreme Court was disregarded and Worcester was kept in prison until January, 1833, nearly two years after his arrest, when he was pardoned by the Governor of Georgia. He came West in 1835 and lived in the Cherokee Nation until his death at Park Hill in 1859. Worcester was the grandfather of Miss Alice Robertson, congresswoman from Oklahoma in the Sixty-Sixth Congress.
A treaty with the United States was signed in 1835 by a small number of Cherokees and was confirmed in the United States Senate by a majority of one vote, notwithstanding a protest against the approval of the treaty was signed by more than 12,000 Cherokees. John Ross, elected chief after the removal, led the party opposing the terms of the treaty,. In 1838 began the enforced removal under the direction ot General Winfield Scott.
"The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners. They have been dragged from their houses and encamped at the forts and military posts all over the nation. Well-furnished houses were left a prey to plunderers who, like hungry wolves, follow in the train of the captors. These wretches rifle the houses and strip the helpless, unoffending owners of all they have on earth. Females who have been habituated to comforts and comparative affluence are driven on foot before the bayonets of brutal men" (Missionary Evan Jones
quoted in "The Office of Indian Affairs"). Of the approximately 16,000 who moved West in 1838-9 over 4,000 died on the way. "Were those graves marked there would be a row of tombstones at rather short intervals all the way." Some of the Cherokees who fled further into the mountains were permitted to remain and their descendants, known as the Eastern Cherokees, live in Western North Carolina.
A similar story could be told of the Choctaws and other tribes. In 1820 the Choctaws had been given the territory between the Red River and the Canadian extending west from South Central Arkansas into New Mexico. Following the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in 1830, the removal of the Choctaws began the following year. Many of them died from exposure in blizzards and many, in a second party, in 1832, died from cholera. Grant Foreman in his new book, "Indian Removal," describes in detail the sufferings of the immigrants. He quotes one writer: "Death was hourly among us and the road lined with the sick." By 1834 the main immigration of the Choctaws to the new home had been completed, although up to 1850, other parties of Choctaws were moved West. Several thousand Choctaws remained in Mississippi and their descendants are living there now.
H. P. Buckner quotes a Choctaw chief who said: "The Choctaw suffers but never weeps. You have the strong arm and we cannot resist. When you took our country you promised us land. There is your promise in the book."
Rev. Allen Wright, a Choctaw, grandfather of Miss Muriel Wright a frequent contributor to historical publications and an authority on Choctaw history, gave Oklahoma its name. "Oklahoma," - "Okla" people and "homma" red. He was one of the Choctaw Commisioners when the 1866 treaty with the Choctaws and Chickasaws was adopted providing for the release of the territory west of the 98th meridian for the use of the prairie tribes.
In October, 1832, a treaty was concluded with the Chickasaw Nation (Mississippi and Northwestern Alabama) providing for the cession to the United States of their lands east of the Mississippi. They had been urged since 1826
to relinquish their lands in the East and settle in the West. In 1837, the year they began to arrive, a treaty was made between the two related tribes, Choctaws and Chickasaws, providing for their union. However, as a result of growing disagreements in administration they separated in 1855.
Going back to the Creeks who lived in eastern Alabama and western Georgia: because of the increased pressure on the Creeks to exchange their lands in the East for new territory in the West, General William Mclntosh negotiated a treaty in 1825 which ceded the entire Creek Indian country in the East to the United States and provided that the Creeks would migrate at once to the West. The opposition to the treaty signed by Mclntosh invoked an old Creek law that any man who ceded land should be punished with death. The sentence was carried out and General Mclntosh was put to death. Early the following year another treaty was drawn providing for the sale of the lands in Georgia to the United States. Already many of the Creeks had moved to their new home. Many of the Creeks moved West in 1828-29, about the same time that the Western Cherokees were removed from Arkansas to the permanent home of the Cherokees, and ten years before the enforced removal of the Cherokees. In March, 1832, the remaining Creek lands east of the Mississippi were ceded to the United States Government "except their individual selections which they were to occupy for five years unless sooner sold by them" (Foreman). The Government, by the terms of the treaty, promised to remove all intruders from the Indian lands for five years or until sold. But these treaty provisions were not carried out and the Indians passed through great suffering. During the next five years, principally in 1836, the Creeks were removed to the West, - another "trail of tears." The Creeks settled largely in the territory between the Arkansas and Canadian rivers.
According to H. F. Buckner, a deposed chief who led the Party that killed General Mclntosh, was converted years later, after he moved to the West. The first Baptist church to the new Indian territory was organized among the Creeks
by McCoy in 1832, just north of the Arkansas River, and west of Port Gibson.
The Seminoles in Florida, who had originally gone there from the Creek Nation, resisted removal. According to Grant Foreman, the greatest living authority on the Five Tribes, the Seminoles suffered more than any other tribe. In the struggle continuing from 1835 to 1842, over 4000 Seminoles and Negroes were sent West. A few hundred Seminoles in inaccessible places were left in Florida. Because of their experience with white people they distrust those who seek to Christianize them and are difficult to reach with the Gospel appeal."At last Indian removal was an accomplished fact. The white people had come into possession of the ancestral domain of the aborigines. Exulting town boomers, land speculators, and farmers overran the land and appropriated the sites that so recently had been cherished spots - the homes, villages, fields and burying grounds of the Indians, even while the sad expatriates were toiling over cruel and forbidding highways. With bitter sorrow in their hearts, weakened by hardship and privation, decimated by disease, oppressed by penury, despondent and disheartened, they traveled on" (Foreman in "Indian Removal").Almost every tribe that moved to the Indian Territory came over its protest. North of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi, in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and reaching into Michigan and Wisconsin were the Shawnees, Pottawatomies, Miamis, Sacs, Foxes, Kickapoos, Wyandots, Ottawas, Chippewas, Delawares, and others. In 1803 the Delawares sold a strip of their territory and the next year moved West. In the biography of Chief Journeycake the statement is made that at the beginning of the last century there was not a Christian Delaware in the settlement in Ohio. Among the last to surrender and exchange their lands east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio were the Shawnees in 1831, the Wyandots in 1832, the Pottawatomies in 1836, and the Miamis in 1840. The treatment of the Shawnees in their enforced removal to territory west of the Mississippi, in the winter of 1832, was similar
to that of the Cherokees and Choctaws and Seminoles. They were all trails of tears. The tribes north of the Ohio, just named, settled west of the Mississippi, in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas where they remained until they were removed to the Indian Territory. When Isaac McCoy moved West he and his son-in-law, Mr. Lykins established a mission among the Shawnees near what is now Kansas City.
In the consideration of the Indians in the territory north of the Ohio, it is interesting to read a paragraph in a letter written from Port St. Vincent (now Vincennes) July 15, 1801 by General William H. Harrison:"The Indian chiefs complain heavily of the enormous quantity of whiskey which the traders introduce into their country. I do not believe there are more than 600 warriors upon the river [Wabash] yet the quantity of whiskey brought here annually for their use is said to amount to at least 6,000 gallons. This poisonous liquor not only incapacitates them from obtaining a living by hunting, but it leads to the most atrocious crimes."All along the trail of tears may be found whiskey brought by the white man. One of the reasons why Isaac McCoy, more than a century ago, advocated a new home in the West for the Indians was that they might get away from wicked white men who had whiskey.
Other tribes already west of the Mississippi at the beginning of the last century and located in the territory from Arkansas to the Dakotas, were the Quapaws and Osages already named, Kansas and Kickapoos (moved to the Indian Territory in 1873), the Pawness (moved from Nebraska in 1876), the Poncas (from South Dakota in 1877) lowas (1879), Otoes (1881), and various other tribes. The story of the removal of the Poncas matches that of the Cherokees. Farther to the Southwest were the Plains Indians proper, the Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Arapahoes and Cheyennes (the last two coming from the north). These are now located in west and southwest Oklahoma.
Grant Foreman says that the most important Indian conference ever held in the Southwest was the Ft. Gibson conference in September, 1834, at which was "paved the
way for agreements and treaties essential to the occupation of a vast country by one hundred thousand members of the Five Civilized Tribes emigrating from east of the Mississippi; to the security of settlers and travelers in a new country; to development of our Southwest to the limits of the United States and beyond; and contributed to the subsequent acquisition of the country to the coast, made known to us by the pioneers to Santa Fe and California traveling through the region occupied by the wild Indians who at Fort Gibson gave assurance of their friendship." A treaty was signed the next summer at Camp Holmes, near the present site of Purcell, with the Comanches, Wichitas and other tribes.
One of the most important treaties involving the Western Indians was the Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek, in October, 1867, when the Plains Indians, the Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Arapahos, and Cheyennes agreed that they would settle south of the Arkansas and west of the Five Civilized Tribes. Early that year Congress created a special commission "to ascertain the alleged reasons for their acts of hostility and . . . to make and conclude with said bands or tribes such treaty regulations . . . as may remove all just causes of complaint on their part, and at the same time establish security for person and property . . ." "It was directed also to recommend districts in which the Indians should be segregated." In the matter of segregation the commission suggested that all tribes east of the Rocky Mountains be collected in two districts: the Indian Territory and part of South Dakota.
Indians are not perfect; neither are white men. They have hearts. They feel and suffer as do other people. From the days of William Penn to our own time there might have been a different story to tell if pledges made to the Indians had been kept inviolate and if sacred covenants had always been respected. Whether in the old home of the Cherokees or in the Black Hills of the Sioux, the discovery of gold has caused the white man to seek some pretext on which to dispossess the Indian. Treaties have specified "a permanent home . . . shall be and remain
theirs forever;" but the Indian has repeatedly been driven from his home along trails of tears. In his book, "My Friend, the Indian," James McLaughlin who writes out of years of intimate experience with the Indians says: "The history of treaty-making with the Sioux is the history of treaty-making with all the Indians." The treaties "were broken when they interfered with the money-getters. There was never a time in the history of this country when the Government could not have obtained any reasonable concession from the Indians, if it had treated the red men honestly . . . What he is the white man made him."
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[From E. C. Routh, The Story of Oklahoma Baptists, 1932. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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