History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

THE TRAIL OF TEARS

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. 

     The Cherokee Nation was one of great respect. Their form of government was one of renown. In many respects, they were more advanced than many of the whites at the time. In 1808, they adopted a written legal code, and, in 1820, they divided the Nation into judicial districts and designated judges. The first Supreme Court of the Cherokees was established in 1822, and by 1827, the Nation had drawn up an American-based Constitution, the leader of this Government was 37-year old John Ross. A year later, he began a 40-year term as principal chief of his people.

     However, the progress of the internal affairs of the Nation was basically put on hold because of political relations with the United States. Jonathan Meigs, a sympathetic man toward the Cherokees, served as America's southern Indian agent in the early part of the 19th century. Even with his immense authority, he was unable to quell the unyielding pursuit of Indian Territory.

     In 1802 and 1803, Georgia was forced to abandon her claims to the Mississippi Territory. With this abandonment, the United States agreed to extinguish all Indian titles for land lying within Georgia.

     President Thomas Jefferson suggested a plan for removal west to a portion of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Most Cherokees hated the resolution, yet some beleaguered tribe members made the trip to what is now Arkansas. This plan of the United States Government basically pointed to Arkansas as the divine western land. There were some 800 eastern Cherokees who fought alongside the Government troops in the War of 1812, however, they recognized only the government of the newly removed Cherokees west.

     The Cherokees of the East waited. Their daily life went on as usual while the pressures around them grew. By 1828, these pressures had reached a final showdown, which showed the Cherokees that the final removal was on.
In the winter of 1828, an old Cherokee councilman, Whitepath, rose up in rebellion against the new U.S. Constitution. Whitepath attempted to persuade his 15,000 countrymen to hold fast to the ways of the past. Localized meetings were set up which were promoted to abandon the white religion, society, and economy. His call for the return to tribal organization fell on deaf ears, as the younger tribe members refused this authority and therefore his plan was doomed.

     The Cherokees thus turned to John Ross for leadership. This man of great ability possessed both elegance and capability. These gifts enabled him to accomplish seemingly distant goals for his people. He, along with Whitepath, also rejected any proposal to move west. John Ross knew that his people had lived in the Smokies far longer than the white man.

     Andrew Jackson was a strict Tennessee soldier and politician who began his career as an Indian fighter. This zeal never left! Jackson the soldier had been aided many times by Cherokee warriors, but Jackson the politician was determined to remove the Cherokees west. During the Cherokee turmoil of 1828 and 1829, Jackson was elected President of the United States.

     In July of 1829, in what is now known as Lumpkin County, Georgia, a few shiny nuggets of gold was discovered on Ward's Creek of the Chestatee River. With news of this discovery, swarms of folks flocked to the site to claim their riches; more than 10,000 fortune hunters squatted on Cherokee land. With the help of Jackson, the Georgia legislature passed laws seizing Indian land, thus abolishing Indian law and prohibiting Indian assembly.

     Andrew Jackson stepped forward and asked Congress for a general removal that would give him prime authority in the matter. Congress passed the Removal Act, which included a half-million dollar appropriation for that purpose. In May of 1830, Davy Crockett was at that time an U.S. Congressman. He argued against and voted against the bill, he being the only Tennessean to do so. Possibly due to his action, he was defeated at his next election attempt.

     Cherokee leaders sought help from the U.S. Courts. Samuel Worchester, the long troubled missionary for the Cherokees, fell victim to the Georgia law, "prohibiting the unauthorized residence of white men within the Cherokee Nation." Worchester appealed to the Supreme Court, which on March 3, Chief Justice John Marshall read the Court's decision to a packed room; this ruling was that all the Georgia laws against the Cherokee Nation were declared unconstitutional.

     Elias Boudinot, editor of the Phoenix, wrote to his brother and expressed the Cherokee Nation's joy and relief: "It is glorious news. The laws of the state are declared by the highest judicial tribunal in the county to be void, It is a great triumph on the part of the Cherokees."

     However Andrew Jackson, in his strong opinions, would not stand for such a settlement. Jackson thundered, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." So far as I know, this is the only time when a President ignored a Supreme Court ruling.

     Worchester had been imprisoned and was thus released after appealing to the good will of the State of Georgia. Georgia conducted a Cherokee lottery in 1832 and, therefore, thousands of white men descended onto lots carved out of the Cherokee land.

     John Ross continued to speak for the majority who rejected any discussion of removal. By 1835, the divisions between the John Ridge party (a supporter of the Cherokees) and John Ross' followers had become open and concentrated. On several occasions, Ross attempted to negotiate a sensible solution with Washington. He was perturbed at every turn. In November of 1835, the Georgia Militia arrested Ross and John Howard Payne.

     Ross, in turn, traveled to Washington to recommence talks. While Ross was there, A Mr. Schermerhorn and the Ridge party drew up and signed a treaty. This contract was endorsed by a mere one-tenth of the Nation's 16,000 Cherokees, which ceded to the United States all eastern territory in exchange for $5 million, and a comparable amount of western land. Ross declared fraud on the part of these two individuals; moreover, the U.S Senate ratified the minority "Treaty of New Echota" by one vote. A newly elected President, Martin Van Buren, authorized Gen. Winfield Scott to begin the removal of the Cherokees in the summer of 1838.

     Scott, under orders, was determined to carry out the removal, nevertheless, he instructed his soldiers to restrain themselves from inflicting undue suffering to the members of the tribe. These soldiers, however, tramped relentlessly through the Nation.

     One private wrote in later years:

     "Men working in the fields were arrested and driven to the stockades. Soldiers whose language they could not understand dragged women from their homes. Children were often separated from their parents and driven into the stockades with the sky for a blanket and earth for a pillow."

     Thirteen stockades were built in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. These facilities were used as base camps, they being scattered throughout the countryside. Within these forts was an arsenal of loaded rifles and fixed bayonets. As the Indians were herded back toward the forts, bands of roving outlaws burned the homes, stole the livestock, robbed the graves. The summer had drought like conditions, and by August many of the captured Cherokees had succumbed to sickness or even death.

     Removal of the Cherokee Nation began during the autumn. Some of the early ones had been moved out along the Tennessee River in large double-decker keelboats. Most traveled overland. Thirteen detachments of about 1,000 each, plus 645 wagons carrying the sick and aged, departed from southeastern Tennessee. Winter moved in quickly! By the time the Cherokees crossed the Mississippi River many had died because of lack of food and warmth. The diminishing band reached what is now Oklahoma in March of 1839. The cold, hard hand of death had taken Four thousand Cherokees, almost one third of all who had left their mountain homeland.

     The tragedy would be recorded as the "Trail of Tears." Along the route, old Whitepath died. The wife of John Ross gave her blanket to a sick child and she suffered fatal exposure. A white Georgia volunteer summed up the occurrence as "that Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever saw."

Time Line



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