Trail of Tears

 
 

"Shadow of the owl", by John Guthrie

"I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west....On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold and exposure..."


Private John G. Burnett, Captain Abraham McClellan's Company, 2nRegiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry, Cherokee Indian Removal, 1838-39


Thousands of Cherokee men, women and children died along the trail from exposure, starvation and fevers. Federal funds allotted for their removal was diverted into the pockets of corrupt politicians and military commanders.

  1. BulletWhen: 1831-39

  2. BulletWhere: Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida

  3. BulletWho: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole

  4. BulletWhy: population pressures. The settlers wanted more land, the Cherokees were not willing to give it up

  5. BulletWhat: genocide

"The Cherokee are probably the most tragic instance of what could have succeeded in American Indian policy and didn't. All these things that Americans would proudly see as the hallmarks of civilization are going to the West by Indian people. They do everything they were asked except one thing. What the Cherokees ultimately are, they may be Christian, they may be literate, they may have a government like ours, but ultimately they are Indian. And in the end, being Indian is what kills them."


Richard White, Historian

Timeline


1700- Settlers continued to increase their number by birth and by immigration. There wasn’t enough land to go around so the settlers moved ever westward. More land was needed for tobacco plantations, as England demanded ever mote taxes. The Cherokees would leave a hunting territory for a few seasons to allow the wildlife to recover. When they returned they found the forest cut, dozens of cabins, and no wildlife in sight. The Cherokees would try to scare the settlers away, but the settlers had guns. When the settlers won, they called it an Indian war. When the Indians won, the white men called it a massacre.


1750 - The King of England made treaties with the Indians and gave them ‘King’s Grants’ to the land they claimed. The British sent soldiers to protect the boundaries and to regulate the fur trade between the Indians and the colonies. Soldiers took Indian wives and began calling the children after their own family names.  Traders and Indian Agents caught smallpox in the settlements and rapidly spread it to the Indians who had no immunity. Within a few short years, the Indian population was reduced to about one-tenth of its original size. 

The traders offered guns for furs. The Indians slaughtered hundreds of animals for furs to trade, and when they looked for game to eat, it had been nearly wiped out. The Cherokees would leave an area to let the game recover, and the settlers took this as a sign that the Indians had abandoned the land, and move in.


1775 – During the Revolutionary war, the Cherokees took the side of the British and attacked white settlements in their territory.  After the war, many British soldiers decided to stay in the Cherokee Nation with their families. The new American government refused to honor the earlier ‘King’s Grants’ and sent the American Army to force the Cherokees to sign new treaties, which required them to give up more land.


By 1800, the Cherokee Nation had shrunk to less than ¼ of it’s original size. Most Cherokees had retreated to lands in northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee. Many had adopted white ways. The US government and the State of Georgia adopted anti-Indian policies, and used soldiers to enforce the new laws.


1812 – General Andrew Jackson wanted to drive out the Indians, but they were too strong for his army. He settled on a policy of divide and conquer.  He started the French and Indian War of 1812 with the help of the Cherokees, they thought that by helping Andy Jackson drive out the Creek Indians, they would be given special treatment and left alone by the whites.  Chief Tecumseh, of the Shawnee, tried to unify the remaining Indian Nations in a last ditch stand to resist the white invasion. In 1813, Chief Tecumseh died in battle and his dreams of a unified Indian Nation died with him.


1815 – The US government forced or tricked many Cherokees into signing treaties to trade their lands for land in Arkansas and Oklahoma. About half of the Cherokees left for the New Territories and became known as the Old Settlers.


1828 – Andrew Jackson was elected president, and Gold was discovered in Georgia. The US government was split as to protect the Cherokees land claims, or to let Georgia drive them out. Gold fever swept the south. Miners and get rich quick scam artists invaded Cherokee Territory murdering, raping, and burning. Chief James Vann, a district judge for the Cherokees, captured, tried and hung the criminals. Georgia threatened war over the outrage of Cherokees hanging white men.  The Cherokees sent lawyers and statesmen to court to argue their case. The federal government had given them treaties for the land and they should be protected from the citizens and army of Georgia. Georgia governor, George Gilmore stated, “Treaties were a means by which ignorant, intractable, and savage people were induced to yield what Civilized Peoples had a right to possess.”


1830 – The US Supreme Court decided in favor of protecting the Cherokees land rights. President Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court and sent the army to Georgia to drive out the Cherokees. Jackson proclaimed, “Justice John Marshall has rendered his decision, now let him enforce it.”  President Jackson signed the ‘Indian Removal Act’, which required the forced removal of all Indians east of the Mississippi River to the new ‘vacant’ land obtained in the “Louisiana Purchase, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes for as long as they shall occupy it”. Between 1830 and 1839, hundreds of Cherokee families fled the district, to Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina. Even while these cases were being argued in court, the state of Georgia organized a land lottery to divide up the Cherokee Nation into farms and gold claims.


1831 – The Choctaws were driven from their homes in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The federal government had agreed to pay to feed and clothe the Indians on their journey, but the money never came.


1836 – The Creeks were driven out at the point of a gun, put in chains and forced-marched by the US Army. Some 3,500 men women and children died of hunger and exposure along the way.


1837 – The Chickasaw loaded their belongings on wagons and headed west. The Seminoles chose to fight. After a long bloody war, the survivors were herded like cattle into any boat that would float and taken across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi.


1838 – Seven thousand federal troops, under the command of General Winfield Scott, were dispatched to the Cherokee Nation. Without warning, the troops broke down doors and drug people away to stockades. Those that moved too slowly were prodded with bayonets.   In October, the Cherokees were herded into wooden stockades with no food, water, blankets, or sanitation. Most of them were barefoot and had no coats or blankets, yet they were forced to cross rivers in sub-zero weather.


They were forced-marched, with army guards, as far north as Indiana, on their way to Oklahoma. Thousands of men, women, and children froze to death, died of starvation and disease. The soldiers forced the Cherokees to abandon their dead at the side of the road. What few pitiful possessions they owned, had to be dropped at the side of the road in order to carry the sick and dying. Soldiers and settlers plundered the ancient Cherokee burial grounds for buried treasure. Family possessions left behind were plundered and burned.  Of the 22,000 Cherokees who started this death-march, some 5,500 died on the way. One thousand six hundred Freedmen walked the Trail of Tears along with the rest of Cherokee.


At the plantation of Spring Place, the Georgia Guard threw a burning log onto the stairs to smoke out the people that lived there. The man who had won the house in the Georgia state lottery was there, urging the soldiers on to get ‘those people’ out of ‘his’ house. The Georgia Guard drove the missionaries out of their homes and school nearby, and turned it into a brothel for the army.

 

The witnesses


A guard (some years later) wrote, “I fought through the War (Civil War), and I saw men shot to pieces and slaughtered by the thousands, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”


A traveler from Maine wrote “Aging females, apparently nearly ready to drop into the grave, were traveling with heavy burdens attached to their backs – on frozen ground with no covering for their feet except what nature had given them.  We learned from the inhabitants of the road where the Indians passed that they buried fourteen or fifteen at each stopping place.”


John G Burnett, a soldier who participated in the Removal wrote, “Men working in fields were arrested and driven into stockades. Women were dragged from their homes, by soldiers whose language they did not understand. Children were separated from their parents and driven into stockades with the sky for a blanket and the earth for a pillow. The old and infirm were prodded with bayonets to hasten them to the stockades. In one home, death had come during the night, a sad faced little child had died and was lying on a bear skin couch and some women were preparing the little boy for burial. All were arrested and driven out, leaving the dead child in the cabin.  I don’t know who buried the body.  

In another home was a frail mother, apparently a widow and three small children, one just a baby.  When told that she must go, the mother gathered the children at her feet, prayed a humble prayer in her native tongue, patted the old family dog on the head, told the faithful creature goodbye, with a baby strapped on her back and leading a child with each hand, started on her exile. But the task was too great for the frail mother.  A stroke of heart failure relieved her suffering. She sunk and died with her baby on her back, and her other two children clinging to her hands”


The survivors


Butrick:  Butrick crossed the Ohio on Dec. 15, 1838, he didn't see the Mississippi River until Jan. 25. Even then, it took three more weeks to get all the people in his contingent crossed. From the time the first contingent crossed the Ohio in November to the last part of Butrick's group in February, The Cherokees spent three months in Southern Illinois.    

According to Butrick's diary, by Dec. 29, 1838, the detachments were spread out across the region.  "One detachment stopped at the Ohio River, two at the Mississippi, one four miles this side, one 16 miles this side, one 18 miles, and one 13 miles behind us. In all these detachments, comprising about 8,000 souls, there is now a vast amount of sickness, and many deaths," wrote Butrick who himself was suffering from fever and a cough.


Quatie Ross: Although suffering from a cold, Quatie Ross, the Chief John Ross wife, gave her only blanket to a child. "Long time we travel on way to new land. People feel bad when they leave Old Nation. Women cry and make sad wails, Children cry and many men cry...but they say nothing and just put heads down and keep on go towards West. Many days pass and people die very much."  She died of pneumonia at Little Rock. Some drank stagnant water and succumbed to disease. One survivor told how his father got sick and died; then, his mother; then, one by one, his five brothers and sisters. "One each day. Then all are gone."


Samuel Cloud: Samuel Cloud turned 9 years old on the Trail of Tears. Samuel's Memory is told by his great-great grandson, Micheal Rutledge, in his paper Forgiveness in the Age of Forgetfulness. Micheal, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a law student at Arizona State University.


It is Spring. The leaves are on the trees. I am playing with my friends when white men in uniforms ride up to our home. My mother calls me. I can tell by her voice that something is wrong. Some of the men ride off. My mother tells me to gather my things, but the men don't allow us time to get anything. They enter our home and begin knocking over pottery and looking into everything. My mother and I are taken by several men to where their horses are and are held there at gun point. The men who rode off return with my father, Elijah. They have taken his rifle and he is walking toward us.





I can feel his anger and frustration. There is nothing he can do. From my mother I feel fear. I am filled with fear, too. What is going on? I was just playing, but now my family and my friends' families are gathered together and told to walk at the point of a bayonet.

We walk a long ways. My mother does not let me get far from her. My father is walking by the other men, talking in low, angry tones. The soldiers look weary, as though they'd rather be anywhere else but here.


They lead us to a stockade. They herd us into this pen like we are cattle. No one was given time to gather any possessions. The nights are still cold in the mountains and we do not have enough blankets to go around. My mother holds me at night to keep me warm. That is the only time I feel safe. I feel her pull me to her tightly. I feel her warm breath in my hair. I feel her softness as I fall asleep at night.


As the days pass, more and more of our people are herded into the stockade. I see other members of my clan. We children try to play, but the elders around us are anxious and we do not know what to think. I often sit and watch the others around me. I observe the guards. I try not to think about my hunger. I am cold.


Several months have passed and still we are in the stockades. My father looks tired. He talks with the other men, but no one seems to know what to do or what is going to happen. We hear that white men have moved into our homes and are farming our fields. What will happen to us? We are to march west to join the Western Cherokees. I don't want to leave these mountains.

My mother, my aunts and uncles take me aside one day. "Your father died last night," they tell me. My mother and my father's clan members are crying, but I do not understand what this means. I saw him yesterday. He was sick, but still alive. It doesn't seem real. Nothing seems real. I don't know what any of this means. It seems like yesterday, I was playing with my friends.

It is now Fall. It seems like forever since I was clean. The stockade is nothing but mud. In the morning it is stiff with frost. By mid-afternoon, it is soft and we are all covered in it. The soldiers suddenly tell us we are to follow them. We are led out of the stockade. The guards all have guns and are watching us closely. We walk. My mother keeps me close to her. I am allowed to walk with my uncle or an aunt, occasionally.


We walk across the frozen earth. Nothing seems right anymore. The cold seeps through my clothes. I wish I had my blanket. I remember last winter I had a blanket, when I was warm. I don't feel like I'll ever be warm again. I remember my father's smile. It seems like so long ago.

We walked for many days. I don't know how long it has been since we left our home, but the mountains are behind us. Each day, we start walking a little later. They bury the dead in shallow graves, because the ground is frozen. As we walk past white towns, the whites come out to watch us pass. No words are spoken to them. No words are said to us. Still, I wish they would stop staring. I wish it were them walking in this misery and I were watching them. It is because of them that we are walking. I don't understand why, but I know that much. They made us leave our homes. They made us walk to this new place we are heading in the middle of winter. I do not like these people. Still, they stare at me as I walk past.


My mother is coughing now. She looks worn. Her hands and face are burning hot. My aunts and uncles try to take care of me, so she can get better. I don't want to leave her alone. I just want to sit with her. I want her to stroke my hair, like she used to do. My aunts try to get me to sleep by them, but at night, I creep to her side. She coughs and it wracks her whole body. When she feels me by her side, she opens her blanket and lets me in. I nestle against her feverish body. I can make it another day, I know, because she is here.


When I went to sleep last night, my mother was hot and coughing worse than usual. When I woke up, she was cold. I tried to wake her up, but she lay there. The soft warmth she once was, she is no more. I kept touching her, as hot tears stream down my face. She couldn't leave me. She wouldn't leave me.


I hear myself call her name, softly, then louder. She does not answer. My aunt and uncle come over to me to see what is wrong. My aunt looks at my mother. My uncle pulls me from her. My aunt begins to wail. I will never forget that wail. I did not understand when my father died. My mother's death I do not understand, but I suddenly know that I am alone. My clan will take care of me, but I will be forever denied her warmth, the soft fingers in my hair, her gentle breath as we slept. I am alone. I want to cry. I want to scream in rage. I can do nothing.


We bury her in a shallow grave by the road. I will never forget that lonesome hill of stone that is her final bed, as it fades from my sight. I tread softly by my uncle, my hand in his. I walk with my head turned, watching that small hill as it fades from my sight. The soldiers make us continue walking. My uncle talks to me, trying to comfort me. I walk in loneliness.


I know what it is to hate. I hate those white soldiers who took us from our home. I hate the soldiers who make us keep walking through the snow and ice toward this new home that none of us ever wanted. I hate the people who killed my father and mother.


I hate the white people who lined the roads in their woolen clothes that kept them warm, watching us pass. None of those white people are here to say they are sorry that I am alone. None of them care about me or my people. All they ever saw was the color of our skin. All I see is the color of theirs and I hate them.

)

( Taken from http://fp.seattleschools.org/SmartTools/genocide/cherokee/survivor.htm

 

Family stories from the trail of tears

http://www.anpa.ualr.edu/VoiceoftheTrail/Default.htm


There were ten million Native Americans on this continent when the first non-Indians arrived. Over the next 300 years, 90% of all Native American original population was either wiped out by disease, famine, or warfare imported by the whites.

By 1840 all the eastern tribes had been subdued, annihilated or forcibly removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.

Illustration "SHADOW OF THE OWL" by John Guthrie, Native American Artist.John Guthrie is a full-time Cherokee artist working in hand made cast paper sculpture. Along with sculpting he is also very prolific in various paint mediums. Internationally recognized John’s work hangs in palaces and presidential libraries around the world. Living in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capital of the Cherokee Nation, he draws from the history and mythology of the Cherokee people for inspiration.  My special thanks to him to grant me his permission to use this beautiful piece, I encourage you to visit his web gallery Guthrie Studios


I used this illustration to combine with the portrait of Andrew Jackson. I don't know who is  the artist, if you know who painted it, to give credit, please contact me. The illustration was taken from Nativeamericans.com

 

Elizabeth "Betsy" Brown She was a Cherokee Indian and was on the Trail of Tears