July 19, 2001


Gold had played heavily in Georgia’s plan to relocate the Cherokees. The Cherokee’s themselves sued the state of Georgia (second court case). Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia. (1831). The Presumption upon which the Cherokee’s relied was that if they were a Nation, Georgia couldn’t force them to move.

Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Indians claim to be a nation, or to state status was not a valid claim. BUT he said they had legal title to the land by virtue of "historic occupancy." This was something of a mixed victory for the Cherokee.

Georgia had another tribe, the Choctaw, who had also tried to acculturate. They were also told to remove. They didn’t pursue a legal claim, and Georgia took the position that Marshall’s decision applied only to the Cherokee.

In 1831, Georgia brought in Federal troops, and forced the Choctaw westward at gunpoint. It was winter, they were not supplied or prepared to move to Oklahoma. They also were susceptible to disease. Also, the army did not supply enough wagons, so many had to walk. Many died along the way.

Alexis de Tocqueville observed the Indian removal, and the fact that the Indians were stoic throughout, never complained, and certainly never wept. He wrote later, "The sight will never fade from my memory."

The Cherokees saw all this, and went to the Supreme Court again. Worcester vs. Georgia. They wanted to secure legal title to the land, as they knew that Georgia would try to push them off.

Marshall ruled that the Cherokees were a distinct political community within the State of Georgia, and that within that community, the laws of Georgia had no effect. This seemed to contradict his earlier ruling; Marshall never clearly defined what he meant.

In response to this opinion, Andrew Jackson, then President of the U.S. said, :Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." He defied the court ruling, and forced the removal of the Cherokee.

Jackson hated Indians with a passion. He had said they were savage heathens, and "it is the will of God that these Indians perish: either by natural events or by absorption – meaning that they be made citizens.

Jackson had fought Indians earlier in his life. He loved to tell the story of wrestling a spear from an Indian and killing him with the spear; then another Indian jumped from a tree to attack him, but Jackson held up the spear, and the Indian fell upon it and was impaled. He laughed when he told the story of how the second Indian cried out in anguish and surprise.

In 1832, Jackson was President. He could not publicly express such feelings about Indians in his official capacity, so he couched his language in paternal terms, stating that removing them was like a father removing his children from potential harm, as any good father would do. The public bought it, lock, stock, and barrel.

Removal was not effected until 1838, as there were not enough troops to enforce it. The Cherokee was comprised of almost 20,000 members; the Choctaw had been only about 2,500.

The removal to Oklahoma happened in the winter of 1838-39. About 400 escaped, and hid in the mountains of North Carolina. They hid in caves and forests. The army pursued them, but never found them; the remainder were moved on.

There was tremendous loss of life. It is estimated that about 5,000 died en route. When in Oklahoma, another 10,000 died in the first year of residency. They simply could not adapt to their new environment. There was little access to wood and water, plus the extremes in temperature were new to them. They did not know what to hunt, what animal parts they could use, etc.

Additionally, other Indian groups were already numerous in the area. These were the traditional Southwestern tribes who were losing land, and waged war against the newcomers.

The Cherokee removal is called the Trail of Tears.

The term: trail of tears" is actually misleading. Tears were shed more for the loss of land with its connection to spiritual values, ancestral home, etc. It is understood more as tears for loss of human life. Actually the loss of land and values was the more catastrophic by far.

In 1845, the U.S. Government stated that those Cherokees who had eluded capture and removal could remain in North Carolina, provided they remained on the reservation. So, two bands of Cherokees developed; the western branch in Oklahoma, and the eastern branch near Cherokee, North Carolina.

The Cherokee were the largest group of Indians successfully removed.

The Seminole Indians were still in place. They had fought the Spanish and later the American government perpetually.

In 1830, they were situated in Florida, but destined for removal. Troops were sent to Florida to relocate them. About half the tribe was rounded up, and transported. The other half moved into the Everglades and stayed hidden. In 1830, the Government gave up, and left them in the swamp.

During WW II, about 60 Seminole Indians went into the swamps to avoid being drafted into the army.

Northern tribes were also removed. Over 25 different tribal groupings were moved to Oklahoma by 1850. Only the Iroquois, by treaty, remained in place.

Some few Indians were allowed to remain. The Catawba were so few that they constituted no real threat. The Pequot, a small group left over from the Powhatan confederation, were also allowed to remain.

One large group resisted, the Sauté-Fox. They waged war continually against the government, but in the 1830’s were defeated and shipped west.

By 1850 at the latest, Indians in the Eastern U.S. were a vanquished people; for the most part they were also a removed people.

The Lumbee, the largest Indian grouping East of the Mississippi were not official at the time of relocation; but were rather small groupings. By 1850, so many had intermarried that they were not considered legal Indians. They only received legal identity approx. 1950. They had previously been listed on Census reports as "colored."

Whites were also moving west. Many were moving to Texas in 1820; in 1821, Missouri became a state. In the 1840’s wagon trains to Oregon and California began a mass movement westward after Indians were moved.

By the 1840’s the Indians offered a warning. Yellow Wolf, in his 60’s, said to his friend William Bent that in a few years all would become extinct.

The Indians noticed the large numbers of Whites moving west, and saw the handwriting on the wall. Unless something was done to reverse course, they were doomed.

Hope arose from the Reservation system adopted by the U.S. Government. Previous reservations in the East had been haphazard, not the result of Federal Indian policy.

Federal Indian policy was born from White migration. Many politicians, "Christians," wanted a peaceful solution to the Indian problem.

Many devout Christians were changing attitudes about Indians. Many considered them unfortunate persons who should be brought to the word of God. They were opposed to a military solution.

Others said Indians were indeed an impediment to the progress of civilization. This was a sort of Social Darwinism. They said a large Indian presence slowed down America’s natural growth. The feeling was, the Indians should be moved out of the way as America developed.

This gave rise to the Native American Reservation system. "Destruction by civilization." The Indians were to be relocated to territory that would be exclusively theirs, they were to receive instruction in how to become Americans and Christians, and ultimately would be assimilated. Indian culture would vanish.

To acquire traditional Indian land, Washington used the treaty process. One said was to benefit the national interest without staining the national honor.

The Instrument used to bring all this about was the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). It was established in 1824, and was originally an agency of the War department. It was later transferred to the Department of the Interior.

The head of the BIA was a Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Under him were Superintendents, one for each reservation. They were responsible for managing the reservation and also for bringing in teachers, missionaries, etc. He was the "God of the Reservation."

Many Superintendents stayed back East, and appointed Reservation agents to be on site.

From inception, the BIA and Reservation system was plagued by incompetence. Appointments were political, in exchange for favors. They were not concerned with the welfare of the Indians. Agents as a rule were poorly paid and took bribes, payoffs, etc. and stole goods intended for the Indians.

In 1848, President Polk wanted to clean house. He appointed William Medell as CIA. Medell wanted to concentrate the Indians on smaller tracts; might be easier to acculturate them that way.

Medell encouraged a system of hiring people based on merit, and fired incompetent and inept officials. He demanded that treaties be fair to all concerned. This didn’t last long, Gold was discovered in California in 1848, which accelerated the demand for Indian land.

In one year, 1851, the BIA negotiated 18 separate treaties with 139 tribes, just in Northern California alone. Each obtained title to traditional Indian land. The Indians for white use released Twelve thousand square miles; the Indians were confined to small reservations.

But treaties were by and large not honored. Whites ignored the treaties and Indian claims. By 1858, Congress had scuttled all 18 treaties. Congress revamped the California Indian situation, and created eight small reservations. As a result, the Indian death rate rose dramatically.

1845 150,000 Indians in California

1846 100,000

1847 50,000

1848 35,000

In Oregon, the BIA made 18 treaties. But very few Indians willingly went on the reservation. This gave the Whites a good excuse to go to war.

In New Mexico, a reservation was established, but Congress would not appropriate sufficient money. The Indians refused to cooperate, and troops were called in.

In 1851, Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, and Shoshone Indians, 10,0000 of them met at Fort Laramie, and signed a treaty marking off land for them. Many moved, but they were longstanding enemies, and Indian warfare broke out.

In 1855, the Sioux went looking for food off the reservation. (Much of the food sent to them was spoiled, clothes were previously warn, etc.) They swiped a cow. And when the farmer complained, the Army decided to conduct a punitive raid. All the Americans involved in the raid were killed. The American Press blamed the Indians, and called them thieves and murderers.

The Military was called in and launched a campaign of 1856-57. AT the end, the size of reservations was redrawn to be smaller. Congressional allotment was reduced, and many Indians were killed.

The purported pattern: every time there was a "violation," a new treaty was drawn, the size of reservations was reduced, and Indian rights were also reduced.

The Reservation system was an effective "final solution of the Indian question." One person said that the Reservation system was really "legalized murder." It seemed workable on paper, but in practice it was a sham:

· Whites ignored treaties.

· Living conditions for Indians were horrendous.

· Agents were corrupt.

· Indians left reservations in desperation.

· War resulted, the Indians lost

· Treaties were redrawn, and the reservation reduced in size.

· Then the whole process repeated itself.

This pattern was firmly established by the time of the Civil War.

In 1861, with the Civil war, Federal troops in the west were reassigned to fight the war. The military presence was reduced, and the Indians felt that the compulsory reservation system had ended.

They were wrong. The local militia provided services. They and law enforcement personnel were used to keep the Indians in line. They had a greater and more immediate stake in Indian removal since they lived in the area. Productivity was important to them, so they were more inclined to use armed force.

The Indians did not immediately recognize the danger; the militia were largely unregulated, but were potentially worse people to deal with than the military.

The Government needed gold and silver to finance the war, and most was located on Indian Territory or near it. At a minimum, they had to travel through it.

The Government hoped to move the Indians quickly, create new States, and then exert Federal authority.

Nevada was admitted into the Union, and other western areas organized into Federal territories, so that the government could get to the gold.

There was also a need for an effective transportation and communication system during the war. Stagecoach routes were increased, and work began on a transcontinental railroad. President Lincoln first sanctioned the railroad in 1862. Also, new telegraph lines were set up.

All this brought Indians into greater contact with whites and a rise in the white population.

Some whites took advantage of the situation. In 1862, General Jim Carleton in California, was assigned to the American Southwest, and to develop an army of local residents. This was to fend off Confederate uprisings, and keep the Indians in line.

In 1862-63, troops conducted armed raids against Indians. In April, 1863, they entered Navajo territory. (The Navajo had a warrior legacy.) The plan was to encourage them to relocate, also under the pretence to "protect" white settlers. This was thought to reduce the chance of confederate sympathies among the whites.

Carleton sent emissaries to the Indians, and offered to relocate them peaceably to Bosque Redondo in Eastern New Mexico. The Navajos had lived in Western New Mexico. He said they would be protected, etc.

Some Navajos were convinced, and moved voluntarily; but the land wasn’t suitable. It was open, barren, and lifeless. Also, a group of Apaches, the Mescaleros , were already there. They were the traditional bitter enemies of the Navajo.

Most left and returned to their native lands. In June, 1863, Carleton ordered them to move again. He basically told them to haul ass to the reservation. He gave them until July 20 to comply, otherwise, every Navajo seen would be considered hostile, and "the door would be closed." But, there was no way that they would move en masse.

· The Indians were ordered to a land that would not sustain life.

· They were to live with their bitter enemies.

· They were given a specific date; Indians don’t deal in dates, as their concept of time is almost nonexistent.

· They were expected to vacate land which they considered sacred.

The deadline came and went. Carleton ordered Kit Carson to lead soldiers into the Navaho territory and possibly scare them into compliance.

In 1863 there was sporadic fighting. Carson killed 78 Navajo, confiscated 5,000 sheep and goats which were sent to the army for consumption by the troops. In January 1864, Carson went in again, and confiscated or destroyed livestock, mostly sheep; ravaged farmland, destroyed warehouses full of food, and killed a number of Indians.

The Navajo surrendered en masses. In mid March, 6,000 surrendered at Ft. Wingate. They had no choice. In the summer, they were relocated to Bosque Redondo. It was a long walk, equivalent to the Eastern trail of tears. They traveled over 300 miles.

At Bosque Redondo, they were given new names of English extraction. They were assigned living areas, stripped of property, and were to be taught the "truths of Christianity." This was to make them "American." The plan was to work on the children, the adults would eventually die off, and the children would be Americanized.

Life was miserable at Bosque Redondo. Fighting erupted with the Apache, many died of measles, pneumonia and malnutrition. Government supplies seldom came. They also were often attacked by Indian bands. This was a miserable, hideous existence. BUT, the Government had secured much of New Mexico for white settlement, which was the plan. They had in essence solved the New Mexico Indian problem.

It Colorado, were the Cheyenne and Arapaho. It was official Federal Territory at this time, with a government similar to State government.

The territorial governor was John Evans. He wanted to remove the Indians and considered that the ultimate end. He could thereby encourage white settlement and get statehood. Then he could be rewarded with political advancement. His thoughts were that he might be elected to the Senate from Colorado, and from there, possibly even to the presidency.

Some Indians would not resist. One band agreed to move, under Chief Black Kettle. He was the oldest of the chiefs, and believed the Indians should yield to white expansion. In 1864, he agreed to surrender the tribe, and move on to the reservation.