Monday, September 13, 2010

Cherokee Nation - Trail of Tears, Part 1 of 2

After such a great story on the history of runnin' moonshine, we asked our pal Josh to do a write up on the Trail of Tears. Being that we are staying on Native land on the first night of the run and camping right beside protected trout streams we feel as if folks should know more about this area and an event that is a sad chapter in American History.

"Does anyone remember back in grade school when they learned about Columbus “sailing the ocean blue…”? Yeah me too, but later on we learned that was really on par with a nursery rhyme compared to what really happened. Columbus was really a harsh guy, who brought gun smoke, disease and death to the tribes of the Caribbean islands, while taking anything of value that was not nailed down. After doing a write up on Moonshiners, Ralph asked me to do some digging into the Trail of Tears as well, to educate others further regarding the Cherokee reservation we are camping on the first night. This is my attempt to expound upon the nursery rhyme we were all told in high school concerning such a dark part of US history. I cover three segments, involving so much more than just a forced march from the Appalachian Mountains to the plains of Oklahoma.

Before beginning, I want to just throw out a few tasty bits to wrap your brains around. The fiv civilized tribes were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, and Seminole. They were considered so because Anglo European settlers during the colonial days and early federal periods thought these tribes showed the most speed in adopting many colonial customs they found useful amongst their respective peoples. This allowed for “generally” good relations between all. The second little morsel is the definition of “Ethnic Cleansing” as stated by the UN. It is the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, person of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation in order to render that area ethnically homogenous. It is usually used in conjunction with “Genocide”, i.e. Bosnian Serbs. Not to be confused with the Tutsi and Hutus of Rwanda, that was more Genocide in union with Ethnic Cleansing. I just want everyone’s attention properly focused for the next few paragraphs.

The first segment would be during the colonial days coinciding with the movement of the Ulstermen south out of Pennsylvania starting in 1730 (read my last blog entry on the History of Moon shining). At this time a rough estimate of the Cherokee had them at 20000 souls to include 6000 ass kicking warriors. Less than two decades later, they would only be able to muster 2500 scrappers to protect a total populace of 8500. This is believed to be due mostly to the transfer of diseases European settlers exposed the Natives to. The Cherokee were divided into three segments; the Lower People near the headwaters of the Savannah River in eastern Georgia, the Upper/Overhills People near the headwaters of the Tennessee River situated in the Appalachians, and the Middle People inhabiting the valleys and lower hills in between. Within these segments there were various clans, and groups which would later convolute later tribal government and political practices. Good to know the modern US is not the only nation that suffers from too many people not knowing what they want, but knowing what they do want.

The French and Indian War would kick off sometime in 1754, but like all good fights there would be a lot of trash talk and conflict to precipitate such matters. Having already had two decades of practiced trade with the English; the proposal of a fort built along the long considered settlement boundary of Long Canes Creek was well received by the Overland tribes, allowing for easy trade and a place of sanctuary for the families in case of attack. For this the Cherokee agreed to fight for the English and allow the King “sovereignty” over the land. For the Cherokee this was considered only in effect for administrative duties, not actual title to the land. Shortly after the completion of Fort Prince George, many white settlers thought the same things the Cherokee did about the Fort; a trading post and protection from attack, “Hey let’s move there!” The surrender of sovereignty had been misunderstood as title to the land, and this is where things go downhill quickly.

The French using the evidence of encroachment by the English conspired to anger the Cherokee further. Using a bordering tribe of the Creek Nation, secret meetings were held to generally piss in the collective cereal bowl of the Cherokee Nation. The English would get wind of this, and agree to parlay but also cut off the trade of gunpowder and shot to the People. This pretty much brewed up a cycle of pissedivity resulting in early 1760 of the overall middle finger towards the English Crown and violence then ensuing.

War is not profitable if done on the defense. Especially for the Cherokee as their need
for “civilized” items became increasingly acute over the following months. By the end of 1760, the need for the items but more importantly their needs for a crop to make it through the next winter caused the negotiations of peace between the Cherokee and the English. The Colonial Governors opted for being shrewd and made them wait until the spring of 1761 to begin sending in relief.

The French and Indian War would formally be closed in 1763. Hostilities with the Native Americans on the continent would still be felt during the coming months with conflicts like Pontiacs Rebellion in Michigan. Since the Civilized Tribes kept the peace below the Ohio River, the English Crown in October 1763 issued a Proclamation Line running through the Appalachians to assure the Tribes no further encroachment by settlers. During the French and Indian War there was no major loss to the Cherokee. They could still muster 2300 warriors but there dependence on trade goods had only deepened.

The next phase center around the next 70 years as the Cherokee spent their time becoming more “civilized”. They learned to speak English and get a formal education through various Christianization programs, invented their own syllabary (means “the method to write their language”, I had to look it up), draft a constitution establishing a representative government and courts of law, and generally form themselves into a mostly agrarian society. They were in fact becoming their own autonomous functioning nation in theory and practice, with all the amenities to be identified as their own Nation-State by others. The problem for the other nation lies in the fact that the Cherokee people as a whole was spread over five major states; North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and a few in Alabama.

While the Cherokee were busy becoming civilized, many people sought the removal of the People from what they considered now sovereign US soil. Between 1810 and 1825, treaty meetings constantly took place between the Cherokee leadership and dully appointed officials of both state and the federal government. One staunch supporter for the removal of the Cherokee People and others was Andrew Jackson. His belief was rooted in the growing sentiment that since the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, Americans should expand instead of hunker down and stay committed to their own borders, and not spread too thin their population and limited power. Jackson utilized anything in his tool box in getting the different tribes removed from land he believed to be rightfully possessed by the US. 1814 would see Jackson using the Cherokee for assistance while prosecuting the Red Stick tribe, neighbors of the Cherokee. 1817 would have Jackson, acting as a Federal Commissioner, use wholesale bribery to get as many of the Cherokee leadership in his pocket concerning tribal removal to western lands. Indeed that year a sizeable group of Cherokee would migrate willingly to north east Arkansas."

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.


  1. As a half Native American i cry each time i Eben think of the trail of tears i don't know much about my mom other than she is 100% Apache i am half Apache half Sicillian. The white eyes will fall one day they will pay for what they have done!

  2. I am 65 years old and the things I am reading about my people sickens me, that I have lived most of my life in a lie, not knowing what great injustices were perpetrated on and against my people, just for living.
    Thank GOD for the internet, it's about time we people of earth now have a common place to exchange wisdom, truth and knowledge.
    By these exchanges we can finally all make a difference.
    Proud to be Leni Lenape, House of the Turtle, Ocean County N.J.