published Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Trail of Tears treaty anniversary today


by Andy Johns
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press David Gomez demonstrates the use of a simple printing press at the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun, Ga. The site is the location of the signing of the Treaty of New Echota.

CALHOUN, Ga. -- After meeting late into the night in 1835 near present-day Calhoun, a group of about 20 Cherokee leaders arrived at a decision -- they had only one choice.

Around 3 a.m. 175 years ago today, the men signed the Treaty of New Echota, giving up their lands in Georgia and Tennessee and sending the Cherokee west to Oklahoma in a forced relocation known now as the Trail of Tears.

"That was the date that sealed the deal," said Jeff Bishop, president of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. "It's kind of one of those dark anniversaries that you don't want to celebrate."

Under terms of the treaty, the federal government paid the Cherokee Nation $5 million for the lands and guaranteed 7 million acres of territory in Oklahoma to the displaced people. The Cherokee were given two years to leave the Southeast after the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, which it did in May 1836.

Bill Anderson, professor emeritus of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University, said at least 25 percent of the Cherokee population -- about 4,000 people -- died in the removal process.

"There was not really a family that didn't suffer in some way," he said.

Bishop said his association doesn't have anything planned to commemorate the anniversary but would probably discuss it in a ceremony this spring.

Staff at New Echota Historic Site also are not planning any events because the site is closed on Wednesdays because of state budget cuts.

Ringgold, Ga., resident and Cherokee descendant Alva Crowe said the icy weather around the region in the past week is a good reminder of the conditions that surrounded the time the treaty was signed. With winter in full steam in December 1835, many Cherokee leaders wouldn't have been able to travel to New Echota to negotiate the treaty, he said.

"Today is a good day to start talking about it," said Crowe, a member of the Eastern Band. "People really couldn't come together to vote on it."

The legitimacy of the treaty is questioned by those who say the signers were self-appointed and did not have the authority to speak for the Cherokee Nation. Tribe leaders Major Ridge and Elias Boudinot were among those pushing for the treaty while John Ross, the namesake for Rossville and Ross's Landing, wanted to continue negotiating.

"Boudinot and others wanted to stay, but I think they saw the handwriting on the wall," said David Gomez, manager at New Echota Historic Site.

He and others said North Georgia's Cherokee heritage is often overshadowed by Civil War history. Gomez theorized that family ties drive most Civil War interest, but since the Cherokees were forced out, there are few descendants living in the region to keep their heritage alive.

Also, he said, the removal was not a bright spot for whites nor the Cherokee.

"Not many people will stand up proud for what went on with the Cherokee story," Gomez said.

Charlie Rhodarmer, director of the Sequoyah Museum in Vonore, Tenn., said Civil War sites and Cherokee sites could do a better job of promoting each other to entice history lovers to visit both.

"We're not McDonald's and Hardee's where you go into McDonald's, eat a burger and leave and never go to Hardee's," he said.

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6324.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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EaTn said...

Very few who live in this area realize their houses and businesses are sitting on land once inhabited by hard working native Americans who were forced by our President and Congress to give it up and relocate a world away. After some research, disgustedly, I found my family ancestors were part of the scavengers who came in afterwards to reap the benefits of the sweat, tears and blood that the natives shed for the the land.

December 29, 2010 at 7:08 a.m.
AaronS said...

As yet another Cherokee descendant, I noted many "twists" in the story of the Trail of Tears.

First, in John Ehle's book, "Trail of Tears," his research led him to a far less dramatic number of Cherokee deaths on the Trail of Tears. Of course, even a single death in such an endeavor was one too many.

Second, while America has often used the "alternative leadership" of nations (i.e., the leadership that agrees with our interests) to form treaties, or get "invited" to action, etc., the truth of the matter is that the Cherokee, by virtue of being in lands that were in the path of white settlement and white demand for gold, were "doomed" no matter whether they had ALL agreed or ALL disagreed to the move west. Very simply, the Cherokee would have been moved, subjugated, or killed for their lands. The only survival option was to allow removal.

While Ridge and others realized this (and were later murdered for it), there is always a hopeful remnant that, like the mice in "Who Moved My Cheese," will continue to linger, wait, tarry, all in hopes that things will just work out in the end. But as we see, even though the Cherokee won their contest in the courts, there was just no true remedy except to remove (either west or east).

In some way, the Cherokee nation "chose life." They were hopelessly outgunned and outmanned in this matter. The only way to survive was to yield to the realities of life. While some Cherokees saw this of their own accord, others were forced to this conclusion.

Thankfully, this beautiful people was preserved, though it was through much trial and tragedy.

The question is what do we do NOW? Clearly, too much water has went under the bridge for us to just return southeast Tennessee and northeast Georgia to the Cherokee Nation. But surely we owe them something.

It is MY OPINION that there ought to be a perpetual percentage of all state and local taxes within former Cherokee lands that is given to the Cherokee Nation. After all, we are not here "just because." We are here because a people were removed from their lands. NOT because they wanted to be removed, but because, whether they supported the Treaty of New Echota or not, there was no other choice really.

December 29, 2010 at 8:45 a.m.
jayhay182 said...

I am from Cleveland and visited Red Clay many times as a kid and still like to go and take my kids now. I remember always hearing the stories about the Trail of Tears and how sad I felt seeing the pictures of what took place. I always wonder why the Cherokees did not fight for their rights. I mean they were there first and how could these bullies come in and try to take over? You would think we could learn from the past but we still have government coming into places they don't belong and forcing their way onto others. I do have a lot of Cherokee in my family, I think I am 1/8th Cherokee and mixed with German. So the German Nazis tried to get rid of a race of people and the Cherokees are a race that the settlers tried to get rid of by forcing them to leave. And I have both histories mixed in my ancestory. And both events took place all because one group of people were different from the other. So I will reflect on this anniversary in the memory of all the people who had to suffer and leave their homes. I'm sure there were a lot that were confused as to why they were being treated this way. "Cherokee people, Cherokee pride"

December 29, 2010 at 9:21 a.m.
brockley said...

This is just what we are seeing start to happen today to the whites and blacks who are native to America ; outsiders are trying to take over and push all natural born Americans out. I guess the beat goes on.

December 29, 2010 at 1:21 p.m.
jpo3136 said...

What was the casualty count among those who went to Oklahoma by river barge?

A third left Ross' Landing that way, didn't they. How many of those people dropped dead along the way? I wondered this the last time I looked at one of those historic markers at Ross' Landing.

Those who went by barge did have to walk many miles, but it was far less of a distance than those who were forced overland for the entire way.

So, my guess is that not only was the Trail of Tears wrong, it was incompetently executed. As a maneuver, it's an embarrassment. Effectively, those people were forced marched halfway across the United States on a meandering path up to Cairo, IL and back downriver again.

Or, they could have waited for the next float. Instead, some people were shipped out, a few days went by, and the rest were force-marched out of here.

What kind of decision making process was that?

As I think about these events, what occurs to me is that there were probably a lot of Soldiers pressured to get on with it and force the march, out of sheer racism and greed.

If we had been interested in treating those people fairly and justly, we could have used the water route for every one of them. And, if we had dared to treat people as people, many aspects of the whole situation could have gone better.

Instead of success, we all got some defeat. The Cherokee got most of the death.

We treated those people horribly. If this kind of thing happened today, there would be no end of complaint about it for decades.

The Trail of Tears was not only inhumane, it was a poorly executed military maneuver.

December 29, 2010 at 2:55 p.m.
ceeweed said...

AAH, MANIFEST DESTINY! What a screwed up concept that was!

December 29, 2010 at 5:21 p.m.
TrueHistory said...

There are two sides to every story! Study the history of what the Indian did to see why the Trail of Tears happened. Let the families of whites massacred by the local indians tell their story. Rogersville Tn. 1777 Daniel Boones wife her grandparents massacred by indians. One the first settlers the the Rockwood Tn area "Big Foot" massacred by indians. What about the Indians siding with the British in the Revolutionary War. Sale Creek Tn. how did it get its name? From the goods given the Indians to kill Americans when called upon. This was Dragging Canoe and his followers. When given the signal the British would move in from the East and the Indians would move in from the West smashing and killing the Patriots in the middle. These were the local Chattanooga Indians of the Lower 5 villages of the Cherokee from Chickamauga Creek to Nickajack who spent time killing as many white sellters as they could find. Thy traded for the land from the highest Cherokee Chiefs far and square and were hunted down like dogs and their family killed. The Land in the Chattanooga was held by the Woodland Indians for Thousands of years and when the common cold brought by Desoto killed off most of the men in the tribe the Cherokee came in and killed the rest and took the land from the Woodland Indians. Dragging Canoe kept look out for white settlers coming down the tennessee River by Moccaasin Bend. There he would wave them ashore and befriend them only to give a sign at the right time to kill them all. In today's history we would call them terrorist. So each year there is a motorcycle ride for the Trail of Tears. There are thousand of men women and children rolling in their graves that were slaughtered by those poor helpless indians. Who know's maybe one day there will thousands of Jewish people riding their motorcycles on "The poor misunderstood Nazi Ride" The government tried to give each Cherokee family 500 acres but they were always changing there mind and wanting more and more you could never give them enough. Each time they came to sign for land in this area they wanted more then what they agreed on last time. All the time the death count of men women and children massacred by the Cherokee was raising. What comes around goes around and today well still say poor Indian they were so mistreated and their land taken from them. How many people can you kill before you get what you deserve? There are two sides to every story the Cherokee and the massacred others!

December 29, 2010 at 11:07 p.m.
Nvadanvdo said...

According to my rather expert research, over 20,000 of our people died as the result of the New Echota Treaty. From the period of the signing until late 1840 this many people passed over. One must include those who had hid out in the mountains and those on the Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi. Finally, Hitler patterned his extermination of the Jews on the above-mentioned period in American History.

December 30, 2010 at 8:48 a.m.
Nvadanvdo said...

Why is it that when whites are killed, it is called a massacre? Why is it that when Endens are killed, it is considered justified? I believe that our people were here FIRST. This land was given to us by the Creater.

December 30, 2010 at 8:46 p.m.
SPQR said...

White Americans need to realize that their remorse over the TOT generally does Indians no good. In fact it tends to perpetuate the negative approach to life many Indian already suffer from.

The problem is, “compassion” has more to do with the white American than the object of their compassion. The effect is on the person, not on the Indian.

What's done is done. Perhaps our energy could be better spent stopping the demographic decline of whites in America by Central and South Americans and a complicit US government.

December 31, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.
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