15 November 2012

Trail of Tears – Driven West

Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears by A.J. Langguth, 2010, Excerpts

1829: President Andrew Jackson Speech to Congress

“Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and decay, the fate of the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware is fast over-taking the Choctow, the Cherokee, and the Creek. That this fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the States does not admit of doubt.

I informed the Indians inhabiting parts of Georgia and Alabama that their attempt to establish an independent government would not be countenanced by the Executive of the United States, and advised them to emigrate beyond the Mississippi or submit to the laws of those Sates.”

1830: Emboldened by President Jackson’s speech, Georgia’s legislators decided to finish off Cherokee resistance once and for all. They passed the Cherokee Code, which annexed most of Cherokee territory to five neighboring white counties and declared Cherokee law within those areas null and void. The code banned all Cherokee meetings, and any Cherokee who resisted Jackson’s removal policy could be arrested and jailed. The code also forbade Cherokees from testifying against white men or prospecting for gold on the formerly Cherokee territory. All previous contracts between Indians and whites were nullified unless two white men agreed to vouch for their validity.

1838: General Scott had drawn up a logistical plan for collecting the Cherokees. Troops would seek out Indians from North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Before his arrival, the federal government had built twenty-three military stockades throughout the Cherokee Nation. He told his men to seize Cherokee women and children first since they would serve as hostages for bringing in their men to the stockades.

Georgians were following the troops as they rounded up the Cherokees and confiscating their possessions and livestock. Before the Cherokees could be led away, they saw their houses stripped bare and set on fire. Marauders were digging up graves to make off with any silver jewelry that might have been buried with a Cherokee corpse.

Cherokees were arrested and not allowed to gather up their clothes before they were herded away like cattle. As they went, Scott’s soldiers were whooping and bellowing like cattle. At Ross’s Landing, some Cherokees had refused to go board for the river crossing. “The soldiers rushed in,” according to one letter to the newspaper,” and drove the devoted victims into the boats regardless of their cries and agonies. In this cruel work the most painful separations of families occurred. Children were sent off and parents left.”

A Baptist preacher sent a report from Tennessee to his church magazine. “The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners. The poor captive, in a state of distressing agitation, his weeping wife almost frantic with terror, surrounded by a group of crying, terrified children, without a friend to speak a consoling word, is in a poor condition to make a good disposition of his property, and in most cases is stripped of the whole, at one blow.” Cherokees with a comfortable living only a few days before had been reduced to abject poverty.

Protests were reaching a pitch that General Scott could no longer ignore, although he continued to absolve his troops. He claimed that the Indians themselves were to blame for their plight since, instead of obeying his orders, they were clinging to false hopes.

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