History: The Cherokee Resettlements
TIME FOR THE CHEROKEE
I first met Savannah Rose, we were both little girls, sharing a
tree-stump listening to Grandfathers yarns. We lived in the
Southern Appalachian Mountains, in Georgia, our Enchanted Land,
and we were the Ani-Yun' wiya - the Principal People.
were pushed here because of wars between the Iroquois and the Delaware,
Grandfather said, and this is where the white man met us. We were
never the same after that. He went on to describe how our people
became objects of the slave trade to the extent that a tribal delegation
was sent to the Royal Governor of South Carolina to protect us from
Congaree, Catawba and Savannah slave-catchers. Our history abounded
with tales of military prowess and political intrigue, and our culture
was irreversibly altered by white settlers. We adopted many of their
customs, and even as Grandfather spoke, my mother was repairing a ball
gown for Savannah Roses older sister.
The next time Savannah Rose came by, she wanted to hear Grandfather
Your village doesnt have a Grandfather? I asked, puzzled
by her earnestness.
Of course we do, she snapped back, but she could not look
at me. And this is my village now, anyway. Grandfather was
happy to tell the little newcomer, as he called Savannah
Rose, all about Sequoyah and his work on a written representation of
Two years later, in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian
Removal Act, because, he said, no state could achieve proper culture,
civilization, and progress, as long as Indians remain within its boundaries.
That was the beginning of our troubles.
Grandfather said that over the last forty winters, white settlers pushed
back our frontiers. They also increased the population of Georgia six-fold.
Originally, whites were forbidden on the land that was inhabited by
the Cherokees, but that law was often ignored. Our people had ceded
land to the settlers, but this did nothing to quench the insatiable
thirst for land that the Georgians had. The whites resented us because
they saw other uses for our homelands. Many of our people moved to Arkansas
and settled near the St. Francis River to avoid white settlers. They
were happy to leave their homes forever and go far into the West, where
the white man could never follow them.
Then the white man found gold in the land, and killing of Native Americans
and theft of our land became federal policy. The white mans lust
for gold and land was all-consuming.
I heard that the government is confiscating our land, I
heard my father telling my mother.
Whats confiscating? I whispered to my older brother.
He shooed me away, because he was old enough to take part in grown-up
conversations. I went two doors down to Savannah Roses house,
and found her with her mother and sister.
President Jackson is giving the land to the whites, Savs
sister Chemaya was saying.
Junaluska should never have saved his life. Thats how hes
repaying the Cherokee nation?
But cant we do anything? Savs mother asked.
Cant we appeal to them in some way?
We cant even testify in their courts, said Chemaya.
No, Mother, there is very little we can do.
Savannah Rose looked worried as we walked to the stream, and I was so
frightened I could not speak. If they took our land, where would we
live? What would become of our little log house with its broken top
step that my father was always meaning to mend so we wouldnt break
our necks? What would become of us? Our chiefs tried hard to keep Georgia
and the United States from taking our homeland. Chemaya told us that
they challenged the Removal Act in the U.S. Supreme Court, and John
Marshall, the Chief Justice, ruled that we were a sovereign nation,
and removal laws were invalid. Only the federal government could deal
with a sovereign nation, and they could only do it with a treaty. That
made me and Savannah Rose feel better, although we didnt know
what all the big words meant.
few more winters passed, and Sav and I had more chores to do and
less time to play. But we could now butt in when our parents spoke,
and we stayed around when Chemaya arrived breathless from the council
Stand Watie and John Ridge just sold our land to the whites,
she gasped, holding her sides.
What? her mother shrieked. Youre sure, Chemaya?
They dont have the authority to do that.
Well, they did, and they signed a treaty, and now the federal
government can remove us, Mother, Chemaya said, with tears
welling up in her eyes. We heard the government paid each of the
20 people who signed the treaty $2000. Not a bad sum.
chief, John Ross, found his legal appeals against the illegal Treaty
to be fruitless. My nation was forced to move to the west of the Mississippi
in 1838. Grandfather was long dead, and I was now a young woman ready
for marriage. We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell
to our native lands, the country that the Great Spirit gave our Fathers,
Vice Chief Charles Hicks said as we prepared to go.
We are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us birth
it is with sorrow that we are forced by the white man to quit the scenes
of our childhood
we bid farewell to it and all we hold dear.
My family left the concentration camp in Rattlesnake Springs in June,
and we were the first group driven west under federal guard during the
ethnic cleansing of the southeast United States. Thousands of people
had died at the camp during the spring from illnesses brought on by
the lack of clean water and proper waste treatment. It was a rude awakening
Cherokees! General Winfield Scott had shouted when he addressed
our people in May. The President of the United States has sent
me with a powerful army, to cause you, in obedience to the treaty of
1835, to join that part of your people who have already established
in prosperity on the other side of the Mississippi. Unhappily, the two
years that were allowed for the purpose, you have suffered to pass away
without following, and without making any preparation to follow, and
now, or by the time that this solemn address shall reach your distant
settlements, the emigration must be commenced in haste, but I hope without
They began to round us up soon afterward. The Georgia Militia barged
into our little log house with their bayonets and forced us to leave
immediately, and made us live in a stockade for several weeks. White
looters followed, ransacking our homesteads as we were led away. I saw
them making off with our cows, pigs and chickens, and it frustrated
me because I could not stop them. Grandfathers wife was forced
out of her cabin at gunpoint - they gave her only moments to collect
cherished possessions. Somehow we became separated from my older brother
and his new wife - we never saw them again.
Now we were embarking on a long journey in worn-out moccasins, to endure
countless river crossings with only blankets for warmth. As we marched,
we received rations of corn, oats and fodder, and the hunters supplied
meat out of the woods. Each morning when we broke camp we were told
how far we had to go and in what direction. The hunters would spread
out like a fan and go through the woods to the next camping place, usually
about ten miles ahead.
This journey - our Trail of Tears, made our mothers cry and grieve so
much, they were unable to help us children survive. The chiefs prayed
for a sign to lift the mothers spirits and give them strength
to care for us. From that day forward, a beautiful new flower, a rose,
grew wherever a mothers tear fell to the ground. The rose is white,
the color of the teardrops. It has a gold center, for the gold taken
form the Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each stem that represent
the seven Cherokee clans that made the journey.
We camped for several weeks near a creek in Southern Illinois. One day
Savannah Rose and I walked through town with some other girls. As we
passed a hotel one of the girls, a slave named Priscilla, went up to
a man standing in the doorway and asked him, Are you Marse Silkwood?
The man was indeed Marse Silkwood, and he recognized her from a plantation
in Georgia. He bought her from the chief who owned her for $1,000. Some
girls have all the luck.
That night, my father, Savannah Rose and I huddled around the fire,
comforting my mother as she got weaker and weaker
she was with
the Great Spirit by morning. Cholera broke out and death was among us
hourly. We buried our dead close to the trail. The drought was severe
and our children suffered greatly. Of the 800 persons that left with
our group, 489 arrived.
The groups that followed ours were luckier, because Chief John Ross
made an urgent appeal to General Winfield Scott, requesting that Cherokees
lead their tribe west. In September he won additional funds for food
We relocated to Oklahoma, and set up a government, churches and schools,
newspapers and books, and businesses. We named our capital Tahlequah.
But part of me was missing. My best friend, Savannah Rose, and her family
found refuge in the Snowbird Mountains and stayed there. There likely
will never be a Cherokee child called Andrew - no such honor to the
man who caused so much suffering with his anti-Indian policies.
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© Astrid Bullen November 2003
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