Five Civilized Tribes
In he beginning European settlers got it in their head that they “deserved” this land, perhaps from the long trek over seas, but for whatever reason the Native people were a problem. George Washington decided he would “civilize them”. Although I don’t agree with his notion, it wasn’t a bad one compared to other methods used. They converted them to Christianity, taught them English, and basically taught them to be English and own property…and even people (slaves) like they did. In the Southeastern United States, Five Tribes embraced these teachings. They were the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Seminole, the Creek and the Choctaw.
The Southeastern States were discovered to be valuable land. So these settlers decided to force these “lesser than human” people out, first by force. They would loot, burn, and steal from them. They after all, were civilized animals to them.
Indian Removal Act
The talk of Indian Removal had been long talked about but never done. Andrew Jackson was pro removal advocate. In 1830, he signed the American Removal Act, which gave the federal government the power to exchange native-held land in the cotton kingdom east of the Mississippi for land to the west, in the “Indian Colonization Act“ that the United States had acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase. This is now present day Oklahoma.
The treaty however wasn’t to be coerced or done forcibly. However President Jackson often ignored that clause in the treaty. In the winter of 1831 the Choctaws were the first to be forced off their land under Army control. Thousands died when forced, some bound in chains, to walk with no food or supplies or any help from the government that they so embraced in their ways. A Choctaw leader who was speaking with an Alabama newspaper that called it the Trail of Tears.
The Trail of Tears
The Creek Nation was next in line to be expelled from their land in 1836. Of the 15,000 forcibly removed 3,500 died.
The Cherokee, meanwhile are watching this go on. They were divided in two groups. There were the ones who wanted to stay behind and fight for their land. Others thought it was a better idea to leave peacefully and to ask for a settlement of five million for a relocation fee and their land. This was the Treaty of Echota. The government granted this treaty in 1835 but many of the Cherokees were very unhappy with this and felt very betrayed. John Ross, the nation’s principal chief wrote a letter to the senate protesting the treaty with 16,000 signatures attached, but to the government this was a done deal.
In 1838 only 2,000 Cherokees left their homeland willingly. President Martin Van Buren ordered an army of 7,000 to expedite the removal process. They looted their belongings and gave them no time to get ready or stock up. They forced them to walk 1200 miles at gunpoint in the winter. Illnesses ran rampant, people starved and there were harsh elements to stave off. Although the number of Cherokee that perished is unknown it is believed to be around 5,000
By 1840 tens of thousands were drove off their land. And continued to be driven off future lands that were promised to remained untouched by the government. By 1907 when Oklahoma became a state, no remaining Indian territory remained.