The Cherokees were the Eastern Mountaineers of America. Their country lay along the Tennessee River, and in the highlands of Georgia, Carolina, and Alabama—the loveliest region east of the Mississippi River. Beautiful and grand, with lofty mountains and rich valleys fragrant with flowers, and forests of magnolia and pine filled with the singing of birds and the melody of streams, rich in fruits and nuts and wild grains, it was a country worth loving, worth fighting, worth dying for, as thousands of its lovers have fought and have died, white men as well as red, within the last hundred years.
When Oglethorpe came with his cargo of Madeira wine and respectable paupers from England in 1733, and lived in tents in midwinter on the shores of the Savannah River, one of the first conditions of safety for his colossal almshouse, in shape of a new colony, was that all the Indians in the region should become its friends and allies.
The reputation of his goodness and benevolence soon penetrated to the fastnesses of their homes, and tribe after tribe sent chiefs and headmen to greet him with gifts and welcome. When the Cherokee chief appeared, Oglethorpe said to him, "Fear nothing. Speak freely." "I always speak freely," answered the mountaineer. "Why should I fear? I am now among friends: I never feared, even among my enemies."
The principal intention of the English trustees who incorporated the Georgia colony was to provide a home for worthy persons in England who were "in decayed circumstances." Among other great ends which they also avowed was "the civilization of the savages." In one of Oglethorpe's first reports to the trustees he says: "A little Indian nation—the only one within fifty miles—is not only in amity, but desirous to be subjects to his Majesty King George; to have lands given to them among us, and to breed their children at our schools. Their chief and his beloved man, who is the second man in the nation, desire to be instructed in the Christian religion."
The next year he returned to England, carrying with him eight Indian chiefs, to show them "so much of Great Britain and her institutions as might enable them to judge of her power and dignity. *** Nothing was neglected," we are told, "that was likely to awaken their curiosity or impress them with a sense of the power and grandeur of the nation." They were received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and by the Fellows of Eton, and for a space of four months were hospitably entertained, and shown all the great sights of London and its vicinity.
The tribes at home were much gratified by these attentions paid to their representatives, and sent out to the trustees a very curious missive, expressing their thanks and their attachment to General Oglethorpe. This letter was the production of a young Cherokee chief. It was written in black and red hieroglyphs on a dressed buffalo-skin. Before it was sent to England it was exhibited in Savannah, and the meaning of the hieroglyphs translated by an interpreter in a grand gathering of fifty Indian chiefs and all the principal people of Savannah. Afterward the curious document was framed and hung up in the Georgia Office in Westminster.
When the Wesleyan missionaries arrived in Georgia, two years later, some of the chiefs who had made this visit to England went to meet them, carrying large jars of honey and of milk as gifts, to "represent their inclinations;" and one of the chiefs said to Mr. Wesley, "I am glad you are come. When I was in England I desired that some one would speak the Great Word to me. I will go up and speak to the wise men of our nation, and I hope they will hear. But we would not be made Christians as the Spaniards make Christians; we would be taught before we are baptized."
In those early days Wesley was an intolerant and injudicious enthusiast. His missionary work in the Georgia Colony was anything but successful in the outset, either among the whites or the Indians, and there was ample justification for the reply which this same Indian chief made later when urged to embrace the doctrines of Christianity.
"Why, these are Christians at Savannah. Those are Christians at Frederica. Christians get drunk! Christians beat men! Christians tell lies! Me no Christian!" On another occasion Wesley asked him what he thought he was made for. "He that is above," answered the chief, "knows what he made us for. We know nothing; we are in the dark; but white men know much. And yet white men build great houses, as if they were to live forever. But white men cannot live forever. In a little time white men will be dust as well as I."
For twenty years Oglethorpe's colony struggled on under great difficulties and discouragements. Wars with France and with Spain; tiresome squabbles with and among Methodist missionaries, all combined to make Oglethorpe's position hard. Again and again England would have lost her colony except for the unswerving fidelity of the Indian allies; they gathered by hundreds to fight for Oglethorpe. In one expedition against the frontier, four hundred Creeks and six hundred Cherokees set out in one day, under an urgent call for help sent by Indian runners to their towns. His Indian friends were the only friends Oglethorpe had who stood by him past everything: nothing could shake their fidelity.
"He is poor; he can give you nothing," said the St. Augustine Spaniards to a Creek chief at this time; "it is foolish for you to go to him:" and they showed to the Indian a fine suit of scarlet clothes, and a sword, which they were about to give to a chief of the Tennessees who had become their ally.
But the Creek answered, "We love him. It is true, he does not give us silver; but he gives us everything we want that he has. He has given me the coat off his back, and the blanket from under him."
At last the trustees of the Georgia Colony lost patience: very bitterly they had learned that paupers, however worthy, are not good stuff to build new enterprises of. In eighteen years the colony had not once furnished a sufficient supply of subsistence for its own consumption: farms which had been cultivated were going to ruin; and the country was rapidly degenerating in every respect. Dishonest traders had tampered with and exasperated the Indians, so that their friendliness could no longer be implicitly trusted. For everything that went wrong the English Company was held responsible, and probably there were no happier men in all England on the 20th of June, 1752, than were the Georgia trustees, who on that day formally resigned their charter, and washed their hands of the colony forever.
The province was now formed into a royal government, and very soon became the seat of frightful Indian wars. The new authorities neither understood nor kept faith with the Indians: their old friend Oglethorpe had left them forever, and the same scenes of treachery and massacre which were being enacted at the North began to be repeated with heart-sickening similarity at the South. Indians fighting Indians—fighting as allies to-day with the French, to-morrow with the English; treaties made, and broken as soon as made; there was neither peace nor safety anywhere.
At last, in 1763, a treaty was concluded with the chiefs and headmen of five tribes, which seemed to promise better things. The Cherokees and Creeks granted to the King of England a large tract of land, cleared off their debts with the sum paid for it, and observed its stipulations faithfully for several years, until peace was again destroyed, this time by no fault of the Indians, in consequence of the revolt of the American Colonies against Great Britain. The English loyalists in Georgia now availed themselves of the Indians' old habit of allegiance to the Crown. One of their leading agents took a Cherokee woman as his mistress, placed her at the head of his table, gave her the richest dress and equipage that the country could afford, and distributed through her lavish gifts to all the Indians he could reach. When war actually broke out he retreated with her into the fastnesses of the Cherokee nation, where he swayed them at his will. Attempts to capture him were repelled by the Cherokees with ferocity. Prisoners taken by them at this time were tortured with great cruelty; one instance is recorded (in a journal kept by another prisoner, who escaped alive) of a boy about twelve years of age who was suspended by the arms between two posts, and raised about three feet from the ground. "The mode of inflicting the torture was by light-wood splints of about eighteen inches long, made sharp at one end and fractured at the other, so that the torch might not be extinguished by throwing it. After these weapons of death were prepared, and a fire made for the purpose of lighting them, the scene of horror commenced. It was deemed a mark of dexterity, and accompanied by shouts of applause, when an Indian threw one of these torches so as to make the sharp end stick into the body of the suffering youth without extinguishing the torch. This description of torture was continued for two hours before the innocent victim was relieved by death."
These are sickening details, and no doubt will be instinctively set down by most readers as proof of innate cruelty peculiar to the Indian race. Let us, therefore, set side by side with them the record that in this same war white men (British officers) confined white men ("rebels") in prison-ships, starved, and otherwise maltreated them till they died, five or six a day, then threw their dead bodies into the nearest marsh, and had them "trodden down in the mud—from whence they were soon exposed by the washing of the tides, and at low-water the prisoners beheld the carrion-crows picking the bones of their departed companions!" Also, that white men (British officers) were known at that time to have made thumb-screws out of musket-locks, to torture Georgia women, wives of "rebels," to force them to reveal the places where their husbands were in hiding. Innate cruelty is not exclusively an Indian trait.
The Cherokees had the worst of the fighting on the British side during the Revolution. Again and again their towns were burnt, their winter stores destroyed, and whole bands reduced to the verge of starvation. At one time, when hard pressed by the American forces, they sent to the Creeks for help; but the shrewd Creeks replied, "You have taken the thorns out of our feet; you are welcome to them." The Creeks, having given only limited aid to the British, had suffered much less severely. That any of the Indians should have joined the "rebel" cause seems wonderful, as they had evidently nothing to gain by the transfer of their allegiance to what must have appeared to them for a long time to be the losing side in the contest. For three years and a half Savannah was in the possession of the British, and again and again they had control of the entire State. And to show that they had no compunction about inciting the Indians to massacres they left many a written record—such, for instance, as this, which is in a letter written by General Gage from Boston, June, 1775: "We need not be tender of calling on the savages to attack the Americans."
The first diplomatic relations of the United States Government with the Cherokees were in the making of the treaty of Hopewell, in 1785. At the Hopewell council the United States commissioners said: "Congress is now the sovereign of all our country which we now point out to you on the map. They want none of your lands, nor anything else which belongs to you; and as an earnest of their regard for you, we propose to enter into articles of a treaty perfectly equal and conformable to what we now tell you. *** This humane and generous act of the United States will no doubt be received by you with gladness, and held in grateful remembrance; and the more so, as many of your young men, and the greater number of your warriors, during the late war, were our enemies, and assisted the King of Great Britain in his endeavors to conquer our country."
The chiefs complained bitterly of the encroachments of white settlers upon lands which had been by old treaties distinctly reserved to the Cherokees. They demanded that some of these settlers should be removed; and when the commissioners said that the settlers were too numerous for the Government to remove, one of the chiefs asked, satirically, "Are Congress, who conquered the King of Great Britain, unable to remove those people?"
Finally, the chiefs agreed to accept payment for the lands which had been taken. New boundaries were established, and a general feeling of good-will and confidence was created. One notable feature in this council was the speech of an Indian woman, called the "war-woman of Chota." (Chota was the Cherokees' city of refuge. All murderers were safe so long as they lived in Chota. Even Englishmen had not disdained to take advantage of its shelter; one English trader who had killed an Indian, having fled, lived there for many months, his own house being but a short distance away. After a time he resolved to return home, but the headmen of the tribe assured him that, though he was entirely safe there, he would surely be killed if he left the town.) The chief who brought this "war-woman" to the council introduced her as "one of our beloved women who has borne and raised up warriors." She proceeded to say, "I am fond of hearing that there is a peace, and I hope you have now taken us by the hand in real friendship. I have a pipe and a little tobacco to give the commissioners to smoke in friendship. I look on you and the red people as my children. Your having determined on peace is most pleasing to me, for I have seen much trouble during the late war. I am old, but I hope yet to bear children who will grow up and people our nation, as we are now to be under the protection of Congress, and shall have no disturbance."
A brief summary of the events which followed on the negotiation of this treaty may be best given in the words of a report made by the Secretary of War to the President four years later. In July, 1789, General Knox writes as follows of the Cherokees: "This nation of Indians, consisting of separate towns or villages, are seated principally on the head-waters of the Tennessee, which runs into the Ohio. Their hunting-grounds extend from the Cumberland River along the frontiers of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and part of Georgia.
"The frequent wars they have had with the frontier people of the said States have greatly diminished their number. The commissioners estimated them in November, 1785, at 2000 warriors, but they were estimated in 1787 at 2650; yet it is probable they may be lessened since by the depredations committed on them.
"The United States concluded a treaty with the Cherokees at Hopewell, on the Keowee, the 28th of November, 1785, which is entered on the printed journals of Congress April 17th, 1786. The negotiations of the commissioners on the part of the United States are hereunto annexed, marked A. It will appear by the papers marked B. that the State of North Carolina, by their agent, protested against the said treaty as infringing and violating the legislative rights of that State.
"By a variety of evidence which has been submitted to the last Congress, it has been proved that the said treaty has been entirely disregarded by the white people inhabiting the frontiers, styling themselves the State of Franklin. The proceedings of Congress on the 1st of September, 1788, and the proclamation they then issued on this subject, will show their sense of the many unprovoked outrages committed against the Cherokees.
"The information contained in the papers marked C., from Colonel Joseph Martin, the late agent to the Cherokees, and Richard Winn, Esq., will further evince the deplorable situation of the Cherokees, and the indispensable obligation of the United States to vindicate their faith, justice, and national dignity.
"The letter of Mr. Winn, the late superintendent, of the 1st of March, informs that a treaty will be held with the Cherokees on the third Monday of May, at the Upper War-ford on French Broad River. But it is to be observed that the time for which both he and Colonel Joseph Martin, the agent to the Cherokees and Chickasaws, were elected has expired, and therefore they are not authorized to act on the part of the Union. If the commissioners appointed by North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, by virtue of the resolve of Congress of the 26th of October, 1787, should attend the said treaty, their proceedings thereon may soon be expected. But, as part of the Cherokees have taken refuge within the limits of the Creeks, it is highly probable they will be under the same direction; and, therefore, as the fact of the violation of the treaty cannot be disputed, and as the commissioners have not power to replace the Cherokees within the limits established in 1785, it is not probable, even if a treaty should be held, as stated by Mr. Winn, that the result would be satisfactory."
This is the summing up of the situation. The details of it are to be read in copious volumes of the early history of Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Georgia—all under the head of "Indian Atrocities." To very few who read those records does it occur that the Indians who committed these "atrocities" were simply ejecting by force, and, in the contests arising from this forcible ejectment, killing men who had usurped and stolen their lands—lands ceded to them by the United States Government in a solemn treaty, of which the fifth Article was as follows:
"If any citizen of the United States or other person, not being an Indian, shall attempt to settle on any of the lands westward or southward of the said boundaries which are hereby allotted to the Indians for their hunting-grounds, or having already settled and will not remove from the same within six months after the ratification of this treaty, such person shall forfeit the protection of the United States, and the Indians may punish him or not as they please."
It is evident that it is necessary to go back to the days of the first treaties with our Indians to possess ourselves of the first requisites for fair judgment of their conduct toward white men. What would a community of white men, situated precisely as these Cherokees were, have done? What did these very Southern colonists themselves do to Spaniards who encroached on their lands? Fought them; killed them; burnt their houses over their heads, and drove them into the sea!
In a later communication in the same year to the President, the Secretary says: "The disgraceful violation of the treaty of Hopewell with the Cherokees requires the serious consideration of Congress. If so direct and manifest contempt of the authority of the United States be suffered with impunity, it will be in vain to attempt to extend the arm of the Government to the frontiers. The Indian tribes can have no faith in such imbecile promises, and the lawless whites will ridicule a government which shall on paper only make Indian treaties and regulate Indian boundaries."
The President, thus entreated, addressed himself to the Senate, and asked their advice. He recapitulated the facts as set forth by General Knox, "that upward of five hundred families are settled on the Cherokee lands," and asks,
"1st. Is it the judgment of the Senate that overtures shall be made to the Cherokees to arrange a new boundary, so as to embrace the settlements made by the white people since the treaty of Hopewell in November, 1785?
"2d. If so, shall compensation to the amount of $—— annually, or of $—— in gross, be made to the Cherokees for the land they shall relinquish, holding the occupiers of the land accountable to the United States for its value?
"3d. Shall the United States stipulate solemnly to guarantee the new boundary which may be arranged?"
The Senate thereupon resolved that the President should, at his discretion, cause the Hopewell treaty to be carried out, or make a new one; but, in case a new one was made, the "Senate do advise and consent solemnly to guarantee the same."
Accordingly, in July, 1791, a new treaty—the treaty of Holston—was made with the Cherokees, new boundaries established, and $1000 a year promised to the tribe for the lands relinquished.
By the seventh Article of this treaty the United States "solemnly guarantee to the Cherokee nation all their lands not hereby ceded:" the eighth Article reiterates the old permission that if any citizen of the United States or other person (not an Indian) shall settle on the Cherokees' lands, the Cherokees may punish him as they please. Article ninth says that no citizen or inhabitant of the United States shall hunt or destroy game on the Cherokee lands, or go into the Cherokee country without a passport from the governor or some other authorized person.
The next year the Cherokees sent an embassy to Philadelphia to ask for an increase of $500 in their annuity. One of the chiefs said that he had told Governor Blunt the year before that he would not consent to selling the lands for $1000 a year. "It would not buy a breech-clout for each of my nation;" which was literally true.
To this additional annuity the Senate consented, and with this the chiefs said they were "perfectly satisfied." But they begged for the ploughs, hoes, cattle, etc., which had been promised in the treaty. They said, "Game is going fast away from among us. We must plant corn and raise cattle, and we want you to assist us."
In 1794 it was necessary to make another treaty, chiefly to declare that the Holston treaty was in "full force and binding." It had not been "fully carried into execution by reason of misunderstandings," it was said. This was very true; white settlers had gone where they pleased, as if it did not exist; Cherokees had murdered them, as they were, by their treaty, explicitly permitted to do. The whites had retaliated by unprovoked attacks on friendly Indians, and the Indians had retaliated again. The exasperated Indians implored Congress to protect them: the still more exasperated whites demanded of Congress to protect them. The Secretary of War writes despairingly, that "The desire of too many frontier white people to seize by force or fraud on the neighboring Indian lands continues to be an unceasing cause of jealousy and hatred on the part of the Indians; and it would appear, upon a calm investigation, that until the Indians can be quieted on this point, and rely with confidence on the protection of their lands by the United States, no well-grounded hope of tranquillity can be entertained."
In this miserable manner, unjust equally to the white men and to the Indians, affairs went on for several years, until in 1801 it became absolutely necessary that in some way a definite understanding of boundaries, and an authoritative enforcement of rights on both sides, should be brought about; accordingly, commissioners were sent by the President "to obtain the consent of the Cherokees" to new grants of land and establishment of boundaries. The instructions given to these commissioners are remarkable for their reiterated assertion of the Indians' unquestioned right to do as they please about ceding these lands. Such phrases as these: "Should the Indians refuse to cede to the United States any of the above-designated lands," and "you will endeavor to prevail upon them to cede," and "you will endeavor to procure the consent of the Indians," are proof of the fulness of the recognition the United States Government at that time gave of the Indians' "right of occupancy;" also of the realization on the part of the Government that these Indian nations were powers whose good-will it was of importance to conciliate. "It is of importance," the instructions say, "that the Indian nations generally should be convinced of the certainty in which they may at all times rely upon the friendship of the United States, and that the President will never abandon them or their children;" and, "It will be incumbent on you to introduce the desires of the Government in such a manner as will permit you to drop them, as you may find them illy received, without giving the Indians an opportunity to reply with a decided negative, or raising in them unfriendly and inimical dispositions. You will state none of them in the tone of demands, but in the first instance merely mention them as propositions which you are authorized to make, and their assent to which the Government would consider as new testimonials of their friendship."
Nevertheless, the Cherokees did reply with "a decided negative." They utterly refused to cede any more lands, or to give their consent to the opening of any more roads through their territory. But it only took four years to bring them to the point where they were ready to acquiesce in the wishes of the Government, and to make once more the effort to secure to themselves an unmolested region, by giving up several large tracts of land and a right of way on several roads. In 1805 theyconcluded another treaty, ceding territory for which the United States thought it worth while to pay $15,000 immediately, and an annuity of $3000.
Ten years later (in 1816) they gave up all their lands in South Carolina, and the United States became surety that South Carolina should pay to them $5000 for the same. In the autumn of the same year they made still another cession of lands to the United States Government, for which they were to have an annuity of $6000 a year for ten years, and $5000 as compensation for the improvements they surrendered.
In 1817 an important treaty was concluded, making still further cessions of lands, and defining the position of a part of the Cherokee nation which had moved away, with the President's permission, to the Arkansas River in 1809. The eighth Article of this treaty promises that the United States will give to every head of an Indian family residing on the east side of the Mississippi, who may wish to become a citizen, "a reservation of six hundred and forty acres of land, in which they will have a life estate, with a reversion in fee-simple to their children."
What imagination could have foreseen that in less than twenty years the chiefs of this Cherokee nation would be found piteously pleading to be allowed to remain undisturbed on these very lands? In the whole history of our Government's dealings with the Indian tribes, there is no record so black as the record of its perfidy to this nation. There will come a time in the remote future when, to the student of American history, it will seem well-nigh incredible. From the beginning of the century they had been steadily advancing in civilization. As far back as 1800 they had begun the manufacture of cotton cloth, and in 1820 there was scarcely a family in that part of the nation living east of the Mississippi but what understood the use of the card and spinning-wheel. Every family had its farm under cultivation. The territory was laid off into districts, with a council-house, a judge, and a marshal in each district. A national committee and council were the supreme authority in the nation. Schools were flourishing in all the villages. Printing-presses were at work.
Their territory was larger than the three States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined. It embraced the North-western part of Georgia, the North-east of Alabama, a corner of Tennessee and of North Carolina. They were enthusiastic in their efforts to establish and perfect their own system of jurisprudence. Missions of several sects were established in their country, and a large number of them had professed Christianity, and were living exemplary lives.
There is no instance in all history of a race of people passing in so short a space of time from the barbarous stage to the agricultural and civilized. And it was such a community as this that the State of Georgia, by one high-handed outrage, made outlaws!—passing on the 19th of December, 1829, a law "to annul all laws and ordinances made by the Cherokee nation of Indians;" declaring "all laws, ordinances, orders, and regulations of any kind whatever, made, passed, or enacted by the Cherokee Indians, either in general council or in any other way whatever, or by any authority whatever, null and void, and of no effect, as if the same had never existed; also, that no Indian, or descendant of any Indian residing within the Creek or Cherokee nations of Indians, shall be deemed a competent witness in any court of this State to which a white man may be a party."
What had so changed the attitude of Georgia to the Indians within her borders? Simply the fact that the Indians, finding themselves hemmed in on all sides by fast thickening white settlements, had taken a firm stand that they would give up no more land. So long as they would cede and cede, and grant and grant tract after tract, and had millions of acres still left to cede and grant, the selfishness of white men took no alarm; but once consolidated into an empire, with fixed and inalienable boundaries, powerful, recognized, and determined, the Cherokee nation would be a thorn in the flesh to her white neighbors. The doom of the Cherokees was sealed on the day when they declared, once for all, officially as a nation, that they would not sell another foot of land. This they did in an interesting and pathetic message to the United States Senate in 1822.
Georgia, through her governor and her delegates to Congress, had been persistently demanding to have the Cherokees compelled to give up their lands. She insisted that the United States Government should fulfil a provision, made in an old compact of 1802, to extinguish the Indian titles within her limits as soon as it could be peaceably done. This she demanded should be done now, either peaceably or otherwise.
"We cannot but view the design of those letters," says this message, "as an attempt bordering on a hostile disposition toward the Cherokee nation to wrest from them by arbitrary means their just rights and liberties, the security of which is solemnly guaranteed to them by these United States. *** We assert under the fullest authority that all the sentiments expressed in relation to the disposition and determination of the nation never to cede another foot of land, are positively the production and voice of the nation. *** There is not a spot out of the limits of any of the States or Territories thereof, and within the limits of the United States, that they would ever consent to inhabit; because they have unequivocally determined never again to pursue the chase as heretofore, or to engage in wars, unless by the common call of the Government to defend the common rights of the United States. *** The Cherokees have turned their attention to the pursuits of the civilized man: agriculture, manufactures, and the mechanic arts and education are all in successful operation in the nation at this time; and while the Cherokees are peacefully endeavoring to enjoy the blessings of civilization and Christianity on the soil of their rightful inheritance, and while the exertions and labors of various religious societies of these United States are successfully engaged in promulgating to them the words of truth and life from the sacred volume of Holy Writ, and under the patronage of the General Government, they are threatened with removal or extinction. *** We appeal to the magnanimity of the American Congress for justice, and the protection of the rights and liberties and lives of the Cherokee people. We claim it from the United States by the strongest obligation which imposes it on them—by treaties: and we expect it from them under that memorable declaration, 'that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"
The dignified and pathetic remonstrances of the Cherokee chiefs, their firm reiterations of their resolve not to part with their lands, were called by the angry Georgian governor "tricks of vulgar cunning," and "insults from the polluted lips of outcasts and vagabonds;" and he is not afraid, in an official letter to the Secretary of War, to openly threaten the President that, if he upholds the Indians in their rejection of the overtures for removal, the "consequences are inevitable," and that, in resisting the occupation of the Cherokee lands by the Georgians, he will be obliged to "make war upon, and shed the blood of brothers and friends."
To these Cherokees Mr. Jefferson had written, at one time during his administration, "I sincerely wish you may succeed in your laudable endeavors to save the remnant of your nation by adopting industrious occupations, and a government of regular law. In this you may always rely on the counsel and assistance of the United States."
In 1791 he had written to General Knox, defining the United States' position in the matter of Indian lands: "Government should firmly maintain this ground, that the Indians have a right to the occupation of their lands independent of the States within whose chartered lines they happen to be; that until they cede them by treaty, or other transaction equivalent to treaty, no act of a State can give a right to such lands. *** The Government is determined to exert all its energy for the patronage and protection of the rights of the Indians."
And the year before General Washington had said to the Six Nations: "In future you cannot be defrauded of your lands. No State or person can purchase your lands unless at some public treaty held under the authority of the United States. The General Government will never consent to your being defrauded; but it will protect you in all your just rights. *** You possess the right to sell, and the right of refusing to sell your lands. *** The United States will be true and faithful to their engagements."
What could Cherokee men and women have thought when, only thirty years later, they found this United States Government upholding the State of Georgia in her monstrous pretensions of right to the whole of their country, and in her infamous cruelties of oppression toward them? when they found this United States Government sending its agents to seduce and bribe their chiefs to bargain away their country; even stooping to leave on the public records of official instructions to a commissioner such phrases as these: "Appeal to the chiefs and influential men—not together, but apart, at their own houses;" "make offers to them of extensive reservations in fee-simple, and other rewards, to obtain their acquiescence;" "the more careful you are to secure from even the chiefs the official character you bear, the better;" "enlarge on the advantage of their condition in the West: there the Government would protect them." This the Secretary of War called "moving on them in the line of their prejudices."
In a report submitted to the War Department in 1825 by Thomas L. McKenney is a glowing description of the Cherokee country and nation at that time: "The country is well watered; abundant springs of pure water are found in every part; a range of majestic and lofty mountains stretch themselves across it. The northern part is hilly and mountainous; in the southern and western parts there are extensive and fertile plains, covered partly with tall trees, through which beautiful streams of water glide. These plains furnish immense pasturage, and numberless herds of cattle are dispersed over them; horses are plenty; numerous flocks of sheep, goats, and swine cover the valleys and the hills. On Tennessee, Ustanula, and Canasagi rivers Cherokee commerce floats. The climate is delicious and healthy; the winters are mild; the spring clothes the ground with the richest scenery; flowers of exquisite beauty and variegated hues meet and fascinate the eye in every direction. In the plains and valleys the soil is generally rich, producing Indian-corn, cotton, tobacco, wheat, oats, indigo, and sweet and Irish potatoes. The natives carry on considerable trade with the adjoining States; some of them export cotton in boats down the Tennessee to the Mississippi, and down that river to New Orleans. Apple and peach orchards are quite common, and gardens are cultivated, and much attention paid to them. Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables. There are many public roads in the nation, and houses of entertainment kept by natives. Numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every section of the country. Cotton and woollen cloths are manufactured: blankets of various dimensions, manufactured by Cherokee hands, are very common. Almost every family in the nation grows cotton for its own consumption. Industry and commercial enterprise are extending themselves in every part. Nearly all the merchants in the nation are native Cherokees. Agricultural pursuits engage the chief attention of the people. Different branches in mechanics are pursued. The population is rapidly increasing. *** White men in the nation enjoy all the immunities and privileges of the Cherokee people, except that they are not eligible to public offices. *** The Christian religion is the religion of the nation. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Moravians are the most numerous sects. Some of the most influential characters are members of the Church, and live consistently with their professions. The whole nation is penetrated with gratitude for the aid it has received from the United States Government, and from different religious societies. Schools are increasing every year; learning is encouraged and rewarded; the young class acquire the English, and those of mature age the Cherokee system of learning. *** Our relations with all nations are of the most friendly character. We are out of debt, and our public revenue is in a flourishing condition. Besides the amount arising from imports, perpetual annuity is due from the United States in consideration of lands ceded in former periods. Our system of government, founded on republican principles by which justice is equally distributed, secures the respect of the people. New Town, pleasantly situated in the centre of the nation, and at the junction of the Canasagi and Gusuwati, two beautiful streams, is the seat of government. The legislative power is vested in what is denominated in native dialect Tsalagi Tinilawige, consisting of a national committee and council. Members of both branches are chosen by and from the people for a limited period. In New Town a printing-press is soon to be established; also a national library and museum. An immense concourse of people frequent the seat of government when the Tsalagi Tinilawige is in session, which takes place once a year.
"The success which has attended the philological researches of one in the nation whose system of education has met with universal approbation among the Cherokees certainly entitles him to great consideration, and to rank with the benefactors of man. His name is Guess, and he is a native and unlettered Cherokee; but, like Cadmus, he has given to his people the alphabet of their language. It is composed of eighty-six characters, by which in a few days the older Indians, who had despaired of deriving an education by means of the schools, and who are not included in the existing school system, may read and correspond."
Never did mountaineers cling more desperately to their homes than did the Cherokees. The State of Georgia put the whole nation in duress, but still they chose to stay. Year by year high-handed oppressions increased and multiplied; military law reigned everywhere; Cherokee lands were surveyed, and put up to be drawn by lottery; missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia juries, and hung by Georgia executioners. Appeal after appeal to the President and to Congress for protection produced only reiterated confessions of the Government's inability to protect them—reiterated proposals to them to accept a price for their country and move away. Nevertheless they clung to it. A few hundreds went, but the body of the nation still protested and entreated. There is nothing in history more touching than the cries of this people to the Government of the United States to fulfil its promises to them. And their cause was not without eloquent advocates. When the bill for their removal was before Congress, Frelinghuysen, Sprague, Robbins, Storrs, Ellsworth, Evans, Huntington, Johns, Bates, Crockett, Everett, Test—all spoke warmly against it; and, to the credit of Congress be it said, the bill passed the Senate by only one majority.
The Rev. Jeremiah Evarts published a series of papers in the National Intelligencer under the signature of William Penn, in which he gave a masterly analysis and summing up of the case, recapitulated the sixteen treaties which the Government had made with the Cherokees, all guaranteeing to them their lands, and declared that the Government had "arrived at the bank of the Rubicon," where it must decide if it would or would not save the country from the charge of bad faith. Many of his eloquent sentences read in the light of the present time like prophecies. He says, "in a quarter of a century the pressure upon the Indians will be much greater from the boundless prairies, which must ultimately be subdued and inhabited, than it would ever have been from the borders of the present Cherokee country;" and asks, pertinently, "to what confidence would such an engagement be entitled, done at the very moment that treaties with Indians are declared not to be binding, and for the very reason that existing treaties are not strong enough to bind the United States." Remonstrances poured in upon Congress, petitions and memorials from religious societies, from little country villages, all imploring the Government to keep its faith to these people.
The Cherokees' own newspaper, The Phœnix, was filled at this time with the records of the nation's suffering and despair.
"The State of Georgia has taken a strong stand against us, and the United States must either defend us and our rights or leave us to our foe. In the latter case she will violate her promise of protection, and we cannot in future depend upon any guarantee to us, either here or beyond the Mississippi.
"If the United States shall withdraw their solemn pledges of protection, utterly disregard their plighted faith, deprive us of the right of self-government, and wrest from us our land, then, in the deep anguish of our misfortunes, we may justly say there is no place of security for us, no confidence left that the United States will be more just and faithful toward us in the barren prairies of the West than when we occupied the soil inherited from the Great Author of our existence."
As a last resort the Cherokees carried their case before the Supreme Court, and implored that body to restrain the State of Georgia from her unjust interference with their rights. The reports of the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. the State of Georgia fill a volume by themselves, and are of vital importance to the history of Indian affairs. The majority of the judges decided that an Indian tribe could not be considered as a foreign nation, and therefore could not bring the suit. Judge Thompson and Judge Story dissented from this opinion, and held that the Cherokee tribe did constitute a foreign nation, and that the State of Georgia ought to be enjoined from execution of its unjust laws. The opinion of Chancellor Kent coincided with that of Judges Thompson and Story. Chancellor Kent gave it as his opinion that the cases in which the Supreme Court had jurisdiction would "reach and embrace every controversy that can arise between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia or its officers under the execution of the act of Georgia."
But all this did not help the Cherokees; neither did the fact of the manifest sympathy of the whole court with their wrongs. The technical legal decision had been rendered against them, and this delivered them over to the tender mercies of Georgia: no power in the land could help them. Fierce factions now began to be formed in the nation, one for and one against the surrender of their lands. Many were ready still to remain and suffer till death rather than give them up; but wiser counsels prevailed, and in the last days of the year 1835 a treaty was concluded with the United States by twenty of the Cherokee chiefs and headmen, who thereby, in behalf of their nation, relinquished all the lands claimed or possessed by them east of the Mississippi River.
The preamble of this treaty is full of pathos: "Whereas, The Cherokees are anxious to make some arrangement with the Government of the United States whereby the difficulties they have experienced by a residence within the settled parts of the United States under the jurisdiction and laws of the State governments may be terminated and adjusted; and with a view to reuniting their people in one body, and securing a permanent home for themselves and their posterity in the country selected by their forefathers without the territorial limits of the State sovereignties, and where they can establish and enjoy a government of their choice, and perpetuate such a state of society as may be most consonant with their views, habits, and condition, and as may tend to their individual comfort and their advancement in civilization."
By this treaty the Cherokees gave up a country "larger than the three States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined, and received therefor five millions of dollars and seven millions of acres of land west of the Mississippi." This the United States "guaranteed, and secured to be conveyed in patent," and defined it by exact boundaries; and, "in addition to the seven millions of acres of land thus provided for and bounded," the United States did "further guarantee to the Cherokee nation a perpetual outlet west, and a free and unmolested use of all the country west of the western boundary of said seven millions of acres, as far west as the sovereignty of the United States and their rights of soil extend."
The fifth Article of this treaty is, "The United States hereby covenant and agree that the lands ceded to the Cherokee nation in the foregoing article shall in no future time, without their consent, be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any State or Territory."
In the sixth Article is this promise: "The United States agree to protect the Cherokee nation from domestic strife and foreign enemies, and against intestine wars between the several tribes."
Even after this treaty was made a great part of the nation refused to sanction it, saying that it did not represent their wish; they would never carry it out; hundreds refused to receive any longer either money or supplies from the United States agents, lest they should be considered to have thereby committed themselves to the treaty.
In 1837 General Wool wrote from the Cherokee country that the people "uniformly declare that they never made the treaty in question. *** So determined are they in their opposition that not one of all those who were present, and voted in the council held but a day or two since at this place, however poor or destitute, would receive either rations or clothing from the United States, lest they might compromise themselves in regard to the treaty. These same people, as well as those in the mountains of North Carolina, during the summer past preferred living on the roots and sap of trees rather than receive provisions from the United States. Thousands, I have been informed, had no other food for weeks."
For two years—to the very last moment allowed them by the treaty—they clung to their lands, and at last were removed only by military force. In May, 1838, General Scott was ordered to go with a sufficient military force to compel the removal. His proclamation "to the Cherokee people remaining in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama" opens thus:
"Cherokees,—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 are already established on the other side of the Mississippi. Unhappily the two years which 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 disorder. I have no power, by granting a further delay, to correct the error that you have committed. The full-moon of May is already on the wane, and before another shall have passed away every Cherokee man, woman, and child in those States must be in motion to join their brethren in the West."
The tone of this proclamation, at once firm and kindly, could not fail to profoundly impress the unfortunate people to whom it was addressed. "My troops," said the humane and sympathizing general, "already occupy many positions in the country that you are to abandon, and thousands and thousands are approaching from every quarter, to render resistance and escape alike hopeless. All those troops, regular and militia, are your friends. Receive them and confide in them as such; obey them when they tell you that you can remain no longer in this country. Soldiers are as kind-hearted as brave, and the desire of every one of us is to execute our painful duty in mercy. ***
"Chiefs, headmen, and warriors, will you then, by resistance, compel us to resort to arms? God forbid. Or will you by flight seek to hide yourselves in mountains and forests, and thus oblige us to hunt you down? Remember that in pursuit it may be impossible to avoid conflicts. The blood of the white man or the blood of the red man may be spilt; and if spilt, however accidentally, it may be impossible for the discreet and humane among you or among us to prevent a general war and carnage. Think of this, my Cherokee brethren! I am an old warrior, and have been present at many a scene of slaughter; but spare me, I beseech you, the horror of witnessing the destruction of the Cherokees. Do not even wait for the close approach of the troops, but make such preparations for emigration as you can, and hasten to this place, to Ross's Landing, or to Guinter's Landing, where you will be received in kindness by officers selected for the purpose. *** This is the address of a warrior to warriors. May its entreaties be kindly received, and may the God of both prosper the Americans and Cherokees, and preserve them long in peace and friendship with each other."
The reply of the council of the Cherokee nation to this proclamation is worthy to be put on record. They make no further protest against going; they simply ask the privilege of undertaking the whole charge of the removal themselves. They say: "The present condition of the Cherokee people is such that all dispute as to the time of emigration is set at rest. Being already severed from their homes and their property, their persons being under the absolute control of the commanding general, and being altogether dependent on the benevolence and humanity of that high officer for the suspension of their transportation to the West at a season and under circumstances in which sickness and death were to be apprehended to an alarming extent, all inducements to prolong their stay in this country are taken away. And however strong their attachment to the homes of their fathers may be, their interests and their wishes are now to depart as early as may be consistent with their safety."
The council therefore submitted to General Scott several propositions: 1st. "That the Cherokee nation will undertake the whole business of removing their people to the west of the river Mississippi." Their estimates of cost, and arrangement as to time, intervals, etc., were wise and reasonable. To their estimate of $65,880 as the cost for every thousand persons transported General Scott objected, thinking it high. He said that he was "confident" that it would be found that out of every thousand there would be "at least five hundred strong men, women, boys, and girls not only capable of marching twelve or fifteen miles a day, but to whom the exercise would be beneficial; and another hundred able to go on foot half that distance daily." He also objected to the estimate of the ration at sixteen cents as too high.
The council replied that they believed the estimate reasonable, "having the comfortable removal of our people solely in view, and endeavoring to be governed, as far as that object will allow, by the rates of expenditure fixed by the officers of the Government. After the necessary bedding, cooking-utensils, and other indispensable articles of twenty persons—say, four or five families—are placed in a wagon, with subsistence for at least two days, the weight already will be enough to exclude, in our opinion, more than a very few persons being hauled. The great distance to be travelled, liability to sickness on the way of grown persons, and the desire of performing the trip in as short a time as possible, induce us still to think our estimate of that item not extravagant. *** Whatever may be necessary in the emigration of our people to their comfort on the way, and as conducive to their health, we desire to be afforded them; at the same time it is our anxious wish, in the management of this business, to be free at all times from the imputation of extravagance." They added that the item of soap had been forgotten in their first estimate, and must now be included, at the rate of three pounds to every hundred pounds of rations.
General Scott replied, "as the Cherokee people are exclusively interested in the cost as well as the comfort of the removal," he did not feel himself at liberty to withhold his sanction from these estimates. In the report of the Indian Commissioner, also, it is stated that "the cost of removal, according to the Indian estimate, is high;" but the commissioner adds, "as their own fund pays it, and it was insisted on by their own confidential agents, it was thought it could not be rejected."
Noble liberality! This nation of eighteen thousand industrious, self-supporting people, compelled at the point of the bayonet to leave their country and seek new homes in a wilderness, are to be permitted, as a favor, to spend on their journey to this wilderness as much of their own money as they think necessary, and have all the soap they want.
The record which the United States Government has left in official papers of its self-congratulations in the matter of this Cherokee removal has an element in it of the ludicrous, spite of the tragedy and shame.
Says the Secretary of War: "The generous and enlightened policy evinced in the measures adopted by Congress toward that people during the last session was ably and judiciously carried into effect by the general appointed to conduct their removal. The reluctance of the Indians to relinquish the land of their birth in the East, and remove to their new homes in the West, was entirely overcome by the judicious conduct of that officer, and they departed with alacrity under the guidance of their own chiefs. The arrangements for this purpose made by General Scott, in compliance with his previous instructions, although somewhat costly to the Indians themselves, met the entire approbation of the Department, as it was deemed of the last importance that the Cherokees should remove to the West voluntarily, and that upon their arrival at the place of their ultimate destination they should recur to the manner in which they had been treated with kind and grateful feelings. Humanity no less than good policy dictated this course toward these children of the forest; and in carrying out in this instance with an unwavering hand the measures resolved upon by the Government, in the hope of preserving the Indians and of maintaining the peace and tranquillity of the whites, it will always be gratifying to reflect that this has been effected not only without violence, but with every proper regard for the feelings and interests of that people."
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs says, in his report: "The case of the Cherokees is a striking example of the liberality of the Government in all its branches. *** A retrospect of the last eight months in reference to this numerous and more than ordinarily enlightened tribe cannot fail to be refreshing to well-constituted minds."
A further appropriation had been asked by the Cherokee chiefs to meet the expense of their removal (they not thinking $5,000,000 a very munificent payment for a country as large as all Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut together), and Congress had passed a law giving them $1147.67 more, and the commissioner says of this: "When it is considered that by the treaty of December, 1835, the sum of $5,000,000 was stipulated to be paid them as the full value of their lands, after that amount was declared by the Senate of the United States to be an ample consideration for them, the spirit of this whole proceeding cannot be too much admired. By some the measure may be regarded as just; by others generous: it perhaps partook of both attributes. If it went farther than naked justice could have demanded, it did not stop short of what liberality approved. *** If our acts have been generous, they have not been less wise and politic. A large mass of men have been conciliated; the hazard of an effusion of human blood has been put by; good feeling has been preserved, and we have quietly and gently transported eighteen thousand friends to the west bank of the Mississippi."
To dwell on the picture of this removal is needless. The fact by itself is more eloquent than pages of detail and description could make it. No imagination so dull, no heart so hard as not to see and to feel, at the bare mention of such an emigration, what horrors and what anguish it must have involved. "Eighteen thousand friends!" Only a great magnanimity of nature, strengthened by true Christian principle, could have prevented them from being changed into eighteen thousand bitter enemies.
For some years after this removal fierce dissensions rent the Cherokee nation. The party who held that the treaty of 1835 had been unfair, and that the nation still had an unextinguished right to its old country at the East, felt, as was natural, a bitter hatred toward the party which, they claimed, had wrongfully signed away the nation's lands. Several of the signers of the treaty, influential men of the nation, were murdered. Party-spirit ran to such a height that the United States Government was compelled to interfere; and in 1846, after long negotiations and dissensions, a new treaty was made, by the terms and concessions of which the anti-treaty party were appeased, a general amnesty provided for, and comparative harmony restored to the nation.
The progress of this people in the ten years following this removal is almost past belief. In 1851 they had twenty-two primary schools, and had just built two large houses for a male and female seminary, in which the higher branches of education were to be taught. They had a temperance society with three thousand members, and an auxiliary society in each of the eight districts into which the country was divided. They had a Bible Society and twelve churches; a weekly newspaper, partly in English, partly in Cherokee; eight district courts, two circuit courts, and a supreme court. Legislative business was transacted as before by the national council and committee, elected for four years. Nearly one thousand boys and girls were in the public schools.
In 1860 the agitation on the subject of slavery began to be felt, a strong antislavery party being organized in the nation. There were stormy scenes also in that part of the country nearest the Kansas line. For several years white settlers had persisted in taking up farms there, and the Cherokees had in vain implored the Government to drive them away. The officer at last sent to enforce the Cherokees' rights and dislodge the squatters was obliged to burn their cabins over their heads before they would stir, so persuaded were they of the superior right of the white man over the Indian. "The only reason the settlers gave for not heeding the notices was that they had been often notified before to quit the reservation; and, no steps having been taken to enforce obedience, they supposed they would be allowed to remain with like security in this instance."
"It is surprising," says the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "to see the growing disposition on the part of our citizens to wholly disregard our treaty obligations with Indian tribes within our borders; and it is to be hoped that in future their rights will be held more sacred, or that the Government will in every instance promptly see that they are observed and respected."
In the first year of the Civil War a large number of the Cherokees took up arms on the rebel side. That this was not from any love or liking for the Southern cause, it would seem, must be evident to any one who believed that they were possessed of memories. The opportunity of fighting against Georgians could not but have been welcome to the soul of a Cherokee, even if he bought it at the price of fighting on the side of the government which had been so perfidious to his nation. Their defection was no doubt largely due to terror. The forts in their vicinity were surrendered to the rebels; all United States troops were withdrawn from that part of the country. They had no prospect of protection from the Government, and, as if to leave them without one incentive to loyalty, the Government suspended the payment of their annuities.
The Confederate Government stepped in, artfully promising to pay what the Northern Government refused. It would have taken a rare loyalty, indeed, to have stood unmoved in such circumstances as these; yet thousands of the Indians in Indian Territory did remain loyal, and fled for their lives to avoid being pressed into the rebel service; almost half of the Creek nation, many Seminoles, Chickasaws, Quapaws, Cherokees, and half a dozen others—over six thousand in all—fled to Kansas, where their sufferings in the winter of 1862 were heart-rending.
That the Cherokees did not lightly abandon their allegiance is on record in the official history of the Department of the Interior. The Report of the Indian Bureau for 1863 says: "The Cherokees, prior to the Rebellion, were the most numerous, intelligent, wealthy, and influential tribe of this superintendency (the southern). For many months they steadily resisted the efforts made by the rebels to induce them to abandon their allegiance to the Federal Government; but being wholly unprotected, and without the means of resistance, they were finally compelled to enter into treaty stipulations with the rebel authorities. This connection was, however, of short duration, for upon the first appearance of United States forces in their country an entire regiment of Indian troops, raised ostensibly for service in the rebel army, deserted and came over to us, and have ever since been under our command, and upon all occasions have proved themselves faithful and efficient soldiers." In the course of the next year, however, many more joined the rebels: it was estimated that between six and seven thousand of the wealthier portion of the nation co-operated in one way or another with the rebels. The result was that at the end of the war the Cherokee country was ruined.
"In the Cherokee country," says the Report of the Indian Bureau for 1865, "where the contending armies have moved to and fro; where their foraging parties have gone at will, sparing neither friend nor foe; where the disloyal Cherokees in the service of the rebel government were determined that no trace of the homesteads of their loyal brethren should remain for their return; and where the swindling cattle-thieves have made their ill-gotten gains for two years past, the scene is one of utter desolation."
The party feeling between the loyal and disloyal Cherokees ran as high as it did between the loyal and disloyal whites, and it looked for a time as if it would be as impossible to make the two opposing parties in the Cherokee nation agree to live peaceably side by side with each other, as it would to make discharged soldiers from Georgia and from Maine settle down in one village together. But after long and troublesome negotiations a treaty was concluded in 1866, by which all the necessary points seemed to be established of a general amnesty and peace.
That the Indians were at a great disadvantage in the making of these new treaties it is unnecessary to state. The peculiarity of the Government's view of their situation and rights is most näively stated in one of the reports for 1862. Alluding to the necessity of making at no very distant time new treaties with all these Southern tribes, one of the Indian superintendents says: "While the rebelling of a large portion of most of these tribes abrogates treaty obligations, and places them at our mercy, the very important fact should not be forgotten that the Government first wholly failed to keep its treaty stipulations with those people, and in protecting them, by withdrawing all the troops from the forts in Indian Territory, and leaving them at the mercy of the rebels. It is a well-known fact that self-preservation in many instances compelled them to make the best terms they could with the rebels."
Nevertheless they are "at our mercy," because their making the "best terms they could with the rebels abrogates treaty obligations." The trite old proverb about the poorness of rules that do not work both ways seems to be applicable here.
With a recuperative power far in advance of that shown by any of the small white communities at the South, the Cherokees at once addressed themselves to rebuilding their homes and reconstructing their national life. In one year they established fifteen new schools, set all their old industries going, and in 1869 held a large agricultural fair, which gave a creditable exhibition of stock and farm produce. Thus a second time they recovered themselves, after what would seem to be well-nigh their destruction as a people. But the Indian's fate of perpetual insecurity, alarm, and unrest does not abandon them. In 1870 they are said to be "extremely uneasy about the security of their possession of the lands they occupy." When asked why their high-schools are not re-established, reforms introduced into the administration of justice, desirable improvements undertaken, the reply inevitably comes, "We expect to have our lands taken away: what is the use of all that when our doom as a nation is sealed?"
"Distrust is firmly seated in their minds. National apathy depresses them, and until they realize a feeling of assurance that their title to their lands will be respected, and that treaties are an inviolable law for all parties, the Cherokees will not make the efforts for national progress of which they are capable."
When their delegates went to Washington, in 1866, to make the new treaty, they were alarmed by the position taken by the Government that the nation, as a nation, had forfeited its rights. They were given to understand that "public opinion held them responsible for complicity in the Rebellion; and, although they could point to the fact that the only countenance the rebels received came from less than one-third of the population, and cite the services of two Cherokee regiments in the Union cause, it was urged home to them that, before being rehabilitated in their former rights by a new treaty, they were not in a position to refuse any conditions imposed. Such language from persons they believed to possess the power of injuring their people intimidated the Cherokee delegates. They sold a large tract in South-eastern Kansas at a dollar an acre to an association of speculators, and it went into the possession of a railroad company. They also acceded, against the wishes of the Cherokee people, to a provision in the treaty granting right of way through the country for two railroads. This excited great uneasiness among the Indians."
And well it might. The events of the next few years amply justified this uneasiness. The rapacity of railroad corporations is as insatiable as their methods are unscrupulous. The phrase "extinguishing Indian titles" has become, as it were, a mere technical term in the transfer of lands. The expression is so common that it has probably been one of the agencies in fixing in the minds of the people the prevalent impression that extinction is the ultimate and inevitable fate of the Indian; and this being the case, methods and times are not, after all, of so much consequence; they are merely foreordained conditions of the great foreordained progression of events. This is the only explanation of the unconscious inhumanity of many good men's modes of thinking and speaking in regard to the Indians being driven from home after home, and robbed of tract after tract of their lands.
In the Report of the Indian Bureau for 1875 is an account of a remnant of the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina: "They number not far from seventeen hundred, and there are probably in other parts of North Carolina, and scattered through Georgia and Tennessee, between three and four hundred more. These Cherokees have had an eventful history. When the main portion of the tribe was compelled to remove west of the Mississippi they fled to the mountains, and have steadily refused to leave their homes. The proceeds of their lands, which were sold in accordance with a treaty with the main body of the Cherokees, have been mainly expended in the purchase of lands, and providing funds for the Western Cherokees. At various times previous to the year 1861 the agent for the Eastern Cherokees, at their request, purchased lands with their funds, upon which they might make their homes. These purchases, though probably made with good intent, carelessly left the title in their agent personally, and not in trust. By this neglect, when subsequently the agent became insolvent, all their lands were seized and sold for his debts. By special legislation of Congress their case has been brought before the courts of North Carolina, and their rights to a certain extent asserted, and they are enabled to maintain possession of their lands; and, by the use of their own funds in extinguishing liens, are now in possession of above seventy thousand acres of fair arable, timber, and grazing lands. They have shown themselves capable of self-support, and, I believe, have demonstrated the unwisdom of removing Indians from a country which offers to them a home, and where a white man could make a living. This is shown by the fact that they are now, though receiving scarcely any Government aid, in a more hopeful condition, both as to morals, and industry, and personal property, than the Cherokees who removed West."
The Report of the Indian Bureau for 1876 fully bears out this statement. The North Carolina Cherokees have, indeed, reason to be in a more hopeful condition, for they have their lands secured to them by patent, confirmed by a decision of State courts; but this is what the Department of the Interior has brought itself to say as to the Western Cherokees' lands, and those of all other civilized tribes in the Indian Territory: "By treaty the Government has ceded to the so-called civilized tribes—the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles—a section of country altogether disproportionate in amount to their needs. *** The amount susceptible of cultivation must be many-fold greater than can ever be cultivated by the labor of the Indians. But the Indians claim, it is understood, that they hold their lands by sanctions so solemn that it would be a gross breach of faith on the part of the Government to take away any portion thereof without their consent; and that consent they apparently propose to withhold."
Let us set side by side with this last paragraph a quotation from the treaty by virtue of which "the Indians claim, it is understood, that they hold" these lands, which they now "apparently propose to withhold." We will not copy it from the original treaty; we will copy it, and a few other sentences with it, from an earlier report of this same Department of the Interior. Only so far back as 1870 we find the Department in a juster frame of mind toward the Cherokees. "A large part of the Indian tribes hold lands to which they are only fixed by laws that define the reservations to which they shall be confined. It cannot be denied that these are in a great measure dependent on the humanity of the American people. *** But the Cherokees, and the other civilized Indian nations no less, hold lands in perpetuity by titles defined by the supreme law of the land. The United States agreed 'to possess the Cherokees, and to guarantee it to them forever,' and that guarantee 'was solemnly pledged of seven million acres of land.' The consideration for this territory was the same number of acres elsewhere located. The inducement to the bargain set forth in the treaty was 'the anxious desire of the Government of the United States to secure to the Cherokee nation of Indians a permanent home, and which shall, under the most solemn guarantee of the United States, be and remain theirs forever—a home that shall never in all future time be embarrassed by having extended around it the lines or placed over it the jurisdiction of a Territory or State, or be pressed upon by the extension in any way of the limits of any existing State.' To assure them of their title, a patent for the Territory was issued."
This was the view of the Department of the Interior in 1870. In 1876 the Department says that affairs in the Indian Territory are "complicated and embarrassing, and the question is directly raised whether an extensive section of country is to be allowed to remain for an indefinite period practically an uncultivated waste, or whether the Government shall determine to reduce the size of the reservation."
The phrase "whether the Government shall determine to reduce the size of the reservation" sounds much better than "whether the Government shall rob the Indians of a few millions of acres of land;" but the latter phrase is truth, and the other is the spirit of lying.
The commissioner says that the question is a difficult one, and should be "considered with calmness, and a full purpose to do no injustice to the Indians." He gives his own personal opinion on it "with hesitancy," but gives it nevertheless, that "public policy will soon require the disposal of a large portion of these lands to the Government for the occupancy either of other tribes of Indians or of white people. There is a very general and growing opinion that observance of the strict letter of treaties with Indians is in many cases at variance with their own best interests and with sound public policy." He adds, however, that it must not be understood from this recommendation that it is "the policy or purpose of this office to in any way encourage the spirit of rapacity which demands the throwing open of the Indian Territory to white settlement." He says, "the true way to secure its perpetual occupancy by Indians is to fill it up with other Indians, to give them lands in severalty, and to provide a government strong and intelligent enough to protect them effectually from any and all encroachments on the part of the whites."
Comment on these preposterously contradictory sentences would be idle. The best comment on them, and the most fitting close to this sketch of the Cherokee nation, is in a few more quotations from the official reports of the Indian Bureau.
Of this people, from whom the Department of the Interior proposes, for "public policy," to take away "a large portion" of their country, it has published within the last three years these records:
"It has been but a few years since the Cherokees assembled in council under trees or in a rude log-house, with hewed logs for seats. Now the legislature assembles in a spacious brick council-house, provided with suitable committee-rooms, senate chamber, representative hall, library, and executive offices, which cost $22,000.
"Their citizens occupy neat hewed double log-cabins, frame, brick, or stone houses, according to the means or taste of the individual, with ground adorned by ornamental trees, shrubbery, flowers, and nearly every improvement, including orchards of the choicest fruits. Some of these orchards have existed for nearly twenty years, and are now in a good, fruitful condition. Their women are usually good house-keepers, and give great attention to spinning and weaving yarns, jeans, and linsey, and make most of the pants and hunter-jackets of the men and boys. The farmers raise most of their own wool and cotton, and it is not an uncommon sight, in a well-to-do Cherokee farmer's house, to see a sewing-machine and a piano.
"They have ample provision for the education of all their children to a degree of advancement equal to that furnished by an ordinary college in the States. They have seventy-five common day-schools, kept open ten months in the year, in the different settlements. For the higher education of their young men and women they have two commodious and well-furnished seminaries, one for each sex; and, in addition to those already mentioned, they have a manual labor school and an orphan asylum. The cost of maintaining these schools the past year (1877) was, as reported by the superintendent of public instruction, $73,441.65, of which $41,475 was paid as salary to teachers.
"They have twenty-four stores, twenty-two mills, and sixty-five smith-shops, owned and conducted by their own citizens.
"Their constitution and laws are published in book form; and from their printing-house goes forth among the people in their own language, and also in English, the Cherokee Advocate, a weekly paper, which is edited with taste and ability.
"They have (and this is true also of the Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles) a constitutional government, with legislative, judicial, and executive departments, and conducted upon the same plan as our State governments, the entire expenses of which are paid out of their own funds, which are derived from interest on various stocks and bonds—the invested proceeds of the sale of their lands, and held in trust by the Government of the United States—which interest is paid the treasurers of the different nations semi-annually, and by them disbursed on national warrants issued by the principal chief and secretary, and registered by the auditors.
"They are an intelligent, temperate, and industrious people, who live by the honest fruits of their labor, and seem ambitious to advance both as to the development of their lands and the conveniences of their homes. In their council may be found men of learning and ability; and it is doubtful if their rapid progress from a state of wild barbarism to that of civilization and enlightenment has any parallel in the history of the world. What required five hundred years for the Britons to accomplish in this direction they have accomplished in one hundred years."