Letter to Martin Van Buren from Ralph Waldo Emerson
In a letter written to the President of the United States in 1836 who was Martin Van Buren at the time. Emerson urged and pushed for President van Buren, not to proceed forward with what he meaningfully described as a “sham treaty” that would relocate the Cherokee Nation from their native lands east of the Mississippi to Indian territories what is now known in modern times as Oklahoma. This “agreement” was signed by twenty-four hundred Cherokee Nation people in secrecy, out of eighteen thousand Cherokee Nation individuals, having a protest letter that would go to the government started by Chief John Ross and ended up being signed by fifteen thousand six hundred sixty-eight Cherokees.
Emerson had asked multiple questions to the President that had struck at the heart of American democracy: “Will the American government take from the American people? Will it lie to the American people? And will it kill the American people if they get in the way of the government?” Emerson argued on the part of the welfare and well-being of the Cherokee Nation and called upon the rest of the United States at the time to rise above the government that he labeled as “…a gloomy diffidence in the moral character of the state.” He fought, pushed and tried to prevent the loss of liberty of the Native Americans. Emerson also fought for the heartache the Cherokee Nation would endure while having to fight against an unjust and unruly treaty that led to one of the darkest and most disrespectful moments in our history towards our fellow Native Americans—the Trail of Tears.
Emerson’s words brought to mind the sentiment that at the time needed to resonate throughout are the great nation. He stated that our "Government’s trust had been lost and that the will of the people has to maintain control and course of action when dealing with the government and certain minority’s special interests." Emerson also felt that a small group of self-serving officials abdicated their responsibilities to the people by passing laws and “reforms” to their own benefit at the cost of most citizens.
Chief John Ross's letter to the Senate and House of Representatives
Chief John Ross in his letter to the Senate and also to the House of Representatives states that everyone for quite some time was aware of the ill-treatment and harassment the United states government had been putting himself and the rest of the Cherokee Nation through. Ross also states that there is no need to go into the depressing, horrific and tragic details he finds the details unnecessary, due to the evidence of the events is overwhelming and very apparent. He also goes into details how few Cherokees made the decision in the nation’s capital for the Indian removal Act for the whole Cherokee Nation in secrecy, and it was not the mass majority’s decision of the Native Americans.
The Indian Removal Act, in violation of a special directive of the general council of the nation, proceeded to Washington City. False and fraudulent representations superseded in the favor of the government and took away legal and accredited process of delegating of the Cherokee people. Chief John Ross argues that it was wrong for him, and his people to receive the treaty already ratified by the Senate, and approved by President Andrew Jackson. John Ross in his words shows irritation and agitation in his words that the government is willing to use the powers of civil and military means to remove the Cherokee, upon the deadline of them having to be off of their land.
Chief John Ross goes into a rant about how his people will lose their land; lose their possessions, other means of personal property, stripped of their freedom and eligibility for legal defense. He also shows concern for the plundering of their property, and the possibility of violence or death that may be committed upon his people. John Ross makes a bold statement of being denationalized and having neither land nor a home or resting place that the Cherokee can call their own.
Ross wrote to the House of Representatives and the Senate that they were sickened by their decision and felt paralyzed as if the Cherokee people could not do anything about the horrible situation in which they were placed by men with no principles while protesting with civil disobedience.
I feel the heart felt pain in the closing of the letter when Ross states "The question is not the act of our Nation; we are not parties to its covenants; it has not received the sanction of our people. The makers of it sustain no office nor appointment in our Nation, under the designation of Chiefs, Headmen, or any other title, by which they hold, or could acquire, authority to assume the reins of Government, and to make bargain and sale of our rights, our possessions, and our common country." What Ross is saying the Act is an act of injustice and oppression, that they were persuaded! The government acted on behalf of a few unauthorized individuals with the Indian Removal Act to put the "Sham Treaty" in motion, which he asked to have appealed in a just manner by honorable bodies of the government.
Winfield Scott and John Burnett
I believe both Winfield Scott and John Burnett would both agree on the fact that the Cherokee were by no means a threat or enemy to the United States military. Winfield Scott’s ultimatum that he had given to the Indians before their complete removal, I believe showed he had a lot of heart and respect for the Cherokee, but being in the military it wasn't his job to question those above him. One's role in the military is to follow orders from above and send them to lower ranking individuals to carry out. If Scott had questioned the orders of the president, his men would start to question him and then, he would have had complete chaos in a situation he was trying to keep order and avoid the complete annihilation of the Cherokee people. Scott was just there to reinforce what the president had put into effect two years prior. Scott obviously was one to follow any and all orders given to him. His complete dedication to the military has made him the second American following the great George Washington to become a Lieutenant General. I feel Scott gave his ultimatum with the upmost respect in the way he gave it, even if he wanted to give it or not. He put it out as one warrior to another and Winfield Scott was a warrior of the most elite after achieving fifty-three years of service between 1808 and 1961. Scott originally only wanted regular army individuals instead of the Georgia militia for the removal, because the militia, unlike the army had personal gains at stake. Scott I believe is to be one of the greatest Generals and field commanders in American history he served under every president from Jefferson to Lincoln, that account for fourteen administrations. It is also to be said the Saying "Great Scott" originated from one of his troops beneath within the ranks of Winfield Scott.
John Burnett's Story of the Trail of Tears was written on the day of his eightieth birthday. He was a private in Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry, during the time of the Cherokee Indian Removal act during 1838-1839. He goes into detail of his childhood and how peaceful it was and how he became acquainted with many Cherokee Indians almost as if he was one of them hung out with the hunters during the day and with the rest of the tribe around the fire at night. H learned to speak their language fluently and learned their ways of trapping. He goes into detail of one hunt that changed his life forever, when he came upon a wounded Cherokee shot by white hunters left for dead Burnett bandaged the Indian and took him home to his people once the Indian was able to move on his own. Arriving at the village of the wounded Burnett decided to stay with the Indians to where he became a great hunter, tracker and perfected the language of the Cherokee. Once the Indian removal act was put in place he was sent to the Smokey mountains, where he talks about details of how crucially the "Cherokees were arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades." Private Burnett also talks about how he witnessed the Great Chief John Ross's wife die from an act of unselfishness due to freezing to death from giving a sick child her blanket.
He personally witnessed the horrific journey and makes a very powerful Statement saying, "The long journey to the west ended March 26th, 1839, with four-thousand silent graves reaching from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains to what is known as Indian Territory in the West." Burnett during this time was used as an interpreter and became very liked among the Indians along the trail, talking and playing with the youth of the Cherokee. I personally believe he was a great inspiration as an individual, Interpreter, and military personnel. Burnett didn't always follow the orders given to him, he knew the whereabouts of runaway Cherokee Indians that were hiding in caves, and didn't give up the information, which could be considered an act of treason or unbecoming of an American military personnel. One saying I will always remember Burnett by, explains what kind of Individual and soldier he was, "Future generations will read and condemn the act, and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees, who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter."
Beastie’s Prairie 15th March 1839
We would respectfully inform you that we arrived here on yesterday the 14th Inst & that we are here and do not know what disposition to make of the public teams & of the public property in our charge. We have no funds to pay for the subsistence of the teams & the waggoners & we wish some immediate instructions on the subject the agent of the government will be here today we will be mustered out of service and turned Over to government & we are informed that they have some shelled corn & some very poor beef for our subsistence that is unfit for use & from the promises made to us in the Nation East we did not expect such treatment.
Mr John Ross, George Hicks & Collins McDonald
Your Most Obt Sevts
P.S. The people are in as good Health as could reasonably be Expected.
The above letter I feel comes across as a kind of a slap in the face from John Ross to an individual in Philadelphia it solidly states, that upon arriving in Beastie’s Prairie 15th March 1839 America wasn’t prepared and believed the Indians would have been in better shape than they actually were. The Cherokee Nation had no money to purchase items from the government team and or even pay the wagon riders for supplies also. It also goes into how the day after arrival the Cherokee Nation will be rounded up again like cattle one more time to be told by the government how they will receive payment, land and how everything else will be distributed. I also understand the punctuation and spelling errors were meant to mean that who he was writing the letter to, wasn’t worthy of proper grammar or even worth anymore of his time to proofread the letter. He also seemed to be irritated with shelled corn and possibly spoiled or rotten beef being the only food that would be given to the Cherokee nation. The meat and corn could cause more disease and sickness within the tribe leading to more death and misery to the people of the Cherokee nation that had made the horrendous journey. I believe the letter to be sent mainly to show his disgust with how the American government treated the Native Americans and all the lies that were told. This letter is very powerful if one spends the time to break it down into what they believe the true meaning is behind it. John Ross was an enormous impact on trying to get the Cherokee nation to be able to hold onto their native lands, but had no success in the matter.
The Trail of Tears
The seventh president of the united states Andrew Jackson was one of the most controversial men in American History. Jackson has been known to be the father of our democracy, but also known to be an angry old uneducated tyrant, highly ignorant and stuck in his ways, wanting only to get his ways no matter the impact on the constitution of the United States. Many believe the Indian Removal Act is and always be the saddest time and most ruthless time in all of America's history. Historians of today think President Jacksons acts and actions of criminal disobedience while in office against the decision of the Supreme Court are to be held responsible for the lost lives, broken hearts, and destruction of a culture along "The Trail of Tears."
The Cherokee nation was originally in the parts we know today as Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. First contact with this Native American tribe goes all the way back to 1540. In the early 1600's the Cherokee began to trade animal skins, certain tools and even glass with the British colonies. Trading with the British colonies changed the lifestyle of the Cherokee drastically in the aspect they didn't have to hunt as often farm as much and were able to trade what they had for even better things to make survival easier in a time that was really difficult to survive in. The Cherokee also fought next to the British during the French and Indian war, and during the American revolutionary war. Once the revolutionary war was won by the Americans, the Americans turned on the native Americans that had helped win the war and took away some of their land to start the construction of early American colonies, villages, towns, and trade outposts.
Before Andrew Jackson Indian Removal Act, the government that was established at the time had recognized the Cherokee nation as its own nation. In Georgia the Cherokee had their own Constitution, own alphabet, and even their own daily newspaper. In 1828, gold was found on the Cherokee nation land, with the gold came many white settlers which started to push the Cherokee Indians further and further west with each passing day. In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, which said America can take and pay the Cherokee for their land and then relocate them to reservations in what we call today, Oklahoma. Oklahoma was thought to be uninhabitable by the white man due to the ground being too tough to farm and the lack of other resources.
Once the Indian Removal Act came into effect the Cherokee nation found itself divided into two main groups those known as the "Ross Party” that wanted to stay on their native land and those known as "the treaty party" that would relocate. The Ross Party was the more popular of the two parties and was led by John Ross, their chief. The Cherokee Nation protested and took to the Government a claim stating because they were their own nation their land could not be taken away from them. The government denied their claim was stating they were their own nation, so the United States government had no need to listen to their claim.
A man that lived with the Cherokee, who was an American citizen missionary stood up for the Cherokee and took back to the government the claim of the Ross Party, this individuals name was Samuel Worchester. On the second presentation of their claim, the Chief Justice of the United States at the time was John Marshall, Marshall ruled in the favor of the Ross Party, the Cherokee Nation, and Samuel Worchester. The ruling wouldn't last long and would be quickly overturned.
In 1835 out of sight and in secrecy, the Cherokee Indians that were part of the Treaty Party had signed away their land acknowledging they would be compensated with land in the west, and the price to get them there. The secret treaty made the rest of the Cherokee Nation very upset due to the Treaty Party being of very limited numbers within the Cherokee tribe. The rest of the Tribe banded together getting around sixteen thousand signatures on a petition to overturn the secret agreement. The petition fell on President Jackson's desk which was just brushed aside. The petition was answered with a threat from the government that they had two years to vacate the land, or forceful removal would be called into remove those still protesting the removal upon the two-year deadline.
Shortly after the deadline, most of the Cherokee Indians still refusing to leave their land would have Andrew Jackson send General Winfield Scot and his seven thousand soldiers, to remove the remaining Cherokee Indians. Forcing the remaining Indians westward along the way being treated like cattle and corralled like wild horses, many would die of sickness and starvation. Upon the start of the movement, they were divided into thirteen separate groups of around a thousand in each group. They would have to make a journey of around eight hundred miles, most of which was on foot. Most were barefoot, and the weather was relentless, even the elder tribesman were forced to carry heavy loads if they were to survive the long journey. The Native Indians forced to sleep in the rain and snow on the bare ground, half of which would fall to death before arriving at their destination.
Along the way, it has been said they burnt up to fifteen bodies for every stop made along the hellish movement. The Cherokee being a very spiritual tribe were stripped of the ritual of proper Cherokee burial ceremonies for the ones who would fall along the trail. Most of the fallen were just pushed into shallow holes along the side of the trail because the ground was frozen solid and unable to be dug deeper. For those that mourned next to these holes with their loved ones in them is the reason alone it would give the trail its name in Cherokee meaning "the trail where they cried" and later known to Americans as the "Trail of Tears."
The Cherokee were paraded eight hundred miles being herded through white towns; all the white Americans would come out and stare at the Native Americans as they were marched through town like cattle. Close to two thousand died within the stockades, and another six thousand along the Trail of Tears equaling eight thousand, and this was just the deceased among the Cherokee. The Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, and Chickasaws were also removed from their lands and sent to the Indian Territory’s as well. Many children were left as orphans; husband and wives left as widowers and widows. All had lost loved ones. Andrew Jackson Might have believed what he was doing was in the best interest of the United States of America, and thought he was doing it in a very humane way, but it turned out to be one of the coldest and darkest time we as Americans will never forget!