Trail of Tears 2

Bishinik April 1992

Trail of Tears

by W.B. Morrison

reprinted from Onward September 4, 1927

When white men first came to America all of that great stretch of country from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River and as far north as the southern boundary of Virginia, was occupied for the most part by five tribes of Indians – the Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws and Chickasaws.

These Indians, and more especially the Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws had made progress towards civilization.

These Indians, and more especially the Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws had made progress towards civilization, lived in rude houses, and cultivated the soil to some extent. All of them, with the possible exception of the Creeks and Seminoles, were inclined to be peaceful, but all would fight rather than submit to injustice or aggression. The Creeks and Choctaws fought bravely against he invading Spaniards in the days of De Narvaez and De Soto. The Chickasaws later proved to be worthy antagonists for the French invaders of the lower Mississippi Country. The Cherokees, prior to the war of Revolution, made a desperate, though vain, effort to repel the aggressions of the English in the Carolinas. But little by little the white pioneers pressed through the mountains and along the rich river valleys of the south, and the Indians for the most part became convinced that armed resistance was vain, though the Creeks, influenced by the fiery eloquence of Tecumseh, made a last appeal to arms in 1813, only to be crushed at Horseshoe Bend by the fiery Andrew Jackson.

It early became evident that the great South could not remain a country partly of the white man and partly of the red. Little consideration was given to the Indian’s prior rights to the territory.

“Little consideration was given to the Indian’s prior rights to the territory.”

In 1892 the government of the United States and the State of Georgia made an agreement by which the former agreed to remove the Creeks and Cherokees from Georgia in return for the surrender of the latter’s claim to lands in Alabama and Mississippi.

What did the government propose to do with these Indians?

What did the government propose to do with these Indians? It is a historical fact that the desire to provide a new home for them led President Jefferson to purchase the Louisiana Territory, despite his doubts as to the constitutionality of the act. The troubles with England, culminating in the war of 1812, delayed matters until that struggle was over, but no sooner was it out of the way than there again arose the insistent demand that the Indians must go. True, they proposed to pay the Indian for his ancestral lands, and glowing descriptions were given in praise of the country beyond the Mississippi. The white man also argued that it was foolish and wasteful to let a few thousands of the Indians, scattered here and there over a vast domain, retard the progress of civilization. These myriad acres, if cultivated, would feed untold thousands. If the Indian wished to remain, let him settle down on a small farm and adopt the ways of the dominant race.

“He loved those hills and valleys with a deep and abiding love.”

But the Indian had his viewpoint. He loved those hills and valleys with a deep and abiding love. Had not his people held these lands for many hundreds of years? And here reposed the bones of his ancestors. It was hard for him even to think of a pilgrimage to an unknown country far towards the setting sun.

The period of Indian removals in the South dates between 1817 and 1842. The Choctaws and Chickasaws yielded to the inevitable with better grace than any of the Southern Indians. The majority of them, led by their chief, Pushmataha, became convinced as early as 1820 that they must move or else lose their tribal identity. However, it was not until 1831 that the actual journey was begun by the Choctaws, and the Chickasaws did not follow until 1837.

Among all the pilgrim tribes the removal to Oklahoma was known as the “Trail of Tears.” Even when the journey was made under the most favorable conditions, it was full of hazard and danger, and much of it over trackless forests and plains.

“Few of the parties were properly equipped for such a journey.”

The Choctaws were organized for the migration into large parties of from five hundred to a thousand, under the command of a tribal chieftain, accompanied by a government contractor or his deputy. It is said that after a party would start, Indians would frequently return from twenty miles away to take one more look at the graves of their fathers.

Few of the parties were properly equipped for such a journey. A writer to the “Mission Herald”, the organ of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, under date of December 24, 1831, saw one of these parties of Choctaw pilgrims passing through the Chickasaw Nation not far from Memphis. He said that the contractor seemed to be doing all he could, but that there was much suffering. Many had nothing to shelter them from the storm day or night, though the weather was excessively cold. Not one in ten women had even a moccasin, and the majority of them were walking.

“Many had nothing to shelter them from the storm though the weather was excessively cold.”

It was a long and dreary trip of at least five hundred miles before they reached the borders of their new home. It became necessary to leave many of the sick or injured by the way, while lonesome and forgotten graves dotted the trail throughout its length.

There were to be compensations, however. There was the promise of permanent peace; the country was to be theirs “as long as the grass grows and water runs.” They were to retain tribal organization and the customs of their fathers. And, best of all, for the Christian Indians, the faithful missionaries came with them to establish the church and the school and to give them the elements of Christian civilization. After all their suffering it must have been a glad day when the pilgrim bands first entered beautiful Oklahoma and realized that their wanderings were over, and that this was home. It was a heartening sight.