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From the beginning of this course, the professor attempted to introduce colonization from a non-ethnocentric point of view - i.e., the traditional view point that Native Americans were violent savages that has been the traditional view point in most history due to lack of any study of Native American culture.

From the very beginning of colonization of America there was a history woven between the explorers and the Native Americans. Although America was a vast country of different Native American nations with different languages and culture, those who interacted with Europeans often traded and interacted with each other and kept an oral history going that was passed on. The professor gave us materials and books attempted to show the view points of all cultures meeting and the effects that came about from interacting with each other.

The Cherokee removal from Georgia (along with many other Indian nations) was an on-going conflict that did not start at any moment in time, but developed in layers of history between the Native Americans, settlers of various cultures, and the early U.S. government. This rich and intricate history does not allow for easy and quick judgments as to what led to the signing of the Treaty of Echota. That is what makes the understanding of what happened with the signing of the treaty an on-going journey of discovery for myself and hopefully other history students in years to come.

Anastasia Rose Ellis
Mills College
History 31
November 14, 2005
Oakland, CA

 

Ridge Party’s Defense for Signing Treaty

         In 1838 to 1839, on what came to be called The Trail of Tears, two to eight thousand Indians lost their lives on a forced march out of Georgia.  Many Cherokee Indians had  attributed blame for the horrific deaths suffered on that walk and the loss of their homes to a small faction of Cherokees who signed a removal treaty in 1835 with the U.S. Government. The treaty was an agreement for the Cherokee Nation to move out of Georgia and parts of Alabama and to relocate them to Oklahoma.  The “Ridge Party” as this pro-treaty party came to be known, had actually anticipated the moral and physical destruction of their Nation by the hands of the U.S. Government and had tried in advance to work out a prearranged economic treaty.  The Ridge Party knew that it was punishable by death in Indian law to sign away land by treaty but they felt they were under a moral obligation to help their people to rebuild in a new land away from white persecution.

          In the early 19th Century the Cherokee economy was in a slump. The primary source of income until then had been taking captives and booty during war and hunting and trading deerskins.  Now the deer population was depleted and the war of 1812 was over.  Land in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi was intensely desirable as it was fertile ground for cotton. Along with slaves, cotton was the prime economy in the south. The white settlers were frustrated with Native Americans whom they perceived as doing nothing profitable with valuable land.

          In 1793 President George Washington introduced an Indian Civilization program in hopes of “civilizing” Indians.  The program was enacted by Congress as the 1793 Trade and Intercourse Act.  It was thought at this time that if Indians could be taught English and European values, that they could learn to farm land and therefore appreciate the value of property. This in turn would cause them to want to keep their farms and be agreeable to selling off large tracts of land that they would now see as hugely profitable. The President’s plan was to civilize the Indians: to teach male Indians to farm and grow various grains and tend livestock rather than hunt, and to have the women spin yarn then work in the traditional woman’s job of farming. He also proposed to send missionaries to set up schools for the children to learn English and Christianity. Indians were given agricultural tools, animals and were given tools to spin cotton and weave yarn in the home.

          The new acculturation program, minus the religion, was embraced enthusiastically by the Cherokees. They learned to farm and set up business very quickly. They built homes and purchased slaves to tend to the farms so that they did not have to do all the hard work. It worked so well, to the anger of many Georgian citizens, that many Cherokees were wealthier then their white neighbors and now had no intention of selling their land.

          Major Ridge (c. 1771 – d. June 22, 1839) was    a celebrated Indian Speaker at the Indian National Council and    an Indian Warrior who embraced the idea of raising his children to learn the white man’s language and assimilate into the white culture that he had seen on his war travels. Major Ridge did not desire to desert his Indian culture in favor of white culture, but he understood that the Cherokees could no longer depend on hunting and much could be gained by Indian children being educated in the white man’s culture.  Major Ridge was instrumental in establishing and supporting missionary schools throughout the Cherokee Nation and both his daughter Sarah Paschal and son John Ridge received a full education.

          It was this new bi-cultural lifestyle that John Ridge (b. 1803 – d. June 1839) was raised in.  Young John Ridge soon took after his father and became a member of the Cherokee National Committee in 1824 and was elected President of the National Committee in 1830. Albert Gallatin was a statesman in Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet. He was collecting information about American Indians and on February 26, 1826, John Ridge wrote to Mr. Gallatin about the Cherokee civilization. He embraced his father’s views that white cultural advancement was an important future trend towards Cherokee economic success.

          John Ridge’s letter to Mr. Gallatin can be seen as an optimistic outlook on assimilation of white culture. He discussed the Cherokee’s adaptation of farming methods whereby the males were doing mostly traditional white male manual work and the women were doing mainly traditional white female domestic work. He discussed the adoption of written law which was not an Indian tradition and his disgust with Indian religion, which he deemed “superstitious” (Cherokee, 39). His letter portrayed the enthusiasm that his father, Major Ridge, had instilled in him that acculturation for the Cherokee people was key to future economic survival. But the letter is mostly revealing in its last paragraphs as John Ridge tells Mr. Gallatin that he foresaw, regardless of their progress, that Indian fate was always going to be a struggle:

“We are urged by these strangers to make room for their settlements and go farther west. Our National existence is suspended on the faith & honor of the U. States alone. Their convenience may cut this asunder, & with a little faint struggle we may cease to be. All Nations have their rises & their falls. This has been the case with us. Within the orbit the U. States move the States & within these we move in a little circle, dependent on the great center. We may live this way fifty years and then we shall by Natural Causes merge in & mingle with the U. States. Cherokee blood, if not destroyed, will wind its courses in beings of fair complexions, who will read that their ancestors became civilized under the frowns of misfortunes and causes of their enemies” (Perdue, 43).

       As John Ridge predicted, the State of Georgia was growing ever impatient to take over Cherokee land.  In 1802 the U.S. Government had promised to evict the Cherokees from territory in Atlanta, Georgia and Tennessee in exchange for Georgia’s giving up territory west to the Mississippi River. Since nothing had been done about this, in 1828 the State of Georgia decided to take matters into its own hands and take over the “promised” Cherokee land instead of waiting for the Federal Government to act.

      However, now that Andrew Jackson was the President of the United States, the State of Georgia was going to get full cooperation from the U.S. Government. Ever since Andrew Jackson was commander of the army’s southern district during the War of 1812, his motto had been that the only sensible way to get land from tribes that refused to sell was to take it and that to negotiate with Indians was “absurd” (Perdue, 16).   When President Jackson was a general under the Georgia militia, he raised an army, including help from Major Ridge and several hundred Cherokees, to fight off hostile Indian factions. While the Cherokees assisted General Jackson, white settlers raided Cherokee homes, stoles their crops, razed their homes and threw their families out into the wilderness. Although the Cherokees had witnesses (including whites and military members), when they went to the U.S. Government for redress, General Jackson denied that anything had happened at all.  As General, Andrew Jackson had often appeased Indians with demonstrations of affection and promises of support and broke his promises. It seemed that as President this pattern of dealing with Native Americans had not changed.

      To prevent Georgia from the violent takeover of Indian lands, John Ridge brought suit in the United States Supreme Court. The court case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia asked the court to intervene on behalf of the Cherokee Indians and rule that Georgia no right to enforce its laws within the Nation. The Supreme Court Justice John Marshall declined to rule on the case saying the federal government did not have jurisdiction to make any rules that pertained to Cherokee land (Perdue, 69). Georgia’s citizens saw this refusal of the Federal Government to interfere as a sign that the Cherokees were defenseless and would not be protected from violence. The citizens went forth and committed atrocities, taking land, beating and killing Cherokees within the full legal rights of the state of Georgia.

      A second case brought by John Ridge, Worcester v Georgia was heard in the United States Supreme Court by Supreme Court Justice John Marshall as well. This case received a favorable opinion from the Supreme Court yet it still spelled complete doom for the Cherokees. When it came time for President Jackson to enforce the law, his now famous statement “Well, now John Marshall has made his decision, let him enforce it,” made it clear he was going to let the state of Georgia continue its genocide (Ehle, 255).

      It was at this time that Major Ridge and his son John lost complete faith in President Jackson.  The party members had been meeting with the President all the while and been receiving assurances that their interests were being looked after. The Ridge party now realized after the two lawsuits the best thing for the Cherokee people would be to remove themselves from the white settlers. If they took money from the U.S. Government they could continue to educate their children, farm, and perhaps face the whites on a more equal footing in the future.

      In 1830 the US Congress and Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Bills for which he applauded himself at his December 6, 1830 State of the Union Address “…true philanthropy reconciles the mind to those vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another”(Perdue 118).  Jackson’s sentiment in his state of the union speech was that the Indians had no right to complain that the U.S. was offering them new land to roam in and was offering to pay them for grazing land. His views held that the way of life for all humans was to conquer and be conquered. As the white man was pushed out of his land and was now seeking new land to survive in, so must the Indian be prepared to leave the home of his ancestors.

      In December of 1835, The Ridge Party signed a removal treaty with officials of the United States Government in New Echota, Georgia, which treaty was thereafter known at the Treaty of New Echota. The treaty made provisions that the United States government would pay the Cherokee people five million dollars, cover costs of relocation and give them land to remove to which would be now known as the land of Oklahoma.

      The treaty also went on to stipulate that the government would comfortably move the Indians to their new homes by steamboat and wagon and provide medical care and agents to make sure their transition was easy and comfortable and assist them for one year after arriving at their new homes.  In exchange for this, the Cherokee people would agree within leave Georgia and Alabama for unpopulated country now known as Oklahoma within two years of signing the treaty.  The U.S. government agreed to pay damages to anyone who harmed or damaged Indian property or persons within or before that time.

      The treaty explained that the President of the United States would provide agents of the U.S. Government to set up the monies that were going to be paid to the Indians in a trust and orphans fund, and monies would also be provided to set up a school.

      Because of dissent within the Cherokee Nation political factions, the anti-treaty party led by Cherokee Chief John Ross believed that Andrew Jackson would come through finally and enforce the Supreme lawsuits that had been won by the Cherokees. He also believed he could negotiate a better deal for treaty should the Indians still have to remove. Ross urged most of the Cherokee Nation to remain where they were so when the two years were up most people had not made preparations to leave (Perdue, 160). This lack of preparation led to forced expulsion by Federal Troops and the legendary Trail of Tears that caused so many deaths.  T  hat the Ridge pro-treaty party was blamed for the subsequent debacle was also thought to be the cause of their later deaths in 1839.

      The sad fact is that there were many reasons that led to    the Trail of Tears that had nothing to do with the Ridge party.  There were many involved in the betrayal of the Cherokee Indians from anti-treaty members who wanted to renegotiate the treaty at the last minute to receive higher payments for themselves, to unscrupulous Chiefs who were already signing off parcels of land in return for bribes, to U.S. President Jackson who never had any intention of helping the Indians in the first place. The pro-treaty party knew that they would be denounced by various political Indian factions because they took the unpopular stand for all the right reasons and they paid the price with their lives as they knew they would. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 Ehle, John. Trail of Tears. 2nd ed. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Perdue, Thelma, and Michael Green. The Cherokee Removal. 10th ed. New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1995.