Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cherokee Removal Around The Tail Of The Dragon (Local History)

John Ross, Principal Chief in the decades leading
up to Cherokee Removal in 1838.
Andrew Jackson, the President I have loved to hate for
so many reasons for 50 years--now even more.

An interest in local history is a lifelong weakness of mine.  Oddly, this always seems to involve Native Americans.  When I lived in Minnesota, I learned about the Sioux Uprising in 1862 and the fur trade in the Rockies in the 1820's and 1830's.  This included a memorable road trip to South Pass in Wyoming. When I moved to Illinois, I learned about the Black Hawk War (1832).  Now that I spend time on the Tail of the Dragon, I've looked into Cherokee history.

One portal was a YouTube video shot by a trail bike rider on Long Creek and Tatham Gap Roads, between Robbinsville and Andrews NC.  He noted that Cherokees removed from the Robbinsville area followed this route (there's a small plaque).  Then I read Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep.  Some of the information in this post comes from that book, which is OK.  My main complaint is that it's written like a radio script in places.  The part relevant to Robbinsville is Chapter 33, especially pages 324-326.

Cherokee history is well-documented in western NC.  Franklin was an ancient Cherokee site.  Loudon TN and the lower Little Tennessee Valley also contain documented Cherokee sites.  Cherokees hunted in Cades Cove but there is no evidence of settlement.  Whites settled Cades Cove in 1818-1821.  Gatlinburg was settled by whites as early as 1806.  Many of them were North Carolina soldiers given land patents for service in the Revolution and the War of 1812.  "In lieu of pay," as Gov. Lepetomane puts it in Blazing Saddles.

By and large, Jacksonland explains, the Cherokees were effective in protecting their northwestern border from white incursion.  White settlement was confined to the right bank of the Tennessee River. The pressure came on the southern border by Georgians.  Citizens and State authorities alike coveted the land which now encompasses Ringgold, Rome, Indian Springs, and Chattanooga.  The policy of the Cherokees and particularly John Ross was "not one more inch."  This might have worked if the Federal government was willing to confront Georgia, which it wasn't in John Quincy Adams's Presidency.

The policy failed spectacularly when Andrew Jackson became President.  His policy, which he considered humane, was complete removal of all Indians, "civilized" like the Cherokee or not, from land east of the Mississippi River.  Jackson not only refused to confront Georgia, as Adams had, he told the Cherokee they must go.  Removal did not happen until Martin Van Buren was President, but the real, political, resolution of the confrontation occurred in the Jackson administration.

The Cherokee strategy ('civilize' and cede no land) was high-risk, but not necessarily doomed.  As Inskeep writes, it was a jujitsu move: take Federal treaties and policy at face value and give the national government no excuse to change it.  Ross even considered applying for Statehood.  But this would have required land claims cessions by Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.  This was not going to happen in the political environment of the early 1830's.  The Supreme Court confirmed Cherokee land claims under Federal law.  Jackson never said, exactly, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."  But he said and wrote equivalent sentiments several times.  And he refused to meet with Ross.

The population of the Cherokee Nation was 16,542 in an 1835 special census, the best figure available before removal began in May of 1838.  In June, Captain L. B. Webster of the First U.S. Artillery (who was also, confusingly, a volunteer from Tennessee) was tasked to remove the Cherokee in far western North Carolina.  He wrote an account of what he did and saw to his wife.  It weighed on his conscience. Not all opponents of removal were self-righteous New Englanders with no skin in the game.

One of the main emigration camps was in Calhoun TN, from which the Cherokees went down the Hiawassee River to the Tennessee.  About 800 people arrived at Calhoun from far western NC, to which 100 were added along the way.  A population this large must have included Cherokees from the greater Bryson City area, who probably went straight up the Nanatahala Valley (not over the pass between Robbinsville and Andrews).  About 10-12 groups left for Oklahoma in the fall and winter of 1838, some entirely by water, some partly overland around Muscle Shoals and via southern Indiana and Illinois.  While many Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears, it now appears that even more died from diseases in the emigration camps which were, literally, concentration camps.

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