Christine A. Elmore
An excellent resource that will familiarize students with the Cherokee people, their culture and history, is entitled,
If You Lived With The Cherokee
written by Peter and Connie Roop. It covers the time period from 1740-1837 and answers many basic questions that students might have about this tribe. The Cherokee people, Tsalagi, or the Principal People, originally settled and lived on the land that was so carefully created by both Dayuni’si, the water beetle and the great buzzard from Galun’lati. Land was not owned by any one person. Instead it was shared by all—a kind of community ownership. In the winter men hunted and in the summer the women planted. Gender roles were clearly defined.
When the Europeans came, everything changed. The value systems of the two cultures starkly contrasted. Dan Elish states in his book,
The Trail of Tears: The Story of the Cherokee Removal
, “Perhaps it was the lack of importance that the Cherokee attached to money and property that befuddled the Europeans most” (p. 15). The white settlers saw all the unspoiled land that lay before them as land to be exploited for all it was worth. They meant to have the land and all of its resources. In fact, as Elish maintains, “Many whites believed that it had been decreed by God that the vast natural resources of North America should be turned to their advantage” (p. 15). Another name for this philosophy in which white settlers felt entitled to take Native American land is ‘Manifest Destiny’ and is powerfully portrayed in John Gast’s painting entitled
American Progress, 1872.
This visual image is well worth examining in order to gain further insights into the beliefs people held about the land and the forces that were unleashed as a result. Lesson Plan 2 will detail the techniques the teacher will use to help students analyze historical paintings like this one.
The Shrinking of Cherokee Land
The Cherokee people, over a period of time from 1684-1819 had signed 28 different treaties with the government, each time giving up more and more of their land. Students will view a map showing the dimensions of the Cherokee nation prior to the European invasion, the 100,000-square-mile-area in the southeastern part of the United States which included the states of Georgia, North and South Carolina and East Tennessee. This map will be contrasted with another one that shows the dwindling boundaries of the Cherokee Country prior to their removal. Students will learn how the Revolutionary War, and the settlers’ insatiable demand for land were the major causes.
Attempts were made during this time to ‘civilize’ the Cherokee but many showed a lack of real interest in its tenets. Although some wealthy Cherokee tried to assimilate by imitating white southern planters “most Cherokee,” according to Julia Coates in her book,
Trail of Tears,
“remained subsistence farmers, producing their own crops, hunting and gathering for supplemental foods, producing their own textiles and clothing, and constructing their own dwellings and almost all of their household items” (p. 35).
Cherokees did make adaptations in their culture, in their society and in their government but the intent was to maintain their sovereignty as a people. “The Cherokees employed the civilization policy as a way of resisting the removal policy” (p. 38, Coates) By the 1820s the Cherokee had returned to a life-style that was both economically sound and prosperous and therefore, threatening to the state of Georgia officials and settlers alike. As Robert V. Remini in his book,
The Revolutionary Age of Andrew Jackson,
explains, “White men in general, and the states of Georgia and Alabama in particular, were contemptuous of Indian pretensions to civilization and independence. All they knew was that red men blocked their territorial progress by occupying land they wanted. So they insisted on removal. . .” (p. 109).
Indeed there were stronger forces at work that sought to get rid of the ‘Indian Problem’ definitively. With the acquisition of new lands west of the Mississippi through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, U.S. government policymakers saw the removal of the Indians from their eastern lands as a much better alternative to attempting to civilize them. There were 3 significant historical events that expedited this policy:
The election of Andrew Jackson to the U.S. presidency in 1828
The discovery of gold in Georgia in 1828
The passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830
It is in this section that the students will witness the powerful nature of cause and effect in historical events. There are numerous informational texts written about this time period available for children. Of particular value for primary-aged children are:
by Heather E. Schwartz,
The Trail of Tears
by Joseph Bruchac,
The Trail of Tears
by Peter Benoit,
The Trail of
Tears by Michael Burgan, and
Life on the Trail of Tears by
Laura Fischer. As events are highlighted students will mark them on a time-line in their interactive history notebooks to keep track of their sequence. In this notebook they will also use a simple cause-and-effect graphic organizer to show how these 3 events led to the Cherokee removal.
1802 Louisiana Purchase
New territory is now available to force Cherokees to move to.
1828 Election of Jackson as president
Always a champion of the rights of white settlers he has the power now to implement his plan of Indian Removal.
1828 Discovery of gold in Georgia
Thousands of prospectors poured into Cherokee land.
1830 Indian Removal Act is passed
Bill forces the Cherokee off their land and their legal rights to the land are ignored.
States Rights Versus Treaty Rights
In 1828 the Cherokee had sought legal means to secure their right to be a sovereign nation and adopt a constitution. At the same time the state of Georgia declared its right to abolish the Cherokee Nation and incorporate the tribe under its legal system. Andrew Jackson was elected that same year and he sided with Georgia, strongly defending a state’s right to supersede treaty rights. This issue came before the Supreme court twice and in 1832, under the direction of Chief Justice John Marshall, the decision was made declaring the unconstitutionality of Georgia’s laws and defending the supremacy of the federal authority over states right with regard to Indian treaties. In other words, Georgia had no constitutional right to extend her authority over the Cherokee Nation. Jackson ignored this ruling, claiming that he would not interfere in state issues. It quickly became clear to the Cherokee people and their supporters that, as Amy H. Sturgis concludes in her book
the Trail of Tears and Indian Removal, “
the U.S. executive and legislature, together with the states, had decided that removal was the only acceptable option for the ‘Indian problem’” (p. 39). As William G. McLoughlin, in his book
After the Trail of Tears, The Cherokee’s Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880
describes, chief John Ross, who had so strongly and eloquently defended his people’s right to remain in their homelands, “was thunderstruck by Jackson’s denial of Marshall’s decision and the treachery of the U.S. Senate” (p. 2).
Who particularly benefitted from the redistribution of Native American territory by the U.S. government in the South? As Sturgis maintains, “certainly many landless voters, or those with only modest properties, stood to gain. . . At no cost to themselves, they could become landholders, when the U.S. government reassigned confiscated Native American land to whites” (p. 39, Sturgis). Sturgis goes on to describe how Indian removal fit in so perfectly with the agenda of Manifest Destiny and that this removal policy “had the active or tacit approval of a majority in the United States” (ibid., p. 39).
Fergus M. Bordewich, in his book,
Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the end of the Twentieth Century,
asks us to consider what might have resulted over time if the U.S. government had enforced the Supreme Court decision on behalf of the Cherokee Nation—a very powerful cause-and-effect example to point out to the students. He says, “Had the United States backed up the decision of its own highest court, Indian tribes could have been integrated naturally into the American economy and into the nation’s political life either in some form of voluntary democratic association or, conceivably, as full-fledged states... Such a solution might have created a framework for tolerance and ethnic diversity that would have spared the nation of much of the racial conflict that has tarnished its political landscape ever since” (p. 58).
Cherokee Removal Begins
In the end, despite all of their efforts, the Cherokees were still forced to leave their ancestral homeland and journey West to Indian Territory. Some left on their own after the Treaty of New Echota in which members of the Treaty Party, under the leadership of John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, was signed. These members agreed to sell the Cherokee land in return for land in Oklahoma for $4.5 million. However, the majority of the Cherokee, under the leadership of Chief John Ross and sometimes called the Nationalists, wanted to keep fighting for their land, and voted against it. Ross returned to Washington to try to work out a new deal and he ordered the Cherokee to ignore the treaty. At this same time 7,000 U.S. troops arrived in Georgia to enforce the removal process.
The Round Up
And so the roundup began after General Winfred Scott ordered all Cherokees to leave their homeland within the month. It was a divide-and-conquer military strategy that left the Cherokee Indians who had stayed—hanging onto the hope that John Ross, would be able to legally secure their rights to the land—unprepared. Despite all of his efforts, Ross was not successful. As Daniel Blake Smith describes it in his book,
An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears,
“Ross loss the battle over removal, but his unflinching commitment to keeping his people together as a unified and sovereign nation remains a powerful legacy of this defining moment in the Cherokee and American past” (p. 268). Smith describes the round up process in all of its starkness, “The roundup experience revealed deeply affecting moments of emotional upheaval and personal loss. . . Daily life was interrupted with shocking immediacy” as families were interrupted at dinner-time and driven out of their homes, men were taken from their fields, women from their spinning wheels and children from play (ibid., p. 206). “More often than not” says Thurman Wilkins in his book
, “the Indians lost all personal property except the clothes on their backs—their cattle, hogs, horses, and all of their household effects” (p. 308). As Cherokee families were removed from their homes, settlers and outlaws on the scene, like vultures, quickly began driving off their cattle and looting their homes.
As Michael Burgan, in his aforementioned book, so aptly concludes, “Many American Indians suffered because of the U.S. government policies. The Trail of Tears remains the most tragic reminder of the violence and broken promises that the U.S. government used to force Indians off their own land” (p. 41).
At this point the teacher will add two more vocabulary items to the whiteboard: policy (defined as a plan followed by a government or organization) and native (the original or first people to live in a place). The teacher will then posit the following question as students prepare to study the Trail of Tears. The United States government used a policy of forced removal against the natives of the new country they had settled in. Do you think this is fair?