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Written by: Unknown    Posted on: 04/14/2003

Category: Christian Living

Source: CCN

                    SAVAGE NOBLE OR NOBLE SAVAGE?

.      No one knew exactly how many Cherokees had perished in the ordeal.  The trail was especially hard on babies, children, and the aged.  Four thousand, nearly one fifth of the entire Cherokee population, is the estimate usually cited, one made by Dr. Butler the Missionary, who said: "From the first of June I felt I have been in the midst of death." .      The road the Cherokees had followed was truly a "trail where they cried."  And the shock of the roundup, the tedium of the detention camps, the miseries of the march to the West had generated a hatred so terrible it could hardly be contained.  (Wilkins 315)

.      The story behind the "trail of tears" is a story of misery and shame.  What forces could cause this tribe of proud Indians to abandon their beloved homeland in the fertile hills and valleys of Georgia to seek a land they knew very little of and cared less about?  It is a story of intrigue and manipulation in a nation formed on supposed Christian principles - a nation whose "noble" people and leaders proved to be the savages and whose presumed "savages" proved to be truly noble. .      The forming of the new nation was by all accounts a complicated process.  As early as 1754, the struggle of authority between the individual colonies in America and the federal government was under way - the relations with the Indians being a central issue in this power struggle (Prucha 29). .      In 1776, the statement, "The United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of . . . regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the States" (qtd. in Prucha 30), was recommended as part of the Articles of Confederation.  Advocates of state sovereignty, however, were opposed to federal control.  Consequently, the final draft accepted into the Articles of Confederation added the clause, ". . . provided that the legislative right of any State within its own limits be not infringed or violated" (qtd. in Prucha 30). This revision rendered the entire statement so ambiguous it lay the foundation for the atrocities that would follow for the next century. .      When the colonists finally defeated the British in their war for independence, they were faced with an enigmatic decision - how to deal with the native Americans. Many reasoned that, as most Indians had sided with the British during the war, they should be treated as a conquered nation with no rights whatsoever.  However, a committee report submitted to Congress on October 15, 1783, wisely pointed out the new nation had neither the money nor the power to risk war with the Indians (Prucha 32-33). .      The first treaties with the Cherokee  Indians predated the new nation.  Reaffirming these treaties, a new pact was enacted in 1785, acknowledging the Indians' rights to their lands.  It stated, in part, Congress is now the sovereign of all our country which we now point out to you on the map.  They want none of your lands, nor anything else which belongs to you; and as an earnest of their regard for you, we propose to enter into articles of a treaty perfectly equal and conformable to what we now tell you. (qtd. in H.H. 263)

.      To the credit of George Washington, his dealings with the Indians were characterized by compassion and fairness, having had a deep understanding of the complex Indian problem.  In an address to the Senate on August 22, 1789, he reminded them that their treaty with the Cherokees had been entirely violated by the white people living in North Carolina.  White settlers were moving in on the Indian lands, claiming them as their own.  One Indian chief, questioning Congress' authority and power, wondered that the same leaders who had defeated the King of Great Britain could not remove these intruders (H. H. 263). .      The Cherokees finally agreed to accept payment for the lands occupied by the whites.  A new treaty was drawn in 1787, redefining their boundaries, but also adding a clause protecting Indian lands.  It clearly declared that any citizen who attempted to settle and claim Cherokee land would forfeit the protection of the United States government; the Indians could punish him as they saw fit  (H. H. 266). Many of the "atrocities" the Cherokees were later accused of committing were actually fair provisions under this treaty, resulting from the federal government's failure to carry out its responsibility in defending the rights of the tribe. .      By 1801, it had become apparent the provisions of this treaty were inadequate.  The white settlers continually ignored the boundaries of the Cherokees, inviting retribution from the Indians, which in turn caused retaliation by the whites.  The increasing bloodshed prompted President Thomas Jefferson to seek peace by asking the Cherokees to cede more land to the settlers.  To persuade the Indians of his good intentions, emissaries were instructed to assure the Indians they could always rely upon the friendship of the United States, that the President would never abandon them or their children. At first, the Indians absolutely refused to give up more of their land, but their desire for peaceful coexistence led them, in 1805, to do just that.  The pattern continued, as the Cherokees, under pressure, ceded additional land in 1816 and again in 1817 (H. H. 269-270). .      Many white men considered the Indians irreversibly savage.  In their thinking, the Indian would never be capable of any semblance of a civilized people.  Their view was one of removal - the inferior culture must make room for the superior.  Andrew Jackson, the personification of this way of thinking, fought many battles against the Indians of the Southeast (Jehoda 41- 42).  The ideal plan in his mind was to remove these savages from the path of appointed progress of civilization.  This attitude was also reflected in a report submitted to the House of Representatives by the Committee of Indian Affairs: .      That the greatest portion, even of the poorest class of the Southern Indians, may, for some years yet, find the means of sustaining life, is probable; but, when the game is all gone, as it soon must be, and their physical as well as moral energies shall have undergone the farther decline, which the entire failure of the resources of the chase has never failed to mark in their downward career, the hideous features in their prospects will become more manifest. (qtd. in Boudinot 114) The committee further reported: .      The intelligent observer of their [the Cherokees] character will confirm all that is predicted of their future condition, when he learns that the maxim, so well established in other places, "that an Indian cannot work," has lost none of its universality in the practice of the Indians of the South; . . . that the condition of the common Indian is perceptibly declining, both in the means of subsistence and the habits necessary to procure them; and that upon the whole, the mass of the population of the Southern Indian tribes are a less respectable order of human beings now, than they were ten years ago. (qtd. in Boudinot 115) .      On the contrary, however, the Cherokees had a strong desire to embrace the white man's culture.  And they succeeded to a degree that is surprising.  Within a span of two years, they developed their own written language (Van Every 11-12).  Within three years, many of them had learned to read and write; in 1828 they began publication of a bilingual newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix (Hudson 449). .      Educationally, the Indians had no reservations in sending their children to schools run by missionaries.  In 1811, a young Cherokee, Buck Watie, attended a Moravian mission school in Georgia.  In 1817, he renamed himself Elias Boudinot, (after the founder of the American Bible Society), entered the American Board School in Connecticut and completed his education.  An extremely intelligent and eloquent man, Boudinot became the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix when publication began in 1828 (Boudinot 5-6). .      In an address to the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1826, Boudinot boasted of the advances that the Cherokee nation had made.  He specifically pointed out the advances materially:  22,000 cattle, 7,600 horses, 46,000 swine, 2,500 sheep, 762 looms, 2,488 spinning wheels, 172 wagons, 2,943 ploughs, 10 sawmills, 31 gristmills, 62 Blacksmith shops, and a variety of other possessions that indicated a high degree of civilization (Boudinot 72). Quite a few of the wealthier Cherokees owned plantations and black slaves. In fact, thinking that "civilization" was the primary requisition of the whites and knowing that they could not oppose the United States militarily, the Cherokees' ambition was to meet the Americans on their own terms. .      Great moral change swept the Cherokee nation.  They abolished polygamy, honored and protected female chastity by law, observed the Sabbath, banned the killing of aged persons suspected of practicing witchcraft, and declared murder a crime (Boudinot 75). .      The Cherokee fate as a nation, however, was totally dependent, not on their own advancement, but on the people and the leaders of the powerful nation in which they now lived.  Some of the tribe, wishing only to be away from the inscrutable whites, began to emigrate to Arkansas, but the majority thought the whites had honorable intentions in their dealings with the Cherokees (Hudson 449).  On the contrary, the moment George Washington left office, a change began to evolve in the attitude of the federal government toward the Cherokee Indians. .      Thomas Jefferson's reign, (1801-1809), was characterized by a superficial benevolence toward the Indians.  His philosophy was to help the Indians by encouraging intermarriage with the poorer whites and thereby absorbing them slowly into white society (Collier 46). Jefferson also enacted a scheme to "acquire" lands from the Indians, probably as a result of pressure put on him by state governments. He placed trading posts among the Indians, extended  credit to them, allowing them to fall hopelessly in debt in order to force them to cede their land to the government (Hudson 452). .      During James Monroe's presidency, (1817-1825), the concept continued to develop that it was inevitable the Indians would have to be moved west of the Mississippi River.  The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 had opened this vast area of land; friends and foes of the Eastern Indians saw this as a solution to the dilemma of coexistence. Monroe's secretary of war, John C. Calhoun, held the position that the Indians were not legally nations and should not be treated as such. He felt they should be treated under the law as any other American citizen.  He did not wish to force the Indians to emigrate, but he also made it clear to them, if they stayed, they would be destroyed by the individual states (Hudson 453). .      The Indian emigration had begun in Monroe's administration, but gained much of its momentum in John Quincy Adam's, (1825-1829). Many of the tribes began to realize their only hope for cultural survival was to remove themselves as far from the whites as possible. Therefore voluntary emigration began in earnest. The Cherokees absolutely refused to move, defending their rights to the lands on the basis of treaties and guarantees made to them by the federal government. .      Elias Boudinot, in refuting the policy of removal, wrote in the Cherokee Phoenix, .      "It appears that the advocates of this new system of civilizing the Indians are very strenuous in maintaining the novel opinion that it is impossible to enlighten the Indians, surrounded as they are by the white population, and that they assuredly will become extinct, unless they are removed.  . . . What proof have they that the system which they are now recommending, will succeed. Where have we an example in the whole history of man, of a Nation or tribe, removing in a body, from a land of civil and religious means, to a perfect wilderness, in order to be civilized.  We are fearful these men are building castles in the air, whose fall will crush those poor Indians who may be so blinded as to make the experiment." (96)

.      The state of Georgia vehemently opposed the presence of both the Cherokees and the Creeks, whose combined land comprised fully one third of the state.  In 1827, the state surveyed the Indian lands in preparation for division and take over.  President Adams warned Georgia that her actions violated treaties between the United States and the Indians, and threatened military force to uphold those treaties.  Georgia responded by calling up its own militia and occupying some of the Creek lands, in absolute defiance of President Adams.  The federal government, wishing to avoid a confrontation, backed down (Hudson 453-454). .      In the background of these conflicts was a man who had fought many battles against various tribes, especially the Creeks. He was a man of influence, a man of blunt forthrightness, a man of convictions. Andrew Jackson made his opinions known throughout the early nineteenth century, influencing both thinking and policy-making. .      The largest single event that determined the future of the American Indian was the election of Jackson to the office of President in 1829.  His opinions in Indian policy-making were influential before, his position would now become policy.  All the latent frustrations he had had with past administrative policies would now be his to change.  And change they did. .      Realizing that at last they had a President who was concordant with their view, the Georgia legislature passed laws incorporating large areas of Cherokee land.  They declared all laws, ordinances, and regulations of the Cherokee nation to be null and void.  The law further stated that any Indian who sought to induce another to reject emigration would be imprisoned.  Worst of all, the legislature decreed "that no Indian . . . shall be deemed a competent witness in any court of this state to which a white person may be a party." (Foreman, Indian Removal 229) .      Recognizing Jackson's total backing of Georgia, Elias Boudinot commented in the Cherokee Phoenix:

.      "It is to be regretted that we were not undeceived long ago . . . It appears now . . . that the illustrious Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were only tantalizing us, when they encouraged us in the pursuit of agriculture and Government, and when they afforded us the protection of the United States." (108)

.      Jackson's death blow to the Eastern Indians in general and to the Cherokees in particular was the introduction of the "Indian Removal Bill" to Congress.  It was the first forthright approval of the complete removal of all the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi. The bill did not in itself authorize the enforced removal of the tribes, but it set a precedent in official federal policy toward removal.  Many tribes began an exodus to the west, fearing that their options were quickly narrowing (Foreman, The Last Trek 59-60). .      The next eight years for the Cherokees were among the darkest years in American history.  A very small number of them left voluntarily, but the great majority were determined never to give up their homeland. .      White missionaries, living with the Cherokees, were strong vocal supporters. On December 22, 1830, Georgia passed a law making it illegal for white men to live in Cherokee lands without a license -the requirement for the license was a sworn allegiance to the state of Georgia.  Refusing this allegiance, the missionaries were thrown in prison.  Some were beaten, and when two of them still refused to meet the state's demands, they were sentenced to four years of hard labor. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which upheld the missionaries rights and further declared that certain Georgia laws were unconstitutional.  Andrew Jackson, in utterly refusing to back the court's ruling, replied, "John Marshall [the Chief Justice] has rendered his decision; now let him enforce it" (Hudson 462-463). .      It was at this time that Elias Boudinot and other progressive leaders in the Cherokee nation began to see that justice would never be done.  Apparently, his confidence in the federal government was crushed when the executive office could so easily ignore a ruling by the judicial branch.  Upon returning to the Cherokee Nation in the spring of 1832, he began to advocate removal - a complete reversal of his pleadings and arguments for many years (Boudinot 25-26). .      There was, however, a strong majority of leaders who continued to oppose removal under any circumstances.  They were traditionalists who, according to Boudinot, failed to see the absolute hopelessness of their cause. .      In December of 1835, the Cherokees were informed by the federal government of a meeting they would be required to attend, for the purpose of negotiating a new treaty.  They were further instructed that failure to attend the meeting would indicate favor for the treaty.  Choosing to ignore the meeting, only three to five hundred out of seventeen thousand Indians attended (Hudson 463). Nevertheless, a removal treaty was drawn and signed by twenty of the "party of civilization", including Elias Boudinot (Boudinot 26). .      Some saw Boudinot as a traitor, but many recognized his conscientious ambitions for his people.  He himself stated: .      "I know that I take my life in my hand, as our fathers have also done.  We will make and sign this treaty.  Our friends can then cross the great river, but Tom Foreman and his people [who violently opposed removal] will put us across the dread river of death.  We can die, but the great Cherokee Nation will be saved.  They will not be annihilated; they can live.  Oh, what is a man worth who will not dare to die for his people?  Who is there here that will not perish, if this great Nation may be saved?"  (Boudinot 27) .      Most of the Cherokees refused to recognize the validity of the treaty. In fact, they refused all aid from the federal government so they could not be accused in any form of approval of it.  For two more years they clung to their lands, the maximum time allowed under the treaty.  By May, 1838, there were still fully 15,000 Cherokees in the Southeast.  The government then sent about 7,000 United States Army soldiers, state militia men and volunteers, arrested the Cherokees and forced them into stockaded concentration camps.  Many of the soldiers looted homes and even dug up graves to steal jewelry from the corpses (Hudson 464). .      A few thousand Indians were taken west on steamboats, but the great majority, about 13,000, were divided into smaller groups and herded west on overland routes that took from three to five months. The toll on the Indians was great, especially on the very young and old.  Statistics are unclear, but it is reasonably stated that over 4,000 Cherokee Indians never lived through the arduous journey to see the Mississippi (Foreman, The Five 281-282).  To this day, that infamous journey forced on unwilling emigrants is known as the "trail of tears". .      The federal government was actually proud of their handling of the removal of the Cherokees:

.      "The general and enlightened policy evinced in the measures adopted by Congress toward that people during the last session was ably and judiciously carried into effect by the general appointed to conduct their removal.  The reluctance of the Indians to relinquish the land of their birth in the East, and remove to their new homes in the West, was entirely overcome by the judicious conduct of that officer, and they departed with alacrity under the guidance of their own chiefs . . . . Humanity no less than good policy dictated this course toward these children of the forest; and in carrying out in this instance with an unwavering hand the measures resolved upon by the Government, in the hope of preserving the Indians and of maintaining the peace and tranquillity of the whites, it will always be gratifying to reflect that this has been effected not only without violence, but with every proper regard for the feelings and interests of that people."  (H.H. 284-285)

.    The effect of the removal on the Cherokee people was devastating. Many in the tribe felt utterly betrayed; for years dissensions rent the Cherokee Nation.  The fate of Elias Boudinot was foretold in his own writings.  On June 22, 1839, he was murdered by a group of Cherokees who felt that he, indeed, was the betrayer (Wilkins 323). The man who loved his nation so much, who defended her time after time, and signed a treaty only in an attempt to save his people from the tyranny of a "Christian" nation, sacrificed his life for the salvation of the people he loved. .    Compare for yourself the evidence of history.  Who were the civilized people?  The whites first contact with the Indians found them to be friendly and obliging (Debo 38).  The Indians first contact with the whites found them to be friendly and beguiling. .    Chief Joseph, a famous chief, claimed that talk was only as good as the actions that backed it up. He stated he was sick of ". . . good words and broken promises . . ." (Armstrong 116).  Red Jacket, a Seneca, replied he would not embrace the white man's religion until he saw it make a difference in his white neighbors.  "If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said" (Rosenstiel 112).  And stating the truth as clearly as it can be seen in the history of Indian affairs in the United States, the Delaware chief, Pachgantsilias replied, "I admit there are good white men, but they bear no proportion to the bad; the bad must be the strongest, for they rule" (Rosenstiel 97). .      On May 26, 1826,in the very address that boasted of the great strides his Cherokee nation had been making toward civilization, Elias Boudinot prophetically stated:

.      "There is, in Indian history, something very melancholy, and which seems to establish a mournful precedent for the future events of the few sons of the forest, now scattered over this vast continent.  We have seen every where the poor aborigines melt away before the white population. . . . We have seen, I say, one family after another, one tribe after another, nation after nation, pass away; until only a few solitary creatures are left to tell the sad story of extinction." .      "Shall this precedent be followed?  I ask you, shall red men live, or shall they be swept from the earth?  With you and this public at large, the decision chiefly rests.  Must they perish?  Must they all . . . go down in sorrow to their graves?" .      "They hang upon your mercy as to a garment.  Will you push them from you, or will you save them?  Let humanity answer." (79)

.      "Humanity" has answered.

.      Only one question remains . . . how long before the same fate befalls Christians?

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