xxxxxBy the time the Europeans arrived in North America, the Cherokee tribe was firmly settled in the Carolinas, Tennessee and parts of Georgia and Alabama. The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through their land in 1539, and it was in Georgia in 1733 that the English philanthropist James Oglethorpe made the first European settlement. The Cherokee supported the Crown during the American War of Independence and, as a result, lost much of their territory at the end of the conflict. When gold was discovered in Georgia in 1827, demand grew for the removal of the native Indians. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act by which native Indians could to be forcibly ejected from their homelands. The final blow came in 1835 when some senior Cherokees sold their land to the government. In 1838 U.S. forces arrived in Georgia and forced-marched the tribe - some 18,000 - to the “Indian Territory”, one thousand miles to the west. No provision was made for their welfare on the journey, and about 4,000 died of hunger, exposure and disease in what came to be known as The Trail of Tears. Meanwhile, during the 1830s thousands of other native Indians were forcibly removed from their homelands. The majority accepted the inevitable, but, as we shall see, some tribes, like the Seminole, put up a fight.



Cherokee: Cherokee Indian Sitemap, artist unknown. Map (USA): licensed under Creative Commons – https://asd-hs.wikispaces. com/Trail+of+Tears. Ross: by the American portrait painter Charles Bird King (1785-1862), 1843, contained in History of the Indian Tribes of North America, in three volumes, originally published from 1836-1844 – Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington. Black War: date and artist unknown, contained in Pemulwuy: Australian History, by Gail Taylor, 1999. Catlin: Osceolo – Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington; Native Village – Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington; Buffalo Bull’s Back Fat – Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington; Tribal Group Dance – Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

xxxxxThe Cherokee Indians are thought to have originated in present day Texas and the northern part of Mexico, and to have migrated to the area of the Great Lakes in prehistoric times. Here they came in conflict with the Delaware and Iroquois tribes and, getting the worst of it, moved to the south east, settling in what is now the Carolinas, Tennessee, and the northern regions of Georgia and Alabama. Within a comparatively few years they had become the most powerful and advanced tribe in that region. The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through their territory in 1539 - searching in vain for gold - and, as we have seen, it was in Georgia in 1733 that the first European settlement was established by the English philanthropist James Oglethorpe, ostensibly as a new home for the poor of England. This marked the start of an ever increasing influx of white settlers, and the slow but sure erosion of Indian land.

xxxxxIn the struggle between the British and French for control of North America, the Cherokee had tended to side with the British and, during the American War of Independence they openly supported the forces of the Crown. This proved their undoing. After the success of the American rebels, they were obliged to agree to a series of humiliating treaties by which they lost vast areas of their land in the Carolinas. Some of the tribe, about 3,000, sensing trouble ahead, moved west of the Mississippi, but the majority stayed on, developing their farming and cattle ranching, and maintaining a well-ordered society. In 1827 the tribe went so far as to establish the Cherokee Nation, with a system of representative government based closely on the US model. But by then its fate was virtually sealed. Valuable gold deposits had been discovered in the mountains to the north, and as early as 1819 Georgia had asked the U.S. government to expel the Cherokee from the state. This appeal had failed, but in 1828 Georgia took the law into its own hands and laid claim to the tribal lands. This was judged as illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court, sitting in 1832, but by then President Andrew Jackson had signed the Indian Removal Act by which native Indians could be ejected from their homes. The court’s ruling was simply ignored.

xxxxxThexfinal blow came in 1835 when, by the Treaty of New Echota, about 500 prominent Cherokee were cajoled into selling their ancestral home for five million dollars, and moving to the so-called “Indian Territory” (in today’s Oklahoma) over the next three years. The vast majority of the tribe rejected this sell-out, and the Supreme Court gave support to their case, but the damage was done. In 1838, 7,000 federal troops under the command of General Winfield Scott were sent in to evict the Cherokee under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, an act which, though ostensibly based on negotiation, ran totally counter to the U.S. declared policy of respecting the political and legal rights of the American Indians.

xxxxxIn the weeks that followed, only a few hundred Cherokee and Creek Indians managed to escape and settle on land in the North Carolina mountains - becoming the ancestors of the tribe’s Eastern Branch. The remainder - some 18,000 - were herded into stockades near Chattanooga, a port on the Tennessee River, for the start of their tragic exodus. Thus began the infamous “Trail of Tears”, a long forced-march westward in autumn and winter conditions. Three routes were taken, and they travelled in groups of about a thousand, led at various times by their leader John Ross. Some were manacled, many travelled on foot, and all were deprived of sufficient food and shelter. Over the 116 days it took to cover the thousand miles to Oklahoma - during which time scant concern was shown for the plight of the captives - it is estimated that some 4,000 died through hunger, exposure and disease.

xxxxxNor did matters improve much after being “settled” in the Indian Territory. Here, having joined up with the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole (becoming known as the Five Civilized Tribes), they come up against thousands of tribesmen from the north, many of whom had sadly and reluctantly accepted their removal to less productive land. Feuds broke out across the region as each tribe attempted to establish its own territory. Then, with the coming of the American Civil War in 1861, the Five Tribes supported the South and came out the losers. After the conflict, tribal ownership of land was abolished, and in the late 1880s the government of the Cherokee Nation was dissolved, its people becoming U.S. citizens when Oklahoma was made a state in 1907. From then on white settlers began to pour into the region.

xxxxxIncidentally, it was during the Trail of Tears (or, literally, “The Trail where they cried”) that the legend of the Cherokee Rose was born. It is said that, after the chiefs had prayed for a sign to bring comfort to all the mothers and to give them the strength to care for their children, a beautiful white rose sprang up wherever a mother’s tear touched the ground. The white was seen as the colour of the tear; the bright gold centre as the gold which had been stolen from their land; and the seven petals as representing the seven Cherokee clans. We are told that this rose - now the official flower of the State of Georgia - still grows along one of the routes taken, a timely reminder, perhaps, of an unworthy episode in American history.

xxxxxThe man who served the Cherokee Indians well during their troubled times was their tribal leader John Ross (1790-1866). Born of a Scottish father and a mother who was part Cherokee, he led the tribe’s resistance movement during the War of 1812, and after serving on the Cherokee Council, was made an associate chief in 1827 and the principal chief the following year.

xxxxxOver the next ten years he struggled relentlessly to keep his tribe in their ancestral lands, using every means short of war. He sent petitions to President Andrew Jackson, and in the early 1830s went to Washington to plead his case in person. His efforts were of no avail. When eviction eventually came in 1838, he led his people in the “trail of tears”, sharing in their ordeal and overseeing their resettlement in the Indian Territory. And it was there that he helped write a constitution for the United Cherokee Nation, and was chosen as chief when the new government was formed.


John Ross,The Second and

Third Seminole Wars, and

George Catlin

xxxxxAnother tribe which resisted eviction was the Seminole in Florida. As we have seen, they had already battled with government forces in 1817 to keep hold of their homeland. In the Second Seminole War, beginning in 1835, they again put up a good fight, but with the capture of their able leader Osceola in 1837 they were forced to surrender in 1842. And some resistance was shown among tribes north of the Ohio River. In 1832, for example, the Sauk leader Black Hawk took on the government in the so-called Black Hawk War, and it took two battles to bring about his defeat.

xxxxxOn his return home in 1838 he assembled his paintings - over 600 of them - into what he called his “Indian Gallery”, and tried to find a buyer for this unique collection, but he met with no success. The US government showed no interest, and a tour of the major cities of Europe, including London, Brussels and Paris, brought no response. His work was admired in many quarters - the French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire was particularly impressed - but no buyer was found. Eventually in 1852, near to bankruptcy, Catlin was obliged to sell his collection to an American industrialist, one Joseph Harrison, and he stored the paintings in a factory in Philadelphia. It was not until after Catlin’s death that this valuable record of a crucial chapter in American history came out of storage. Today the bulk of his Indian Gallery is on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., and some 70 sketches are held in the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

xxxxxParamount among Catlin’s writings was his Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indian, a two-volume work containing a wealth of material, published in 1841.

xxxxxA tribe which was even more determined than the Cherokee to hold on to their native lands were the Seminole in Florida. As we have seen, they had already fought one war with the American government in 1817, when federal forces had attempted to drive them out of the peninsula, then owned by the Spanish. This struggle was resumed in 1835 when the American government, on the strength of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, attempted once again to evict them and, this time, to drive them to those designated native areas in the far West.

xxxxxBut,xlike the first encounter, the Second Seminole War showed the Seminoles to be a resourceful enemy. Led by their capable leader Osceola (1804-1838), (illustrated), they waged a successful guerrilla war from their bases in the Everglades, an area of grass covered marshland in the south. They gained a number of hit-and-run victories, and killed some 2,000 U.S. soldiers, but their fortunes changed with the loss of Osceola in 1837, tricked into capture during peace negotiations. He died in prison the following year. The tribesmen continued the fight, but they were eventually flushed out of their hideouts and forced to surrender in 1842. (The portrait is by George Catlin.)

xxxxxInxthe Third Seminole War, waged from 1855 to 1858, the Indians again used their bases in the Everglades to launch persistent raids upon white settlements. Eventually, however, more U.S. troops were drafted into the area, and they were forced to give up their struggle. Over 200 were re-allocated out West, but a few evaded capture and remained in Florida.

xxxxxIncidentally, there were also earlier instances of armed resistance against relocation amid the tribes north of the Ohio River. In 1832, for example, after the Sauk had been evicted from their homeland, their chief, Black Hawk, led his people back to their lands in Illinois, together with a contingent from the nearby Fox tribe. There they began planting crops again, but not for long. Federal troops were summoned, together with local militia forces, and in the Black Hawk War that followed the Indians stood little chance. They were defeated near the Wisconsin River in the July, and in the Bad Axe Massacre of the following month, and Black Hawk was forced to surrender. ……

xxxxx…… Andxitxwas at this time that a similar attack upon an indigenous population was carried out on the island of Tasmania. In 1828, after years of conflict between the native Aboriginals and the British colonists - known as the “Black War” - martial law was declared by the British governor and all Aboriginals were expelled from their ancestral homelands. Then, two years later, the governor mustered a force of some 3,000 able-bodied men and, forming them into an armed human chain, swept across the island from the north to the south over a period of six weeks. This so-called “Black Line” was aimed at rounding up all the Aboriginals and resettling them on Bruny Island, south of Hobart. It proved a fiasco. Only about 140 were captured and, after some mediation, they agreed to settle on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. Within a few years, however, most of them had died of hardship and disease, and the 47 who survived were allowed to return to the mainland in 1847 and settle at Oyster Bay, near Hobart. It was there that the last full-blooded member of the race died in 1876.

xxxxxA man who recorded on canvas and in writing the unique way of life of the American Indian and “rescued it from oblivion” - as he himself put it - was the artist and writer George Catlin (1796-1872). Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he was fascinated from an early age by the ways and customs of his country’s early settlers, and feared for their future. After a brief spell working as a lawyer, he set out on his mission in 1830 - the year the Indian Removal Act was passed. Over the next eight years he travelled across much of the United States, recording in paint and in ink the everyday lives of the American Indian people.