August 25, 1995 Halifax Herald

Trail of Tears: "cruellest work I ever done"

When it came to extending civil and human rights to the original inhabitants of the Americas, US President Andrew Jackson was a first-class white supremacist. The contempt he held for Native Americans is exemplified by the actions he undertook when seizing their lands. For example, he was responsible for the forced removal of the Cherokee from their traditional territories in Georgia, to Oklahoma, in 1838.

As fate would have it, if not for a Cherokee saving his life at Little Ridge, Jackson would not have been alive to undertake the crime against humanity that he did. Then, perhaps it really didn't matter who was in the White House, for another President, Martin Van Buren, in 1837, uttered these words; "No state can achieve proper culture, civilization, and progress...as long as Indians are permitted to remain."

In the true tradition of the white man, greed was to be the motivating factor behind the horrors that were unleashed upon the Cherokees. Perhaps these quotes, from an observation in the 1880s by Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, best describes why the Cherokee suffered the horror they did: "The love of possession is a disease with them; they take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own and fence their neighbours away." "If America had been twice the size it is, there still would not have been enough; the Indian would still have been dispossessed."

Also in the true tradition of the white man - when it came to stealing the lands of the original inhabitants -- they had to make the illegal appropriation appear to be legal. Therefore, when preparing to take the lands of the Cherokee in Georgia, US officialdom enlisted a tiny minority of Cherokees to assist in their cause. These people were members of a political party called the Treaty Party which, without the consent of the people, signed a land transfer treaty with the US government called the "Treaty of New Echota." The Treaty swapped the traditional lands of the Cherokee for lands in the Oklahoma territory. Upon signing this infamous document, several of the traitors stated that they had signed their death warrants, which proved to be true - the ringleaders were assassinated.

In 1830, Georgia Governor George Gilmer put into words the warped mentality that the indigenous peoples of the Americas have long had to contend with when dealing with whites: "Treaties are expedients by which ignorant, intractable, and savage people are induced ... to yield up what civilized people have the right to possess." Sounds like an observation made about treaties with Native people by Governor Edward Cornwallis in 1749: "Treaties with Indians are nothing; nothing but force will prevail."

After the Treaty was signed, the Cherokee were given two years to get off their lands. These quotes from Ronald Wright's Stolen Continents (Penguin Books) depict the horror of their plight: "However, the white folks were proving to be very impatient in containing their "greed." Major Ridge (a Cherokee official) protested to President Jackson: "The lowest classes of the white people are flogging the Cherokees with cowhides, hickories, and clubs. We are not safe in our houses - our people are assailed by day and night by the rabble. Even justices of the peace and constables are concerned in this business. This barbarous treatment is not confined to men, but the women are stripped also and whipped without law or mercy...We shall carry off nothing but the scars on our backs."

"General John E. Wool, sent to enforce the removal, agreed: "The whole scene since I have been in this country has been nothing but a heart-rendering one...The white men...like vultures are watching, ready to pounce upon their prey and strip them of everything they have. Wool also confirmed that the Cherokees were "almost universally opposed to the treaty."

"In the summer of 1838, the United States Army rounded up all 16,000 Cherokees and confined them for months in disease-infested camps. The trek west, begun that autumn, has been known ever since as "The Trail of Tears." For the whole winter, the hungry, frost bitten people shuffled at bayonet point across a thousand miles of frozen woods and prairie. By the time it was over, 4,000 - one-quarter of the Cherokee Nation -- had died."

Years after the Cherokees were rounded up and driven along the Trail of Tears, John G. Burnett, a soldier who took part, reflected on what he and his nation had done: "School children of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race at the bayonet point, to satisfy the white man's greed...Murder is murder and somebody must answer, somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country...Somebody must explain the four thousand silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile."

Another Georgia volunteer remarked in 1870: "I fought through the Civil War and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by the thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruellest work I ever done."

Daniel N. Paul


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