Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: Perspectives on the Trail of Tears: The Tragedy of the American Indians

The Trail of Tears: The Tragedy of the American Indians by Katie Marsico, Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, New York, 2010
This book has a very good explanation of Andrew Jackson’s decisions with regards to the Native Americans, and requiring them all to move west of the Mississippi.  They were allowed to stay, but had to give up tribal affiliation and become American Citizens.  Jackson’s attitude always favored the Georgians, and their right to expand their state.  He favored encroachment on Indian lands which had been given them by treaty.  When gold was found on Indian land, this sealed the fate of the Native Americans, and confirmed Jackson’s ideas.  He said:

Can it be cruel in this government when, by events which it cannot control, the Indian is made discontented in his ancient home to purchase his lands, to give him a new and extensive territory, to pay the expense of his removal, and support him a year in his new abode?  How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions!  If the offers made to the Indians were extended to them, they would be hailed with gratitude and joy.

Someone should have answered his question, and told him not all people have the same goals or desires.  Some did disagree with Jackson, and saw this as a great evil.  However the Indian Removal Act of 1829 was passed, which gave the president the authorization to remove the Native Americans to Indian Territory in the West.  The Supreme Court sided with the Cherokee.  Jackson responded by saying the Supreme Court would have difficulty enforcing their edict, and went ahead with the removal.  They did this by negotiating a treaty with prominent Cherokee, but not the legitimate government.  The treaty gave the Cherokee two years to vacate their lands. 
Some of the Cherokee left early for the new territory, while most lingered, hoping beyond hope that John Ross could negotiate something different with the government.  General Winfield Scott was given the task of seeing that the Native Americans were removed:

My troops already occupy many positions in the country….and thousands and thousands are approaching from every quarter. … Obey them when they tell you that you can remain no longer in this country.   Soldiers are as kind-hearted as brave…  We are commanded by the president to act toward you in that spirit, and much is also the wish of the whole people of America.  …Will you then, by resistance, compel us to resort to arms?  God forbid!  Or will you by flight, seek to hide yourselves in mountains and forests, and thus oblige us to hunt you down?  Remember that, in pursuit, it may be impossible to avoid conflicts.  The blood of the white man or the blood of the red man may be spilt, and, if spilt, however accidentally, it may be impossible for the discreet and humane among you, or among us, to prevent general war and carnage. 

That sounds pretty much a threat of obliteration.  Not all Cherokee who refused to leave gave up their affiliation.  A small group went to the Great Smokey Mountains and now has a reservation and are known as the eastern band. 
The trip was difficult.  It was not meant as a way to exterminate the Indians, however many died along the trip.  The mortality rates vary, but estimates put the death total at about 4000 of the 18,000 forced to emigrate passed away.  Most often those who passed away were the elderly or the children.  It was a brutal journey.  Those who took the water route on steam boats also had their own problems, and Cherokee had difficulty burying loved ones in the river as they preferred a land burial with ceremonies. 
After arriving in Indian Territory there were still bitter feelings between the different factions, those who traveled earlier and those who traveled later.  John Ross was the recognized leader, and he wanted to be sure .
The “Never-Ending Trail” is a poem composed by Del “Abe” Jones.  The poem concludes:

Each mile of this infamous "Trail"
Marks the graves of four who died -
Four thousand poor souls in all
Marks the shame we try to hide -

You still can hear them crying
Along "The Trail Of Tears"
If you listen with your heart
And not with just your ears.

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