A lot of Native American history dates back to thousands of years before the colonisation of Native America by the Europeans. Mistaking Native American to be India, Europeans had decided that they wanted control, and acquisition of Native American lands, because, of their flourishing resources, and the lands’ ability to cultivate cotton.
Consequently, this led to the mass exodus of many Native American tribes from lands that had been occupied by them for many generations, which is a decidedly terrible part of Native American history. It wasn’t a simple migration for the Natives; they were forcefully driven out of their homes, through violence that was motivated by greed and racial prejudice.
The white settlers were scared of, and despised the Native Americans, because of their racial differences, community habits, and rituals, and because they were unwilling to leave their homes. The natives were considered to be “uncivilized”, as well as “savage” by the colonisers. Certain government officials, including President George Washington, believed that the tactic that could solve the issue regarding the natives was to “civilise” them. “Civilisation”.
Of course, happened to be code for being like the Europeans, which meant that the local inhabitants had to learn the English language, convert to Christianity, as well as erase the rituals they held dear, to adopt European socio-economic practices, such as, owning land, and businesses. This white-washing has not only affected them in the past, but, has affected Native American history, and their accounts from that time.
How did Everything Started in Native America?
No matter how “civilised” they became, the white settlers wouldn’t stop until they had acquired all of the Natives’ lands to grow cotton, and make enormous fortunes. This greed made them loot the Natives’ livestock, homes, burn entire towns, and commit mass murder. Many states willingly enacted rules which not only suppressed their sovereignty, but also indigenous liberties. Many federal employees as well as white settlers found themselves pleased with this course of events that, subsequently, lead to many years of massacres, and ruthless invasions of grounds that weren’t theirs to begin with.
One of these officials was Andrew Jackson. He was an army general who had led several brutal campaigns that compelled the Natives to yield hundreds of thousands of acres of land to them. He was one of the advocates of the “Indian Removal”. Eventually, he used the privileges of his presidency to continue this crusade.
In 1830, he had signed the “Indian Removal Act”, which enabled the federal government to uproot the Natives from the east of Mississippi to its west. The eastern area was the place marked for cultivation of cotton, and those to the west had become the “Indian colonisation zone”.
Impact of the Indian Removal Act
The law was supposed to carry out peaceful negotiations with the Native Americans; it forbade the president, or any other government official to forcefully the Natives to leave, and relinquish their lands. However, president Andrew Jackson, and his government had bulldozed through the rules, and freely committed carnage.
In the 1830s, around 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia, from where they were forced to leave. This land had been occupied, and cultivated by the Natives, for thousands of years, and several generations.
Despite having worked under colonisers, growing cotton on their soil which profited the settlers, the government uprooted them forcefully and cruelly. They were forced to walk hundreds of miles to the allotted “Indian Territory” across the Mississippi river. The route of this migration was difficult, and deadly, and was infamously called the “Trail of Tears”.
The “Trail of Tears”
The “Trail of Tears” was a perilous journey which exposed the migrating Natives to disease, and starvation. Thousands of them died before them could reach their destinations. This route is highly commemorated in Native American history, because of the sheer numbers of them who perished on this path.
The federal government of the United States compelled their uprooting till the 1850s, forcing around 60,000 Native Americans into homelessness. Members of the Cherokee, Muskogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations migrated from the south-eastern US areas to the “Indian Territory”. The Cherokee people were the last to be removed in 1838, to the east of Mississippi. The cause behind it was the discovery of gold in Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828, which led to the Georgia gold rush.
Importance of the Five Civilized Tribes
The five tribes mentioned above were known as the “Five Civilised Tribes”. They had independent nations in what would later be called the “deep south” of Native America. These tribes have stories that are significant to the Native American history, and have been mentioned briefly, below.
The Choctaws were the first to comply with the removal treaty imposed on their people by the federal government. They had resided in lands, that would later be known as, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. They were promised that their moving expenses would be borne by the government, and they would be removed within two and a half years of their signing the treaty.
Their land had already been reduced to 11,000,000 acres after a string of treatises passed from 1801, and with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, their remaining land became integrated to the USA in 1831. About 17,000 Choctaws were disgracefully and brutally moved to the “Indian Territory”; 2,500-6000 of these natives died end route the “Trail of Tears”. The 5000-6000 Choctaws, who decided to stay in Mississippi, were harassed and intimidated and had to go through legal issues. Their homes were looted, and burned, and they were abused, and treated like prisoners to the point of many of them passing away.
In Florida, the Seminoles were invited to Payne’s landing on the Ocklawaha River, for a meeting. The Treaty of Payne’s landing arose from this meeting, in which the Seminoles were suggested to move to the west. They were to settle on the Creek reservation. A delegation of seven chiefs went to inspect the reservation, on October 1832, and had, apparently, signed a statement accepting the new residence on March 1833. However, when the delegation returned to Florida, they refused to concede to the Treaty, having been coerced into signing it. On December 28 1835, a group of Seminole and black people ambushed a US army company, in Ocala, killing most of them.
This would be known as the Dade Massacre. With the realisation that the Seminoles were resisting the removal, Florida began to prepare for war. This decade-long war ended in 1842, with many Indians uprooted to the Creek lands, in the west of Mississippi, and to the Everglades. The US government, ultimately, ceased their attempts at the Seminoles’ displacement. Following the Seminole wars, the federal government recognised the Seminoles as the tribe that never yielded to the removal treaty, and never gave up their sovereignty.
After the war of 1812, some of the Muskogee leaders signed Treaties that gave more of their lands to Georgia. The Treaty of Jackson, signed in 1814, would cause problems for the Creek Nation, and for all the Natives living in the South. Despite, the Creek leaders reminding Andrew Jackson to uphold the Treaty, and act peacefully, they were ignored. Consequently, the Creek Confederacy declared that further land cessions would be deemed as a capital offence.
However, with the signing of the Treaty of Indian Springs (1825) most of the remaining Creek lands were given up to Georgia. The Creek National Council had protested the Treaty, because of its fraudulence, pushing the president John Quincy Adams to nullify it, in favour of the new Treaty of Washington (1826).
This feat of nullifying a Treaty had never been achieved by an Indian Nation before. However, the governor of Georgia, George Troup ignored the new Treaty, and continued to forcibly remove the Natives from their lands. Initially, president Adams had tried to prevent this atrocity, but he ultimately didn’t stop Troup, fearing a civil war. After the ravaging of the Roanoke village in Georgia, the Creeks got into an open war with the US, on May 1836.
This war, known as the “Creek war of 1836” further forced the Creeks out of their lands, and into the “Indian Territory”. During this removal, 15,000 Creeks were uprooted for the last time, and 3,500 of them perished in the journey to Oklahoma, where they finally settled.
The Chickasaws were paid by the US government for their lands in the east of the Mississippi river. In 1836, they conceded to buying the land of the previously displaced Choctaws after a five-year debate. They paid for the westernmost part of the Choctaws’ land. Upon crossing the Mississippi river, they followed the routes previously made by the Choctaws, and the Creeks, into the “Indian Territory”, and then they merged with the Choctaw Nation.
Around 2000 Cherokees had voluntarily removed themselves from their lands to move to the “Indian Territory”, in 1838. The remaining Cherokees were beginning to be forcibly removed, on May 1838. Around 4000 Cherokees passed away during the subsequent journey to Oklahoma, brought about by the forced displacements. These removals took place under the Treaty of New Echota (signed under the Indian Removal Act) which had not been accepted by the leadership, and the majority of the Cherokee people.
The tensions between Georgia, and the Cherokee Nation were further exacerbated by the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia. This enforced the Compact of 1802, in which the US government promises to erase any Native ownership of their lands in Georgia. This culminated in the forced migration of 13,000 Cherokees to Cleveland, Tennessee, and stolen Cherokee lands became settler property. After a long, and arduous journey leading to the deaths of several Cherokees, due to violence, disease, starvation, and a harshly cold winter, they eventually reached Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where they initially settled. Eventually, the population of the Cherokee Nation regrew, and they currently comprise the largest Native American group in the USA.
Ending Note on Initial Settlement in American History
The complete history of Native American people is denser and more vibrant than the incomplete one most of us remember. The incomplete history tells the chronicle of the atrocities, and violence that the Native American people had to experience because of the greed and malice of colonisers, and white settlers. It is not only the usurpation of their lands that needs to be remembered, but also, the erasure of their narratives, and stories from our culture, and media.
The problems that the Native Americans have experienced, have followed them into the present through the system of racism that still perpetuates in America. While, they continue to thrive, and spread their narratives, they are still subjected to the indignities of racial prejudice, and bigotry. Therefore, it is important to commemorate their losses through time, remember the events that have led them to the present, and listen to them.