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The Ultimate Betrayal
Georgia's Cherokee Trail

Article and Photos by KathleenWalls

 

  

Throughout history, cases of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man abound. The German Holocaust is known and condemned by all. Public outcry is long and loud over newer  instances such as the Bosnian genocide. The United States is not free from guilt. The tragedy of “The Trail of Tears” cries for remembrance throughout the ages. Although not as well publicized as some other instances of genocide, the Cherokee Removal was American history’s ultimate betrayal.  

Plaque
Marker commemorating those who died on the
Trail of Tears

Before it ended, 4,000 Cherokee lay dead. An entire nation was dispersed never to be reunited again. One national American hero’s feet of clay were forever exposed and political hypocrisy and deceit reached an all time high. The tiny site of New Echota near Cartersville was the hub of it all. The Georgia State park situated there today recreates the old Cherokee capital. The park musuem is the perfect place to begin your tour of the Cherokee Trail in Georgia.

 

In 1825, New Echota was the heart and soul of the Cherokee Nation. By 1835, it was ghost town. Fate and history linked all the actors in this tragic drama before the final curtain fell on the Cherokee hopes and dreams and arose on the opening of a new frontier for the white settlers.

 

Council House 
Council House at New Echota
The villain of the piece seems clear. Andrew Jackson , hero of the battle of New Orleans, long time Indian fighter and finally president of the United States.  The hero is harder to see. Was it John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation? Was it Sequoyah , the man who overnight made his people literate? Where does history place Elias Boudinot? He edited the first Cherokee newspaper, The Phoenix. In just four short years, his beliefs did a complete about face. Then there was Major Ridge, Chief of the Cherokee police, The Lighthorse Patrol, Counselor to his good friend Chief John Ross and Speaker of the Council in the Cherokee lower legislative house. And where did Elias' brother Stand Watie fit in. When he helped the Georgia Militia destroy the Phoenix printing press. Did he stomp the soft lead type into Georgia’s red clay in an effort to preserve the Cherokee heritage or to line his pockets?  What of the supporting cast? History may have overlooked them but the drama of the Trail of Tears would have been different were it not for their contributions. Samuel Worcester and Junaluska‘s deeds are forever interwoven in Georgia’s history of this time.

 

The drama had its prelude when the first settlers, led by men like Daniel Boone first looked upon the land of the Cherokee and coveted it for themselves. The first act, bringing most of the main players together began in the early 1800’s.

 

In 1814, Jackson was ordered to stop the uprising of the Creek. The culmination of the Creek War was the battle of Horseshoe Bend in March of that year. Many of the Cherokee stood with him. Jackson appointed Ridge “Major” .A title he would use as his name for the remainder of his life. John Ross, Ridge’s close friend, was a lieutenant during that war. Sequoyah was another Cherokee who would both fight under Jackson and also play a part in the drama that would lead to The Trail of Tears. John Ross swam across the frigid Tallapoosa River to steal the Cheek canoes, which were then used in a diversionary, attract by the Cherokee. Ridge’s canoe was the first across the river on that fateful day. Junaluska , another Cherokee warrior, is credited with saving Jackson’s life at that battle. Thus the Cherokee were shocked when after the war, Jackson forced the Creek to sign over 22 million acres of land in Southern Georgia and central Alabama of which a large part was considered Cherokee land.  President James Madison sided with the Cherokee but just months later, Jackson was successful in getting most of the land by means of a treaty signed a group of chiefs, including Sequoyah, The handwriting was on the wall. Whatever the Cherokee did to prove they were loyal, law abiding people, however many times the courts upheld their claim, their fate was sealed.

Councill house Supreme Court 
The enterior of the Cherokee Council House, similar to our Senate. The portraits over the mantle are Chief George Lowrey, Chief John Ross and Major Ridge The Cherokee Supreme Court. The Cherokee had a form of government similar to the U.S. 
 

In spite of Jackson’s treachery, Ridge and many of the Cherokee still supported him throughout the Seminole War. In 1823 Jackson, who had earned his nickname of “Old Hickory” for his toughness, was elected to the Senate. He used this position as a stepping stone to the Presidency in 1828. One of his first acts was the passing of the “Indian Removal Act”. Between 1814 and 1824, Jackson held a key role in negotiating nine out of eleven treaties, which would force the Native Americans off their ancestral land to less desirable land out west.

 

Chief Junaluska who had saved Jackson's life at Horseshoe Bend, went to plead with Jackson for the protection of his people and was met with the reply: "Sir, your audience is ended. There is nothing I can do for you".

 

Junaluska later stated, "Oh my God, if I had known at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend what I now know, American history would have been differently written."

 

In 1819 the Cherokee Council began holding their official meetings in Newtown, a small community in Northwest Georgia. It was officially proclaimed the Cherokee capital and its name changed to New Echota in 1825. By 1927, the Cherokee had established a form of government modeled after the United States. They built civic building there to house the seat of their government. By 1830, Cherokee surveyors had laid out a well-planned community. It had a two-acre town square with a 60-foot wide main street. This was a small town of about fifty permanent residents most of the year but when council meetings took place, it was a buzzing hive of activity. Legislators arrived to attend sessions in the upper or lower council house. Justices came to sit in judgment in the city’s Supreme Court Building. The poor and the wealthy alike came to their capita city for a lawmaking session and to enjoy a social get together. The indigent walked into town. The wealthy Cherokees arrived in elegant carriages with their elaborately gowned wives and daughters. Their sons rode besides them on sleek horses. Their slaves attended to their needs much as the denizens of Georgia’s capital city, Milledgeville.

Vann's Tavern   Vann's Tavern interior
Vann's Tavern at New Echota. This is an original building that was moved to the state park.  Vann's Tavern interior. In addition to being planters,
the Vann's were sucessful business men. 
 

One of the wealthiest of the Cherokee was Rich Joe Vann. He lived in luxury on his successful plantation built by his father, Chief James Vann. It was the first brick house ever built by a Cherokee and shows a marked Moravian influence in style and design. The centerpiece of his home is the magnificent cantilevered staircase. The doors, known as Christian doors, have features representing a cross and an open Bible.

 
Vann House  staircase  objects from Vann House 
The Vann House
(Credit all Vann House Pictures to Martin Walls 
Famed cantilevered staircase in Vann House Objects excavatred at the Vann House 

Chief Vann's house also included a blacksmith shop, the 800-acre property around the Vann House with 42 slave cabins, 6 barns, 5 smokehouses, a trading post, more than 1,000 peach trees, 147 apple trees, and a still.

After constructing The Vann House, James lived at the house for 5 years before he was killed at Buffington’s Tavern in 1809. After his death he left the house to his favorite child, Rich Joe, who occupied it until the Removal. It is another "must visit" to understand the Cherokee heritage in Georgia.

 

If the city of New Echota represented the pride of the Cherokee Nation, its voice was The Phoenix, their national newspaper. Housed in a modest frame building, The Phoenix bound the far-flung tribe together. The Cherokee were the only Native Americans to have their own written language. A young Cherokee named Sequoyah devised a Cherokee alphabet in 1821. He had worked on the concept for 12 years and finally developed a syllabary, which allowed any Cherokee speaker to become literate in two weeks. The concept was called the “Talking Leaves” by the Indians as a slur on the white man’s use of the written word. The Cherokees felt the white man’s written words were like the leaves that dried up and blew away when the words were no longer suited.

 
Phonix  Phoenix 
Phoenix replica at New Echota  Printing Press in Pheonix building 

This alphabet led to the founding of the national paper in Feburary1828. Elias Boudinot was a natural for the first editor. Born Gallegina (Buck) Oowatie – the Oo was later dropped from the surname- he was educated in Connecticut and traveled extensively throughout the east as a young man. On his travels through Washington, young Buck met Dr. Elias Boudinot, a statesman best known as having served a term as President under the Articles of Confederation. A strong friendship developed and Buck adopted the name of his mentor. As Elias Boudinot, the young Cherokee was a staunch proponed of a national paper and helped raise money for the project through speaking engagements. Politically, at this time, he was a strong backer of Chief John Ross’s Nationalist Party. Elias and his new bride, Harriet Gold of Connecticut, settled down in a small cabin just down the street from the Phoenix office.

 

During his time in Connecticut, Elias had developed a close friendship with Samuel Worcester. Samuel was a seventh generation minister. He had a gift for languages and knowledge of printing from his father who had worked as a part time printer.  Elias asked Samuel to come to New Echota and help with the development of the newspaper. Samuel and his wife also used their mission connections to help fund The Phoenix. His Cherokee name, The Messenger, reflects his great input into the paper until his death in 1859 in the Oklahoma Territory.  Samuel and Ann’s home was built near the outskirts of the Cherokee capital and still stands today.

 
Worchester house 
Samuel Worchester's house. The only building original to the site 

Another close friend and cousin of Elias and his brother, Stand Watie, was John Ridge, son of Major Ridge. Major Ridge came to see the West as the only hope for his people to survive as a nation. Ironically, both Elias and John Ridge supported the 1829 law that mandated the death penalty for any Indian who signed away Cherokee land. However, by 1832, Elias had converted to Major Ridge’s Treaty Party that advocated removal to Oklahoma. Even though the Supreme Court had supported the Cherokees, President Jackson is reputed to have stated, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” He probably was too clever a politician to have actually spoken those words but they reflected his sentiments  and his actions accurately. This is the same man who earlier promised John Ross that Cherokee lands would be theirs “as long as the grass grows.”

 

The Georgia Militia was becoming ever more violent in its control of the Cherokee. Federal troops had been removed and Georgia Governor George Gilmer had begun the “Land Lotteries” which dispensed the Cherokee land to new White settlers. The discovery of Gold in nearby Dahlonega sealed their fate. Civilization, literacy and justice could not stand in the way of “gold fever’.  In an editorial, Elias stared the position of the Indians. “Full license to out oppressors and every avenue of justice closed to us. Yes, this is the bitter cup prepared for us all…. I am induced to believe there is danger, ‘immediate and appalling,’ and it becomes the people of this country to weigh the matter rightly, act wisely, not rashly, and choose a course that will come nearest to benefiting the nation.”

 

This was written as he watched the forts constructed to house his people beginning as early as 1830. In his mind, there was no good choice, only the lesser of two evils. He believed the best choice available was to sign the treaty required by the Supreme Court to transfer the Cherokee lands and move peacefully west.

 

The persecution also affected any whites who supported the Indians. When the state of Georgia began plans for the Land Lottery of 1832, Samuel Worcester and eleven other ministers met in New Echota and signed a resolution protesting the Georgia laws calling for any whites who worked on Indian land to apply for a license from the State of Georgia. For daring to defy the law, Governor Gilmer ordered him arrested by the militia. Even as late as 1832 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokees were an independent nation and all disputes fell under federal jurisdiction, the Governor refused to release Worcester and the other clergymen. He was finally released by the next governor, Lumpkin and moved to Oklahoma to prepare for the inevitable. .

 

By 1832, Elias’ belief in removal as the only sensible choice forced John Ross to remove him as editor. Ross believed that as long as the law of the land supported their position, the Cherokee could maintain their ancestral lands. Ross was an enigma. He was only one-eighth Cherokee (technically his removal was illegal even by the federal standards as the law called for removal of any person who was at least one fourth Cherokee.)  He was the voice of the majority of the Cherokee from the time he was elected principal chief in 1828 until his death in 1866 in the Oklahoma Territory, yet Ross refused to speak Cherokee in the council hall. He felt his command of the language was too weak. He was one of the first Cherokees to advocate the sale of Indian land when he supported the sale of a piece of property to the Morovian Missionaries for a school. When Jackson sought the Cherokee land after the Creek War, Ross was the principal negotiator sent to Washington to fight the encroachment. When he returned, after having to cede only a small portion of the land, the Council drew what they believed the final battle lines. They passed a law making it treason, punishable by death, to sell or cede Cherokee land. Until 1835, Ross used the weapons he understood best to protect his tribal heritage; diplomacy and legal maneuvers.

 

John Ross appointed his brother in law, Charles Hicks' editor but the paper closed down due to lack of funds in May 1843. Fearing the militia, Ross tried to remove the printing press to a safer location in Tennessee. By this point the split between the two parties had reached a point that Stand Watie, Elias’ brother reported Ross’ intentions and actually joined the Georgia soldiers in destroying the type and burning the building.

 
Major Ridge
Major Ridge's protrait at Chieftains Museum

Major Ridge, leader of the treaty party, was another important character in this drama. His home, known as the Chieftains Museum, is well worth a visit to help understand this complex and intelligent man.In the past he had stood up for what he believed regardless of the consequences. Prior to the Creek War, he faced down another chief who called for war with the whites. He and two other chiefs, James Vann and Charles Hicks, executed an older chief, Doublehead, for selling tribal land to the whites. He organized the Cherokee warriors to fight with Jackson against the Creeks. After the war, Ridge returned to devote himself to politics and his family businesses, which included farmland, orchards and a store. Like John Ross, Ridge was a wealthy man. He was a Speaker of the Council and became an advisor to John Ross when he was elected chief. In December of 1835, Ridge, his son, John, Elias Boudinot, Stand Watie and twenty other men gather at Elias’ home in New Echota. They signed the Treat of New Echota. The following day about 200 members of the Treaty Party ratified the treaty. Jackson had what he needed to “legally” remove the Cherokee. The signers received money and choice land in Oklahoma but did Ridge and his followers sign the infamous treaty for the money or in the hope of a future for the Cherokees? At least in Ridge’s case, the statement he made after signing makes his motives clear.  He laid down the pen and stated, “ I have just signed my death warrant.”

 

 

Ross hurriedly gathered 16,000 signatures of Cherokees stating the treaty was not the will of the Cherokee People. Jackson pushed the treaty through the Senate with just a one-vote margin. Within three years New Echota was a ghost town. Some of its residents left voluntarily to go out west. Ridge, John, Elias and Stand Watie all moved to the new homeland but within six months, three of the four principals of the treaty lay dead. Brutally killed by some of the tribal leaders who saw their actions as treason. Of the four only Stand Waite escaped and lived to fight again. Ironically, he later became the highest-ranking Indian officer in the Confederate Army, Brigadier General. He was the last confederate officer to surrender, holding out for two months after Lee surrendered.

 

About 13,000 or so Cherokee were left when the soldiers arrived to herd them to the forts prior to the march, Over 4,000 men women and children died before the Cherokee reached their barren new home. A few hundred managed to evade the Georgia Militia and remained hiding in the woods. These few comprise the ancestors of the Eastern Band of Cherokees living in North Carolina today.

 
Chieftain Museum 
Chieftains Museum in Rome Georgia

Beneath the red clay of New Echota, the remains of the Cherokee printing type lay buried like their dreams of peaceful coexistence or perhaps a state of Cherokee. A few white people tried to occupy the houses that remained but perhaps they felt uneasy. Many felt spirits lurked in this place of death.  Most of the buildings at New Echota slowly crumbled into ruins. For over a century, the capital city slowly surrendered to the tangles briers and underbrush that encroached on the abandoned site. It was the abode of birds, deer and other forest creatures.

 

In 1954, archeologists, working with the Georgia Historic Commission and the National Park Service began to excavate the site. When one excavator found a tiny piece of lead, the workers made a circle around the spot and within two days, 1700 pieces of type had been unearthed. 800 of the pieces could be identified as Cherokee symbols. The rest was too badly damaged to be decipherable.

 

When the State of Georgia opened the site as a park in 1962, Samuel Worcester’s house was the only original building left intact. A tavern once owned by James Vann was moved to the site. The stare reconstructed a replica of the Phoenix office complete with a similar press. About 600 pieces of the original type are displayed there and a copy of the first issue of the Phoenix. The Supreme Court, the council building and many dwellings have also been recreated.  The only thing that can never be returned to the site is the hope of a nation before their neighbors sent them on the  “Nunna daul Tsuny”, “The Trail Where They Cried.”

 

 

 

 For more Info:

http://gastateparks.org/NewEchota/

http://gastateparks.org/ChiefVannHouse

http://chieftainsmuseum.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 



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