Overview of Native & White Land Conflicts

 

 

 

LAND Conflicts:

General Introduction

The question of land is central to the history of Indian and white relations. As whites came to dominate from ocean to ocean, the Indian domain dwindled—from all the Americas to a mere fraction.

North American history is just as much the story of a displacement of a people as it is that of European expansion, although the Indian part of the story usually receives only marginal emphasis in historical accounts.

There are many different ways to depict Indian land cessions—by general geographic regions; by particular tribes; by historical periods or incidents; or in terms of varying aspects of white expansion, such as territorial acquisitions, the creation of states, or the development of roads, forts, and settlements.

Much of the story of the white appropriation of Indian lands is contained within the previous section on Indian wars, because white encroachment was a root cause of strife and, by the same token, warfare served as a primary means for whites to achieve Indian removal.

This lecture will present a series of other overviews on the matter of Indian displacement from their ancestral lands.

In viewing the subject from any or all perspectives, it should be kept in mind that, for the Indians, land cessions were much more than just the loss of real estate.

Indians did not see land as a source of profit as many European individuals and business concerns did, but rather as the direct source of life.

The vast majority of native peoples had no concept of private ownership of land. Lands and the right to use them were held by entire communities or extended kin groups.

Even in certain agricultural or fishing societies where particular fields or fishing stations were assigned to individuals, the entire community shared the produce or catch.

And exclusive rights to specific territories were only for the use of lands, not for the nonuse or destruction of property as is inherent in the European notion of private ownership.

Likewise, in most Indian societies, no one individual carried the authority to sign away tribal holdings.

An exception to the general pattern were the Yuroks of California who individually owned land, measured wealth by it, and were able to sell it.

Yet, for the Yuroks as for all Native North Americans, in addition to being a source of life, land also represented a way of life.

Unlike Europeans who so often shaped their environment to fit their life-styles, building towns and cities, Indians generally adapted to the environment as they found it.

And land was considered in Indian religions very much alive itself, scared and filled with ghosts and animistic spirits.

Therefore, by forcing Indians to cede their lands, whites not only displaced peoples, but also dispossessed cultures and disrupted faiths.

EUROPEAN DISEASES

As devastating as warfare and forced removals were to Indian peoples, another result of contact with whites proved to be even more debilitating, demoralizing, and deadly—the spread of European diseases.

It is estimated that, whereas many tribal populations declined by more than 10 percent from Indian-white conflicts, the average tribal loss of life from infectious diseases was 25-50 percent. For some tribes, these diseases meant near extinction. The Mandans of the upper Missouri, for example, are said to have declined from 1,600 to 131 during the smallpox epidemic of 1837.

Of all the diseases carried from Europe, smallpox was the principal destroyer of native peoples; it was especially deadly because it would return to the same populations in epidemic proportions time and again. From 1837 to 1870, at least four different epidemics struck the Plains tribes.

Although a vaccination was invented at the beginning of the 19th century, there were few doctors to vaccinate Indians and the Indians themselves resisted the process, depending rather on their shamans.

But there were other killers besides smallpox against which the Indians having lived in continental isolation, had no resistance—measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus, influenza, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chicken pox, and venereal infections—all contributing to the rapid rate of depopulation and cultural dispossession.

It is of course impossible to thoroughly and accurately chart the spread of such diseases.

They occurred among all the tribes, keeping pace with or even preceding white expansion, as nomadic Indians or Indian traders carried them to tribes who had not yet come into contact with Europeans.

It has even been theorized that the great Temple Mound Culture of the Mississippi Valley and Southeast declined from a pandemic that started with the contact of a few Indians with the earliest European explorers of the late 15th or early 16th century.

Nonetheless, specific historical outbreaks and epidemics are documented. The accompanying map shows some of the more devastating ones.

The extent of the tragedy is staggering. The subject of infectious European diseases pervades every aspect of Indian studies.

Disease was a principal disruptor of Indian culture, with shattering impact even on Indian faith and religion.

The debilitating effect of these diseases also helped the whites win many of the Indian wars.

Moreover, in some instances disease was even used as a weapon by whites who purposely passed out smallpox-infested blankets to the Indians. (See "Pontiac’s Rebellion." )

For that matter, disease might be called another battleground for the Indians where they were forced to make an impossible stand. As for land cessions, disease through depopulation played a large part in the ultimate displacement of tribes. And disease is still a problem for Indians today, who have higher illness and mortality rates than the general populations.

The words of Four Bears, a Mandan chief who at the time was dying from smallpox, help make the subject more human, rather than one of abstract demography and statics:

"Four Bears never saw a white man hungry, but what he gave him to eat . . .and how have they repaid it! . . . I do not fear death . . . but to die with my face rotten, that even the wolves will shrink . . . at seeing me, and say to themselves, that is Four Bears, the

For every European colonial power in North America, regardless of varying self-imposed stipulations and limitations, the concept of land discovery implied that of land title.

And reinforcing the right of discovery was that of conquest. In fact, other than in the case of those Europeans of conscience who considered the Indians to have inherent rights, concessions to Indian wants and needs resulted from either a profit motive for trade, a defensive posture on the face of Indian military superiority, or relations with competing colonials.

The sovereignty of Indian tribes was conveniently applied by Europeans to establish the credibility of their negotiated rights to previously held tribal tracts of land. Yet, in relations with the Indians, the Europeans at best treated tribal sovereignty as limited sovereignty—an often-used contradiction with an implicit notion of colonial self-interest. And the treaty-making process granting rights to Indians was usually one of forced concession or calculated deception on the part of whites for ulterior motives.

Of course, colonialism in North America, and the resulting Indian displacement and dispossession, was the natural outgrowth of an age-old process in Europe, Asia, and Africa—as well as among the Indians themselves—of a stronger people pushing aside a weaker one while expanding territorially. And, with no official controls whatsoever, treatment of the Indians might have been worse, as was often the case on the edge of the frontier. Yet the general pattern of European disregard for Indians rights—with exceptions usually for self-serving reasons—occurred in spite of nominally espoused Christian tenets and the supposed enlightenment of the Renaissance. It seems that Aristotle’s doctrine of natural slavery—a classical rationalization for racial dominance and prejudice—had a greater hold on behavior. And because of European exploitation patterns, warfare between Indian and white became inevitable.

SPAIN

It is ironic that, of all the colonials, the Spanish first confronted the issue of aboriginal rights and set upon the most detailed regulatory guidelines, with the Crown taking much of the initiative rather than private businesses, but arguably abused the Indians the most. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI divided the world outside Europe between Spain and Portugal, which supposedly gave Spain all of the Western Hemisphere except Brazil, and placed priority on the conversion of the native inhabitants to Catholicism and Spanish civilization. The means of carrying out this papal commission turned out to be the brute force of conquest cushioned only by the requerimiento, a royal decree read by conquistadors to tribes informing them of their duty to the Pope and the Crown, and their right to freedom if they submitted, along with the threat of war and enslavement if they did not. To achieve anything resembling freedom, however, the Indians also had to prove themselves "civilized" in terms of religion, language, shelter, and dress. In 1512, Pope Julius II issued a doctrine that the Indians were after all descendants from Adam and Eve. Yet until Christianized and Hispanicized, they were considered inferior and wayward descendants—at best, pagan savages.

Because of reports by missionaries and theoreticians such as Bartolome de las Casas, Antonio de Montesinos, and Francisco de Vitoria of widespread abuses of the requerimiento (even if Indians managed to work out a translation of the decree and reacted peacefully, they were still often brutalized and taken as slaves for personal use or profit) and reports of the failure of forced acculturation, the Pope and the Crown further structured Indian policy. In 1512, the Laws of Burgos established the encomienda system, which required male Indians to work nine months out of each year in return for entry into Spanish society. The policy pleased, the clerical element of Spanish Christian society, who believed it would accomplish the desired Indian conversion and native cultural obliteration; it also pleased the lay, or encomendero, element—the conquistadors and officials—who would obtain labor for their various New World undertakings, such as mining, ranching, farming, or public works. In exchange, the encomendero would pay the Crown a head tax on each Indian, as well as finance the indoctrination. The Indians who achieved the so-called civilized status were known as indios capaces.

With continued criticism from missionaries—who claimed that, since the provisions for Hispanicization and training in the encomienda were being ignored, the program amounted to legalized enslavement—the Church and Crown shaped a new system. The repartimiento, official policy by the beginning of the 17th century, imposed on tribal populations an annual levy for labor and produce—more legal enslavement. In the Spanish colonies, in addition to disease and military aggression, forced labor was another debilitator and killer of Indian peoples.

Yet, since the Indians were a resource to be exploited as well as souls to be converted, they were not driven from their territories—although at times they were forced from particular sites. Spanish claims to their lands allowed for their presence. All three agencies of expansion—the Franciscan, Jesuit, and Dominican missions; the presido military posts; and the civilian settlements of farmers, stock raisers, miners traders, and trappers—had use for them.

With legal codes favoring colonial development at the expense of Indians, yet with a place for Indians in their society and among their settlements, Spain extended its territories throughout much of the Americas. After having developed and exploited Indians lands in the Caribbean, and Middle and South America during much of the 16th century—the colony of New Spain was founded in 1521 after the conquest of the Aztecs—Spain spread its domain northward, eventually holding, at one time or another, Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Valley, the Southwest, and California.

In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine in Florida, the first permanent European settlement in North America. In 1763, with the reorganization of colonial territories after the French and Indians Wars, Spain ceded its Florida and Gulf Coast holdings to England, but it regained them in 1783 after the American Revolution. Florida became part of the United States in 1819. For a number of years during this period, Spain held the vast trans-Mississippi province of Louisiana—ceded by France in 1762 -- but without significant economic development of Indian lands. In 1800, the Louisiana Territory went back to France; then in 1803, with the Louisiana Purchase, it went to the Untied States.

 

In the Southwest in 1598, Juan de Onate founded the settlement of San Juan de Yunque (now San Juan Pueblo) in the Rio Grande country of what is now New Mexico. By the 1700s, the Spanish were also developing parts of Texas—San Antonio was founded in 1718 -- as well as the administrative district of Pimera Alta, the northern district of which later became Arizona. Then, by the mid-18th century, Spain was establishing missions, presidos, and rancherias in Baja California. As for Alta California, Gaspar de Portola and Junipero Serra founded San Diego in 1769, and Juan Bautista de Anza founded San Francisco in 1776, with other centers of colonization developing between them. With Mexican Independence in 1821, these various western territories became part of Mexico. In 1848, after the Mexican War, between Mexico and the United States over the American annexation of Texas, most of the region was ceded to the United States. Yet it wasn’t until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 -- the American acquisition of additional lands in New Mexico, Arizona, and California—that all the Indian peoples knew once and for all under whose imposed dominion they fell. (For further discussion of the absorption of Spanish lands by the United States, see "The Growth of the United States and Indian Land Cessions." For Spanish-Indian relations, see "The Pueblo Rebellion and Other Rebellions Against the Spanish." )

 

FRANCE

 

French use of Indian lands was relatively nondisruptive in comparison to that of the other colonial powers. Various factors account for this pattern of development. First, New France’s economy revolved around the fur trade, not agriculture or mining. As such, most exploitation of land and resources involved Indian hunting grounds at a time when the hunting range was plentiful. Competition for choice village or agricultural sites, other than along the St. Lawrence Valley and the lower Mississippi Valley, was rare. And for the French, successful commerce depended on friendly relations with the Indians, who acted as hunters—either independently or in direct French employ—or as guides or as middle-men among other tribes. French traders and trappers, venturing into the wilderness and coming in close contact with Indians of many tribes, adopted a life-style compatible with that of the natives.

 

Perhaps even more significant than the fur trade, the slow rate of spillover from Europe and the subsequently low French colonial population contributed to the relative lack of Indian dispossession and cultural displacement by the French. Contrary to what was the case on other European colonies, settlements did not rapidly spring up around the trading and military posts. Rather, in French-held territory, the wilderness remained intact.

 

Yet, these two factors alone—the fur trade and low population—do not entirely explain French relations with the Indians. (In Russian-held territory, a small number of traders practiced methods of virtual enslavement and had a disproportionate impact on the native population, all for the same goal—the acquisition of furs.) Scholars have looked for a further explanation in French culture and character. Catholicism was not a determining factor in and of itself, since French and Spanish behavior toward the Indians varied significantly. Moreover much of the French acceptance of the Indian way of life arose in spite of missionaries who advocated the transformation of Indian culture, as did many officials. And there were other exceptions to the generally permissive French attitudes toward the Indians. For example, the French readily made war on the Iroquois for their own ends, and they brazenly displaced the Natchez. French traders also often resorted to coercion, trickery, and liquor for better profits. The French even relocated certain Indian peoples, bullied some to fight in their armies, and punished or enslaved others who proved rebellious.

 

Yet basic racial acceptance of Indians within French character is proven by the common practice—even encouraged as official policy for purposes of acculturation—of intermarriage and miscegenation. The French also had the acumen to recognize the wide differences in culture among different tribes as well as the openmindedness to participate in Indian rituals. They also perceived the special mystical relationship Indians had with their lands and generally made a point in seeking tribal approval of land use. Whatever the underlying cause or causes , perhaps the best evidence for the French acceptance of Indians is their acceptance by Indians. Through the fur trade many Indians came to regard the French as brothers in a shared enterprise. Relatively few tribes made war on the French. In the French and Indian Wars, the large majority sided with them against the English. When the French were finally defeated in 1763, many of the tribes of the Old Northwest showed their displeasure by rebelling under Pontaic against their new landlords. (See "INDIAN WARS." )

 

Until that time, since the founding of trading settlements in Acadia and Quebec in the first part of the 17th century, France had come to hold claim to Indian lands along the St. Lawrence Valley, the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, the upper Mississippi Valley, the upper Missouri Valley, and, by the 18th century, along the lower Mississippi as well. For a brief period after 1763, from 1800 to 1803, France again held land in North America, with the retrocession from Spain of the region stretching from the Mississippi to the Rockies, known as the Louisiana Territory. But Napoleon chose not to develop it but to sell it to the United States for $15 million. As usual, the Indians had no say in the transaction. (For further discussion of the French pattern of land claims, see "The Fur Trade" and the sections on the growth of the Untied States and Canada. For French-Indian relations see "INDIAN WARS." )

 

ENGLAND

 

English colonials were land-hungry. They came to North America primarily as families and farmers, and they came to stake a claim and stay. The overflow from the British Isles was furious. Once colonies were established, boatload after boatload of hopeful settlers arrived in the busy harbors. They came for other purposes, too, and, as in the French-claimed territories, much expansion resulted from pioneering inroads of fur traders. But it was the English drive toward privately held land that pushed most Indians—those, that is that survived European diseases, warfare, and in some instances enslavement—further and further back from the Atlantic seaboard, across the Appalachian Mountains and, eventually, after American Independence, across the Mississippi Valley as well.

 

In discussing British use of Indian lands, it is necessary to refer to three levels of policy and activity—the national, colonial, and local. Since the Crown left Indian policy to the various colonial governments (until 1755 and the creation of two departments or superintendences for the centralization of Indian affairs), one colony’s approach to Indians varied from another’s. And since settlers on the edge of the frontier often ignored regulations no matter at what level they came from, local practice often varied from official policy. Moreover, as is the case with all the colonial powers, it is difficult to analyze and make generalizations about a particular national character with regard to Indian relations. Farmers, traders, soldiers, officials, missionaries, and other elements of the colonial white population had different concerns and ambitions. And on all levels of activity and in all elements of society, Indian policy was not static but evolving with changing events. Yet, as a rule, the English throughout their tenure in North America showed only minimal respect for the Indian way of life and right to occupancy of ancestral lands.

 

Patterns of British land use can be analyzed in terms of four geographical areas—New England, the central colonies, and southern colonies, as well as the wilderness areas of all three plus Canada. Of all, Pennsylvania under the Quakers, after England had claimed the central colonies from the Dutch by right of conquest, had the most enlightened policy and saw the least warfare. In 1682, William Penn signed a treaty with Delaware tribal leaders acknowledging Indian title to land, and establishing strict and fair procedures for its purchase. With time, however, settlers managed to evade regulations—through leases of Indian lands, for example, or a combination of outright encroachment and official fraud.

 

In Virginia, tobacco was the major commodity and determinant. Because of the ever-increasing need for more farmland in a growing market, Indian lands were in perpetual demand. After early years of negotiated sales, uprisings among the Powhatans resulting from white encroachments served as an excuse to confiscate additional Indian lands. In the less settled Carolinas and Georgia, two main kinds of trade—in furs and in slaves—shaped exploitation patterns. Barbaric and abusive practices such as forced labor and kidnapping led to Indian uprisings among the Yamasees and Tuscaroras. In the South, cotton and sugar cane also became important colonial crops.

 

New England also saw Indian rebellions because of the pressures of an expanding white population—in particular, the Pequot War and King Philip’s War. Charters of land often ignored Indian rights altogether. When Indians were allowed to negotiate the sale of lands, they were often purposefully misled as to the true nature of the transaction. The entire concept of land ownership was alien to the Indians, who were allowed to believe they were selling the right to use land while keeping their own right of usage. And unlike the Quakers in Pennsylvania, who were more accepting of Indian ways, the paternalistic Puritans considered themselves to have divine justification in their jurisdiction over Indians.

 

As for the wilderness areas under British claim, variations in exploitation patterns depended on types of development. In the South, as has been mentioned, small, independent fur traders took advantage of friendly tribes. In the Hudson Bay region of the far north, however, the Hudson’s Bay Company, with its monopoly, maintained fair trading practices. In New York as well, British traders who inherited their relationship with the Iroquois from the Dutch laid the foundation for a long-term political alliance between the Crown and the Iroquois League. And Iroquois lands remained inviolate until after the American Revolution.

 

It was one of these traders, William Johnson, close friend of the Mohawks, whose advice at the Albany Congress in 1754 led the following year to the establishment of a centralized Indian program with northern and southern departments. (Johnson became the northern superintendent, and Edmond Atkin, the southern.) After England gained control of France’s claim in North America, a new Indian land policy was brought into effect. The Proclamation of 1763, which established boundaries for the colonies, also created a dividing line between white and Indian lands, with the intention of permanently separating the two populations. A pattern emerged, however, that when the Indians crossed the boundary back onto ancestral lands, they were expelled by military force to their "Indian Country"; but when whites violated the boundary to settle new lands, they were allowed to do so. Both British concepts—a centralized Indian office and a separate "Indian Country"—became a part of American policy after Independence. Ironically, most Indian tribes supported the British, their former enemies, against the rebels in the American Revolution; to the Indians, the rebels represented the encroaching settlers. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 at the end of the war gave no consideration whatsoever to the Indians as allies of landholders. (For more on England’s land claim and policy, see "The Growth of the United States and Indian Land Cessions," as well as "INDIAN WARS.")

 

HOLLAND AND SWEDEN

 

Dutch Indian policy was based on considerations of expediency needed to accomplish desired ends, which evolved from solely the fur trade to eventually agriculture as well. In order to establish to other European nations the credibility of their land claims, the Dutch recognized tribes as sovereign, with prior rights to land, and codified a legal process for purchase. To maintain the lucrative fur trade, they were responsive to Indian demands and practiced a policy of diplomacy and conciliation. Yet, as tribal lands became more important than trade, the Dutch readily resorted to cajolery and force to obtain new territory.

 

During the existence of New Netherland, which came to include territory stretching from the Hudson and Delaware river mouths westward over much of present-day Pennsylvania and New York, the thrust of Dutch policy evolved as follows: In the years of the United New Netherland Company charter from 1614 to 1617, the period of development by independent traders from 1617 to 1624, and the early years of the Dutch West Indian Company charter (although the charter was granted in 1621, commercial activity didn’t begin until 1624, and lasted until 1664), there occurred little Indian displacement. The Dutch negotiated with the Indians for small tracts of land for isolated trading posts and village sites, and not large wilderness tracts. Yet, beginning in the 1630s, with the depletion of fur resources in costal areas and the threat of British expansion, the Dutch embarked on a course of agricultural colonization that required more Indians lands. The patroon system was devised to expedite development. Like seigniors in New France and proprietors in the British colonies, patroons were colonial landlords who collected rent from tenant farmers. In return for purchasing available tracts of land from the Indians and settling at least 50 Europeans on each, patroons received deeded title from the Dutch West India Company. Among the most important land grants were Swaanendael, and Rensselaerwyck on the upper Hudson. During this period, too, the Dutch West India Company lost its trade monopoly. Independent swanneken (traders), whose activity on the frontier was more difficult to regulate, began taking greater advantage of and exerting greater pressures on Indian peoples. With increased friction on both accounts and the overtly racist William Kieft becoming governor-general in 1639, warfare resulted, with repeated outbreaks until England wrested control of New Netherland from the Dutch in 1664. (See "Rebellions Against the Dutch." )

 

In one area perhaps the Dutch were more enlightened than their colonial counterparts. Although the Dutch considered themselves superior to Indians and discouraged intermarriage, they were still liberal enough in their views to accept Indian culture in proximity to their own without an official policy of acculturation. The Dutch Reformed Church established a certain number of missions to convert Indians, but nowhere on the scale as that found in Spanish, French, or British territory.

 

During the Dutch presence in North America, Sweden, through the New Sweden Company, laid claim in 1638 to part of the original Dutch claim along Delaware Bay. Because of insufficient manpower in the area, the Dutch were unable to evict them. The Swedes established friendly relations with Delaware Indians for the purposes of trade, offering better prices than either the Dutch or English. There was also some missionary activity within their claim by Lutherans. Finally, in 1655, with a stepped-up military effort, the Dutch ousted them and reclaimed the territory which, nine years later, became British.

 

RUSSIA

 

Russia had few regulations governing the behavior of its nationals toward the native population within its North American claim along the North Pacific Coast, established in the 1740s. Other than the 10 percent royal tribute, known as the yasak, the promyshlenniki—fur traders—were left to shape their own policy, eventually imposing a certain number of restrictions on themselves and arguing in favor of Russian Orthodox missionary activity in order to obtain a royal-backed monopoly, which was granted by the czar in 1799. As a result, throughout Russia’s tenure in North America, a small number of Russians through particularly barbaric methods, had an extreme impact on many peoples they came into contact with, especially the Aleuts of Alaska and the Pomos of California. One tribe successfully resisted them and stymied even further expansion and exploitation—the Tlingits.

 

The Russians typically sailed to a native village, used force or the threat of force to take women and children hostages, and demanded labor and furs from the men. While the men hunted, the women were used as concubines. Every able member of the village was forced to help in the preparation of hides—men, women, and children. If the promyshlenniki were displeased, they carried out their threats with executions and torture. By the 1760s, when a system of ad hoc yearly companies was structured to develop the trade, some rules were established, with the Aleuts working nominally for shares that were rarely granted. Starting in 1784, permanent year-round settlements were founded, the first at Three Saints on Kodiak Island, from where ongoing relations with particular groups of the native population could be overseen. By the 1790s, and the merger of the many Russian fur companies into one—the United American Fur Company, the name of which, with the royal charter, became the Russian American Company—more rules were applied. Nevertheless, native inhabitants continued to be exploited through exacting discipline and outright cheating. From 1812 to 1841, the Russians maintained Fort Ross in Bodega Bay of California. With the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1864, Russian tenure in North America came to an end. The Aleuts, Eskimos, and other tribes had new landlords. (See also "The Aleuts, Tlinglit, and Pomo Resistance against the Russians." )

 

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THE GROWTH OF THE UNITED STATES AND INDIAN LAND CESSIONS

 

United States territorial expansion meant Indian territorial reduction. Every white territorial thrust had its own set of consequences among differing elements of the native population, changing lives and history, the end result being the diminishing of the vast aboriginal land base to a present-day size of a mere 52 million acres, less than the state of Minnesota. As a result, the story of Indian land cessions within what has evolved into the continental United States is immense and intricate, each region of the country, each tribe, and each period of history having its own chronicle.

 

In order to make the complex subject of United States growth and the resulting tribal displacement manageable, this section will summarize the material, in conjunction with a series of maps, from several points of view -- a summary of the general forces at play and recurring patterns of displacement; the acquisition of territories by the federal government and formation of states along with white settlement patterns; a review of the important dates and historical periods affecting Indians and tribal locations; and a survey of regional displacement patterns. The list of tribes showing historical and contemporary tribal locations also presents a view of Indian displacement and migrations. Most tribes ended up far from their original homes. (See also other parts of this section for different aspects of Indian land cessions.)

 

The typical cycle of Indian displacement can be summarized as follows: 1) The first period was one of acceptance, peace making, and treaty making, even mutual aid and trade, between the first white settlers in a region and the local Indians. Often the Indians willingly ceded land in exchange for goods or the promise of annuities. Boundary lines between Indians and whites were assumed by the limits of white settlement or determined by natural boundaries, with degrees of separation depending primarily on trade activity. Peace generally lasted several years; 2) after a period of time, white settlers from a rapidly expanding, land-hungry population trespassed into Indian country and appropriated territory. The violation of earlier agreements led to reprisals by the Indians against the settlers, which in turn fostered a great deal of publicity and fear mongering in the white centers of political power, about the Indian presence on the frontier; 3) white leaders called up a military action, usually involving both regulars and voluntary militia, against the Indians. The invading troops often built wilderness forts, which in turn attracted more settlers; 4) the Indians, overwhelmed by superior numbers and arms, with many of their villages and crops destroyed, sued for peace and were forced to negotiate new territorial cessions and withdraw further into the wilderness.

 

This compendium is of course an oversimplification and does not address various other factors involved in Indians land cessions besides the pressures of the expanding white frontier. It does not take into account, for example, the role of white economic interests, with their desire for cheap land and resources, from the early colonial chartered joint-stock companies that developed the fur trade and agriculture to later corporate enterprises, such as the railroads, lumber and mining concerns, and cattle barons. Many of these interests received huge land grants from respective governments that gave no consideration to Indian rights. Nor does the summary take into account the competition over land among various white factions, with the Indians often considered incidental players, as in the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Nor does it address the question of Manifest Destiny and the calculated governmental policy of Indian removal.

 

There are other concepts to keep in mind—five general patterns of Indian displacement—when studying Indian land cessions and migrating: 1) drift, in which tribes migrated away from white settlements by choice, or sometimes toward them; 2) banishment, in which tribes were prevented from entering certain areas; 3) relocation, in which tribes were forcibly moved to a new region; 4) concentration, in which tribes were forced to live in a smaller part of their existing territory; and 5) extinction, in which tribes were either obliterated through disease and warfare, or assimilated within the white population.

 

The event normally cited as marking the beginning of American history is the voyage of Christopher Columbus, although Columbus did not actually land in North America and although the United States did not form for another three centuries. In any case, his journey set off a period of intense European exploration along the eastern coastline of North America; however, other than perhaps the spread of some European diseases and a certain amount of slave raiding, this had minimal impact on native peoples north of Mexico and the Caribbean.

 

Most of the early attempts at settlement within the area now comprising the continental United States were failures, such as French Huguenot colonies in South Carolina and Florida, headed by Jean Ribault and Rene de Laudonniere, during the years 1562 to 1565, and British colonies on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, backed by Walter Raleigh, from 1585 to 1590. The first permanent European settlement in North America was St. Augustine in Florida, founded by the Spanish under Pedro Menenedez de Aviles in 1565, who drove away the French Huguenots. Then, in 1607 (two years after the French established the permanent settlement of Port Royal in what is now Canada), the English founded their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, under John Smith, and in 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, in the Southwest, the Spanish founded Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1609. And the Dutch gained a foothold in North America along the Hudson River during the 1620s—Fort Orange (Albany) and New Amsterdam (Manhattan).

 

These permanent settlements effected the first Indian land cessions, through early trade, territorial purchases and agreements, disease, and eventual warfare: the Powhatan Wars of 1622 and 1644 in Virginia, the Pequot War of 1636-37 and the King Philip’s War of 1675-76 in New England; the Wappinger and Delaware Uprisings against the Dutch from 1642 to 1664 in New Netherland; and the Pueblo Rebellion against the Spanish in New Mexico in 1680. (See "INDIAN WARS." )

 

Most Indian displacement during the 17th century occurred at the hands of the British and the Dutch, whose patterns of colonization necessitated extensive cultivable homesteads and whose presence dramatically reduced the number of Algonquian-speaking peoples along the eastern seaboard. In the 18th century, the French expanded their sphere of activity into the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, appropriating some Indian lands, such as that of the Natchez; the Spanish spread out from the Rio Grande into Texas, Arizona, and California, where they established many missions and brought about the phenomenon of Mission Indians, dispossessed of land and culture; and the Russians gained dominance over and had great impact on the Aleuts of Alaska. Yet, although the Indians who came into contact with the traders, missionaries, and settlers of France, Spain, and Russia suffered a certain degree of cultural attrition, with European diseases and forced labor exacting a toll, trans-Appalachian tribal locations remained fairly constant during this period. A greater impact on the western Indian territorial patterns during the 17th century was the advent of the horse, which brought many formerly sedentary peoples from other regions onto the Great Plains. (See "The Indian and the Horse." )

 

The beginning of the new order for Native Americans, as well as the beginning of the end of the colonial period, came about in 1763, with the Treaty of Paris in which France ceded New France to England; Pontiac then led the tribes of the Great Lakes region in the rebellion against the English; and England issued a Royal Proclamation which established the Appalachian watershed as the dividing line between Indians and whites, prohibiting white settlement on Indians lands and the displacement of Indian peoples without tribal and Crown consent. During the next 10 years, a series of treaties and purchases further defined the Proclamation Line that came to stretch from Canada to Florida. The lasting consequence of the Proclamation of 1763, however, was not the preservation of Indian lands, because white settlers violated its provisions from the start, but rather the policy-making precedent of separate and segregated Indian lands.

 

After the American Revolution and the new Treaty of Paris of 1783, the Royal Proclamation of course was no longer in effect within the Untied States. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, formulated under the Articles of Confederation and defining a Northwest Territory in the region of the Great Lakes (the Old Northwest), echoed the same concept of Indian land rights but also, adversely, set up guidelines for political and economic development, thereby encouraging white settlement. It was during this entire period that many of the tribes of the region came to be conquered and displaced. The American Revolution saw the destruction of much of the Iroquois homeland as well as the migration of many Iroquois peoples to Canada. New York established reservations in the western part of the state from some of the Iroquois who remained. Then, after the Revolution, a series of wars for the Old Northwest occurred, starting with Little Turtle’s War of 1790-95 and, in the following century, Tecumseh’s Rebellion of 1809-11 and the Black Hawk War of 1832.

 

Even while the Old Northwest was being disrupted, the new nation was beginning to expand its domain into other Indian lands through various territorial acquisitions. In 1790, Spain signed the Nootka Convention, ceding territory in the Pacific Northwest to the United States and England. Then, with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States purchased a hugh tract of land west of the Mississippi, extending from New Orleans to Canada, and, with the ensuing Lewis and Clark Expedition, initiated a new era of western exploration. In 1816, after the War of 1812, the Red River of the North area of present-day Minnesota became part of the United States; the border between the United States and Canada was defined as the 49th parallel two years later. (To the east, the border between Oregon and Canada was finally resolved in 1846.) In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States, enlarging the American domain in the East to the Gulf of Mexico. Other territorial expansion in the 19th century included the Texas Annexation of 1845, which led to the Mexican War, leading in turn to the Mexican Cession of 1848. The policies of Manifest Destiny had taken the United States all the way to the Pacific. The Gadsden Purchase in 1853 of additional Spanish territory in the Southwest, plus the Alaska Purchase, of 1867, from Russia, filled out the United States to its present continental shape.

 

With each stage of growth, vast new reaches of territory, and the Indian peoples within them, came under United States dominion. In the process of admitting territories and states to the Union, Indians were considered incidental and were given no voice. White settlement previous to official American procurement of territories had varying degrees of impact on native populations at the local level. After official acquisition, however, the pace of change inevitably accelerated. Pioneers claimed the land; politicians instituted policies to remove the Indian obstacle from the land; merchants, bankers, speculators, and other business tycoons invested in it; and soldiers patrolled it.

 

Within this framework of the territorial acquisitions of an expanding nation, other factors and policies related to Indian displacement and led to the following key events and dates: A separate Indian Country west of the Mississippi was first defined in 1825, between the Red and Missouri rivers. The Indian Removal Act, signed into effect in 1830, called for the relocation of eastern Indians to the Indian Country or the Indian Territory, as it came to be called. The Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834 further defined the Indian Territory and the "Permanent Indian Frontier." During these and ensuing years, tribes of the Southeast, the Old Northwest, the Prairies, and the Plains were relocated to the Indian Territory, which was gradually reduced in size and evolved into the state of Oklahoma by 1907. The experience of the Cherokees, removed from their homeland in the Southeast, as well as that of others of the Five Civilized Tribes, has come to be known as the Trail of Tears. (See "The Indian Territory" and "The Trail of Tears." )

 

Midway through the century—starting with the California Gold Rush of 1848-49 and continuing with the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858-59 -- the settlement on Indian lands by whites dramatically increased. The 1850s also saw a series of hostilities in the Far West between Indians and whites, the signing of numerous treaties, and the creation of reservations. By the end of the decade, the Indians were virtually surrounded on the Great Plains by an expanding white population and a string of forts. The Civil War from 1861 to 1865 slowed down the repeated pattern of warfare, treaty making, and the creation of reservations, although the Homestead Act of 1862 opened up Indian lands in Kansas and Nebraska to white homesteaders, who were deeded plots of land after inhabiting them for five years.

 

After the Civil War, the pace of white development again picked up, leading to the most intense period of warfare on the Plains until Wounded Knee in 1890, as well as the most active period in the formation of reservations through allotment in 1887. The Railroad Enabling Act of 1866, and the subsequent completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, facilitated white travel westward. And the end of treaty making with Indian tribes as a federal policy in 1871 facilitated unilateral action against Indians on the part of officials. Another gold rush, to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, starting in 1874, precipitated another invasion of miners onto Indian lands. (See also "Wars for the West," "Indian Trails and White Inroads," and "United States Indian Policy and the Indian Condition." )

 

Yet forced land cessions for Indian peoples did not cease after the period of warfare and reservations. Under the federal allotment policy that began with the General Allotment Act of 1887 -- which broke up and allotted tribally held lands to individual Indians in small parcels, opening up the surplus to whites—and bolstered by the Curtis Act of 1898 and various inheritance laws, the Indian land base shrunk from about 150 million acres to 60 million acres. The Oklahoma Land Run in 1889, with settlers lining up for a race to the best property and with "sooners" already illegally having staked their claims, can be viewed as symbolic of the white hunger for land at the expense of Indian people.

 

Additional Indian displacement occurred during the 20th century, through the building of dams and other public works by the Army Corps of Engineers and private contractors, under the concept of eminent domain, as well as various methods of extortion—such as the invalidation of wills, the appropriation of land in exchange for social services, the declaration of landowners as incompetent, and the manipulation and intimidation of Indians, forcing sales. And some Indian lands and resources are still threatened.

 

***

 

INDIAN TRAILS AND WHITE INROADS

 

 

 

Indians were the first trailblazers in North America. Once trails were established, repeated use kept undergrowth at a minimum. Some paths were open to whoever happened to pass that way; others were sacred to and guarded by territorial bands or tribes. Knowledge of a people’s favored route was passed down from generation to generation.

 

White explorers, traders, and trappers in turn learned of these trodden paths, a man’s width in size, from helpful Indians or discovered them on their own. Various armies also used these trails and passes to interconnect their frontier outposts, broadening and smoothing them if necessary to accommodate artillery and supply trains. These military roads then often became the migratory wagon roads for settlers and miners. Once communities were established, these same frequently traveled routes became commercial roads for trade. And many of these commercial roads became the paved roads and highways of today, following the same logical contours of land instinctively engineered by Indians.

 

Of course, there were exceptions to this typical progression of Indian trails to modern roads, with one or several stages being skipped. In some parts of the continent, especially from the Great Lakes northward, Indians and the white traders traveled the rivers and lakes, leaving them only when necessary to haul their canoes along overland portage routes. Also, Indian hunters often left their favored trails to track game, and warriors left the trails to surprise an enemy.

 

Because of the insufficient historical documentation, as well as the great number of routes involved over the centuries, it is impossible to depict Indian trails on a continental scale. Yet, to a certain extent, because so many modern roads were originally important Indian paths of transportation, one can get a sense of the intricate network of historical Indian trails crisscrossing the continent by looking at current road maps. And one can assume with near certainty, when taking a walk in any part of North America, that native peoples walked the same path.

 

For Postcontact Indians, some early roads, passes, and waterways, whether formerly exact Indian routes or not, had special significance in that they carried the waves of white settlers onto tribal lands during the periods of European, American, and Canadian expansion, usually in a westward direction. The building of canals and railroads further contributed to white settlement and Indian displacement. The following are represented visually on the accompanying map.

 

 

 

CUMBERLAND GAP AND WILDERNESS ROAD: The Cumberland Gap in the Cumberland Mountains of the Appalachian chain, a natural passage carved by the erosive action of an earlier stream as well as a commonly used Indian trail, was mapped and named by Dr. Thomas Walker during his expedition out of Virginia in 1750. In 1775, the Transylvania Land Company hired Daniel Boone and 30 others to open the Wilderness Road, from Fort Chiswell in the Shenandoah Valley through the Cumberland Gap, as a route to the Ohio Valley. In 1792, after Kentucky became a state, the road was widened for travel by wagon.

 

 

 

BRADDOCK’S ROAD: In 1749 and 1750, Nemacolin, a Delaware Indian and Thomas Cresap, a Maryland frontiersman, cleared a trail between the Potomac and Monongahela rivers that came to be known as Nemacolin’s Path. In 1755, during the French and Indian Wars, the British General Edward Braddock expanded this trail to transport his troops from Fort Cumberland (Cumberland, Maryland) across the Allegheny Mountains to the French Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh).

 

 

 

FORBES ROAD: In 1758, during the French and Indian Wars, the British general John Forbes built another road north of Braddock’s Road, to advance on Fort Duquesne through the Alleghenies. A postwar extension joined the eastern end of the road with Philadelphia.

 

 

 

NATIONAL ROAD: Braddock’s Road westward from Cumberland, Maryland, became the first leg of the National (or Cumberland) Road, built in 1818, to Wheeling, West Virginia, the most ambitious road-building project in the United States to that point, with a surface of crushed stone. In 1825, an extension was undertaken to Vandalia, Illinois, eventually reaching St. Louis.

 

 

 

NATCHEZ TRACE: The Natchez Trace from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, was used successfully by the French, English, and Spanish in colonial times, and then by Americans after the Revolution. At first, Americans traveled only northward on it because, on the southward trip they could float their goods downriver by boat. With expansion, however, it came to be traveled both ways. In the War of 1812 and later Indian campaigns, Andrew Jackson used the Trace as a military road.

 

 

 

SANTA FE TRAIL: During the early 19th century, small trapping parties used the Santa Fe Trail—originally an Indian trail—between Independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but they were not permitted to trade in Spanish territory. It wasn’t until after Mexican Independence in 1821 and the deregulation of trade that the trail assumed its importance. William Becknell led a caravan over the route in 1822. In addition to the original northern wagon road, the southern cutoff known as the Cimarron came to be established. By 1850, a monthly stage line provided passenger and freight service along the northern division.

 

 

 

OLD SPANISH TRAIL: The Old Spanish Trail, used by the Spanish in the 18th century to travel from Santa Fe to Los Angles, regained its importance after William Wolfskill and George Yount led an expedition retracing its path in 1830 and 1831.

 

 

 

OREGON TRAIL: The Oregon Trail and its various offshoots—including the Central Overland, Mormon, and California trails—carried most white traffic westward during the period of accelerated settlement in the mid-1800s, as it had carried Indian traffic for numerous generations before. Mountain Men thoroughly explored this region in the years following the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-06. They established a route from Independence and Westport (both now part of Kansas City, Missouri) all the way to the Columbia River region in Oregon, crossing the Continental Divide through the 7,750-foot-high South Pass in the Rocky Mountains. In open prairie country, the abundant wagon trains of the ensuing years did not follow one roadbed as such, but spread out over a wide region, converging again for river crossings and mountain passes. The roughly 21,000-mile journey took, on the average, six months.

 

 

 

CENTRAL OVERLAND ROUTE: This southern alternate route of the Oregon Trail branched southward from its parent trail at the junction of the North Platte and South Platte rivers, then joined up with the Mormon Trail to Great Salt Lake, continuing west through Carson’s Pass in the Sierra Nevada Range to California.

 

 

 

MORMON TRAIL: In 1847, the Mormons reached their new settlement on the Great Salt Lake (now Salt Lake City, Utah) via a route from Illinois that came to be known as the Mormon Trail. For some stretches, the trail paralleled the Oregon Trail and also passed through the Rockies by the South Pass.

 

 

 

CALIFORNIA TRAIL: The California Trail, the gateway to California during the Gold Rush of 1848-49, branched off from the Oregon Trail at Soda Springs, followed the Humboldt River, crossed the Nevada Desert, and traversed the Sierra Nevada along the Donner Pass. The Donner Pass took its name from the leader of a party trapped there in blizzards of the winter of 1846.

 

 

 

BUTTERFIELD SOUTHERN ROUTE (or Southern Overland Trail): In 1857, John Butterfield and his American Express Company were awarded the contract for an overland mail route from St. Louis to Los Angeles and San Francisco, over what was also called the Southern Overland Trail, providing service until 1861, when stages began traveling the Central Overland Route.

 

 

 

PONY EXPRESS TRAIL: The Pony Express—founded in 1860 by the firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell—carried mail westward from the western limit of the telegraph in St. Joseph, Missouri, as far as Sacramento, California. A series of relay riders, who changed horses every 10-15 miles, could complete the approximately 2,000-mile trip in about eight days. The trail they followed paralleled part of the Oregon Trail and part of the Central Overland Route, using both South Pass and Carson’s Pass.

 

 

 

CHISHOLM TRAIL: In 1866, the part-Cherokee fur trader Jesse Chisholm drove a wagonload of buffalo hides, its wheels forming deep ruts in the prairie, from Texas northward through the Indian Territory to his trading post in Kansas. The resulting trail became a preferred route for cowboys who drove Texas longhorn cattle to railheads in Kansas, and it was used into the 1880s. Other cattle trails were the Goodnight-Loving Trail and the Western Cattle Trail west of the Chisholm, and the Shawnee Trail to the east.

 

 

 

BOZEMAN TRAIL: After having traveled to Montana’s gold fields in 1862, John Bozeman followed a direct route west of the Bighorn Mountains back to Colorado, rather than following more circuitous eastern or western routes. The army tried to maintain posts along the Bozeman after 1865 but, after a successful Indian uprising under the Sioux leader Red Cloud, abandoned both the forts and the trail.

 

 

 

ERIE CANAL: The Erie Canal, a man-made waterway connecting Lake Erie and the Hudson River, was completed in 1825. Henceforth, it facilitated economic development in the East throughout the 19th century. Subsequent canals were the Ohio and Erie, the Miami and Erie, and the Wabash and Erie, all connecting Lake Erie with various points on the Ohio River, as well as the Illinois and Michigan, connecting Lake Michigan with the Illinois River.

 

 

 

THE RAILROADS: Railways began to expand rapidly in the East after 1830. By 1850, they connected the Atlantic Coast with the Great Lakes; by 1853, with Chicago; and by 1856, with the west side of the Mississippi. In 1862 and 1864, two acts of Congress initiated the building of a transcontinental line. In 1869, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific met at Promontory Point, Utah, linking the coasts by rail. The 1880s saw another burst of railroad building. The Southern Pacific from San Francisco and Los Angeles reached New Orleans in 1883; and the Northern Pacific between Seattle and Minnesota opened in 1884. Also, during the 1880s, the gauge of track was standardized. With the establishment of railways, the steady stream of white settlers onto Indian lands became a flood.

 

***

 

THE INDIAN TERRITORY

 

 

 

Boundaries were the way of the whites, and the Indians had to learn to cope with them. It wasn’t easy, even for the law abiding. Because of the ever-expanding white population, the boundaries kept changing. Time and again, the whites violated treaties, and eastern Indians were pushed further westward.

 

In the 1820s, it was thought that the formation of an extensive Indian colonization zone in the wilderness area west of the Mississippi would stop, once and for all, the clash of cultures over land. The idea appealed to those on both sides of the Indian question: For the sympathetic, a permanent Indian homeland closed to white settlement would prevent further cruel uprooting; for the uncaring, it would open new lands to white settlement in the East and confine Indians to one area.

 

With the support of Congress, Secretary of War John Calhoun of the Monroe Administration delineated a new Indian Country in 1825, which by the 1830s and the Jackson Administration came to be called the Indian Territory. The Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834 redefined it and gave the federal government the right to quarantine Indians for the purpose of "civilizing" them. During this period, the Stokes Commission was created to work out disputes between the various tribes—immigrant and native—and military expeditions, such as the Dragoon Expedition, were sent in for pacification. At its largest size, in the years before 1854, the Indian Territory extended from the Red River to the Missouri, and from the state lines of Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa to the 100th meridian, at that time the United States’ western boundary.

 

The name Indian Territory is misleading. The zone never possessed an integrated territorial government but, rather, a collection of independent tribal governments. Nor did the tribes have a unified life-style, since they came from different regions. Local tribes of the eastern Great Plains, such as Pawnee, Missouri, Iowa, Omaha, and Oto, were located near tribes of the Old Northwest, such as Miami, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Shawnee, Sauk, and Fox. South of them were the Five Civilized tribes of the Southeast. (See "The Trail of Tears." ) Western Plains tribes, such as Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche, ranged near the territory, at times even coming into conflict with the immigrant tribes. Homogeneity and stability were further disrupted within the territory by the steady stream of white settlers passing through along the Santa Fe, Oregon, and Mormon trails, especially during the California Gold Rush starting in 1848.

 

Reduction of the supposedly inviolate Indian Territory began in the 1850s, as a result of pressure from railroad interests seeking transcontinental routes. The Indians in the northern portion, impoverished and disorganized, were persuaded by federal agents to sign away tribal rights. In 1854, by an act of Congress, the northern part of the Indian Territory became Kansas and Nebraska territories. And in 1862, the Homestead Act opened up Indian lands in the territories to white homesteaders, who were deeded 160-acre plots after inhabiting them for five years. Similar moves were made on the southern portion of the Indian Territory, which was also coveted by developers, but the bill was defeated.

 

Nevertheless, further shrinkage occurred in 1866 after the Civil War. Because of their involvement with the Confederacy, the Five Civilized Tribes were forced to accept the terms of Reconstruction, which gave the federal government the right to appropriate Indian lands and relocate tribes from Kansas (now a state) within the current Indian Territory.

 

Each modification of the Indian Territory and relocation of tribes was presented as final. Yet during the 1880s, the Indians had to endure even more change and displacement. This was the age of the Boomers—bands of white home seekers squatting on Indian reservations. Backing the Boomer cause for their own self-interest, railroads, banks, and other commercial developers lobbied Congress for the opening of Indian lands to settlement. Congress succumbed and, in 1887, passed the General Allotment Act (or the Dawes Severalty Act), which broke up certain tribal landholdings into tracts and allotted them to individual Indians who could then sell them to whites. By 1889, two million acres had been bought from the Indians, usually at ridiculously low prices, and thrown open to white settlement in the Land Run. In 1890, Oklahoma Territory was formed from these lands. Eight years later, the Curtis Act dissolved tribal governments, with the purpose of extending the effects of allotment policy to the Five Civilized Tribes.

 

The treaties of removal signed by the Five Civilized Tribes had promised perpetuity for the lands within the Indian Territory. The Choctaw treaty had stated: "No part of the land granted them shall ever be embraced in a territory (non-Indian) or state." In 1907, their remaining western lands became part of the state of Oklahoma, as did the rest of the now much reduced Indian Territory.

 

***

 

THE TRAIL OF TEARS

 

 

 

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson, the former Indian-fighter ("Sharp Knife" to the Indians), signed the Indian Removal Act to relocate eastern tribes to a designated Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River—a swift and final solution, it was thought, to the persistent tension between Indians and land-hungry whites. Thus began a decade of torment and tragedy for the tribes of the Southeast.

 

The Five Civilized Tribes, especially the Cherokees, had adapted to the ways of the whites, educating themselves, establishing an efficient culture-based economy, and finding a new, vital cultural mix of tradition and progress. Working within the American legal system, the Cherokees under John Ross resisted the Removal Acts in the courts, finally winning their case before the Supreme Court. However, their efforts were to no avail. Sharp Knife ignored the decision and ordered the army to evict the tribe anyway, along with the Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, from their ancestral lands.

 

The Choctows were the first to go. A nonrepresentative minority of leaders, bribed by governmental agents, signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, ceding all Choctaw land in Mississippi in exchange for western lands. Some Choctaws refused to depart and escaped into the backwoods of Mississippi and Louisiana. But from 1831 to 1834, most members of the tribe were herded westward, in groups of 500 to 1,000, by bluecoats. Conditions were miserable. Because of the inadequate federal funds for the removal, there were shortages of food, blankets, wagons, and horses. Roadside merchants charged exorbitant prices for supplies. Bandits preyed upon the weak and exhausted migrants. Disease ran rampant. At least a quarter of the Indians died before even reaching the Indian Territory. And many more died afterward, as they struggled to build new lives in the rugged terrain, with meager supplies and surrounded by hostile western Indians.

 

The other tribes also endured maltreatment, hardship, and death in similar stories of forced exodus. After a period of near civil war among the divided Creeks, with some bought out by the government and some resisting removal, tribal representatives signed a treaty giving individuals the choice of remaining in Alabama with land allotments or leaving for new lands in the West. White settlers and developers proceeded to take advantage of this new private Indian ownership of land, resulting in increased tensions. Finally, in 1836, the federal government and the government of Alabama used a unified Creek resistance under Eneah Emothla as justification for the tribe’s complete relocation. Approximately 3,500 of 15,000 men, women, and children died of disease and exposure during and shortly after the ensuing removal.

 

The Chickasaws, having already ceded lands in western Kentucky and Tennessee in 1818, were again pressured in the 1830s by federal and state governments to give up their remaining lands, now mostly in northern Mississippi and northwestern Arkansas. Since they managed to hold out for the best possible deal, and since their journey to the Indian Territory was shorter than that of the other tribes, they suffered less during their removal, begun in 1837. But disease, especially the dreaded cholera, and food poisoning ravaged the tribe after their arrival.

 

The Seminoles of Florida, southern Alabama, and southern Georgia resisted removal more than any of the other tribes. Their bravery and tenacity forced the United States into a protracted war from 1835 to 1842 in the jungles and swamps of Florida. (See " The Seminole Wars." ) Approximately 3,000 Seminoles were eventually relocated, some willingly and some by coercion, but for every two Indians transferred to the Indian Territory, one white soldier died. And today many Seminoles continue to live in Florida.

 

The most famous removal of all and the one that has come to symbolize all the others is that of the Cherokees. The fact that their great suffering followed a successful legal battle to save their lands makes their story all the more poignant. After the Cherokees’ futile attempt, the state of Georgia, with President Jackson’s blessing, ruthlessly began liquidating Indian lands for paltry prices and promises of land in the west. Cherokee homes and possessions were plundered by opportunistic whites. Spring Place Mission, the cultural and learning center of the Cherokees, was grabbed up in the lottery of Indian lands and converted into a tavern for whites. Using resistance to removal as an excuse, the Georgia militia moved upon the Cherokee capital of Echota and destroyed the printing press of the Cherokee Phoenix, the newspaper written in the Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah. The Georgia militia, with the help of the United States Army, also built stockades and rounded up Cherokee families to hold in preparation for removal.

 

During this time, some Cherokees did manage to escape the dragnet and hide out in the mountains of North Carolina, where their descendants still live today. But for the rest, the first exodus came in the spring of 1838 and lasted into part of the summer, with intense heat and thirst the result. That same year, a fall-winter migration began first with rain and mud, then freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. And there was starvation because of inadequate food rations; and disease; and bandits. Goaded on at a cruel pace by the bluecoats, the Indians were not even allowed to bury their dead. An approximate total of 4,000 Cherokees died during confinement in the stockades and/or the 800-mile trek westward.

 

The final Cherokee migration of 1838-39 came to be called the "Trail of Tears." The name now stands for the forced removals and suffering of all the Five Civilized Tribes, and by extension the forced relocation of tribes of the Old Northwest and all other displaced Indians.

 

A final fact: Because of charges of fraud and the misappropriation of funds and supplies promised to the Indians in their treaties of removal, the federal government ordered an inquiry by Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock. His thorough and honest investigation, begun in 1841, reported that before, during, and after removal "bribery, perjury, and forgery, short weights, issues of spoiled meat and grain, and every conceivable subterfuge was employed by designing white men." The federal government decided not to release the Hitchcock report to the public.