Editor's Note: This is part 12 of the history of the Cherokees.
And so began the "Nuna-daut-sun't" (The trail where we cried). Cherokees young and old were herded like cattle into makeshift stockades at appropriately named places like "Rattlesnake Springs" near Chattanooga, which in reality were little more that large hog pens. Little or no thought was given to shelter or sanitation, measles, whooping cough, dysentery and snakebites, and they took a terrible toll throughout the summer of 1838.
Chief John Ross petitioned the president, asking that the Cherokee be allowed to manage their own removal. In his petition he wrote, "We have been made to drink the bitter cup of humiliation, we are treated like dogs, our lives and our liberties are the sport of white men. Our country and the graves of our fathers were torn from us in cruel succession, until we find ourselves fugitives, vagrants, and strangers in our own country."
President Martin Van Buren refused to read Ross's petition.
The order of removal came in October 1838, and several large bands were forced to remove in the face of an approaching winter, which would be recorded as one of the coldest on record. The Cherokees were marched west without adequate food, clothing, or supplies of medicines. The soldiers assigned to their removal were under orders to "move the Indians quickly" and did little or nothing to protect them from whites, who attacked and robbed them at every opportunity. Conditions was such that thousands died as they were forced west by uncaring Americans.
An estimated 8,000 Cherokee men, women, and children died on this American Death March, thousands were left unburied where they fell, on roadsides, on creeks and riverbanks. History would record this American Death March as "The Trail of Tears."
During this time of sorrow, several hundred Cherokees escaped and hid in the mountains of Tennessee, north Alabama, and many made their way back to the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina. After two years of searching, the Army gave up and the "Fugitive Cherokees" were allowed to remain. In 1839, outraged white citizens demanded that Congress investigate the barbaric treatment of Indians, the investigation was not confined to the Cherokee, but included the ill treatment ofCreek, Chickasaw, and Seminoles as well.
Speaking before Congress, Josephine Meeker, a white woman, said, "This whole business is a monotonous piece of treachery and bloodstained villainy, in which innocent persons suffer, while scoundrels who cheat and swindle the poor Indians, keep out of danger and fill their pockets with money."
Howbeit little corrective action was taken until 1848 as formal recognition was granted the "Fugitive Cherokees" by President James Knox Polk.
Next week: Epilogue of the Cherokee story.
E. Delano (Ed) Christian of Tupelo is Town Chief of the New Echota Band, Red Nation of Cherokees. E-mail him at email@example.com