Gold had been discovered in Georgia in 1828, resulting in a Democrat-controlled Congress rushing through the Indian Removal Act, which passed by a single vote in 1830. It was signed by Democrat president Andrew Jackson and carried out by Democrat president Martin Van Buren.
Though unauthorized by the tribe, prominent Cherokees John Ridge and Elias Boudinot felt Indian removal was inevitable and negotiated with Washington politicians to sign the Treaty of New Echota of 1835. Elias Boudinot, publisher of the Cherokee Phoenix – the first newspaper published by a Native American tribe – wrote in editorials that the removal was unavoidable.
Indian removal was opposed by the Scot-Cherokee chief John Ross, founder of Ross’ Landing in Tennessee, which was later renamed “Chattanooga.” Over 12,000 Cherokees signed a petition in protest of the Indian Removal Act.
Condemning the federal government’s mandate were members of the National Republican and Whig Parties, including Congressman Abraham Lincoln (IL); Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen (NJ), Senator Daniel Webster (MA); and Senator Henry Clay (KY). Tennessee Congressmen Davy Crockett gave an impassioned speech in defense of the Indians.
Christian missionaries, such as Jeremiah Evarts, led resistance to the federal government’s removal of the Indians, with many being arrested by the state of Georgia and sentenced to years of hard labor.
Missionaries Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler were arrested for their opposition to Indian removal and their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in favor of the Cherokee in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), writing that the Cherokee Nation was a “distinct community” with self-government “in which the laws of Georgia can have no force.”
The Cherokee, which were largely Christian, even had their own language and alphabet, created in 1821 by a Cherokee silversmith named Sequoyah.
Justice Joseph Story wrote March 4, 1832: “Thanks be to God, the Court can wash their hands clean of the iniquity of oppressing the Indians and disregarding their rights.”
Noting that the Supreme Court had no power to enforce its edicts, but had to rely on the president to actually implement them, President Jackson was attributed with saying: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”
Indian leader George W. Harkins wrote a “Farewell to the American People,” 1831: “Having determined to emigrate west of the Mississippi river this fall, I have thought proper in bidding you farewell. … We as Choctaws rather chose to suffer and be free, than live under the degrading influence of laws, which our voice could not be heard in their formation.”
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French philosopher, witnessed the Choctaw removals while in Memphis, Tennessee in 1831, writing: “In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. ‘To be free,’ he answered.”
General John E. Wool had sympathy for the Indians and hesitated carrying out the inhumane removal, resulting in Democrat President Martin Van Buren replacing him with General Winfield Scott.
46,000 Indians were removed by 1837. Then came the freezing weather of 1838-1839.
The last 17,000 Cherokee Indians were forcibly removed by the federal government from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina to the Oklahoma territory.
Samuel Carter wrote in “Cherokee Sunset: A Nation Betrayed: A Narrative of Travail and Triumph, Persecution and Exile, First Edition” (Doubleday, 1976): “Then … there came the reign of terror. From the jagged-walled stockades the troops fanned out across the Nation, invading every hamlet, every cabin, rooting out the inhabitants at bayonet point. The Cherokees hardly had time to realize what was happening as they were prodded like so many sheep toward the concentration camps, threatened with knives and pistols, beaten with rifle butts if they resisted.”
Christians ministered to the Indians along the trail, bringing them food and blankets. Not able give their dead a full burial, they simply sang “Amazing Grace,” resulting in that song being considered as a “Cherokee national anthem.”
President Ronald Reagan commemorated the estimated 5,000 who died from the federal government’s policy by designating the “Trail of Tears” a National Historic Trail in 1987.
Oklahoma, which is the Choctaw word for “red people,” became home to the Five Civilized Tribes: Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Cherokee; and other tribes who had been forcibly moved there.
The remaining territory opened for settlement with a gunshot at high noon on April 22, 1889, beginning the famous Oklahoma land rush. Within nine hours, some two million acres became the private property of settlers who staked their claims for 160 acres to homestead.
Riding as fast as they could, many found desirable plots already taken by “Boomers” who began intruding ten years earlier, and “Sooners,” individuals who entered the territory just days or hours sooner than was permitted.
In 1859, Lewis Ross, a brother of Cherokee chief John Ross, was drilling for saltwater-brine to use as a food preservative and found a pocket of oil that produced ten barrels of oil a day for nearly a year.
In 1890, near the town Chelsea, Rogers County, Oklahoma, Edward Byrd drilled and found oil at a depth of only 36 feet, but was hampered by severe government regulations.
In 1897, the well “Nellie Johnstone No. 1” was drilled in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and struck oil at 1,320 feet, beginning the Oklahoma oil boom.
Oil production rose quickly and impetus grew for Oklahoma to become the 46th state in 1907. Within 10 years, Oklahoma became the largest oil-producing entity in the world.
Oklahoma stated in the preamble of its state Constitution: “Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; to promote our mutual welfare and happiness, we, the people of the State of Oklahoma, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
A Cherokee delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention was Clement Rogers of Rogers County. His son, William Penn Adair ‘Will’ Rogers, became a popular 1920’s radio and movie star. Will Rogers was offered the nomination to be Oklahoma’s governor, but he declined.
Will Rogers stated:
- “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
- “If you ever injected truth into politics you’d have no politics.”
- “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”
- “If we ever pass out as a great nation we ought to put on our tombstone ‘America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.'”
With his cowboy philosopher wit, Will Rogers said: “The Lord constituted everybody that no matter what color you are, you require the same amount of nourishment.”
Will Rogers remarked: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”
Will Rogers quipped: “Lord, let me live until I die,” and “The trouble with our praying is, we just do it as a means of last resort.”
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