Friday, July 21, 2017

The Trail of Tears & The Long Walk


Dear Friends,

Many have heard of the "Trail of Tears". The phrase "Trail of Tears" is said by some to be the description of the removal of the Cherokee Indians from their homelands in 1838. While that may be the case, that term "Trail of Tears" is actually links to the journey that followed the removal of a group of Indian tribes collectively known as the Five Civilized Tribes. Those tribes were the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw.

In reality, the Trail of Tears was a series of forced removals of the Choctaw, Seminole Creek, Chickasaw, and the Cherokee. This included their black slaves from their lands in the Southeastern United States between 1830 and 1850. Their destination was to an area West of the Mississippi River that became known as Indian Territory which is modern day Oklahoma. The trail West into Oklahoma was a total distance of nearly 1,000 miles. And yes, in case you're wondering, while they had some horses, they mostly walked that distance.

In 1831, the Choctaw were the first Native Americans to be removed. One Choctaw leader is said to have called the journey West "a Trail of Tears and Deaths". Then in 1832, the Seminole Indians were removed. The Creek Indians followed in 1834, and the Chickasaw were removed in 1837. The last to leave was the Cherokee in 1838.

While some say that all were removed, that's not true. In reality, many members of the various tribes refused to leave even at gunpoint and remained in their ancestral homelands. For example, some Choctaw are today found in Mississippi, Creek in Alabama and Florida, Cherokee in North Carolina, and Seminole in Florida. In fact one small group of Seminole who retreated into the Everglades were never rounded up by the United States Army. Those who are there today are said to be the descendants of those who refused to be evicted back in the 1830s. 

By 1837, it is said that 46,000 Indians from the Southeastern United States had been removed from their homelands. To give you an idea of how many died along the way, it is said that approximately 1 in 4 died making the grueling trek West. More than 4,000 of the 16,543 Cherokee who made the arduous journey died along the way. They died from exposure to the elements, diseases that they had no immunity to, and of course starvation since they had little to eat along the way West.

Why was it done? Well, simply put, it was to make more land available to American settlers in the very early 1800s. It was all about President Andrew Jackson. He was a soldier and statesman, a man who served as the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, and the founder of the Democratic Party. He also wanted to evict all of the Indians from their lands in the Southeast. And even when he lost a battle in the U.S. Supreme Court over the legality of the removal of those Native American tribes, the five nations, he violated the Supreme Court decision and went ahead with his plan to evict all of the Indians.

This all came about because many who wanted to settle in what we know now as the Deep South actually pressured the Federal government to remove Indians from the Southeastern states. Fact is that they petitioned the Federal government while at the same time they themselves were squatters encroaching on Indian lands. President Andrew Jackson is responsible for pushing the Indian Removal Act of 1830 through Congress. And while it was definitely started under Jackson, it was actually carried out by Jackson's successor President Martin Van Buren as well.

While settlers were one reason for it taking place, I believe the other reason for what brought about the Indian Removal Act was the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828. That discovery actually stated what became known as the Georgia Gold Rush. The result of that gold rush and the demands of the settlers for more land, enabled the passing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 relocation program which opened up 25 million acres for settlement.

It should be known that the Cherokee fought the Indian Removal Act. Not with arrows, but in the courts. The Cherokee nation actually filed several lawsuits regarding conflicts with the state of Georgia. In the most startling case of the times, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court actually ruled in favor of the Cherokee.

President Andrew Jackson have completely disregarded that Supreme Court ruling. Instead, Jackson negotiated a "land exchange treaty" with the Cherokee. Jackson negotiated with the Cherokee the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835, which granted Cherokee Indians two years to move to Indian Territory. When the Cherokee negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, the tribe exchanged all of their land East of the Mississippi for land in modern day Oklahoma and a $5 Million payment from the Federal government. Just so you have an idea of how much money that amounted to in 1835, $5,000,000 in the year 1835 is worth $132,088,028.44 in 2017.

Of course many Cherokee felt betrayed that their leadership even accepted the deal. In fact, it is said that over 16,000 Cherokee signed a petition to prevent the passage of the Treaty of New Echota. Because of this, only a fraction of the Cherokee people left voluntarily. The others were rounded up during the Van Buren administration. To relocate the tribes, the Federal government had the assistance of state militias. Most of those Cherokee were forced to go West in 1838.

During the summer of that year, like the other Indian nation being relocated, the Cherokee were placed in temporary camps along the way. These camps were furnished with very little food and disease became rampant. Then in November of 1838, the Cherokee in the camps were broken into groups of 1,000 or so. Those groups were the ones who were pushed West while having to endure the worse weather imaginable. It is said that torrential rains turned into snow from freezing temperatures, and it took its toll on those journeying West.

By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans from the five various tribes had been removed from their land East of the Mississippi River. It was devastating as thousands died along the way West. And while people talk about those who died en route, it should be known that about 800 Cherokee died in Oklahoma after they arrived.

To me, this is the saddest chapter in American-Indian relations. And knowing what took place, it should not surprise anyone, nor should it not be understandable, why Native Americans have a historical dislike for President Andrew Jackson.

Now while many have heard of the Trail of Tears, there was another such relocation that many might not be aware of. This is known as "The Long Walk" or "The Long Walk of the Navajo. And while it wasn't 1,000 miles, it was over 300 miles. And like the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk was accomplished on foot,

The Long Walk

The Navajo was another Native American tribe that were forced to leave their homeland. Also called "The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo," it took place in the spring of 1864 when the Navajo Indians were forced to walk from their land in what is today Arizona to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. And while it took place in 1864, it was said to be part of about 50 different forced relocations that took place between 1864 and 1866.

The Navajo lands stretched from modern day Arizona  and into the west side of New Mexico. The Navajo were farmers that planted crops and in effect ranchers who raised livestock. They had a very long history raiding and trading with each others. They made and broke treaties with the Spanish and the then the Mexicans. But they also had treaties with other tribes including the Apache, the Comanche, the Pueblos, and the Ute Indians.

And of course, they had a treaty with the United States. But no, that didn't stop hostilities from taking place between Americans and the Navajo starting around 1849. In August 1851, Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner established Fort Defiance near what is today Window Rock, Arizona, and Fort Wingate which was originally called Fort Fauntleroy near what is today Gallup, New Mexico.

After years of hostilities and broken treaties, Congress authorized the construction of Fort Sumner on October 31, 1862.  In early 1862, the U.S. Army sent Major General James H. Carleton to the New Mexico Territoryto force the Navajo to Fort Sumner.

General Carleton initially justified the establishment of Fort Sumner as being there for the protection of settlers who were threatened by Kiowa Indians, Mescalero Apache, and Comanche in the Pecos River Valley. But at the same time as he created Fort Sumner, he also created the Bosque Redondo Reservation. That reservation is a 1,600 square-mile, 1,000,000 acre, area where over 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apaches would be forced to live.

The stated purpose of the reservation was for it to be a place where Indians could be self-sufficient by teaching the Navajo and the Mescalero Apache how to be farmers. General Edward Canby, whom Carleton replaced, first suggested that the Navajo people be moved to a series of reservations and be taught skills so that they could transition to life on a reservation.
When the Bosque Redondo Reservation was first established, General Carleton ordered Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson to do whatever necessary to get the Mescalero Apache to the reservation. The Apache and the Navajo had survived a number of attacks by the U.S. Army. Frankly, what they were actually starved into submission. 

After the Apache, then the Navajo were to be "rounded up" and put there as well. As for the final standoff with the Navajo, that took place at Canyon de Chelly where they surrendered to Kit Carson and his troops in January 1864. Following orders from his U.S. Army commanders, Colonel Carson burned their villages and destroyed their property. He then organized the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation which was already occupied by Mescalero Apache. 

The Navajo Indians call their journey from their lands to the Bosque Redondo Reservation as the "Long Walk." And yes, if you're wondering, more than 300 Navajo died along the way while making that journey. 

The "Long Walk" started in the beginning of spring in 1864. The journey was very difficult and killed a number Navajo. The distance itself was 300 miles of travel over hard tough terrain. Many making the journey were walking both exhausted and malnourished. And frankly, those making the 18 to 20 day journey were never told where they were going or why they were being relocated. 

It is said that the Army had planned only 5,000 would be there. But by April of 1865, there were about 9,500 Navajo and about 500 Mescalero Apache interned at the Bosque Redondo Reservation. This huge increase in population produced a significant lack of food. Then in the summer of 1865 the corn production was not enough to feed the tribes on the reservation. This took place again in 1866.

With insufficient food and poor to little water along with little to no firewood for the number of Indians living there, both the U.S. Army and the Indian Agents had to admit that the Bosque Redondo was not suitable for a reservation. In fact, by 1867 because those interned there had no clean water as it was full of alkali, those there had no firewood to cook with, and the water from the nearby Pecos River actually caused severe intestinal problems which meant that disease quickly spread through the reservation, that food was in short supply, and the Indian Agent were dealing in criminal behavior, the Bosque Redondo Reservation was seen as a total failure by everyone.  

It should be noted that the Navajo and the Mescalero Apache had been enemies for what some say was a millennia. This hatred for each other and the confined conditons led to open fighting between the two tribes on the reservation. 

The result of such horrid conditions is that the Mescalero Apache finally had enough and left the reservation on their own on November 3rd, 1865. The Navajo are said to have stayed a longer, but in May 1868 they too were done and finally left. Believe it or not, as crazy as it may sound, the Federal government actually permitted them to return to their native lands. It's true, the Navajo were not allowed to leave until May 1868 when the U.S. Army finally agreed that Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo reservation was a complete failure.

On June 1st, 1868, The Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed by the Federal government and the Navajo nation at Fort Sumner. Among some of the provisions are agreements that include the establishment of a "new reservation" on their traditional lands, restrictions on raiding settlers and other tribes, a resident Indian Agent, and compulsory education for children. They also agreed upon was receiving a supply of seeds, agricultural tools, establishment of railroads and forts, compensation to the tribe, that the rights of the Navajo people are to be protected, and the arrangements for the return of Navajo peoples to that "new reservation."

The Navajo agreed to send their children to American school for ten years and the Federal government agreed to establish schools with teachers and a classroom size of thirty Navajo children. The Federal government also promised to give to the Navajos clothing, goods, and other raw materials that the Navajos could not manufacture for themselves annually for ten years.

Yes. Bosque Redondo was hailed as a miserable failure. And from this, the Navajo nation's sovereignty was finally acknowledged in The Treaty of Bosque Redondo of 1868.

By June 18th, 1868, the Navajo set off again on the return journey home. This was their "Long Walk" home. This is one of the few instances where the Federal government actually permitted a tribe to return to their traditional homelands. With The Treaty of Bosque Redondo, the Navajo nation was granted 3.5 Million acres of land inside what they referred to as their four sacred mountains. And as a result of the Long Walk, it is said that the Navajo became a more cohesive tribe. In fact, that is so much so that were able to successfully increase the size of their "new reservation" to over 16 million acres over the years.

Fort Sumner was abandoned in 1869 and purchased by New Mexico rancher, a cattle baron by the name of Lucien Maxwell. Maxwell took the officers' quarters and rebuilt it into a 20-room ranch house. If the name Lucien Maxwell sounds familiar, it should. 

On July 14th, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid in the house which is now simply known as the Maxwell House. Imagine that.

Tom Correa



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