JF Ptak Science Books Post 1387
“...strong men, women, boys and girls, not only capable of marching twelve or fifteen miles a day, but to whom the exercise would be beneficial." --General Winfield Scott, military leader in charge of the removal of the Cherokee nation, 1838, on the benefits of enforced marching of men, women and children over a thousand-mile course.
Most people are familiar with the story of the Trail of Tears, the epic tragedy of the “removal” of a class of people—the Cherokee Indians in this case—from their homes in the east to a new land appropriated for them in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). (In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nu na da ul tsun yi (the place where they cried), another term is Tlo va sa (our removal).) The Cherokees were given the ultimatum to leave their homes in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina, doing so in the period from 1836 to 1839—the first part of the exodus was prompted by the U.S. Government but not necessarily enforced. The later part, however, in the spring of 1838, was absolutely enforced, with General Winfield Scott arriving on the scene with 7,000 U.S. Troops to round up the last of the remaining Cherokees and take them—by force if necessary—to Indian Territory.
There were approximately 12,0001 Cherokees left in the east by the time of Scott's arrival—by the time their enforced march to the west was completed, around 4,000 Cherokees would be dead.
The ease with which this re-settlement was partially removed from the broader moral and ethical implications of marching 12,000 men, women and children a thousand miles west in the fall and winter of 1838/9 was accomplished with abstract language in the government reports describing the affair.
For example, in the Executive Documents published by the U.S. Government printing office, 25th Congress, 3rd session, 1838, volume 1, documents #s1-9, part of the 609pp document #2, Message of the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress...., contains a 94-page section called “Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs” (occupying pp 410-506), and in that section is the compelling sub-document, “Emigration of Indians”. It is there that we find the clinical appraisals of the government efforts to scoop the Cherokees up and deposit them far west. For example, we are told that “(an) aggregate of 18,000 Cherokees...have ceased to live east of the Mississippi during the Spring, Summer and Autumn”, this after General Winfield Scott had “collected them”. Removing an entire Indian tribe had been a simple matter of that tribe no longer living there anymore, having been “collected” by the Army and “emigrated” to points west.
The “collection” part is told elsewhere and often and more brilliantly than I can relate here—it is the material of a deep national tragedy. Suffice to say presently that 10,000+ people were herded together at bayonet and gunpoint, given scant opportunity to collect themselves, and then brought together in concentration camps to await the arrival of the last of their tribe. After that, most were marched in stages to Oklahoma, through bad weather of all descriptions—from drought to rain to high heat and bitter cold—sometimes encamped in stockades to wait for river levels to rise and fall, allowing dysentery and other diseases to come into the population and take hold.
The section on the emigration of the Indians is alternately heart-breaking and infuriating. There is a series of correspondence between John Ross, representing the leadership of the Cherokees, and General Winfield Scott, regarding the mechanics and monetarization of removal. The Cherokees at this point make every attempt to accommodate their pending future with dignity and humility, acquiescing on almost all government points in what I think were the hopes of gaining a few extra necessities for the people making the trip. Generally, the requests were rejected. Coffee and sugar were at one point presented to Scott as a necessary—Scott refused, saying that the disbursements for the removal had already been made, even though all of the monies were coming from government funds allocated to the Cherokees for the lands they were having stolen on the heals of their exit.
Another particularly infuriating example of misogynistic governmental neutral-speak—a towering example, really, an incredible, unspeakably-wrong statement—occurs on page 435 in a letter from Scott to John Ross et alia. In response to a request from Scott for extra wagons to help transport the young and the old and possessions and food, Scott refuses, saying that the allocated wagons were enough to carry food and belongs and provisions and 35 people. And for those who could not ride in the wagons, Scott said the following:
“...strong men, women, boys and girls, not only capable of marching twelve or fifteen miles a day, but to whom the exercise would be beneficial.”3
And just to set the record straight on this, we are talking about 1,000 miles of marching, in weather good and bad, over a period of many months (and sometimes extending to a year).
There were allocated 50 wagons and teams for the journey for all of those thousands of people, the teams costing $28,000 in rent for the entire journey, ironically paid for by the Cherokees. The sugar and coffee which had not been provided for in the original rations list and which were excluded, would've raised the cost of the average daily ration allowance a few cents too many, exceeding the 16 cents per day/person for the journey.
This of course was not the only Indian “removal”, not even the only removal for this year—it was the stage of affairs for many dozens of tribes over the course of two centuries, revisited and replayed and reprise d over and over again, with different actors, different agents, different tribes and different places—all with the similar result. (For example, even among just the Five Civilized Tribes, the Choctaw were the first to be removed in 1831, then the Seminoles in 1832, the Creeks in 1834, the Chickisaw in 1837, and then the Cherokees in 1838.)
As awful as Scott's correspondence reads to me I am reminded that among the general staff it was Scott who was seen as sympathetic to the Indians' plight, that it was Scott who was ostracized for being too accommodating. This may have actually been the very best that the U.S. Government could offer, which is ____________________ .
1. In the fall of 1835, a census was taken by civilian officials of the U.S. War Department to enumerate Cherokees residing in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, with a count of 16,542 Cherokees, 201 inter-married whites, and 1592 slaves (total: 18,335 people). The total number of casualties for the Removal is much studied and debated--estimates range from 2,000 to 6,000 people.
2. Message of the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress.... page. 412 for both quoted phrases.
3. Ibid, Page 435.