Native Peoples Forced out of the Southwest
President Jackson Pushes Removal
The Cherokee Nation, 1835
The Cherokee people have finally given in to the federal government. They will follow the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks, and most of the Seminoles from the lush hill country of the Southeast (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida) to their new home, the “Indian Lands” to the west of Arkansas. This new “Indian Land” is identified on maps as part of the Great American Desert.
The forcing of these people into the west is President Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy. President Jackson believes that the resettlement of Indians is a “just, humane, liberal policy.” Upon his request, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The federal government negotiated ninety-four removal treaties. Most of the tribes, weakened in numbers, signed treaties without a fuss.
The Sauk and Fox under Chief Black Hawk, however, rebelled against their treaty and returned home to Illinois. They could grow no corn on the Great American Desert and were facing starvation. In 1832 the Illinois militia and the U.S. Army drove them back across the Mississippi, killing many women and children.
Some Seminoles continue a guerrilla war in Florida, refusing to leave their homeland.
The Cherokee, relying on their treaty rights, had adopted a constitution in 1827 and proclaimed that they were not subject to state or federal laws. Georgia, however, extended its laws to the Cherokee people. The Cherokee Nation took the State of Georgia to court. The Supreme Court in 1832 ruled that the Cherokee Nation was “a distinct political community” and that Georgia law could not be extended to the Cherokee peoples.
President Jackson, however, has refused to enforce the decision. The Cherokee people reluctantly have signed a removal treaty. They have given up their home in exchange for land in Indian Territory (west of Arkansas), $5,000,000, and expenses for transportation.
President Jackson and Congressional leaders believe that the removal policy will solve what they call “the Indian problem.” They are certain that no white would ever want land west of the Mississippi—“a land of horned toads and rattlesnakes.”
When asked to comment on the new Indian lands, Major Stephen Long, who has explored much of the region, told The North Star Dakotan, “We do not hesitate in giving the opinion that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence.” Such is the condition of the new Indian Territory.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.