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Indian Removal Act  The March    A Soldiers Testament
Amazing Grace in Cherokee
Fort Gilmer
One hundred yards east is the site of Fort Gilmer, Gilmer Co. Georgia, built in 1838 to garrison U.S. troops ordered to enforce the removal from this region of the last Cherokee Indians under the terms of the New Echota treaty of 1835. one of seven such forts erected in Cherokee territory, Gilmer was the temporary headquarters of Gen. Winfield Scott, under whose command the removal was effected. The reluctant Indians were brought here and guarded until the westward march began.

Cherokee Rose
The Legend of the Cherokee Rose. 
No better symbol exists of the pain and suffering of the Trail Where They Cried than the Cherokee Rose. The mothers of the Cherokee grieved so much that the chiefs prayed for a sign to lift the mother's spirits and give them strength to care for their children. From that day forward, a beautiful new flower, a rose, grew wherever a mother's tear fell to the ground. The rose is white, for the mother's tears. It has a gold center, for the gold taken from the Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each stem that represent the seven Cherokee clans that made the journey. To this day, the Cherokee Rose prospers along the route of the "Trail of Tears". The  Cherokee Rose is now the official flower of the State of Georgia.
"I would sooner be honestly damned 
than hypocritically immortalized"

Senator Davy Crockett, His political career destroyed because he supported the Cherokee, he left Washington and headed to Texas

Hollywood has left the impression that the great Indian Wars came in the Old West during the late 1800's, a period that many think of simplistically  as the "Cowboy and Indian" days. But in fact  that was a "mopping up" effort. By that time the Indians were nearly finished, their subjugation complete, their numbers decimated. The killing, enslavement, and land theft had begun with the arrival of the Europeans. But it may have reached  its nadir when it became federal policy under  President Andrew Jackson

Indian Removal Act

The Cherokees in 1828 were not nomadic savages. In fact, they had assimilated many European style customs, including the wearing of gowns by Cherokee women. They built roads, schools and churches, had a system of representational government, and were farmers and cattle ranchers. A Cherokee alphabet, the "Talking Leaves" was perfected by Sequoyah.

In 1830 the Congress of the United States passed the "Indian Removal Act." Although many Americans were against the act, most notably Tennessee Senator Davy Crockett, it passed anyway. President Jackson quickly signed the bill into law. The Cherokees attempted to fight removal legally by challenging the removal laws in the Supreme Court
and by establishing an independent Cherokee Nation. At first the court seemed to rule against the Indians. In Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, the Court refused to  hear a case extending Georgia's laws on the Cherokee because they did not represent a sovereign nation. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee on the same issue in Worcester vs. Georgia. In this case Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign, making the removal laws invalid. The Cherokee would have to agree to removal in a treaty. The treaty then would have to be ratified by the Senate. 

By 1835 the Cherokee were divided and despondent. Most supported Principal Chief John Ross, who fought the encroachment of whites starting with the 1832 land lottery. However, a minority (less than 500 out of 17,000 Cherokee in North Georgia) followed Major Ridge, his son John, and Elias Boudinot, who advocated removal. The Treaty of New Echota, signed by Ridge and members of the Treaty Party in 1835, gave Jackson the legal document he needed to remove the First Americans. Ratification of the treaty by the United States Senate sealed the fate of the Cherokee. Among the few who spoke out against the ratification were Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, but it passed by a single vote. In 1838 the United States began the removal to Oklahoma, fulfilling a promise the government made to Georgia in 1802. Ordered to move on the Cherokee, U. S. General Wool resigned his command in protest, delaying the action. His replacement, General Winfield Scott, arrived in Georgia on May 17, 1838 with 7000 men. Early that summer General Scott and the United States Army began the invasion of the Cherokee Nation.

In one of the saddest episodes of our brief history, men, women, and children were taken from their land, herded into makeshift forts with minimal facilities and food, then forced to march a thousand miles (Some made part of the trip by boat in equally horrible conditions). Under the generally indifferent army commanders, human losses for the first groups of Cherokee removed were extremely high. John Ross made an urgent appeal to Washington to let him lead his tribe west and the Federal Government agreed. Ross organized the Cherokee into smaller groups and let them move separately through the wilderness so they could forage for food. Although the parties under Ross left in early fall and arrived in Oklahoma during the brutal winter of 1838-39, he significantly reduced the loss of life among his people. About 4000 Cherokee died as a result of the removal. The route they traversed and the journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears" or, as a direct translation from Cherokee, "The Trail Where They Cried" ("Nunna daul Tsuny").

Ironically, just as the Creeks had murdered Chief McIntosh for signing the Treaty of Indian Springs, the Cherokee murdered Major Ridge, his son and Elias Boudinot for signing the Treaty of New Echota. Chief John Ross, who valiantly resisted the forced removal of the Cherokee, lost his wife Quatie in the march. And so a country formed fifty years earlier on the premise "...that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.." brutally closed the curtain on a culture that had done no wrong.

The March

In a mountain cove, close by the Oconaluftee River, stood a small group of log cabins where the blue smoke rose in the early morning of August, 1838. A Cherokee Indian child played with a stone marble in one of the yards, while his mother cooked fatback on the hearth fireplace inside. Unseen by the two, a small detachment of soldiers carefully began the encirclement of the cabins. At a signal from the sergeant in charge, six armed men appeared at the front doors. The mother, hearing the noisy soldiers, rushed to the front door and started to grab the child. She was too  late.

Thus began the final chapter of the Eastern Cherokee Nation, the beginning of the end of a proud people. With bowed heads and all they owned on their backs, those who had stubbornly remained in their eastern homeland were being forced into stockades and gathering places so that they could start on the 900 mile exodus across the Mississippi into Oklahoma. No day in all America's history is blacker nor deed more shameful than the forced removal of a peaceful tribe of people who asked only to be left alone in peace and understanding. (Note: It is unbelievable that the clergy of this country talks only about how bad the slaughter of the Jews were by the Germans. While it is true that this a terrible thing, how often have you heard talk about how the Cherokee Indians were treated, which was just as bad if not worse than the slaughter of the Jews. The American people talk about the German slaughter all the time. Why
do we not want to talk the slaughter of the Cherokee Indians in our won country?)

In less than a hundred years, the Cherokees had lost all of a vast domain that included parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Treaty after treaty had squeezed the boundaries of their holdings ever inward until at last there remained no more.

In 1721, the first treaty was made with the Cherokees by Governor Nicholson. Just a little over 100 years later, in 1835, the Cherokees lost all of what little land remained to them. This 100 years had been a time of constant pressure on the Indian land, with treaties sometimes forced upon them at the rate of two a year. Other lands not obtained by treaties were simply occupied and held by white frontier families.

The state of Georgia, at that time, was particularly abusive toward the Cherokees. And in the final years of their existence as a tribe of people in the East, Georgia systematically refused to recognize the decisions of the Court and the law of the land in regard to them. (Note: To the white people in Georgia, the Cherokee Indians had no rights as human beings. It was considered acceptable to take their land, their goods, kill them, rape them, and whip them like slaves of the south, for the gain of wealth. For this they were praised by the men of cloth that called themselves Holy Men.)

Some authorities believe that the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia, was the crowning event that led the Georgia authorities and the people of that state to believe that vast riches lay hidden in the wilds of the Cherokee country. Undoubtedly this event had some influence on the Georgians and others, but probably the ill feeling existing between the frontiersmen and the Indians was the greatest contributing factor in the move to rid the East of the Cherokees.

In the Revolutionary War, the Cherokees had been allies of the British against the frontier Americans. The constant need for new land for the ever expanding population of the Americans naturally led to a distrust and hatred between those who were taking the land and those losing it. It was this need for land and the hate of those who held it that let to the final disposition of the Cherokee Nation. (It was also Jackson's life that had been saved by a great Cherokee by the name of Junaluska at the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend.)

Although many people spoke up for the rights of the Cherokee tribe in the United States Congress and in editorial comment, their voices were not strong enough to force the cancellation of the treaty that stipulated they were to be removed by May 26, 1838.

The cause of the Cherokee was championed by the great Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Davy Crockett, but even those three notable statesmen failed. And on May 10, 1838, General Winfield Scott issued the general order for forced removal. The Cherokee were to be rounded up and placed in stockades at designated points so that at a given time all could be brought together and marched west.

Many of the Cherokees died in the stockades as a result of heartbreak and malnutrition. Although the army provided what it considered a sufficient ration for each person, they failed to consider that the diet of most of the people was entirely different from the kind provided
for at the hastily prepared assembly points. As a result, the Cherokees became weakened and vulnerable to all the ailments to which they were exposed.

The mountains, hills, and flat country of Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina were filled with soldiers, until all but a handful of the Cherokees hiding out in the deepest forests and most inaccessible places, escaped the dragnet set for them. Those who escaped are the forefathers of the Eastern Cherokee, who now live on the Qualla Indian Reservation.

A Soldiers Testament

Following is the birthday story of Private John G. Burnett, Captain Abraham McClellan's Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry, Cherokee Indian Removal, 1838-39.

This is my birthday, December the 11th, 1890. I am eighty years old today. I was born at Kings Iron Works in Sullivan County, Tennessee, December the 11th, 1810. I grew into manhood fishing in Beaver Creek and roaming through the forest hunting the deer the wild boar and the timber wolf. Often I spent weeks at a time in the solitary wilderness with no companions but my rifle, hunting knife, and a small hatchet that I carried in my belt in all of my wilderness wanderings.

On these long hunting trips, I met and become acquainted with many of the Cherokee Indians, hunting with them by day and sleeping around their campfires by night. I learned to speak their language, and they taught me the acts of trailing and building traps and snares. On one of my long hunts, in the fall of 1829, I found a young Cherokee who had been shot by a roving band of hunters, and who had eluded his pursuers and concealed himself under a shelving rock. Weak from loss of blood, the poor creature was unable to walk and almost famished from lack of water. I carried him to a spring, bathed and bandaged the bullet wound, built a shelter out of bark peeled from a dead chestnut tree, nursed and protected him, feeding him on chestnuts and roasted deer meat. When he was able to travel, I accompanied him to the home of his people and remained so long that I was given up for lost. By this time I had become an expert rifleman, a fairly good archer, and a good trapper, and spent most of my time in the forest in quest of game.

The removal of the Cherokee Indians from their life-long homes in the year of 1818 found me a young man in the prime of life, and a Private soldier in the American Army. Being acquainted with many of the Indians and able to fluently speak their language, I was sent as  interpreter into the Smoky Mountain Country in May, 1838, and witnessed the execution of the most brutal order in the history of American warfare. I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning, I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty five wagons and started toward the west.

One can never forget the sadness and solemnity of that morning. Chief John Ross led in prayer, and when the bugle sounded and the wagons started rolling, many of the children rose to their feet and waved their little hands good bye to their mountain homes, knowing they were leaving them forever. Many of these helpless people did not have blankets, and many of them had been driven from home barefooted.

On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with  freezing temperatures, and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th, 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a
trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold, and exposure. Among this number was the beautiful Christian wife of Chief John Ross. This noble hearted woman died a martyr to childhood, giving her only blanket for the protection of a sick child. She rode thinly clad through a blinding sleet and snowstorm, developed pneumonia and died in the still hours of a bleak winter night, with her head resting on Lieutenant Gregg's saddle blanket.

I made the long journey to the west with the Cherokees, and did all that a Private soldier could do to alleviate their sufferings. When on guard duty at night, I have many times walked my beat in my blouse in order that some sick child might have the warmth of my overcoat.

I was on guard-duty the night Mrs. Ross died. When relieved at midnight I did not retire, but remained around the wagon out of sympathy for Chief Ross, and at daylight was detailed by Captain McClellan to assist in the burial like the other unfortunates who died on the way. Her unconfined body was buried in a shallow grave by the roadside far from her native mountain home in Tennessee, and the sorrowing cavalcade moved on.

Being a young man, I mingled freely with the young women and girls. I have spent many pleasant hours with them when I was supposed to be under my blanket, and they have many times sung their mountain songs for me, this being all that they could do to repay my kindness. And with all my association with Indian girls from October 1829 to March 26th, 1839, I did not meet one who was a moral prostitute. They are kind and tender-hearted and many of them are very beautiful.

The only trouble that I had with anybody on the entire journey to the west was a brutal teamster by the name of Ben McDonal, who was using his whip on an old feeble Cherokee to hasten him into the wagon. The sight of that old and nearly blind creature quivering under the lashes of a bull whip was too much for me. I attempted to stop McDonal, and it ended in a personal encounter. He lashed me across the face, the wire tip on his whip cutting a bad gash in my cheek. The little hatchet that I had carried in my hunting days was in my belt, and McDonal was carried unconscious from the scene.

I was placed under guard, but Ensign Henry Bullock and Private Elkanah Millard had both witnessed the encounter. They gave Captain McClellan the facts and I was never brought to trial. Years later I met 2nd Lieutenant Riley and Ensign Bullock at Bristol, Tennessee, at John  Oberson's show, and Bullock jokingly reminded me that there was a case still pending against me before a court marital and wanted to know how much longer I was going to have the trial put off. McDonal finally recovered, and in the year 1851 was running on a boat out of Memphis, Tennessee.

The long, painful journey to the west ended March 26, 1839, with four thousand silent graves reaching from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to what is known as Indian territory in the west. And covetousness on the part of the white race was the cause of all that the Cherokees had to suffer.

Ever since Ferdinand DeSoto, made his journey through the Indian country in the year of 1540, there had been a tradition of a rich gold mine somewhere in the Smoky Mountain Country, and I think the tradition was true. At a festival at Echata on Christmas night 1829, I danced and played with Indian girls who were wearing ornaments around their necks that looked Gold.

In the year of 1828, a little Indian boy living on Ward Creek (Tennessee) had sold a gold nugget to a white trader, and that nugget sealed the doom of the Cherokees. In a short time, the country was over run with armed brigands claming to be Government Agents, who paid no attention to the rights of the Indians who were the legal possessors of the country. Crimes were committed that were a disgrace to civilization (of the White Race). Men were shot in cold blood, lands were confiscated. Homes were burned and the inhabitants driven out by these gold hungry brigands.

Chief Junaluska was personally acquainted with President Andrew Jackson. Junaluska had taken five hundred of the flower of his Cherokee scouts and helped Jackson to win the battle of the Horse Shoe, leaving thirty three of them dead on the field. And in that battle Junaluska had drove his tomahawk through the skull of a Creek warrior, when the Creek had Jackson at their mercy.

Chief John Ross sent Junaluska as an envoy to plead with President Jackson for protection for his people, but Jackson's manner was very cold and indifferent toward the rugged son of the forest who had saved his life.  He met Junaluska, heard his plea, but curtly said, "Sir your audience is ended, there is nothing I can do for you."  The doom of the Cherokee was sealed. Washington, D.C. had decreed that they must be driven West . Their lands were given to the white man, and in May 1838 an Army of four thousand regulars, and three thousand volunteer soldiers under command of General Winfield Scott, marched into the Indian country and wrote the blackest chapter on the pages of American History.

Men working in the fields were arrested and driven to stockades. Women were dragged from their homes by soldiers whose language they could not understand. Children were often separated from their parents and driven into the stockades with the sky for a blanket and the earth for a pillow. And often the old and infirm were prodded with bayonets to hasten them to the stockades.

In one home death had come during the night. A little sad faced child had died and was lying on a bear-skin couch, and some women were preparing the little body for burial. All were arrested and driven out, leaving the child in the cabin. I don't know who buried the body.

In another home was a frail mother, apparently a widow, and three small children, one just a baby. When told that she must go, the mother gathered the children at her feet, prayed a humble prayer in her native tongue, patted the old family dog on the head, told the faithful creatures good bye, and with a child on each hand started on her exile. But the task was too great for that frail mother. A stroke of heart failure relieved her sufferings. She sunk and died with her baby on her back, and her other two children clinging to her hands.

Chief Junaluska, who had saved President Jackson's life at the battle of Horse Shoe, witnessed this scene, the tears gushing down his cheeks. And lifting his cap, he turned his face toward the Heavens and said, "Oh my God if I had known at the battle of the Horse Shoe what I know now, American history would have been differently written."

At this time, 1890, we are too near the removal of the Cherokees for our young people to fully understand the enormity of the crime that was committed against a helpless race; truth is, the facts are being concealed from the young people of today. School children of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race at the bayonet point to satisfy the white man's greed for gold. Future generations will read and condemn the act, and I do hope posterity will remember the private soldiers like myself. And like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, we had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the mater.

Twenty five years after the removal, it was my privilege to meet a large company of the Cherokees in uniform of the Confederate Army. Under command of Colonel Thomas, they were encamped at Zollicoffer. I went to see them. Most of them were just boys at the time of the removal, but they instantly recognized me as "the soldier that was good to us." Being able to talk to them in their native language, I had an enjoyable day with them. From them I learned that Chief John Ross was still ruler of the nation in 1863. And I wonder if he is still living? He was a noble hearted fellow, suffered a lot for his race.

At one time he was arrested and thrown into a dirty jail in an effort to break his spirit, but he remained true to his people and led them in prayer when they started on their exile. And his Christian wife sacrificed her life for a little girl who had pneumonia. The Anglo-Saxon race should build a towering monument to perpetuate her noble act in giving her only blanket for comfort of a sick child. Incidentally the child recovered, but Mrs. Ross is sleeping in an unmarked grave far from her native Smoky Mountain home.

When Scott invaded the Indian country, some of the Cherokees fled to caves and dens in the mountains and were never captured, and they are there today. I have long intended going there and trying to find them, but I have put off going from year to year, and now I am too feeble to ride that far. The fleeting years have come and gone, and old age has overtaken me. But I can truthfully say that neither my rifle nor my knife are stained with Cherokee blood.

I can truthfully say that I did my best for them when they certainly did need a friend. Twenty five years after the removal, I still live in their memory as "the soldier who was good to us."

However, murder is murder, whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music.

Murder is murder, and somebody must answer; somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the four thousand silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of six hundred and forty five wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.

Let the historian of a future day tell the sad story with its sighs, its tears, and dying groans. Let the great Judge of all the earth weigh our actions and reward us according to our work. 

Children -- Thus ends my promised birthday story. This December the 11th, 1890.

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