Lesson I Two Parts: History and Culture of the Cherokee Before Removal                              Reappraising Cherokee Removal

Lesson II: The “Ancient Village” at the Cherokee Heritage Center and Pre-Contact Ways of Life

This Unit is in two Lessons with a total of three parts. After some guiding questions, it begins with a lecture: “Native American History and the Cherokee Place in It: The Trail of Tears, A Reappraisal.” Lesson I’s lecture by Ray Fogelson, University of Chicago, was delivered twice at the opening of the “Wiping Away the Tears at a Landmark of Cherokee and American History: Renewing Cherokee Culture and American History through the Cherokee Heritage Center and the Trail of Tears,” at the Cherokee Heritage Center in 2005. This was a summer seminar, of two one-week sessions, for high school teachers and other secondary or elementary educators. We have decided to preserve the order of the original lecture’s parts, since the focus of the seminar (and this website) is not simply on the isolated historical event of the Trail of Tears, but the history and culture of the Cherokee and Colonial/Post-Colonial American peoples leading up to the Removal, and the cultural recovery by the Cherokee after the Removal. Removal. Lesson II is on the “Ancient Village,” the reconstructed, pre-contact village at the Cherokee Heritage Center. This part explores further what Cherokee life was like prior to contact with Europeans.

However, for reasons of teaching, viewers of this website may wish to use the portion of Unit 1 in a different sequence than is suggested by the Unit numbers. Unit 1, Lecture, Lesson I, part 2, on “Reappraising Cherokee Removal” may be used in a more historically sequential order, after Unit 4. Equally interesting and efficacious would be the use of Unit 1, Lesson I, part 2 in conjunction with Unit 7: Cherokee Renewal Through Literature. Similarly, viewers of this website are encouraged, if they choose, to view the materials in Unit 1, Lesson 1, Part 1, “History and Culture of the Cherokee before Removal” and Lesson II “Ancient Village” as the first unit in an historical and cultural delineation of the Cherokee prior to the historical event of the Removal or Trail of Tears in Unit 5: The Trail of Tears & Aftermath.

Thus, teachers and students may wish to read and conduct assignments in the following order:

Unit 1: History and Culture of the Cherokee before Removal
The “Ancient Village” at the Cherokee Heritage Center and Pre-contact Ways of Life

Unit 2: Cherokee Story-telling Traditions

Unit 3: Religious, Philosophical, Political, and Historical Views that the Colonists Brought to North America and to the Revolution, and Cherokee and Other Native American Views and Responses

Unit 4: Prologue to the Trail of Tears
After Unit 4, before Unit 5, students and teachers may read Unit 1, Lesson I, Part 1: History and Culture of the Cherokee before Removal and Unit 1, Lesson II, the Ancient Village at this point

Unit 5: The Trail of Tears & Aftermath
With Unit 5, teachers and students may wish to read Unit 1, Lesson 2, Part 2, Reappraising Cherokee Removal.

Unit 6: The Women and Men’s Seminary Education and Cherokee Cultural Recovery.

Unit 7: Cherokee Renewal Through Literature
Students and teachers may read Unit 1, Lesson I, Part 2: Reappraising Cherokee Removal with Unit 7.

Unit 8: Cherokee Art

Unit 9: The Cherokee Heritage Center and Cultural Recovery

Lesson I, Part 1

Guiding Questions:

In his opening remarks on Cherokee Cultural History, Professor Fogelson seems to think that the phrase, “Wiping Away the Tears,” would have deep meaning and emotional feeling for the Cherokee. Can you characterize the meaning and feelings, and can you identify what the meaning and feeling would be based in?

What is the point of the Hiawatha story according to Fogelson or Meredith (see White Roots of Peace reading link, below)?

Professor Fogelson seems to think that the Cherokee society changed as it was encountering Europeans. As you look over the essay, do you think you could characterize the changes in Cherokee society before and after contact with Europeans?

In his “Reappraising Cherokee Removal” Professor Fogelson takes great pains to present a complex picture of the causes of Cherokee removal. There is not just one or two factors, but many. As you read, find the factors he thinks were causes of the removal.

Professor Fogelson seems to think that “civilizing” Indian tribes was controversial among both whites and Indians. Can you understand what “civilizing” seemed to mean in the 19th Century? Can you see likenesses and differences between Indian, particularly Cherokee, views of civilizing and white views of civilizing?

According to Professor Fogelson, are there peculiar Cherokee ways of dealing with this event that seem different than analogous events in other peoples’ history?

For all questions you should support your arguments by interpreting evidence from the text.

Learning Objectives:

After reading the whole of Professor Fogelson’s lecture, students should be able to:

• State the possible significance of the phrase, “Wiping Away the Tears,” for the Cherokee people of today
• Describe some of the factors of the environment, political organization, and contact with Europeans that have shaped the evolution of Cherokee society
• Describe the motives for Removal of the Cherokee, as well as other Native American tribes.
• Characterize the process of “civilizing” from both an Indian and white perspective.
• Describe the importance of memorializing a trail or space for both Cherokee and other Americans to remember an historical and cultural event.

Native American History and the Cherokee Place in It: The Trail of Tears, A Reappraisal

The conference title we have, “Wiping Away the Tears at a Landmark of Cherokee and American History: Renewing Cherokee Culture and American History through the Cherokee Heritage Center and the Trail of Tears,” is bulky and quite a mouthful, but it did get the grant. My talk is in two parts, on Cherokee cultural history before removal and a reappraisal of the Trail of Tears, including cultural ramifications for the Cherokee well after the actual event.

History and Culture of the Cherokee before Removal

The Iroquois are unquestionably related to the Cherokee, but perhaps as far back as 3000 years they may have divided. Within this relation we first come across the “trail of tears” locution. It is possible that the mention of the Lost Clans in the Cherokee Elohi myths has reference to this early relationship. (See Unit 4 and its Link to Cherokee Vision of Elohi document for selections from Elohi myths.) The legendary foundation of the Iroquois and Cherokee merges into historical records. Deganawida, an Iroquois peacemaker, spoke to Jigonhsase and, later, to Hiawatha about his vision of a unified peaceful political organization. He spoke to Hiawatha in part to consol him for his loss of wife and children to the cannibalistic medicine man, Adodarhonah, an ogre with snakes in his hair. (See Meredith, Link to White Roots of Peace pdf, pp. 10-11; Longfellow later turned Hiawatha into a Chippewa, but he was Iroquois.) Hiawatha engaged in a ceremony to relieve his grief. Howard Meredith sums up fifteen steps that the ceremony required. The first three were to: Wipe Away the Tears, Unplug the Ears, Unstop the Throat. The last phase includes an asking “to restore the chief by raising him up again.” Ultimately, this is a replacement ceremony. Later this oratory was passed on to the Five (so-called) Civilized Tribes plus one other. It was used to mourn the loss of hereditary chiefs. So the phrase has been used for many generations and in matters of seriousness surrounding the continuity of tribes.

The ceremony performs a transformation, a triumph over annihilation. Individuals may have died, but the personage continues as an immortal; the “personal” is, thus, embedded in the Iroquois speaking people. The collective power overcomes, ultimately, the orge, but in the meantime the tribe has converted to a new order. Enemies not killed in wars could be similarly transformed through education and induction to the tribe by similar ceremony.

The story of Hiawatha and the ceremonies involving the transition between a dead chief and the installation of a new chief, together with such phrases as, “Wipe Away the Tears,” have an emotional impact. We should try to understand that at a Landmark of American and Cherokee history.

Consider the theories of origins and internal migrations in the North American continent. Early colonials to mid-20th Century immigrants are later intruders to South Appalachia. Current archaeology traces immigrations to about 1000 AD. In part, this archaelogical work has used already existing burial mounds.

The Cherokee situation in this area: The environment is very diverse, Alpine climate gradually becoming very warm, humid weather in lower valleys. South there lies an unglaciated seabed, which is subjected to heavy rainfall and is easily repopulated by plants after a natural disaster.

There are lots of varieties of plants, over 130 species of trees in these Eastern Cherokee environments. Compare this to 70 species in all of Europe. This kind of environment implies a rich livelihood, with hunting of a variety of game, gathering of useful plants and a wide variety of stone-working materials. Multiple crops are possible and at one time fishing was very important. Cherokee knowledge spread across the interaction of these environments: e.g., three plants to asphyxiate fish were known. The Cherokee used to gather basket loads of stunned fish. There was cultivation of landscape, as well as controlled use of fire to drive game, get rid of vermin, and fertilize the soil.

There was direct and indirect trade. Copper was retrieved out of the upper Great Lakes region and exported south, in exchange for obsidian and conch shells from the Gulf Coast. There was exchange of soapstone, deer skins, and quartz crystal or mica.

The mountain vastness of the area tended to protect the Cherokee from diseases as well as to provide protection from human invasion.

Variations in environment encouraged divergence within subgroups. Occupying middle areas were the Keetowah band; many northern Indian tribes knew the Cherokee as the Keetowah. The core region in Western North Carolina faced north to the Shawnee and the Iroquois. West, in Kentucky, Cherokee contested grounds with other tribes. The Lower Cherokee occupied what is now northwestern South Carolina. Among mountain or “Overhill,” “Lower” and “Valley” groups distinctions in dialect developed. Internal differentiations helped to shape the enculturation of various subgroups of Cherokee and these differences are reflected in accounts of first encounters with the English, who came from the Northeast and coast, and the Spanish who came from the South.

DeSoto, about who we will say more below, encountered Indian society in his expedition coming out of Florida. There he found a much denser population with centralized chieftanships. Whether he met a Cherokee tribe, per se, is under reconsideration, but he did encounter clusters of independent towns, “peoplehoods,” often of mixed linguistic settlement. For him it was useful to have translators of different languages, and the Cherokee, given their physical positioning, were known as gifted linguists.

The Cherokee themselves were organized into villages that shared speech and ways of life. (See Lesson II, below, on the Ancient Village.) These towns were bound together by ties of kinship and clanship. Through these, all over Cherokee territory a traveler could find a place to stay. But this linguistic base and these familial and clan relationships did not form one political tribe, recognizing super-ordination of towns to a central government. A tribe, in the sense of one political unit, was not, thus primordial. In the first encounter with whites, small Indian groups met with leaders of expeditions sent by nation states.

The Cherokee became a tribe or nation through the various demands of encroaching whites for trade, with resulting strange changes in personal fortune. Relationships were forged primarily because of white craving for land. The first Cherokee land cession was in 1727 in an agreement with the colony of South Carolina. Chad Smith, elected head Chief of the Cherokee today (and a lawyer by training), speaks of these early relations of sellers of land as a recognition of Cherokee sovereignty and indigenous rights to land. In 1730, a ratification of a trade treaty takes place under unusual circumstances. Alexander Cuming marches into a Cherokee council house, pistols drawn. He forces an oath of allegiance to the English king, and then persuades seven supposed chiefs to accompany him to London, where the treaty for trade is ratified with the Board of Trade. The “chiefs” appearance causes a sensation in London society and Attacullaculla, a child in this group going to London, returns to become an important leader in the Cherokee nation.

Over time, tribal government projected the structure of the local towns. Speakers and local councils were important, and, conversely, these sought to embrace whole Cherokee people. In the 19th Century, tribal government was remodeled on the U.S. federal example, but the diversity discussed above continues to prevail, aided by interactions with whites. (See Unit 4 for extensive elaborations on the legal and political history indicated by the preceding two paragraphs.)

The result is fission and fusion at one and the same time.

Defeats of the Cherokee by first the English and, later, the United States, led to a decline in Cherokee political influence. To survive, the Cherokee undertook a new course. They succumbed to religious and cultural missionaries, but they developed an educated populace along the agrarian lines envisioned by Jefferson. They sought out people to teach them; whites reciprocated because farmland required less land than hunting.

In this way, the Cherokee became what was known as a “civilized” tribe. The transformation was uneven and incomplete. It was associated, as well, with mixed blood relations of the Cherokee with whites. Some Cherokee lived graciously, based on either mercantile or plantation livelihoods. The majority remained cultural conservatives in the sense that they were products of subsistence farming, hunting and gathering, and some craft making. This latter maintained a kind of sacred reverence for tribal government forms.

Many converted to Protestantism. This was probably part of a trade off for acquiring schools. Over time, the various sects became Cherokee sects through training of Cherokee preachers and adoption of Cherokee hymns.

The notion of “civilization” was important to this history and development. Whatever constituted civilization, by the 19th Century literacy was thought to be the key. Sequoyah invented the Cherokee syllabary or writing system. The writing system enabled codification of laws, production of financial records and publication of a Cherokee national newspaper.

Sequoyah (George Gist) intended his invention to be a symbol of resistance, to demonstrate the Cherokee as intellectual equals of whites. They were to record their own knowledge for their own purposes. And, indeed, literacy has played an important part in Cherokee history.

At the base of these “civilizing” changes, the substructure of Cherokee society began to move away from the forms of an extended family. Technologically, the substitution of plows and the animals for pulling them versus the traditional planting sticks made involvement in farming a more complex and enriching enterprise.

In the sense of these changes, the term “Civilized Tribe” to describe the Cherokee becomes oxymoronic, because their civilization moves the group from a tribal organization to a national one.

Civilization was an evolutionary wave, but it threatened sovereignty and identity. Within the Cherokee, prophets arose saying that civilization violated a divine plan and predicting that the world would end. At the very least, prosperity produced envy in eyes of neighbors whites. This envy of Cherokee prosperity was amplified by white’s regard of Cherokees as terrorists.

After the colonies declared independence, gold was discovered. Local Georgia politicians and militia took matters into their own hands and acted in defiance of U.S. defense of Cherokee treaty rights. The U.S. Government did act in good faith on land cessions, whereas Georgia became impatient about the legitimacy of their claims to land. The Cherokee situation became part of the power struggle between the states and federal government that was eventually to lead to the Civil War. Before that, decisions in the Federal government led to the removal to the West.

Ray Fogelson
University of Chicago

Howard Meredith. A Short History of the Native Americans in the United States. From Chapter 1, “Many Nations,” Section: “Iroquois White Roots of Peace,” Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing Co, 2001, pp. 9-11. Narration of the Hiawatha story. [Link to White Roots of Peace pdf.] (

Lesson 1, Part 2
Reappraising Cherokee Removal

In recent years we have witnessed an increase in, or at least a greater consciousness of, ethnocide and ethnic cleansing, territorialism and terrorism, of racism and genocide, of victimization and rituals of mourning with their ambivalent qualities of saccharine sadness and bitter anger. These phenomena seem global in scope, whether we consider Nicaragua or Bosnia, Rwanda or Palestine, Indonesia or Iraq. Such events and their analyses invite a reconsideration of comparable phenomena occurring in the history of Indian-White relations in America. Our history is riddled with such events: some are little known – who know of the Modoc Rebellion of Captain Jack or the Green Peach War among the Creeks? Other like Wounded Knee and Horseshoe Bend are firmly inscribed in the popular imagination. Today I want to reexamine the tragic history of Indian Removal in the United States, with particular emphasis on the famous and infamous “Trail of Tears” traversed by the Cherokees. The phrase “Trail of Tears” only gained currency after the event and may derive from the Cherokee retroflexive phrase “The Trail where we cried.” It might also be objectively termed “The Trail of Death.”

When we think of the Trail of Tears and removal, we almost automatically fixate on the Cherokees. However, Andrew Jackson’s Removal Act of 1830 extended well beyond the Cherokees and the four other Civilized Tribes of the Southeast. The policy of removal encompassed almost all Indian tribes in the Eastern United States, including such groups as the Delawares, the Seneca-Cayugas, Wyandots, Ottawas, Miamis, Pottawatomies, Chippewas, Menominees, and Winnebagos, all of whom possessed land or other assets that stood in the way of American expansion. Indeed, one can question why the literature on removal and current Federal legislation mandating additional research on the Trail of Tears concentrates so much on the Cherokee experience and slights other forcibly removed Civilized Tribes – the Choctaws, Muskogees, Chickasaws, and Seminoles – let alone all the other groups I’ve mentioned.

When Congress designated the Trail of Tears a national historical pathway in 1987, there were many undocumented sectors. The collaborative work of professional scholars and dedicated members of this (Trail of Tears) Association has filled in many of the gaps. However, we still don’t know much about the beginning or end of the Trail. Archaeologist, Brett Riggs (2006) has clarified the situation in Western North Carolina by detailed excavations of individual homesteads, public buildings, traces of wagon roads, and he has correlated these data with written evidence from maps, census data, property lists and evaluations of improvements. In addition, Riggs has located the sites of many of the “forts” or detention centers where the Cherokees were collected prior to departure West. Some of these centers in Georgia and Alabama were closely guarded formidable stockades whereas the ‘collection forts’ in North Carolina and Tennessee tended to be more open and permitted more access back and forth to the homestead and hunting grounds. Missionaries held services for their flocks inside and outside these forts. But despite often good intentions, conditions in the forts were squalid, rations were spare, and the forts were vectors of disease. Many Cherokees perished before the march commenced, and others departed for the West in a weakened state that made them susceptible to disease.

The emigrations are usually thought to terminate at Fort Gibson or Park Hill. However, resettlement in the Indian Territory was much more complex. It can best be understood in terms of social class and towns of origin. Some Treaty Party émigrés had scouted out the territory prior to Removal and shared much of the more productive bottom land and pasturage with the Old Settlers who had previously emigrated voluntarily. Traditionalists tried to approximate their previous situation by moving to remote “hollows” in the Ozark outcropping. These localities bear a superficial similarity to the Southern Appalachian homelands, but differences in rainfall make the two ecosystems quite divergent. When I first toured these areas in the mid-1960s with the late Robert K. Thomas as my guide, it was possible to guess where different groups originated from in the East by analysis of dialect geography. This is no longer possible because of language loss and internal and external migration. Most of the 70 or so invisible named communities that Albert Wahrhaftig mapped in the mid 1960s continue to exist, but today these settlements are less isolated, less impoverished, and more visible. In short, more research is needed on the points of origination and termination of the Trail of Tears.

At this juncture, I’d like to comment briefly on the commemoration of historical landmarks. We are very much concerned these days with landmarks, with sacred sites, and with relations between places and spaces, as manifested in trails, pathways, roads, historic corridors, canals, and waterways. These spatial nodes are often associated with the passage of historical time, usually marked by centenaries. Thus, in the 1930s, to memorialize its 400th anniversary, scholars attempted to retrace De Soto’s lethal trail of disease and destruction through the Southeast. John R. Swanton, eminent ethnologist of the Smithsonian, published a learned monograph on De Soto’s route. Historic markers were duly erected and stamps were issued to celebrate the quadracentennial of De Soto’s journey. De Soto was elevated into something of a national icon, even though by accounts he was a treacherous, brutal, and greedy scoundrel. A car company already had been named for him. Later models of the automobile were powered by a predecessor of automatic transmission called “fluid drive” – an ironic touch since De Soto’s personal journey ended in a watery grave in the Mississippi. He was accompanied in death by the slaughter of the expedition’s remaining horses, lest they be captured by the Indians. Horses had terrorized the natives; the course of history might have taken some slightly different turns had horses fallen into Indian hands at this early date.

Recent work by Charles Hudson and his associates reveals serious errors in Swanton’s proposed routes. By orchestrating linguistic, archaeologic, cartographic, and ethnohistoric research not only was De Soto’s entourage re-routed, but important new interpretations of Native American societies at the time of contact were revealed. These include De Soto’s brief, but significant, contact with the ancestors of the Cherokees. The value of multi-disciplinary approaches demonstrated in the De Soto debates should carry over to our interpretation of the later Trail of Tears.

Of late, the National Park Service has been very active in the trail industry. (See Unit 5 and its links to the Park Service map of the Trail of Tears: The Natchez Trace is currently being surveyed, and the Park Service is also developing the concept of historical corridors in the Southwest and elsewhere. In my lifetime, I have seen Route 66 change from a primary link between Chicago and Los Angeles to become an interrupted roadway devoted to tourist kitsch and nostalgia for the early days of automobile travel.

The recent bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific and back has occasioned national celebration. Major museum exhibits and lavish catalogues have been devoted to the Corps of Discovery. Documentary films by Ken Burns and the National Geographic Society have reached a wide audience. Numerous academic symposia have been held and many have found their way into print, along with a surge of other scholarly and popular publications. The epic journey has been raised to the level of a defining moment in the history of the youthful America Republic. All this publicity disguises the fact that by 1804 the way west had already been blazed by fur trappers and Indians, without whose assistance the exploring party would have been doomed to failure. One interesting facet of the Lewis and Clark media blitz is that it stimulated Native American responses and alternative interpretations extending from the Sioux to the Confederated Salish Tribes. These are serious commentaries that deserve attention.

The explorations of Lewis and Clark provide a useful transition to the meaning and politics of Removal. The idea of an American trans-Mississippi West that could serve as dumping ground for unwanted Indians only became a practical reality after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It was this territory that Lewis and Clark were commissioned to survey in terms of its potential for the American political economy. Some Siouan peoples refer to Lewis and Clark’s journey up the Missouri as “the beginning of sorrows,” a phrase that has a harmonic resonance with “the trail of tears.” Also co-incidentally William Clark would live to play an active role in implementing removal policies as an Indian commissioner during Jackson’s administration.

Ideas of Indian Removal were at least as old as the founding of the American Republic. Both Washington and Jefferson developed plans to civilize the Indians. They argued that the Indians either had to settle down into an agrarian life or disappear into an a-historic wilderness. Actual Indian removal from their homelands was not a new phenomenon. In the Southeast many of those who had not perished from newly introduced diseases and chronic warfare were enslaved and were removed to the West Indies where their ethnic identities, if not their genes, were eradicated. We are just now beginning to appreciate the extent and severity of the Indian slave trade of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

National opinion became clearly divided as to whether Indians could successfully make the transformation into civilized life. The very term Civilized Tribe is problematic, if not oxymoronic, and subject to various interpretations. Can tribes truly be considered sovereign nations? Is Civilization a permanent transformation or a thin veneer masking essential tribalism? During the Civil War, there were wagers as to whether the Confederate Cherokees or Cherokees fighting for the Union would be the first to regress to scalping. Reformers, missionaries and political Whigs, mostly from the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states were optimistic about the ability of Indians to progress to the blissful state of Civilization, but Southern Jacksonian Democrats and residents of the recently settled Midwestern territories were less hopeful.

Lewis Cass (1782-1866) helped to articulate the ideology that rationalized for many the pro-Removal position. He did so in an influential 1830 article in the widely read North American Review. Cass claimed authority as an expert on Indians and Indian affairs by virtue of his active involvement with Michigan Indians in his capacity as territorial governor and before that his earlier career as an Indian fighter. Cass also systematically collected information on native languages and cultures through interviews and questionnaires, many of which were collected and collated by his assistant, Charles Trowbridge. This research never materialized into the intended book, but the scattered materials are a treasure trove for ethnohistorians.

Cass was convinced that language determined the structure of thought and that Indians were unable to distinguish the abstract from the concrete. They maintained a hunter’s mentality and were felt to be incapable of logical reasoning. [I should note that in this he was not so different from other early students of Native American languages and culture – for instance the Cherokee language was thought to be primitive because of its proliferation of pronouns and verbal forms, supposedly 14 forms for expressing “to wash”; and Lewis Henry Morgan believed that generalized or classificatory kin terms were more primitive than specific or descriptive terms.]

Cass formulated a universal stage theory for human social development. The Hunter Stage was one that Europeans had long since passed through. Indians, or more specifically Indian men, were stuck in the Hunter Stage. This natural condition, he felt, was despoiled by the fur trade, alcohol abuse, and accumulation of debts, all of which led to increase in warfare and forced sale of lands. Once pacified the hunter fell into a dismal condition of unrelenting poverty, excessive drinking, and personal corruption. There was an undeniable need for change, but men, because of their linguistic deficiencies were fated to remain in an irredeemable hunting stage of development. Cass, through his solipsistic logic, provided a moral justification for Removal and for the necessity of surrendering land to white agriculturalists and industrialists. Cass’s theories reverberated with contemporary racism and denied the reality that the Indian societies in question were mostly based upon horticulture; he also ignored the considerable progress that the Civilized Tribes had already achieved.

Cass occupied a position of power as Secretary of War under Jackson from 1831 to 1836. He was instrumental in enacting treaties and land cessions with Indians and with carrying out the provisions of the 1830 Removal Act. Cass’s political career continued as Minister to France, Presidential Candidate in 1844, Senator from the new state of Michigan, and Secretary of State during the critical years from 1857 to 1860 before the Civil War. Cass was clearly a key figure in Removal politics.

Ideology aside, the underlying motives for advocating Removal rested on a complex interplay of factors. First of all was the insatiable American appetite for land. Land was a key to understanding the early U.S. political economy. Land sale provided much of the financial support for the Federal Government, which, except for some controversial tariffs and special taxes, became a principal source of Federal income. Land could not only be sold but could also be bestowed directly as payment for military service and political favor. The notion of land as a commodity was initially quite foreign to Indian thought – a bit like the selling of air rights in urban centers today – but Indians were soon forced into regarding land as alienable private property.

School children are sometimes required to recite grocery lists of Indian “gifts” to the white man, especially around Thanksgiving time. However, the unspoken greatest gift of all was land, and, ironically, it was that gift which endowed the Federal government’s endeavor to oppress, defeat, and remove Indians. The stereotype of the “Indian giver” is in serious need of revision. I await a qualified economic historian to verify my argument that sale of Indian lands subsidized the operation of the Federal Government. Land was primarily valued for its agricultural potential. This was particularly true in the South where King Cotton and slave labor had become ascendant and where tobacco had long been a money crop since the settlement of Jamestown. But timber and mineral resources were also in play. The discovery of gold in the north Georgia mountains in 1827 precipitated America’s first gold rush and further funded the urgency for dispossessing Cherokees from the region. (For a map of the shrinking Cherokee lands between 16th and 19th Centuries, see

Besides land and greed, vengeance was another strong motive for Removal. Many whites in the backcountry had suffered grievous losses during the Indian wars. Their slain kin were often unavenged, and the settlers lived in chronic fear of potential Indian uprisings. Indian warfare was regarded as barbarous, if not savage, and American settlers resented foreign powers, like the English, French, and Spanish hiring Indian mercenaries to launch surprise raids, spring sudden ambushes, and take scalps. Indicative of this culture of terror is the little known fact that blood curdling Indian war cries were appropriated by John Sevier and his frontier militia and used to help turn the tide of battle in the decisive victory against the English at King’s Mountain during the American Revolution. These fearful war cries later morphed into the Rebel Yell used by Confederates during the Civil War.

Georgians and other Southerners also hated the fact that many Cherokees were succeeding so well in the civilizing process by establishing impressive plantations and taking on aristocratic airs. They attributed Cherokee success to their privileged status vis-à-vis the Federal Government and to the special efforts by northern philanthropists, missionaries, and do-gooders to educate the Indians and raise their standards of living. Jealousy was a powerful factor on the local level, and whites coveted not only Indian soil, but also the improvements made to the land.

Finally, race must be factored in when considering White motives for Indian removal. The threat of a Black-Indian alliance constituted a pervasive fear throughout the White power structure of the South. Separate Indian Nations could serve as refuge areas for escaped slaves. This accounts for the ferocity of the three Seminole Wars, conflicts that cost the country dearly in money, men, and prestige. However, even among the more “civilized” tribes, where a prosperous, progressive upper class based upon slave labor was taking shape, the less wealthy, traditionalist tribal members embraced a more inclusive view of Blacks and other outsiders. This was particularly true of the Muskogees and Seminoles and, to a lesser extent, the Cherokees. The legality of the Cherokee Chief Shoeboots fathering children with one of his slaves became a celebrated case for the Cherokee Supreme Court and is brilliantly analyzed in Tiya Miles’ recent prize-winning book, Ties that Bind (University of California Press, 2005).

The State of Georgia, where the majority of Cherokees resided, led the fight for Indian removal. The Compact of 1802 in which Georgia ceded its western lands to allow the formation of the states of Alabama and Mississippi, contained an agreement that the Federal Government would extinguish Indian claims to land within the borders of Georgia. The Federal Government acted in good faith and thousands of acres of Creek and Cherokee lands were acquired through treaties.

However, in the 1820s Georgians were irritated because a sizable Cherokee population remained within the state’s northwestern corner. The other twelve original colonies had apparently disposed of their Indian problems. However, the formation of a feisty, independent, sovereign Cherokee Nation with its own written constitution, courts, and government further aggravated the Georgians who had difficulty accepting a separate sovereign state within their sovereign state. States had the right to contest Federal policies through the Acts of Nullification, as invoked in South Carolina’s opposition to Federal tariffs. Georgia began to challenge Federal rulings by harassing the Cherokees in a variety of questionable legal maneuvers. For the most part, the Federal Government failed to redress these wrongs. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Cherokee sovereignty in two landmark cases, but was powerless to enforce its decisions. Georgia’s harassment succeeded in creating dissention in the Cherokee Nation. An influential minority faction finally succumbed to what they envisioned as the inevitable and signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, agreeing to Removal. After a spirited debate this illegitimate treaty was ratified by Congress after a close vote.

Cherokee Nationalists rallied behind their chief, John Ross, and resisted removal as long as possible and eventually the Federal troops, augmented by the Georgia militia, enforced emigration to the West.

We are familiar with accounts of shock at being rounded up and placed in what are often referred to as “concentration camps,” with intended or unintended analogy to the Nazis. Being uprooted from one’s familiar homeland, where one’s ancestor’s bones were buried, and being treated as criminals or animals were horrific experiences for many Cherokees. But the homeland was now under siege, and the very integrity of the Cherokee culture and lifeways was threatened. For some, removal was a way to escape their desperate situation. Advanced descriptions of the Indian Territory, while not edenic, nevertheless promised a chance to start over and get away from the baleful influence of encroaching Whites. One contemporary account of a physician, reported in the Silliman Journal, states that after examining several hundred Cherokees just prior to departure, he was surprised to find no symptoms of mental disorder or distress. Many Cherokees seemed reconciled to Removal and felt it was time to move on.

However, as we all know, the journey West was disastrous. Despite the Federal Government’s good intentions and heavy expenditures, amounting to almost half of the Federal budget by some accounts, the Removal was grossly mismanaged and under-supplied. Death was a recurrent event and make-shift trail-side burials were the rule. Most people traveled overland in wagons and on foot; some made part of the journey in flimsy, overcrowded, insect infested keel boats and flat boats. The travelers were subjected to the whims of the weather – extreme drought with some detachments; tumultuous rains and swollen rivers with others; and fierce winter blasts for many whose trails wound northward through Kentucky and southern Illinois. And they marched….

* * * * *

The Trail of Tears, while generally recognized as a sorrowful event, received little public attention until recently. The 1938 centennial was marked by the establishment of a park ten miles north of Cape Girardeau. The one hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary saw the Trail of Tears voted into the National Historic Trails System by Congress. In 1989 a Two Day Parade was held in Tahlequah. Several other smaller events also transpired. Some Cherokees expressed the feeling that the Trail of Tears was best forgotten.

In 1993 the Trail of Tears Association was founded. Despite some anxious ambivalences, I hereby confess to being a card-carrying member of the Illinois chapter of this association. I subscribe to its objectives and am pleased with its accomplishments in raising public awareness about the place of the Trail of Tears in America history. However, I remain a bit uneasy about whom this organization is intended to serve. Besides the presidential presence of my friend, Jack Baker, as a founding father and several other strategically placed Cherokees, the overwhelming majority of our membership is non-Native. Why haven’t more Cherokees enrolled in this worthy association? Despite its uncomfortable whiteness of being, the association sponsors useful activities, promotes valuable research, and disseminates knowledge in a variety of ways. We much confront the question of who the targeted audience is for all this earnest, well-intentioned enterprise. Whose tears are being shed and whose are being wiped away?

What I am trying to suggest is that, while the Removal is certainly a pivotal event in Cherokee history, its meaning, memory, and means of memorialization may be quite different for Cherokees as compared to non-Cherokees. There is a tendency to liken the Cherokee Removal to the Biblical exodus, as did sympathetic contemporary white onlookers when the entourage passed through their towns. Or to compare the Removal to the Holocaust suffered by Jews, Gypsies, Gays and political prisoners under the Nazi regime. Often the comparison seems uncanny: racial persecution, confiscation of property, forced death marches, concentration camps, and real or intended genocide.

Here I am reminded of an incident that occurred soon after the National Park Service’s fine exhibitions on the Trail of Tears was installed at Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah. I recall asking a Cherokee elder, who will remain nameless, how he liked the exhibit with its memorabilia and its striking white alabaster-like statues forlornly heading west. After a bit of hesitation, he answered, “Well, it was pretty good.” I probed a bit further and asked him how he felt about the Removal, and he replied, “We haven’t forgotten, but we don’t like to be reminded about it all the time.” He seems to be saying in polite Cherokee fashion, “Thanks, but no thanks, for the memories.” Ideas of vengeance, victimhood, and reparation are muted. I doubt whether a similar reaction could be elicited in a Jewish holocaust museum or in a mourning procession for a Muslim suicide bomber.

Elsewhere I’ve written about the Removal as a kind of non-event for many Cherokees. It was so horrible, so traumatic, so unbelievable, so undescribable that in some ways, psychologically, it never happened and was pushed out of consciousness. Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s sequential model of reactions to death seems clearly applicable here. First, there is denial, then there is anger, next there is a stage of negotiation with reality, this is followed by depression, and finally there is a stage of acceptance, resignation, and, as the Cherokees might put it, “moving on.”

I find it significant that we have so few Cherokee personal accounts of the Removal experience; this despite the fact that many Cherokee elite were highly educated and that traditionalists had access to Sequoyah’s syllabary to record these events. In contrast, we have a plenitude of first-hand accounts by accompanying soldiers and attendant missionaries, as well as written impressions from White witnesses as the sad procession wearily trudged westward. I grant that many Cherokees recollections were transmitted orally, but these memories are subject to much distortion and the kind of secondary rationalization that we usually apply to bad dreams.

One interesting exception to the Cherokee disinclination to reflect on events surrounding the Removal is the story of Tsali, or Charlie. According to legend, Tsali and his sons killed a soldier who had rounded up their family for removal and had been abusive to Tsali’s wife. The men hid out in the mountain fastness near Deep Creek. Tsali and his sons surrendered to a posse of Cherokees who were then ordered to execute their prisoners. In return the Qualla band and Euchella’s band were allowed to escape the Removal and remain in North Carolina. The story of Tsali’s martyrdom was fashioned by James Mooney after interviewing Will Thomas who supposedly engineered the capture. Mooney’s interview took place long after the fact in a mental asylum where Thomas was a patient. The story of Tsali’s martyrdom was repeated widely and became almost an official part of Cherokee history. It was a central episode in the outdoor drama Unto These Hills, as well as a regular feature in popular versions of Cherokee history. A few scholars doubted some of the details of the Tsali story, as did many culturally conservative Cherokees and some local whites. The consensus now is that Tsali was an outlaw who threatened the rights of the Cherokee bands to remain in their mountainous homeland. Tsali has been edited out of the newest production of Unto These Hills. And the Tsali debate is revisited in Charles Frazer’s Thirteen Moons, a new novel destined to be a best-seller. Again we can ask whose version of the Trail of Tears is correct, and for whom is history written?

“The Trail of Tears” is something of a misnomer for the Cherokee understanding of the Removal. According to Cherokee scholar Steven Woods, the Cherokee word for the Removal is dig e tsi lv ski, which means “being forced to move, impelled.” An accentuation of the first syllable by a shift from di to ti translates more specifically as being prodded or driven like animals or cattle. I can confirm these connotations for the Eastern Cherokee where the term for Removal in reservation English is “Drive away.” Many historical narratives that I collected would start off, “Way back when the Indians was a wearing diapers, before the Drive away.” “Diapers” refers to the breechclout; it also suggests nakedness,the childhood of the race, and the era before civilization.

The Removal, or more specifically the march to the West, was a liminal period, a time-out-of-time, a space-between-places. Liminality is characterized by inversion, reversals, indeterminacy, categorical confabulation, as in being betwixt and between two states or conditions, of being neither fish nor fowl, human nor animal. The Trail of Tears was filled with nightmarish terror, ambiguity and anomaly, an unstable movement between life and death, between humanity and animality, and between moments of rare kindness and raw brutality. During this ordeal social distinctions became blurred, and sharing, sympathy, and empathy became important survival skills.

There is an unfortunate tendency to view the Cherokees as powerless pawns in a larger game of power politics between different European nations and between Federalism and States Rights, the same schism that would later erupt into Civil War. However, the Cherokees did not regard themselves as powerless and struggled mightily to forestall Removal. Most peoples in times of distress do not necessarily succumb to hopelessness or despair. It seems as if many Cherokees at the time of Removal felt that they, and they alone, were responsible for their situation. Perhaps, the thinking goes, if they hadn’t sold their own traditional cultural birthright for a mess of civilizational pottage, things might have worked out differently. With respect to traditional belief, as woven into one of the principal wampum belts, the Cherokees had strayed from the central white path, a trail that extended from here and now (a ye li) to up above (galv la ti) and were wandering off into the purplish darkness. Indeed, a renowned Cherokee chief named White Path, from the pre-Removal town of Ellijay, urged a return to the old ways before it was too late, only to later die on the Trail. Perhaps the most ardent advocate for rejecting the treacherous program of progress and assimilation was Dragging Canoe, a war chief who led armed resistance from the Chicamaugan towns until 1796.

We have to appreciate the cosmological significance of what an irreversible journey to the West meant to Cherokee traditionalists. The West symbolized death – “where the sun set down,” where the spirits of the deceased departed this world for another, although the dead might linger as ghosts and sometimes returned to lend their invisible presence to ceremonial occasions among the living. The directional color coding for the West was black. But the West was also an active force from which tumultuous weather originated. The West challenged and tested human endurance, as the Trail of Tears tested Cherokee moral resolve.

The highest mortality rates of the Removal occurred among the traditionalists, especially those who traveled overland in the dead of winter. They suffered from lack of medical care, insufficient supplies, a shortage of wagons, rotten meat and spoiled flour provided by corrupt government contractors, two few blankets, and unsatisfactory shelter from the inclement weather. Those who left early, including most members of the Treaty Party, made much of the trip by boat and suffered few deaths. The earlier detachments led by Federal troops fared somewhat better than the later Cherokee-organized contingents conducted by local town leaders. Boats were not a preferred mode of travel for traditionalists, since rivers were pathways to the chaotic underworld, an area filled with deadly monsters. Their fears about boats received indirect confirmation when it was observed that the ill and infirm were transferred to river boats to continue the trip westward.

The suffering was tremendous, but was borne with minimal complaint and a quiet dignity. As mentioned previously, the dead were buried in simple graves along the route or in nearby cemeteries without proper funerary procedure being performed. The heroic missionaries who accompanied the emigrants West offered the last rites where possible, but the souls of the dead still haunted the living and sought vengeance for their plight.

Colonial psychologist Edwardo Duran has written about wounds of the soul that are transmitted across generation as a chronic source of affliction. The unresolved pathos of the Trail of Tears may have left a permanent scar on the Cherokee psyche. Some contemporary members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees attribute the raging pandemic of diabetes to disturbances of the bones of the deceased by insensitive archaeologists. Bones of the dead are thought to contain a residuum of life force and potentiality for reincarnation, like seeds planted in the soil.

* * * * *

This reconsideration of the Trail of Tears has taken many detours. I’ve raised some difficult questions about why the Trail of Tears continues to wind through our minds today. In attempting to sketch something of a moral history of the Removal, I’ve tried to bring Cherokee voicing to the issues. However, as a cultural ventriloquist, I leave much to be desired. Nevertheless, I believe integrity and survival of Cherokee culture is what is at stake in discussions of the Trail of Tears.

Cherokee culture embraces continuities and discontinuities, consensus and contradictions. As such, it is a vibrant, living entity. Principal Chief Chad Smith recently said, the great legacy of the Cherokee Nation is as a tribal people who “face adversity, survive, adapt, prosper and excel.” In Oklahoma in the 1960s the elders related a prophecy on this earth as a distinctive people. If they cease to exist as a separate people, the Creator’s design will be destroyed, and the world will come to an end. By being Cherokees and upholding Cherokee-ness, the Cherokees insure that the world will continue.

Last summer in North Carolina, I encountered a similar sentiment attributed to Walker Calhoun, an eighty-eight year old spiritual leader who has been instrumental in reviving traditional dancing and ceremonialism at his square ground on Raven’s Rock at the head of Big Cove. When organizing the ground some sixteen years ago, he envisioned his endeavor as a last chance for his followers. They had the choice of being Cherokees or becoming just another forgotten brown race in the South. They chose the former.

Ray Fogelson
University of Chicago
By permission of the Trail of Tears Association

Lesson 2

The “Ancient Village” at the Cherokee Heritage Center and Pre-contact Ways of Life

Guiding Questions

• As you examine the text below on the Ancient Village at the Cherokee Heritage Center, can you connect the discussion here to parts of Professor Fogelson’s on the History and Culture of Cherokee Removal?
• Try to imagine an answer to this question by connecting Fogelson’s essay and Professor Gardener’s essay, below: Why would a Cherokee village represent “sacred space”? If a village is sacred, then everything might be sacred in the town. What, do you imagine, would likely be accorded special reverence?
• Can you see the political and clan distinctions that Professor Fogelson used in organizing Cherokee society before Pre-contact used in Professor Gardener’s essay, below?

Learning Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

• Describe a pre-contact ancient Cherokee Village
• Relate the space of the Ancient Village to the history and sacred practices of Cherokee culture before contact with Europeans
• Describe the political and clan distinctions used to organize Cherokee society in Pre-contact times.

Ancient Village is a reconstructed village of the Cherokee people representing a picture of village life pre-contact with European peoples. The palisade which you view in the picture is not so much for defense as it is intended to mark sacred space.

Among the structures included inside the palisade were a Council House an O Si Lodge (see OSI button,, a Stomp Grounds surrounded by seven arbors (one for each one of the clans) and a few houses. The houses of the other villagers were situated near the town center.

The Cherokees were an egalitarian society, but with defined roles for men and women. In prehistoric times, there was an estimated population of over 30,000 Cherokee spread out over an area of the Southern Appalachians in what are now parts of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. (For a map of the original extent of Cherokee-settled territory around the 16th Century, see

Early life centered around towns in 4 major areas referred to Lower, Middle, Valley and Overhill towns.

Entrance to Ancient Village at Cherokee Heritage Center

The Council House served as a central location where tribal members could gather and make decisions or hold ceremonies. (See Council House button, Generally the council house was open to men only, but there were exceptions when women could participate. The Council House was constructed in the round giving each member equal status in addressing the group. The town served as a location for the Cherokee to gather in the Council House, to dance on the Stomp Grounds and to meet other visiting tribes.

A Cherokee not only had allegiance to his town, but also to his clan. Clan affiliation existed between towns, and clan members could expect hospitality or aid from other clan members when visiting other towns. Clan affiliation was matrilineal and probably extended to the election of the Peace Chief. War Chiefs were selected by council and were only in power during times of war. (See Politics button,

Women worked in the fields and were responsible for them. Women often controlled crops their labor produced and traders would barter with the women for their crops. Town boundaries or territorial boundaries were not strictly defined and so affiliation by clan took on added significance. Members of one clan were not allowed to marry within their own clan and therefore men often traveled to other towns to find a woman to marry. This practice strengthened ties not only between towns but between clans. In old age, some men would move back to the village of their birth. Also in old age, some women were allowed a greater voice in politics and allowed to speak in the council house. (See Link to Women and Deliberation pdf )

It is not easy to generalize about Cherokee lifeways as life in each town area could differ according to the lifestyle of its inhabitants. Often each town's lifestyle was in response to the area in which they lived so that those people who lived by the rivers had a different way of life than those who lived in the mountains. Towns for the Cherokee did not serve the same purpose as towns in a European sense: as a seat of government, as a place of defense or a space where a group of people could live together, but rather they were places to gather, to hold ceremonies and to provide a locale where organized social interaction could take place. Language and clan affiliation were more of the glue that held Cherokee society together than a set of laws or central government. The Cherokee would hold ceremonies or dances to celebrate the occasion of first harvest, such as the Green Corn Dance, or perform the Eagle Dance to cement friendships, to make peace or to recount the deeds of courageous warriors.

After European contact the Cherokee were the only Native American tribe to develop their own alphabet. The three letters in the logo used on this website signify "calaki", the Cherokee's name for themselves. The Cherokee also possessed a written constitution and learned how to lobby Congress and to plead their cases in the Supreme Court. Early travelers were impressed with the sophistication of the Cherokee and their ability to readily adapt to changing conditions. In 1725, a noted Cherokee, Long Warrior, stated: “they (the Cherokee) have been brought up after another manner than their forefathers and…they must consider that they could not live without the English.”

Despite great efforts to adapt to the white man’s lifestyle, disease and predation greatly depleted the Cherokee population by the time that DeSoto contacted them around 1541 and caused a reorganization of tribal government. The ultimate insult came in 1830 in the form of the Removal Act authorized by President Jackson, which forced the Cherokee to move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, known to history as the infamous “Trail of Tears”. All claims to land granted by treaty to the Cherokee, even the treaty from Georgia upheld by the Supreme Court, were ignored.

A tribute to the resilience of the Cherokee is the fact that their culture has survived and their population rebounded. Ancient Village is not only a way for their children to learn the ancient lifeways, but for all people to learn. Ruth Muskrat Bronson, author of “Indians are People Too”, commented on the need for the Cherokee (and all tribes) to become self-sufficient when she stated "[We need] get the Indians to think and act for themselves and not let a government, however beneficent, think for them...we must stop trying to make Indian communities into little replicas of our own..."

Questions for Analysis:

For all questions you should support your arguments by interpreting evidence from the text.

Question: Does being egalitarian mean being equal in all things? Does having defined roles for men and women mean that you are depriving one or the other of individual rights or does it mean that you are recognizing abilities that are best suited for different roles?

Question: What factors would you use to determine if one form of government is better than another? What advantages does the Council House have in promoting a good government?

Question: What role does culture play in promoting self-identity and a sense of self-worth?

Robert Gardener
Saint Mary’s College of California

Optional Questions for Discussion using the textual sources below to extend your thinking:

The sources show the role that oral stories and speeches played in Cherokee life. Imagine the stories being told. Where in the Village might that happen? Why there?

What is important about deliberations and who talks in pre-contact Cherokee society? What does that tell you about the way a people acts and what it thinks? Why might these ways of thinking and acting be important for 19th, 20th, and 21st Century Cherokee?

Supplemental Questions: Connecting the Lessons Together

Re-consider Fogelson’s interpretation of the Haiwatha – Adodarhonah story in Meredith as forming the basis for replacement ceremonies for leaders. Now turn to Steven Woods’ Unit 3 and his lecture, Cherokee Story-telling Traditions: Forming Identity, Building Community. Woods argues that story-telling is a part of making Indian or any group’s identity. Do you think Fogelson is speaking about identity in speaking about the story as a basis for installing new leaders of a tribe? What – if anything -- does the story’s reliance on the phrase “Wipe Away the Tears” say about the identity of a people and a leader?

Under Guiding Questions above, we said: “Professor Fogelson seems to think that “civilizing” Indian tribes was controversial among both whites and Indians. Can you understand what “civilizing” seemed to mean in the 19th Century? Can you see likenesses and differences between Indian, particularly Cherokee, views of civilizing and white views of civilizing?” Look over Professor Clark’s Unit 3. Do you think that Professor Fogelson’s argument on views of civilizing is another aspect of Professor Clark’s “dual life” argument?

Professor Fogelson states above that he “believe(s that) integrity and survival of Cherokee culture is what is at stake in discussions of the Trail of Tears.” Yet, if you look over Robert Conley’s lecture in Unit 7, or, perhaps, Julia Coates’ second lesson in Unit 4, you might see why it is so difficult for Cherokees and other Americans to discuss this chapter of U.S. and Cherokee history. After thinking about this Unit 1, Unit 4 and 7, and the materials on education (Unit 6) and arts (Unit 8) you find on this website or elsewhere, try this question: Why does it seem so difficult for everyone – Cherokees and other Americans -- to speak about and discuss the Trail of Tears, and is it ever possible for a people to incorporate such a history and yet recover and grow as a living culture after it?

Textual Sources:

James Mooney. James Mooney. “Myths of the Cherokee.” From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. [1900] “Origin of Disease and Medicine”
, Cosmogonic Myths, no. 4 or also available in _________. _________. Dover Publications, p. 250-252.
[Link to The Origin of Disease and Medicine pdf.]

Grace Steele Woodward, The Cherokees, pp. 40-45, on Cherokee war council deliberations and the practices inside the Council or Town House and the role of oratory. Also, on the role of women in decision-making in the councils, at the time of contact with European settlers.
[Link to Women and Deliberation pdf.]

Permission granted by Oklahoma University Press: