The history of the United States is not flawless and pure. It has some moments where sadly, injustice prevailed. Fortunately, those instances of injustice had somehow helped people realize that justice needed to be done. One of such blemishes in American history is the relocation of the Cherokee Indians from their original lands to the Western United States. The pain, death, and suffering that resulted from such relocation would later be called the “ Trail of Tears. ” Before the relocation though, the Cherokee Indians did everything they could to stay in their homelands while accommodating the demands of the European American settlers.
The Cherokee Indians are Native American people. Their tribe, which is the largest Native American tribe in the entire US, is called the Cherokee Nation. Most Cherokees live today in northeastern Oklahoma where they ended up after their forced relocation. A smaller group of Cherokees lives in a reservation in North Carolina, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The term “ Cherokee” may have been derived from a Muskogean word that refers to people of a different speech. The Muskogean language is composed of indigenous languages in the Southeastern United States.
It may have also come from a Choctaw word that means “ cave people. ” (Petra Press, 2001, p. 5-6) The Choctaw are another group of Native Americans in the Southeastern US. The Cherokee were once a powerful tribe with members who dwelled and hunted in vast stretches of land in the Southeastern US. They lived in lands that now compose the states of North and South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. Since they were the first people to live in those lands, the Cherokee refer to themselves as the “ principal people” or the “ real people.”
The original Cherokees lived in the Southeastern US thousands of years ago, along rivers found in the southern Appalachian Mountains (Petra Press, 2001, p. 6-8). All of that were bound to change however, when European Americans started to settle across the United States and in Cherokee land. European Americans were composed of immigrants who came from countries such as Germany, Ireland, and Scotland. These people started to occupy Cherokee land when they were told that there was enough land for everyone. Such of course is the “ American dream,” starting from scratch and then building a fortune through one’s own hard work.
Unfortunately, most of these people didn’t found untouched land in the Southeastern US. In fact, most areas of land there already belonged to Native Americans, including the Cherokee (Hakim, 2003, p. 68). European American immigrants didn’t care about the dwellings of the Cherokees and they continued to push westward. Several of them built their own houses in the Cherokee land that stretched across the southern Appalachian Mountains, a semicircle that traverses Kentucky and Alabama. Like all Native Americans, the Cherokees had a warrior tradition, so they didn’t let the European Americans just steal their land.
They raided the houses of European Americans and killed them and burned their farms. A lot of innocent European Americans were killed because the Cherokee didn’t differentiate between whites who wanted them to stay in their land and whites who wanted them out of their land. All they were aware of was that the European Americans were driving them out of their ancestors’ land. War between Cherokees and European Americans broke out. Whites retaliated with a deadly force that mostly defeated the Native Americans. Their numbers and weapons were just too much for the Cherokees to handle.
The bloody conflict induced some leaders of the United States to try to find ways to protect the Cherokees but it was a very unpopular thing to do at the time. In fact, European American settlers conceived of a plan to send the Cherokees and all other Native American Indians to the west of the Mississippi River. The President of the United States at the time, Andrew Jackson, himself favored the plan, as well as most whites in the country. Their reason for pushing for such a resolution is that the Cherokees would live there more peacefully, far away from the settlers.
However, the Cherokees refused to move because they cannot leave the land of their ancestors, and the bloody conflict continued (Hakim, 2003, p. 68). President Andrew Jackson was so eager to send the Cherokees to the west that his efforts led to the passing of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Already endangered because of the new law that legally enabled the President to drive them westward, the Cherokees’ problem got even worse when gold was discovered in their land in Georgia. In a gold rush, gold hunters came by the thousands to get the valuable minerals.
The local Georgia government also didn’t want to help the Cherokees. They even held a lottery that gave Cherokee land to winners who were all European American settlers. Of course, taking away Cherokee land is not an easy thing to do, so American soldiers helped their fellow Americans to take away Cherokee farms and orchards. President Andrew Jackson didn’t even lift a finger to help the Cherokees because he wanted them out of the Southeastern US. European Americans did not really care about the Cherokees because they thought they were uncivilized and called them “ savages.”
However, this is not the case at all since a lot of Cherokees at that time had already incorporated the culture and lifestyle of the European American settlers. In Georgia, many Cherokees lived as European Americans did. Some of them even married European Americans and lived the two cultures. Like the white settlers, many Cherokees cleared lands, constructed large farms, planted fruits like apples and peach orchards, and raised domestic animals such as hogs and cattle. Abandoning their traditional houses, some Cherokees lived in huge European-style houses.
There were even Cherokees who had enough money to afford slaves (Hakim, 2003, p. 69). The Cherokees did many adjustments to accommodate the European American settlers in Georgia and elsewhere in the Southeastern US. When missionaries came into Cherokee land, many Cherokees converted to Christianity. Sequoyah, a famous Cherokee, developed and created the first Indian alphabet so their tribe’s indigenous language could be translated into writing. The Cherokees’ adoption of European American culture didn’t stop there. Like the white settlers, they formed a government with a constitution.
To ensure that their children are well-educated, they founded schools. Within Cherokee territory, they built a capital city filled with solid buildings unlike their makeshift traditional dwellings and broad avenues. The Cherokees amassed so much wealth, that many of them became wealthy. Such economic progress however, didn’t impress the white settlers. In fact, they even became more determined to grab the land away from them. Not all European Americans were unjust toward the Cherokees, however. The best example of this is Samuel Worcester, a Congressional missionary who came to Cherokee land in Georgia to preach and teach school.
Worcester became very vocal about his view that the Cherokees had a right to their land. The state of Georgia didn’t like Worcester’s view and they acted against him by refusing to give him a license since all whites in Cherokee territory at the time needed to possess licenses. Worcester was then tried and found guilty, and he was sentenced to four years of hard labor (Hakim, 2003, p. 69). Worcester didn’t back out easily though, and he appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. The critical and influential US Supreme Court case would be remembered as Worcester vs.
Georgia. What started out as a dispute on licenses grew to include the issues of Indian ownership of land and their sovereign right. The result of the case was astounding because this time, the Cherokees and Worcester actually won. Chief Justice Marshall ruled that the Cherokees had the right to own their land to govern themselves in their community. The laws of the state of Georgia are not applicable to the Cherokees and the European American citizens of the state cannot enter Cherokee territory unless they permitted them to do so.
The court ruling was just and sensational and it became illegal to drive the Cherokees from their land in Georgia. Cherokee victory was short-lived however, because President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the court ruling (Hakim, 2003, p. 70). In 1838, the defeated Cherokees finally left their land. Men, women, children, and old people all headed to their designated place in the West in a journey that would later be called the “ Trail of Tears. ” The journey was so deadly that one in every four Cherokees died (Hakim, 2003, p. 70).
The right of the Cherokees to govern themselves and to own their land wasn’t honored because President Andrew Jackson’s administration clearly represented the prevailing view at the time. They believed the Cherokees to be below European Americans and considered them as savages. They basically didn’t recognize their humanity, which made it easier for them to allow them to suffer for their own greedy ends. The government of the United States however, is not entirely at fault over this shameful period in the history of the country.
The United States Supreme Court’s ruling over Worcester vs. Georgia should be admired forever as a testament to people’s sense of justice and the will to enforce it. Chief Justice Marshall should be a hero to everyone who wants to practice law. His existence at that moment in history, along with Worcester, proves that not all European Americans were unjust to the Native Americans. This also means that there was a part of the US government that was working rationally and in accordance with the principle of justice. It was just unfortunate that President Andrew Jackson’s administration wasn’t fair enough to enforce that justice.
The Cherokees and all the Indian tribes couldn’t also be blamed for their defeat. They tried all ways, peaceful and bloody, to no avail. They tried wars, peace talks and treaties but none worked out for them. European Americans at that time were just too prejudiced to really allow them to possess their land. It was also a time of the mad rush for progress, as evidenced by the Georgia gold rush, so the whites worried more about their wealth than the Cherokees. All these factors doomed the Cherokees to failure and marked a dark period in US history.