Migration of the Indian Tribes

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During the two centuries which had passed since the settlement of the first English colonies on the Atlantic coast, the Indians had been gradually forced back into the interior of the country. Within a few years after the close of the War of 1812, a number of new states were admitted to the Union. Certain Indian tribes still occupied parts of these states as well as parts of several of the original thirteen states. The lands which were owned and occupied by these Indians were called reservations. The Indians were not citizens of the states in which they lived and they were not subject to state laws. They did not pay taxes on their land or other property. There were many white people who wanted the Indian lands. Lawless white men lurked around the Indian reservations, selling whiskey to the Indians, gambling with them and stealing from them. While such conditions prevailed, it was only natural that there should be feelings of suspicion, jealousy and hatred between some of the people of the two races. So, some of the white people wanted the Indians moved away to the west where they would be out of the way, in order that their lands might be settled by white farmers and planters. Other white people, who were real friends of the Indians, wanted to see the people of these tribes moved to new reservations west of the Mississippi, in order to get them away from the unpleasant surroundings in which they were then situated. Most of the Indians did not want to move. They were attached to the land where their people had lived for hundreds of years and by many ties and the thought of leaving grieved them. But the will and the wishes of the Indians were not consulted. Instead, by coaxing and persuading and threatening, treaties or agreements which proved for the removal of these tribes to new reservations west of the Mississippi were made and signed. Fraud and misrepresentation were used in inducing the Indians to sign some of these treaties, but the Indians were forced to abide by them.

The establishment of an Indian Territory had been proposed as early as 1820 and Congress finally passed an act, in 1830, providing that there should be such a territory. In the meantime, a number of reservations had been assigned to various tribes. These reservations were scattered over the country between the Platte and Red rivers, west of Missouri and Arkansas. So, a large part of the present states of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma became known as the Indian Territory and such it remained for twenty-five years.

The largest Indian tribes that were living east of the Mississippi River were found in the southern states, the Cherokees, who lived in the mountainous portions of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, the Creeks or Muskogees, who lived in Georgia and Alabama, the Choctaws, who lived in Alabama and Mississippi, and the Chickasaws, whose home was in Mississippi and Tennessee. Reservations had been assigned to the Indians of the Choctaw and Creek tribes and some of the people of these tribes began to move to the Indian Territory as early as 1825. Many of the Cherokee people had previously moved west of the Mississippi River and had settled in Arkansas, where they became known as the Western Cherokees.

In 1828, the United States made a treaty with the Western Cherokees in which they were assigned to a new reservation in the northeastern part of what is now Oklahoma. Seven years later, in 1835, a treaty was made with part of the main body of the Cherokee tribe, which was still living in their old home country in the east, in which it was provided that the whole tribe should be moved to the new reservation of the Western Cherokees. Because this treaty was made by a few members of the tribe who were acting without authority, the main body of the tribe refused to be bound by it, but the United States insisted upon enforcing its terms and the Cherokee people were compelled to leave their homes and move to the west, which they did in 1838 and 1839. The main bodies of the Creek and Choctaw tribes had likewise been forced to leave the lands where their fathers had lived since long before the white men came and moved to their new reservations west of the Mississippi River. In 1837, the people of the Chickasaw tribe sold their lands to the United States and bought an interst in the Choctaw reservation to which they moved soon afterward.

Most of the Indians of these tribes moved westward in caravans and wagon trains and many of them came on steamboats which ascended the Arkansas and Red rivers. They suffered great sorrow at being rudely torn from their old homes. During the course of their westward journeys there was much sickness among them. Hundreds died and were buried in unmarked graves along the roads over which they were traveling. Because of this, the people of these tribes were wont to speak of the roads over which they came into the Indian Territory as the "Trail of Tears". Many died of sheer homesickness, even after they had arrived at the end of their journey.

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.