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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter XI - The New Echota Treaty


During the summer and fall of 1835, Curry and Schermerhorn exhausted every available force to secure consent to a treaty, going so far as to importune the legislatures of Tennessee and Alabama to pass laws prohibiting Cherokees, ejected from their possessions in Georgia, from taking up residence in those states, Curry openly alleging it to be the policy of the United States to make the situation so miserable as to drive the Indians into a treaty or abandonment of the country. Indians were arrested and thrown into jail on the slightest excuse or none at all, held without trial and dismissed without explanation, at the pleasure of the Georgia Guard.

For the express purpose of depleting the population of the eastern nation and weakening its government, thereby rendering it more amenable to the state and Federal policy, Agent Curry now redoubled his efforts in the direction of enrollment, halting at no methods to secure individual consent, or semblance of consent, to emigrate. To this end he allowed whiskey to be brought into the Cherokee country and used freely among the Indians although their own laws forbade it; exercised the coarsest kind of intrigue among the more ignorant and helpless and, where everything else failed, he used force in securing enrollment. As evidence in this indictment there is the incident of Atahlah Anosta, a full-blood, who, while drunk, was induced to enroll against the wishes of his wife and children. When the time came for him to leave for Arkansas he absconded. A guard sent to fetch him arrested his wife and children and drove them through a cold rain to the agency where they were detained under guard until the woman agreed to emigrate. There is also the story of Sconatachee, an Indian over eighty years of age, whose consent to register had been secured during a fit of drunkenness into which he had been inveigled by Curry's accomplices. When he failed to appear at the time the emigrants were assembling, Curry, with an interpreter, went after him. The Indian refused to accompany him, whereupon Curry drew a revolver and tried to drive the old fellow to the agency. Failing in this attempt, he later sent a sufficient force to over-power and tie him hand and foot, and thus the white haired chief of a once mighty race was hauled in a wagon to the agency like a hog to market.

But neither these measures, nor others which the Federal officials had yet been able to devise, seemed to incline the Indians to emigrate nor to render them more friendly to a treaty. Convinced that he was making poor headway, the commissioner finally wrote the Secretary of War suggesting that a treaty be concluded with a part of the nation only, should one with the whole be found impracticable. In reply, he was advised that if a treaty could not be concluded upon fair and open terms, he must abandon the effort and leave the nation to the consequences of its own stubbornness. But Mr. Schermerhorn, familiar with Jacksonian methods of dealing with the Indiana, was able to read between the lines, and face to face with the fact that he must bring the Cherokees to terms very .soon or lose favor with the President, he began to plan his course of action regardless of instructions, confident that a successful treaty would meet with executive approval, and no questions asked.

As time for the October Council drew near, interest became centered in the proposed treaty. The Indians seemed to consider the approaching meeting of vital importance, and the attendance bade fair to be unusually large. Men, women and children turned out to see what would be done about the treaty. Mr. Scherinerhorn and Major Curry were on hand to urge its merits. Their hopes ran high, if we are to credit their correspondence at this time, their intention being to create a division in the National party, a part of whom could then be won over by hook or crook, to unite with the Ridge faction in agreeing to the treaty. They were doomed to surprise and disappointment, however, for the unexpected again happened. The two factions had come together and had agreed to act unitedly in arranging with the United States a new treaty. As a result, the Schermerhorn treaty was rejected unanimously by the Council, the Ridges and Boudinot using their influence against it. The astonished commisioner in reporting the affair to the Secretary of War acknowledged his disappointment in the unadvised and unexpected course taken by the Ridges, explaining it on the ground that they had become discouraged in contending with the power of Ross. "But," he piously observed, "the Lord is able to overrule all things for good." His chief hope in accomplishing a treaty now lay in the fear, on the part of the Indians, of Georgia legislation. Alabama and Tennessee, he thought, would pass some wholesome laws to quicken their movements.9 In order that he might have assurance of executive approval of steps already taken, and support in occupying higher ground, Mr. Schermerhorn sent Major Curry on to Washington "with private dispatches of a confidential nature to the President and Secretary of War, part of which were verbal."

In the glow of good feeling attending the reconciliation of two factions, the Council passed a resolution providing for a committee of twenty members to be chosen from both parties and empowered to arrange a treaty with the commissioner in the Cherokee Nation or at Washington. John Ridge and Elias Boudinot were appointed members of this committee. Upon consulting Mr. Schermerhorn and finding that he had no authority to treat with them upon any other basis than the treaty just rejected, the committee prepared to set out for Washington. But trouble was brewing among the newly reconciled parties. The Treaty men began to think that they were not sufficiently recognized on the committee and that due consideration had not been shown them by the Council. These, and other grievances of a personal nature, furnished fuel to the smouldering embers of factional emnity which were soon fanned into a blaze by assiduous Federal and state agents. Accusations and recriminations became the order of the day, and resignations of the Ridge men from the committee naturally followed. First John Ridge resigned, and then Boudinot, and they were soon won back to their alliance with Mr. Schermerhorn.

On the eve of the departure of the Nationalists for Washington, Mr. Ross was seized by the Georgia Guard on the plea that he was a white man residing in the Indian country and conducted across the Georgia line where he was held for some time. The charge was too absurd to deceive any one, however, and he was finally released without trial or explanation. All his private correspondence, as well as the proceedings of Council, were seized at the same time and searched for incriminating evidence which would justify his removal from the scene of action. With him out of the way, it was thought the Indians would be more easily managed. At the same time John Howard Payne, who was the guest of Ross and was in the nation for the purpose of collecting historical and ethnological material relating to the tribe, was seized and all his manuscript rifled. A few weeks before this the Cherokee Phoenix had been suppressed and its plant seized and carried off by the Georgia Guard, at the instigation of Major Curry, who saw that it was thereafter run in the interest of removal.

Before leaving Red Clay, in October, Mr. Schermerhorn had posted, on the walls of the council house, notice of a meeting to be held at New Echota, the third week in December, for the purpose of agreeing to the terms of a treaty. The notice was accomplished by the threat that those who failed to attend would be counted as assenting to any treaty that might be made, and the promise that all who should attend would be subsisted at government expense. Threats and promises, however, proved of little avail, and when the proceedings opened there were present not more than three hundred Indians, men, women and children. Of these a good many were emigrants, and none of them were principal officers of the Cherokee Nation. Curry, who had returned from Washington, evidently with the assurance of executive support, proceeded to carry things with a high hand, openly threatening any one who had come there to oppose the treaty. At Mr. Schermerhorn's suggestion a committee of twenty was selected from among those present to confer with him as to details of a treaty. When it was reported to the people for their vote, the ballot showed seventy-nine in favor and seven against. A delegation of thirteen was appointed to accompany the commissioner to Washington for the purpose of urging the ratification of the treaty, and clothed with power to assent to any alterations made necessary by the President or Senate. Mr. Schermerhorn immediately wrote the Secretary of War of his success, exulting in the belief that John Ross was at last prostrate, the power of the nation having been taken from him as well as the money. He was now a Sampson shorn of his locks.

The treaty provided that the Cherokee Nation cede all its remaining territory east of the Mississippi River for the sum of four million five hundred dollars and a common joint interest in the country occupied by the Western Cherokees, with the addition of a small tract on the northeast. The Cherokees were to be paid for their improvements and removed and subsisted for a year at the expense of the United States, the removal to take place within two years from the ratification of the treaty. Provision was made for the payment of debts owed by the Indians out of money coming to them from the treaty; for the reestablishment of missions in the west; for pensions to the Cherokees wounded in the services of the government in the War of 1812, and the Creek war; for permission to establish such military posts and roads in the new country for the use of the United States as should be deemed necessary; for satisfying Osage claims in the western territory and for bringing about a friendly understanding between the two tribes; and for the commutation of all annuities into a permanent national fund, the interest to be placed at the disposal of the officers of the Cherokee Nation for the care of schools and an orphan asylum, and for general national purposes. It was signed by J. F. Schermerhorn and William Carroll as commissioners of the United States, and by the committee of twenty on the part of the Treaty party, prominent among whom were Major Ridge and Elias Boudinot.

The main body of the nation, indignant at what had been done, stood ready to contest the treaty. Second Chief Lowrey called a meeting of the Council at Red Clay in January, and although the weather was bitterly cold and stormy, and smallpox had broken out in one district, over four hundred persons were present. Those who were detained sent in votes by friends and neighbors. A resolution passed, denouncing the methods used by the commissioners and declaring the treaty null and void, was signed "by upwards of twelve thousand Cherokees" and forwarded to Washington. This protest, with one signed by three thousand two hundred and fifty, residing in North Carolina, was presented to Congress by the National delegation. While the Executive had shown too plain a hand in the game to leave any doubt as to what course he would now pursue, it was still believed that the National Legislature would not stand for the methods used when the facts in the case became known. But in spite of the strenuous opposition against the ratification of the treaty it passed the Senate by a majority of one vote and was promptly signed and proclaimed by the President, May 23, 1836. The treaty allowed the nation two years in which to remove, and no time was lost by the administration in taking preliminary steps to carry it into execution. To Governor Lumpkin, of Georgia, and Governor Carroll, of Tennessee, who had been instrumental in bringing it about, was given the commission to supervise and direct the execution of the treaty, while Benj. F. Curry was made superintendent of removal. The details of graft which crop out in the correspondence of the time as found in the official records prove that the removal of the Indians provided many a fat job for place hunters and friends of influential politicians on good terms with the administration. Many a political debt was paid with the capital furnished by the sale of the Cherokee Nation East.


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