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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter XX - The Civil War, Concluded


As the Cherokees were the first to violate the compact of neutrality entered into with other tribes at the Creek Agency in February, and at the Antelope Hills Conference some months later, natural courtesy and a glue regard to the good will of their neighbors rendered necessary an explanation of their changed attitude. Chief Ross sent a circular letter to the various tribes explaining the causes which impelled the Cherokee Nation to join the Confederacy.' He even went so far as to suggest the desirability of a union of all the Red Brethren with the Richmond government. One of these letters was dispatched to Hopothleyohola, who had been a very good friend of the Cherokee chief and had supported him loyally in his stand for neutrality.. The letter was returned, with a note written across the back, asking if Mr. Ross were really the author of it.

This sharp thrust at Cherokee constancy was not lost upon Chief Ross who immediately sent a special delegation, headed by Joseph Vann, the second chief of the nation on a mission of peace to the Creeks, to explain more fully the position of the Cherokees and to invite their chiefs to visit the Cherokee Council then in session. But Hopothleyohola would have nothing to do with them. They had broken a compact and were not to be trusted again. He would go his way and they were free to go theirs. His mind was made up, for reasons of his own, to remain loyal to the Union.

With two-thirds of his tribe in war paint and fighting gear he was preparing to defend its interests in the Cherokee Nation at all costs. Not that the old Creek chief was actuated by such motives as inspired Webster's immortal words, "liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." In fact he had no clearly defined conception of American patriotism. How could he, or the members of hi stribe or of any of the Indian tribes? Indian Territory was not an integral part of the Union as was Texas or Arkansas, but was practically a foreign dependent group of allied nations. Its citizens were a people apart from the Federal Government, with a patriotism all their own, which took no cognizance of such common bonds of interest as the celebration of Thanksgiving and the Declaration of Independence. He had a grudge to pay and this occasion furnished the opportunity. And who can criticise the chief of a recently. barbarous tribe for going to war with such an incentive when, if the truth were told, half of the white men, on both sides in the conflict were actuated by no higher motives? If this fact of the relation of the Indians to the Federal Government is kept clearly in mind, along with some others which must linger in the memory of all who have read the preceding pages of this story, it will be less difficult to understand why Indian loyalty was likely to shift from time to time with the changing fortunes of war.

But Hopothleyohola was not one to waver in his allegiance. With an armed force he made a raid upon his former friends, the Cherokees, driving off stock and wantonly destroying other property. Then marshaling his forces in the Creek Nation, he prepared to stand his ground against an overwhelmingly superior number of Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles and Cherokees under Colonel Cooper. A Stronhold was chosen and intrenchments thrown up in a bend of the Bird Creek about twelve miles north of Tulsey town. This, Cooper prepared to attack in December.

On the eve of battle the Cherokee troops under Colonel Drew deserted in a body, swearing that they would willingly shoot Yankees, but when it came tq fighting their old friends and neighbors, the Creeks, they drew the line. Cooper, with his remaining forces, attacked the Creeks and easily defeated them, driving them into the hills beyond. Still pursuing them, he finally pushed them northward beyond the Kansas line, followed by a straggling train of helpless women and children.

The winter of 1861-2 was a bitter one for these Indian refugees. Loyal bands from the Five Tribes, together with detachments from other tribes kept arriving, until the aggregate numbered over six thousand, camped along the southern border of the state. Shelterless, half naked, barefooted and nearly starved, they presented a sorry sight.

All attempt of the Federal authorities to relieve them resulted only in furnishing opportunity for peculation to Government agents and state politicians who shamelessly feathered their own nests at the expense of shivering, shelterless and starving women and children. There seemed no way of relieving the situation as long as the Indians remained in Kansas. The only hope of relief lay in their return to Indian Territory, now occupied by the Confederate troops. Before the Indians could return in safety the country would have to be cleared of the enemy and reoccupied by Federal forces, which were so urgently needed in other quarters just at this time.

This was the situation when Senator Lane, the originator of the "homeward bound" movement, went to Washington in January, 1862, and there so convincingly presented the cause of still "Bleeding Kansas" and of the Indian refugees, that he was given permission to organize an expedition at once to carry out his purpose. Owing to petty jealousies and to the spirit of insubordination, if not rank duplicity, on Lane's part, to gain his ends, the expedition soon fell into disrepute as "Lane's jay hawking expedition." The project was thus delayed from month to month until a petty game of personal ambition and state politics could be played out, the Indians, meanwhile, dying of starvation and exposure.

While political intrigues and petty jealousies were sacrificing the Union Indians in Kansas, General Curtis was marching hs troops across Missouri for the purpose of avenging Lyon and Wilson Creek, and of recovering Federal forts in Arkansas. The Confederate forces west of the Mississippi in command of Major General Earl Van Dorn were concentrated in northwest Arkansas to oppose him. They consisted of Sterling Price's volunteer troops, chiefly from Missouri, McCulloch's regulars, and several regiments of Indians under General Albert Pike. The opposing armies met near Fayetteville, Arkansas, early in March" and two engagements took place at Pea Ridge and Elk Horn Tavern. The result was a defeat for the Confederacy, due in part to a lack of cooperation among commanding generals. Both were bloody battles in which Indians on one side were pitted against Germans on the other.

Deeds of revolting barbarism were perpetrated upon the dead and dying by the scalping knife, sword and bayonet. The country at large was horrified to hear that the first scratch of battle had revealed the savage under the epidermis of the most cultured and civilized Red Skin, and jumped to the conclusion that all Indians employed in the engagement had reverted to their primitive customs in warfare. The truth is certainly bad enough to need no exaggeration. As a matter of fact eight scalped heads were counted on the battle field after the fight was over.18 There was perhaps a greater number of mutilated bodies of Confederate dead. The scalps, without doubt., were counted as trophies by Indian braves who had not yet learned that such unrefined methods of killing their fellow men were not to be countenanced in civilized warfare. Their own people, deeply mortified over the offense, condemned it severely, but were unable to locate the offenders for punishment.

The trail of blood from the mutilated bodies of southern soldiers, however, leads in quite another direction until it stops at the door of a band of men whose ancestors on the banks of the Rhine had been undergoing the process of civilization ever since the time of Charlemagne, or before. Thus it would seem that, under the savage influence of war, the power of atavism is as strong after a thousand years of evolution as after a hundred. Be that as it may, the Cherokees rendered splendid service in the battle of Pea Ridge in spite of the contempt in which they were held by the commanding general.

After these defeats the white troops were drawn off towards the east where they were needed to stay the march of the Union army steadily advancing southward down the eastern Mississippi Valley. Colonel Drew's regiment went into camp at the mouth of the Illinois River in the Cherokee Nation. Colonel Watie was sent on a raiding expedition into southwest Missouri, and General Pike establshed headquarters in the southwestern corner of the Choctaw Nation, at Fort McCulloch.

At length, after various delays, the; Lane expedition had been organized and was ready to march into Indian Territory. Leaving Humbolt, Kansas, the latter part of June, it crossed the southern border of the state five thousand strong. The advance guard was led by General Weer, who, upon entering the Indian country, offered to open negotiations with the Cherokees to return to their former alliance. Through Chief Ross they, courteously declined the offer, saying that a treaty of alliance had already been entered into with the Confederacy, the reasons for which were too well known to Colonel Weer for it to be necessary to recapitulate them.

The country was now in a defenseless condition and a letter was sent post haste to General Hindman, who had been placed in command of the Trans-Mississippi District on the. death of McCulloch at Pea Ridge, calling on him for protection against the invading army. The commanding general at once ordered General Pike northward to join the Cherokee regiments in the vicinity of Fort Gibson. Pike, whose forces were poorly equipped to meet the enemy, for reasons which will appear later, sulked in his tent ignoring the order. After it had been peremptorily repeated several times he resigned, and Douglas M. Cooper was put in command. Cooper moved northward promptly but too late to prevent a Confederate defeat at Locust Grove, about thirty miles north of Tahlequah. Here a small command composed of Cherokee troops, under Colonel Watie and Colonel Drew, and a batallion of Missourians, under Clarkson, offered a brave resistance to the Kansas forces, who otunumbered them two to one. Clarkson's whole train was captured and Drew's regiment18 deserted to the enemy. Colonel Watie's troops fought with great bravery but were finally forced to give way to superior numbers.

An explanation of Drew's conduct, as well as Pike's, is to be found in a declaration of General Pike to the Five Tribes bearing the date of July 31, 1861. It states that their cause had been betrayed by the Confederacy, that they themselves, in violation of their treaties, had been taken out of their country and forced to serve beyond its boundaries, yet without their due measure of credit; that they had been despised and criticised by the white troops; that they had been kept in Arkansas while their own country was being exposed to hordes of jay hawkers, and that they were permitted to go to its defense only when the enemy's forces had reached such proportions that their own unaided strength was unable to withstand it, yet no appreciable number of white troops had been sent to their assistance. In addition to these charges the supply of clothing and ammunition intended for the Indian troops had been stopped at Little Rock or Fort Smith and directed into other channels, so that their soldiers were ill clad and poorly equipped. They remained unpaid from month to month causing unrest and dissatisfaction throughout Indian Territory. In addition to these causes, the old factional jealousies among the Cherokees had been aggravated by the greater appreciation shown by the Confederate Government for Colonel Watie's troops who had won the reputation of being better soldiers than Drew's full-bloods.

After the engagement at Locust Grove, General Weer moved his army southward in two detachments and established headquarters on the Grand River about fourteen miles north of Fort Gibson. On July 14, Major Campbell entered the Confederate stronghold and the same day Captain Green arrived at Tahlequah. The following day the latter moved his command to Park Hill where he found about two hundred Cherokees awaiting an opportunity to join the Union. Colonel W. P. Ross and Major Thomas Pegg, who were at Mr. Ross's house debating whether they should respond to an order just received from Colonel Cooper to report for duty at Fort Davis were arrested and sent to headquarters.

The war clouds were now gathering thick and fast about the gray haired chief of the Cherokees. A few days before the arrival of the Union forces Colonel Cooper, in the name of President Davis, had commanded him to issue a proclamation calling on every able-bodied Cherokee man between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five W enlist in the Confederate military service. Following on the heels of this demand, and probably caused by it, the Pins rose in rebellion and compelled their chief, at the end of a halter, to declare for neutrality. Compliance with the demand meant death at the hands of his own people. To ignore it was to put himself at the mercy of Colonel Cooper. While he was thus hesitating between the devil and the deep sea, the question was settled for him by Captain Gaino, who arrested and placed him on parole, thereby adding to the complication and confusion.

With the Confederate army in retreat, the Federal army in control and his own government in anarchy, he found himself again face to face with a crisis which he had to meet quickly. The Confederacy had proved itself no more faithful to treaty relations than the Federal Government had done. Good faith no longer bound him. Expediency pointed to a renewal of relations with the north. Worn out and sick at heart over the hopelessness and confusion of the whole situation, he determined to return to his allegiance to the Union while there was yet a shadow of hope to save himself and his nation from utter annihilation. When General Weer again approached him on the subject, he yielded. As the Cherokee Nation was no longer a safe place for him, he accepted the offer of a Union escort to Fort Gibson. With his family and what valuables 22could be loaded onto two ox wagons he left the country, making his way by way of Fort Scott, Kansas, to Philadelphia.

The success of the first Union invasion proved temporary. At this time a small, well organized force could have held the country easily, but inefficiency and lack of harmony among the commanding officer823 led to mutiny and insubordination on the part of the soldiers. Delay resulted, giving the Confederate Indians under Cooper and Stand Watie time to join forces with white troops under General Raines. When these combined commands moved northward the Union army retreated towards Kansas, leaving the Cherokee country in the hands of the Confederacy again. Tahlequah was recaptured. The victorious southern Cherokees held a convention and passed resolutions deposing Chief John Ross from office. Stand Watie, now a military hero, was elected to succeed him.

Had the triumphant army been content to enjoy the fruits of its victory with moderation and mercy, there would be one less series of disgraceful tales to tell of the Civil War. Unfortunately that was not the case. Summary vengeance was wreaked upon the families of loyal Cherokees, their long-standing enemies. Women, children and old men, driven out of doors at midnight, were forced to seek protection by following the trail of the retreating army by the light of their burning homesteads. Beautiful Rose Cottage, after it had been sacked and denuded of whatever valuables could be carried away, was given to the flames.

The success of the Confederate army was short-lived. In a few weeks the Federal forces, having rallied for a second invasion of Indian Territory, marched back across the Kansas line, this time under command of Brigadier James G. Blunt, who defeated Cooper at Fort Wayne, and with the assistance of Colonel W. A. Phillips, drove the Confederate army south of the Arkansas River. Fort Gibson was retaken and from now on to the end of the war remained the base of Union activity in Indian Territory.

When the fortunes of war had again wrested the greater part of the Cherokee Nation from the hands of the Confederate forces and it was apparent that the Northern army had come to stay, the loyal Cherokees met in Council at Camp John Ross in February, 1863. Thomas Pegg acting as principal chief. They repudiated the alliance with the Confederate states, restored their allegiance to the Union, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the Cherokee Nation and passed a law confiscating the property of all Cherokee citizens who were enemies of the Union. Mr. Ross was reinstated as principal chief.

The war dragged on in Indian Territory for two years longer. The Union army continued holding the country north of the Arkansas River and the Confederates, south. Raids matched counter-raids with no permanent gains to either side and much loss to both. The Confederate Indians took refuge on the Red River where they suffered as great hardships as had been endused by the refugees in Kansas at the beginning of the war. Sherman's path to the sea presented a scene of no greater destruction and desolation than Indian Territory after the Civil War.

The loyal bands returned to their homes in the summer of 1862, 1863 and again in 1864 and made crops only to have them destroyed by raiders from the south. The suffering was intense on both sides. Parched corn came to be a luxury during the winter months and wild fruits and berries sustained life in summer. All the cattle and horses were appropriated by the army, and with the able-bodied men in the service of one faction or the other, the women and children were left to shift for themselves.

Probably no part of the United or disunited, States suffered such havoc as did the Indian territory during this period. After the besom of war had swept, first north and then south, hardly a home was left standing. The country presented a tragic picture of blackened chimneys rising from the ruins of charred homesteads, of unfenced fields overgrown with weeds and brambles, and of a destitute population, reduced to the very verge of despondency. Thus did the Red Man help pay the price of freedom for the Black.


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