Monday, 18 January 2010

Oklahoma - The Trail of Tears

When most people think of the US and the gold rush, we think of enterprising immigrants heading off to California in search of fame and fortune. Probably less well-known is the Georgia gold rush of the 1830's. Gold was first discovered in the Southern Appalachian mountains in the late 1820's, what was then heart of the Cherokee country.

How covenient then that President Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830, hoping thus to resolve territoral disputes with the Indian tribes, namely the disputes between the Cherokee and the State of Georgia.

The mass movement began of the Five Civilized Tribes - so called because of their long history of association with the colonists and their adoption of some of the colonists 'civilisation', in stark contrast to the more 'savage' tribes of the Wild West, like the Sioux and the Apache. It was stipulated that these tribes, the Choctaw, the Seminole, the Chickasaw, the Creek/Muscogee and the Cherokee, should all be moved to the newly designated Indian territory, West of the Mississippi River, in present-day Oklahoma.

The first tribes to be moved, kind of voluntarily, were the Choctaw tribes between 1831 and 1833, from their homelands in what is now Louisiana, Alabama and Missippi. The Seminole were forcibly removed from Florida (recently acquired from the Spanish) and forced to re-integrate with their distant relatives, the Creeks, even though the Creek/Seminole relationship was one fraught with conflict. The Creeks/Muscogee were forcibly removed from Alabama in 1836. The Chickasaw removed more or less peacefully from Tennessee in 1837 and even recieved monetary compensation for agreeing to move.

The Cherokee suffered most of all, being forcefully marched 1,000 miles during the winter of 1838, with scant clothing and meagre provisions. They lost about 4,000 people during this enforced march, about 1/4 of the entire Cherokee population. On the Nunna daul Isunyi, they didn't stand a chance.

Pockets of each of these tribes remained behind to face discrimination and persecution in their homelands. The legacy of the Trail of Tears is Oklahoma's relatively large Native American populations. All five nations have capitals in Oklahoma and, thankfully, their cultures are still robust and alive. Europeans may have dominated in the US, but at least a number of Native American cultures have somehow survived.

Image gallery

The Oklahoma flag is from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free.

The composite image of the Five Civilized Tribes has been released into the public domain by its author, Rob Ferguson Jr - find out more at his wikipedia user page  Rob has had a very interesting life, travelling the world with the US marine corps. He has contributed regularly to that source of all knowledge, Wikipedia :-)

The flag of the Cherokee nation is also from Wikimedia Commons and was released into the public domain by Aaron Walden. 
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