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2010 marks New Echota Treaty’s 175th anniversary
The signing of the Treaty of New Echota on Dec. 29, 1835, as depicted at the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun, Ga. The signers are shown signing the treaty in the parlor of former Cherokee Phoenix Editor Elias Boudinot.
By WILL CHAVEZ
Fri, Dec 03, 2010
“The Cherokee Nation hereby cede, relinquish and convey to the United States all the lands owned claimed or possessed by them east of the Mississippi River.”
Those words are part of the Treaty of New Echota, signed Dec. 29, 1835, in New Echota, Ga., by 21 Cherokee headmen and two federal officials. The signing ended nearly 20 years of the feds trying to push the CN west of the Mississippi River and started events that altered Cherokee history.
“The signing of the treaty is one of the most important and pivotal occurrences in Cherokee history. Ironically, however, the treaty is unsanctioned and fraudulent. The treaty party was self-appointed and had no authority to sign any treaty on behalf of the Cherokee Nation,” said Lee Keener, a CN citizen and historian who teaches Cherokee history.
When the tribe first entered into treaties with Britian in 1721, it held almost 80 million acres. By 1817, the tribe held less than 15 million acres of its original lands in the southeast.
The CN in the 1820s was down to 7.8 million acres, and an 1825 census revealed 13,563 Cherokees, 220 whites and 1,277 slaves living within the tribe’s borders.
On July 26, 1827, perhaps to strengthen its position against Georgia claims on its lands, the CN adopted a constitution. As expected, Georgia condemned it.
Though they didn’t realize it, the 1828 federal election sealed the Cherokee people’s future. President Andrew Jackson had made it clear he wanted tribes living in the southeast to move west, and the Georgia Legislature interpreted his election as a mandate to extinguish Indian claims in the state.
In December 1828, Georgia lawmakers passed a bill that stated after June 1, 1830, the Cherokee people would be under Georgia 1aw.
Cherokee leaders hoped the situation had turned in their favor on March 3, 1832, when the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Marshall declared in Worcester v. Georgia that the United States had assumed the treaty relationships that Britain had set up before 1784.
“The Cherokee Nation, then,” the opinion states, “is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force.”
Jackson reacted by saying, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”
The following year, CN leaders began to divide on the removal issue. Chief John Ross and his followers stood against it, but another band of Cherokees favored it.
On June 19, 1834, the removal faction led by Major Ridge, his nephew Elias Boudinot and son John Ridge negotiated a treaty outlining the tribe’s removal to the west. Despite protests from Ross, the treaty was presented to the U.S. Senate. However, it wasn’t ratified.
In February 1835, both Ross and John Ridge led delegations to Washington. Sensing an agreement between Ridge and the feds, Ross made a proposal to the government calling for removal on the basis of a $20 million allowance for the Georgia lands. Because of the large sum requested, the offer was not considered and a counter of $5 million was offered to Ross.
Federal authorities also spoke with the Ridge faction and appointed Rev. John F. Schermerhorn to act as government negotiator.
In October 1835, the Tribal Council met at Red Clay, Tenn., and took Ross’ advice by rejecting the Ridge treaty. But councilors did approve Ross’ plan to return to Washington and push a different treaty.
Before the council adjourned, Schermerhorn served notice that a similar meeting would be held at New Echota in December to reopen the treaty issue. He ordered news of the meeting to be distributed throughout the CN and that Cherokees not attending would be assumed to favor any treaty that might be negotiated.
A committee was chosen on Dec. 23 to negotiate with Schermerhorn, and for five days it discussed the $5 million mentioned by senators when Ross’ earlier proposal was rejected.
Schermerhorn, Major Ridge, John Ridge, Andrew Ross (John Ross’ brother), Elias Boudinot and 18 other men signed a treaty on Dec. 29 calling for a $5 million grant for the ceded lands and a guarantee of 7 million acres of western territory. The removal was to be effective within two years after the Senate ratified it.
Chief Ross denounced the treaty and returned to Washington to protest its provisions and fight its ratification. He went to the Capital with a protest signed by 12,714 Cherokees, but Jackson said that the U.S. government would no longer recognize any existing Cherokee government.
The New Echota Treaty was ratified May 23, 1836.
The Ridge family left the eastern CN in March 1837. Government records show about 700 Cherokees removed themselves to Indian Territory that year. In early 1838, 250 more Cherokees headed west.
In May 1838, the military began rounding up Cherokees who fought against removal. Many Cherokees did not understand the treaty that sold their lands, but they were going to suffer the consequences of it.
“It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if the Cherokee Nation could have stayed united. In 1839, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot and Major Ridge were killed for signing the removal treaty, which caused deeper divisions and more killings on both sides,” Keener said. “If we could have remained unified, it would seem our ancestors still would have had to leave, but what would have been the terms? How would it have affected our entry into the U.S. Civil War when old animosities flared up again? After the Civil War, could we have stayed united to rebuild again? The list goes on and on.”
Wilkins, Thurman, “Cherokee Tragedy – The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People,” University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.
Rutland, Robert, “Political Backgrounds of the Cherokee Treaty of New Echota,” Chronicles of Oklahoma