1806 - 1871
The Cherokees, of the Iroquoian family of American Indians (It was the
Iroquois who composed the Five Great Nations: Cayugas, Senecas, Mohawks,
Oneidas, Onondegas with the Cherokees and Tuscaroras as their distant kin),
settled in that part of Georgia north and west of the Chattahoochee River, along
with territory in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee in the early
1700's. The Cherokees were hunters and farmers, who lived in villages even as
their white neighbors.
Cherokees were intelligent and of good physique. They improved their stock by
intermarriage with Scotch traders on the frontier. The Cherokees young were
educated at Mission Schools, and some few attended the American Board for
Foreign Missions School at Cornwell, Connecticut. Their leaders combined
knowledge with good appearance and dignity.
the agricultural frontier, fresh land was wealth - the pioneers pushed the
Cherokees, always seeking more land, thus creating and enhancing friction. At
the time of the American Revolution, the Cherokees, not happy with their local
neighbors, sided with England. They hoped to see England win and control the
unruly whites. England lost, and the Cherokees had to make peace with the
truculent Georgians. It was to be an uneasy peace. The Cherokees moved their
capital, Chota or Echota, from Tennessee to Georgia in 1825, establishing New
Echota just east of Calhoun, Georgia.
New Echota the Cherokee Council and Supreme Council met; Samuel Worchester
operated a Mission School there; a newspaper. The Cherokee Phoenix, began
publication in 1828, printed partly in English and partly in Cherokee, was
published there with Elias Bondinot as Editor. These cultured, progressive
neighbors made Georgians uneasy - they wanted the Indians depicted as crude
barbarians and banished to the west.
Cherokees had their differences. Some followed their primitive religion; others
became Christians; still others blended the two. Some were full-blooded, mostly
conservative; others were mixed-blood, mostly liberals. Some wanted to stay in
Georgia and fight for their rights and lands; others favored removal to the west
where they might live undisturbed.
Cherokee leaders were remarkable men. John Ross and Major Ridge lived at Rome,
Georgia. Ross was the Principal Chief who represented his Nation at Washington.
Ridge was a wealthy man who sent his son John to the Indian School at Cornwall.
There he visited John, traveling in his own coach, dressed in broadcloth with
silver buckles on his shoes - a man whom the New Englanders could appreciate.
Martin was the Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation. Wealthy, he had two wives -
sisters! He wisely provided separate homes for his wives. Elias Bondinot, in
school at Cornwall, had created a sensation when he married Harriett Ruggles
Gold, a prominent young lady of the town. Boundinot had a brother, Stand
a new factor was injected into the problem. In 1829 gold was discovered in north
Georgia. The Federal Government had
by treaty in 1802 agreed to remove the Cherokees from the state - now Georgians
would help them. The Cherokees lands were surveyed and distributed to the white
settlers by lottery even before the Indians could be moved west. It was an
explosive situation, as the Indians watched the whites move in and take over
their homes and farms.
Cherokee reluctant to leave their homeland; the spring of 1838 saw the United
States Army arrive in north Georgia. The red men were collected in this area at
Fort Buffington and sent west, in large bands, under army control. The Indians,
suffering from exposure and strange food, along with attendant hardships,
suffered heavy losses - 4,600 died on this "Trail of Tears," more than
25% of the population of the Nation.
the Cherokees, seeking to avoid eviction, had sought to organize a government
like that of the whites, so that they could deal with the whites in an orderly
manner. They made Treaties with the Federal Government, and hoped that their
recognized status would preserve their rights. Reason did not prevail. The
Federal government had to see the Cherokees pushed out, or make war on the
Georgians. It was easier to see the Indians abused.
group of the Cherokees, the Eastern Band, hid out in the Mountains and did not
go west. They were ignored and neglected, in poverty, for decades. Then the
Indian Service set up schools for the children, and the day of autos and
Soon tourists were spilling into the mountains, and the Cherokees, under their tribal council, created the drama, "Unto These Hills," sponsored crafts, a Cherokee Indian Museum, and a variety of other activities. Now Cherokees began to find regular employment at fair rates. (End of background information)
As a member of the Ridge-Watie-boundinot faction of the Cherokee Nation, Watie supported removal to the Cherokee Nation, West, and signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, in defiance of Principal Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokees. Watie moved to the Cherokee Nation, West (present-day Oklahoma), in 1837 and settled at Honey Creek. Following the murders of his uncle Major Ridge, cousin John Ridge, and brother Elias Boundinot (Buck Watie) in 1839, and his brother Thomas Watie in 1845, Stand Watie assumed the leadership of the Ridge-Watie-Boundinot faction and was involved in a long-running blood feud with the followers of John Ross.
At the outbreak of the War for Southern Independence, Watie quickly joined the Southern cause. He was commissioned a colonel on July 12, 1861, and raised a regiment of Cherokees for service with the Confederate army. Later, when Chief John Ross signed an alliance with the South, Watie's men were organized as the Cherokee Regiment of Mounted Rifles. After Ross fled Indian Territory, Watie was elected principal chief of the Confederate Cherokees in August 1862.
A portion of Watie's command saw action at Oak Hills (August 10, 1861) in a battle that assured the South's hold on Indian Territory and made Watie a Confederate military hero. Afterward, Watie helped drive the pro-Northern Indians out of Indian Territory, and following the Battle of Chustenahlah (December 26, 1861) he commanded the pursuit of the fleeing Federals, led by Opothleyahola, and drove them into exile in Kansas. Although Watie's men were exempt from service outside Indian Territory, he led his troops into Arkansas in the spring of 1861 to stem a Federal invasion of the region. Joining with Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn's command, Watie took part in the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (March 5-6, 1861). On the first day of fighting, the Southern Cherokees, which were on the left flank of the Confederate line, captured a battery of Union artillery before being forced to abandon it. Following the Federal victory, Watie's command screened the southern withdrawal.
Watie, or troops in his command, participated in eighteen battles and major skirmishes with Federal troop during the Civil War, including Cowskin Prairie (April 1862), Old Fort Wayne (October 1862), Webber's Falls (April 1863), Fort Gibson (May 1863), Cabin Creek (July 1863), and Gunter's Prairie (August 1864). In addition, his men were engaged in a multitude of smaller skirmishes and meeting engagements in Indian Territory and neighboring states. Because of his wide-ranging raids behind Union lines, Watie tied down thousands of Federal troops that were badly needed in the East.
Watie's two greatest victories were the capture of the federal steam boat J.R. Williams on June 15, 1864, and the seizure of $1.5 million worth of supplies in a federal wagon supply train a the Second battle of Cabin Creek on September 19, 1864. Watie was promoted to brigadier general on May 6, 1864, and given command of the first Indian Brigade. He was the only Indian to achieve the rank of general in the Civil War. Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to lay down his arms.
After the war, Watie served as a member of the Southern Cherokee delegation during the negotiation of the Cherokee Reconstruction Treaty of 1866. He then abandoned public life and returned to his old home along Honey Creek. He died on September 9, 1871.