Gilcrease exhibit examines post-removal CN prosperity
TULSA, Okla. – With the new “After Removal: Rebuilding the Cherokee Nation” exhibit, Gilcrease Museum visitors can see how the Cherokee Nation has come to prosper after its removal to Indian Territory.
The time before, during and after Cherokee removal from the Southeastern United States is highlighted through 64 items in the Gilcrease collection and 14 loaned items. The exhibit’s items include paintings, a hunting coat, a bandolier bag, a knife used to kill former Cherokee Phoenix Editor Elias Boudinot and fine china used at Rose Cottage in Park Hill when former Principal Chief John Ross entertained guests.
Digital exhibits are also used detailing the land that once belonged to the Cherokee people and what daily life was like in Indian Territory for students at the Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries.
The collaborative project between the museum’s Helmerich Center and CN, with several CN citizens acting as consultants to interpret and approve the material, is the culmination of two years of work.
“Our former director for the Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, Duane King, this was his idea,” Natalie Panther, program center officer, said. “It’s really a story of resilience in the face of tremendous adversity, and he wanted to tell the story of how the Cherokee Nation was able to overcome incredible odds to rebuild their nation and create a successful society in Indian Territory.”
The first part of the exhibition examines removal politics.
President Andrew Jackson ordered Southeastern tribes to remove to Indian Territory by signing the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830. The Cherokee and other tribes were subsequently forced to move west into modern day Oklahoma. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced on the journey, now known as the Trail of Tears, approximately 4,000 died of exposure, starvation and disease.
“It was a highly contentious topic at the time, and it barely passed the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate,” Panther said. “There were central figures, American heroes and writers and Founding Fathers who both argued for and against Indian removal, so that’s what’s going to be highlighted in that section.”
The exhibition also walks visitors through the removal-induced factionalism that occurred between the Cherokees supporting Ross and those supporting Major John Ridge. Ross resisted removal while Ridge believed it was inevitable. Ridge was part of a group that signed Cherokee lands over to the U.S. government in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
“When you go through factionalism, you’re talking about how Major Ridge and John Ross were fighting, and there was violence after the signing of the Treaty of New Echota because a lot of the tribe blamed the Treaty of New Echota for the entire tribe having to move west,” she said. “There was a lot of fighting and murder, and finally all the factions signed a peace treaty in 1846 to stop the violence and agreed to forgive all previous crimes committed against each other and just to move forward.”
Panther said while the period after removal was “one of the most tumultuous periods in Cherokee history,” the Cherokees’ eventual reunification ushered in a period of prosperity dubbed the Golden Age.
“The Cherokees had built up a very independent republic, and that’s what was kind of dismantled because of forced removal,” she said. “Once they got to Indian Territory, there was factionalism and infighting, but they were able to overcome that and rebuild their government, rebuild their economy. They created an extensive public school system with 144 public schools and two institutions of higher learning, so they were really able to overcome obstacles and rebuild their nation, and that’s kind of the highlight of the Golden Age. It’s a success story, and I think it’s a story that, when you go through it, you’re going to feel confident about your tribe and being a Cherokee.”
The exhibit runs through Jan. 21 and can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free for CN citizens on Sept. 24 during the museum’s annual “Cherokee Day.”
For more information, visit www.gilcrease.org/exhibitions/cherokee/