OPINION: Conference provides chance to learn more Cherokee history
I appreciate history and enjoy studying it, so it’s great that I regularly get to rub elbows with historians and people who research Cherokee history.
In October, I attended the 22nd annual Trail of Tears Conference & Symposium in Pocola, Oklahoma. Along with seeing friends from most of TOTA’s nine chapters, I learned things about our history. Many of the people who attend the conference possess a wealth of information about Cherokee history and the forced removals of our people in 1838-39. The states Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma make up TOTA.
At a conference presentation, I learned more about the so-called “Old Settlers,” who were Cherokee people who began settling in Arkansas in 1809. Tahlonteeskee led this group, and he later became the first principal chief of the western Cherokee Nation. These Cherokees settled along the St. Francis, Arkansas and White rivers and established settlements along the Arkansas River in the vicinity of present-day Russellville, Arkansas. In 1817, Western Cherokees signed a treaty with the United States that established a large reservation between the Arkansas and White rivers.
In Arkansas, Cherokee people had settled among the Caddo, Quapaw and Osage tribes. The Osage resented these newcomers settling lands they claimed as theirs and raided Cherokee settlements. The Arkansas Cherokee began planning a retaliatory attack against the Osage in January 1817 and requested aid from their relatives in the east. They also requested help from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Delaware and other tribes living in the area. The Cherokee knew that Osage men left their villages lightly guarded during the Strawberry Moon or in June to go on a long distance hunt for bison. It was decided to attack at this time.
Led by Chief Spring Frog, approximately 500 Cherokee and their allies met at a place on the Arkansas River where Russellville now stands. They traveled upriver into Indian Territory and went overland to the Osage villages located a few miles north of present-day Claremore, Oklahoma. The invading party killed 38 Osage and took 104 captives. Chief Clermont was present at the time of the attack and was killed during the fighting.
Because they possessed rifles, the Cherokee and their allies had a weapons advantage over the Osage in the “Battle of Claremore Mound,” also known as the “Battle of the Strawberry Moon.” The Osage relied on traditional bows and arrows and a small number of old muskets. During the two-day battle, the Cherokees and their allies killed or captured every member of Chief Clermont’s band and destroyed everything they could not carry away.
The two tribes continued to fight until 1823 when both tribes agreed to end hostilities.
In 1820, Tahlonteskee’s brother, John Jolly, helped establish Dwight Mission along Illinois Bayou, which was operated by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. It served for eight years both as a mission and a school until 1828 when the Arkansas Cherokee were forced to sell their lands and move their community, along with Dwight Mission, to a new location farther up the Arkansas River in Indian Territory. The mission was re-established near present-day Marble City in Sequoyah County.
Tahlonteeskee and his group settled parts of present-day Sequoyah, Muskogee and McIntosh counties. Some of them settled again along the Arkansas River and formed the communities of Webbers Falls and Tahlonteeskee, later renamed Gore.
As pressure to move increased in the east, more Cherokee emigrants made their way to Arkansas and eventually the whole of the Cherokee Nation came west during the forced removals. The “Old Settlers” and newest Cherokee emigrants agreed on an Act of Union in August 1839 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which paved the way for a new Cherokee Nation Constitution that was approved in early September of that year.
On the last day of the TOTA conference, participants were asked to complete a survey to share their thoughts on how the conference went and what they would like to see at the next conference. A long-time member of the organization went to the microphone to share a story. He said after one past conference someone wrote on his or her survey form there was too much talk about the Trail of Tears. I guess they forgot the name of the conference.
Some of our history is difficult to read or hear about, but we should study it as much as possible to understand why our leaders made the decisions they made and how we survived and endured to become the strong nation we are today.