May 26 marks 182nd anniversary of beginning of forced Cherokee removal
A majority of Cherokee people took the Trail of Tears’ Northern Route through six states during 1838-39. COURTESY
The starting point for approximately 10,000 Cherokee people who were removed to Indian Territory in 1838-39 was from Fort Cass near Charleston, Tennessee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“The Journal of Rev. Daniel S. Butrick, May 19, 1838 – April 1 1839, Cherokee Removal” published by the Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association is an eyewitness account of the forced removals. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – May 26 marks the 182nd anniversary of the start of the roundup of Cherokee people to be forced west to Indian Territory in 1838.
Only a handful of eyewitness accounts exist to describe when U.S. Army soldiers and Georgia militia began herding Cherokees into stockades in northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. Stockades also held Cherokee people in Alabama and North Carolina as the Treaty of New Echota took effect two years after Congress had ratified it by one vote.
Rev. Daniel Butrick, a missionary to the Cherokees from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, wrote one eyewitness account. He arrived at Brainard in present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, in January 1818 and served the Cherokee people for 33 years.
On May 26 he wrote: “This day a number of Georgia citizens near New Echota took sixteen Cherokee and drove them to the fort and then requested permission of General (Winfield) Scott to take them out and whip them, though in this they were not gratified. This was done probably to remind General Scott that no further delay would be made with regard to collecting the Indians. General Scott gave orders that no improper language should be used towards the Indians and that in case any of them attempted to escape by flight, no gun should be discharged at them, but these orders were, in general obeyed or not, according to the disposition of the under officers and soldiers.”
There was supposed to be 8,000 Cherokees living in Georgia, Butrick wrote, and that first day they were removed from their homes and land “as they were found, without permission to stop for friends or property.”
“As the soldiers advanced towards a house, two little children fled in fright to the woods. The woman pleaded for permission to seek them or wait till they came in, giving positive assurances that she would then follow on and join the company. But all entreaties were vain; and it was not till a day or two after that she would get permission for one of her friends to go back after the lost children,” Butrick wrote. “A man deaf and dumb, being surprised at the approach of armed men, attempted to make his escape, and because he did not hear and obey the command of his pursuers, was shot dead on the spot.
“This in two or three days about 8,000 people, many of whom were in good circumstances, and some rich, were rendered homeless, houseless and penniless, and exposed to all the ills of captivity,” Butrick added. “Those taken to the fort at New Echota were confined day and night in the open air with but little clothing to cover them when lying on the naked ground.”
Because of a drought, plans to move the Cherokees by boat had to be abandoned, and 9,000 to 10,000 Cherokees were forced to remain in camps near Charleston, Tennessee, for the summer. In the camps, Cherokee people died from whooping cough, dysentery and cholera, and suffered from ague, which caused fever and chills.
In June, July and August, Butrick chronicled their suffering and deaths of friends and congregation members.
“Death is becoming a familiar event,” he wrote on July 22 after the burial of a child and elderly woman.
On Aug. 2, he wrote that Cherokee Nation leadership was making arrangements to remove the people instead of relying on the federal government. They were to be moved in companies of 1,000 and would have a conductor, assistant conductor and other agents.
No U.S. soldiers would escort the companies as they did with earlier removal groups.
Butrick obtained permission for himself and his wife Elizabeth to travel with the Richard Taylor detachment that left from Tennessee on Nov. 1, 1838. He wrote almost daily in his journal in November, December and January, but as he became wearier from travel and the suffering he was witnessing, his entries became less frequent in February. By this time the group had traveled northwest from Tennessee and crossed western Kentucky and southern Illinois. Crossing the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was tough for them because of winter.
After crossing the Mississippi River, the group continued southwest through Missouri toward Arkansas, and more people died of sickness.
“We travelled about 10 miles and camped for the night. When the detachment all came up, we found that two persons, an old man & a child had died on the way. The old man was by the name of Bird, and the child was a daughter of Archibald Fields, by the name of Mary,” Butrick wrote on March 6.
On March 30, the group reached the Woodhall Depot north of present-day Westville where Taylor turned over the group to the Army, which was to supply the emigrants with food and other provisions.
The Butricks continued their mission work in the CN. The couple’s last post was at Dwight Mission near what is now Marble City in Sequoyah County. Elizabeth died on Aug. 3, 1847. He died on June 8, 1851. They are buried beside each other in the Dwight Mission Cemetery.