The Fraud of New Echota (1835)


Donnis D. Whitfield

August 24, 2001

The Cherokee nation was complying with everything asked of them by the arrogant Euro-Americans. A Cherokee Supreme Court was established in 1822 and New Echota, Georgia became their capital in 1825. In 1827 the Cherokee nation adopted a constitution that was established by a convention and John Ross was elected chief. Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States in 1828. He would turn out to be the single worst enemy of the Cherokee even though they saved his life at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 against the Creek Red Sticks. The Cherokee were developing a modern and prosperous government and then the Georgia Legislature abolished it and assumed authority over the Cherokee. In the Worcester vs. Georgia decision in 1832 the United States Supreme Court established tribal sovereignty and protected the Cherokee from the illegal Georgia laws. Andrew Jackson would not enforce the decision and Georgia thumbed its nose at the Court and held an illegal lottery for the Cherokee lands. What were the Cherokee to do when the President of the United States would not uphold the rule of law?

With the harassment from the feds and Georgia continuing to escalate, at one point the Cherokee considered emigration to the Pacific Coast on the Columbia River, which was under claim of the English. But, upon hearing of this the United States took steps to discourage and put an end to this move. By spring of 1834 the Cherokee were just trying to keep their homes as any peoples would and gave a written statement to Congress that they would never voluntarily abandon their homes but proposed to cede to Georgia a portion of their land to satisfy them. The Cherokee were told the only remedy was to remove west of the Mississippi River.

In February of 1835, two opposing delegations went to Washington to negotiate the fate of the Cherokee Nation. Chief John Ross headed the national party and the removal party was headed by John Ridge. The feds appointed as commissioner the Rev. J. F. Schermerhorn who as an Indian agent had allowed liquor to be sold to the Indians and had been nicknamed "Devil’s Horn" by the Cherokee. A compact was completed and signed on March 14, 1835 between Schermerhorn and the Ridge party but with the expressed stipulation that it must receive the approval of the Cherokee Nation, in full council assembled.

Schermerhorn then went to the Cherokee Nation where he found little support for the treaty except among the Ridge faction, eventually going so far as to suggest to Washington that bribery be tried to get it passed. So, starting on July 19, 1835 the largest gathering in Cherokee history was at the home of John Ridge to gain support for the pending treaty with about 2,500 males in attendance. Not only was there free food but a vote was to be on the paying of the annual government annuity on whether it should be to each individual or given in a lump sum to the nation treasury. John Ross advocated the lump sum and won by a vote of 2,238 to 114 to give it to the treasury.

In October of 1835 the Schermerhorn treaty was formally rejected by the Cherokee Nation in full council at Red Clay, as a result, the Cherokee were issued a notice to meet with the feds at New Echota, Georgia in December to negotiate a new treaty. The notice was printed in Cherokee and English and circulated throughout the nation. It stated that those who failed to attend would be counted as agreeing to any treaty that was made. Is this legal?

Before the "new" negotiations began, the Georgia militia crossed into Tennessee, arrested John Ross and his house guest, John Howard Payne, sized their papers and took them into Georgia where they were held without charges in a guardhouse at Spring Place. These were all illegal actions by the name of kidnapping. Ross called for a boycott of the meeting having learned that Schermerhorn did not have the power to negotiate anything new that was not in the rejected treaty.

Using Schermerhorn’s numbers only 300 to 500 Cherokees attended the meeting, including women and children. The Cherokee census of 1835 east was 21,804 with 257 whites connected by marriage so this was a very small percentage. Nevertheless, and with no officers of the Cherokee Nation present, a treaty known as the New Echota Treaty of 1835 was drawn up and signed on December 29, 1835.

Andrew Jackson appointed an agent, Maj. W. M. Davis, to enroll the Cherokee for removal and to appraise their property. Before the ratification of the treaty Davis sent the following letter to the secretary of war: "Sir, that paper, …called a treaty, is no treaty at all, because not sanctioned by the great body of the Cherokee and made without their participation or assent. I solemnly declare to you that upon its reference to the Cherokee people it would be instantly rejected by nine-tenths of them, and I believe by nineteen-twentieths of them. There were not present at the conclusion of the treaty more than 100 Cherokee voters, and not more than 300, including women and children, although the weather was everything that could be desired. The Indians had long been notified of the meeting, and blankets were promised to all who would come and vote for the treaty. The most cunning and artful means were resorted to (in order) to conceal the paucity of the numbers present at the treaty. No enumeration of them was made by Schermerhorn. The business of making the treaty was transacted with a committee appointed by the Indians present, so as not to expose their numbers. The power of attorney under which the committee acted was signed only by the president and secretary of the meeting, so as not to disclose their weakness" and "I now warn you and the president that, if this paper of Schermerhorn’s called a treaty is sent to the Senate and ratified, you will bring trouble upon the government and eventually destroy the (the Cherokee) Nation." The letter continued but I have quoted enough to show the reader this self- indicting statement by an agent of the United States government.

The Senate ratified the treaty on May 23, 1836, by only one more vote than needed. Henry Clay called the treaty "unjust, dishonest, cruel and shortsighted in the extreme." John Quincy Adams called it "infamous… It brings with it eternal disgrace upon this country." The Cherokee Nation declared the treaty absolutely null and void in resolutions drawn up and submitted to Gen. John Ellis Wool, commander of federal troops sent to the sovereign Cherokee Nation to implement marshal law under force of arms. When Gen. Wool forwarded the petition to Washington, the arrogant Jackson replied by expressing surprise that an officer of the Army should have received or transmitted a paper so disrespectful to the executive, the Senate, and the American people.

Although Gen. Wool appeared to be sympathetic to the Cherokee people, he had totally disarmed the Cherokee, leaving them no means of self-defense. Gen. Wool described the Georgians as "like vultures" who "are watching, ready to pounce upon their prey and strip them of everything they have or expect from the government of the United States." In a letter from Major Ridge to the president of the United States the situation was described, " …the white people are flogging the Cherokees with cowhides, hickories, and clubs. We are not safe in our houses-our people are assailed by day and night by the rabble. Even justices of the peace and constables are concerned in this business. This barbarous treatment is not confined to men, but the women are stripped also and whipped without law or mercy…"

I have attached a copy of one of the letters that John Ross sent to Washington. This will eloquently state the Cherokee side of this issue that will not go away. Most of the world has only seen one side of this atrocity due to an effort to keep it covered up. The United States government has never addressed these lawless acts but they will point the finger at other countries human rights abuses. It is high time that these injustices be rectified. It is high time that the United States government quit brushing their Indian problem to one side and deal with this "eternal disgrace" face-to-face, government-to-government, and sovereign-to-sovereign.

This paper was prepared as an educational and research project for the Chickamauga Cherokee of Alabama and is covered under the Fair Use Doctrine of the International copyright laws 17 USC 107

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