I recently finished a book set in 1893, the latest year for one of my book in years. Yet, as I look at what led up to the events that took place in the Oklahoma land runs of 1889 through 1895, I see the issues have their roots in what took place decades earlier.
|Louisiana Purchase and controversies 1803-1819|
The story of the Indian Removal Act begins with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, simply because, during the very early 1800s, there were those who wanted to remove the Native American tribes from the states in the East and South. The land purchased from France presented a possibility for where they could be relocated.
The Louisiana Purchase territory included the land which, since 1890, was known as Oklahoma. For decades earlier, it was known as Indian Territory.
|Territories held by the five civilized tribes before removal|
Land-hungry Euro-Americans (whites) continued to pour into the United States seeking land, much of which in the South was held by native tribes. Add to that the discovery of gold in the North Carolina region held by the Cherokees, a drive to do something to displace the Native people so the land could be opened to white settlement intensified. However, most of these tribes had adopted many aspects of white culture and became known as the five civilized tribes.
In the early 1800s, American demand for Indian nations' land increased, and momentum grew to force American Indians further west. The solution appeared to be found in the land west of the Mississippi River purchased in 1803 from the French. Not open to white settlement, it was decided to relocate the tribes in what became known as Indian Territory.
The first major step to relocate American Indians came when Congress passed, and President Andrew Jackson signed, the Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830. This act authorized the president to grant lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders, primarily in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and others. This included the original homelands of those tribes known as the five civilized tribes—Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. They were assigned to what became Indian Territory before it was organized as part of the state of Oklahoma.
As incentives, the law allowed the Indians financial and material assistance to travel to their new locations and start new lives. The Act also guaranteed that the Indians would live on their new property under the protection of the United States Government forever. (The events leading up to and following the Oklahoma land runs show how that assurance was rendered void.) With the Act in place, Jackson and his followers were free to persuade, bribe, and threaten tribes into signing removal treaties and leaving the Southeast.
Jackson declared that removal would "incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier." Clearing Alabama and Mississippi of their Indian populations, he said, would "enable those states to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power."
Not all members of Congress supported the Indian Removal Act. One example of those who strongly opposed the Act was Tennessee Rep. Davey Crockett.
Native Americans were also strongly opposed being removed from their ancestral lands. They responded with several battles with local white settlers.
But the forced relocation proved popular with voters. It freed more than 25 million acres of fertile, lucrative farmland to mostly white settlement in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
At the time, Indian Territory was defined as the region belonging to the United States west of the Mississippi River but excluding the states of Missouri and Iowa as well as the Territory of Arkansas. Other tribes than those mentioned above were initially given lands in other territory west of the Mississippi River before eventually being moved to reservations in Indian Territory within today’s Oklahoma’s borders.
|Yellow-Cherokee, pink-Muscogee/Creek & Seminole, green-Chickasaw & Choctaw|
By the end of Jackson’s Presidency in 1837, his administration had negotiated almost 70 removal treaties. These led to the relocation of nearly 50,000 eastern Indians to the Indian Territory—what later became eastern Oklahoma. It opened up 25 million acres of eastern land to white settlement. Since the bulk of the land was in the American South, it allowed the expansion of slavery.
A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy.
|Creek Trail of Tears|
After decades of war with the US and many broken treaties, the Creek War of 1836 ended. Over 14,000 Creek men, women, and children made the three month journey covering over 1,200 miles over land and water to Oklahoma, taking only what they could carry. Over 3,500 of them died along the way.
Perhaps the most well-known treaty, the Treaty of New Echota, ratified in 1836, called for the removal of the Cherokees living in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. The treaty was approved by a small faction of the tribe who followed Major Ridge. They moved early to Indian Territory.
The treaty was opposed by Principle Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee Nation. When they refused to leave, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott was ordered to push them out. He was given 3,000 troops and the authority to raise additional state militia and volunteer troops to force removal.
|Trail of Tears memorial-Village Creek State Park, Wynne, AR |
Despite Scott’s order calling for the removal of Indians in a humane fashion, this did not happen. During the fall and winter of 1838-39, the Cherokees were forcibly moved from their homes to the Indian Territory—some having to walk as many as 1,000 miles over a four-month period. Known as the "Trail of Tears," approximately 4,000 of 16,000 Cherokees died along the way.
By the 1840s, nearly all Indian tribes had been driven west, which is exactly what the Indian Removal Act intended to accomplish.
This Indian Removal Act is but a prelude to the events that led up to the 1889 onward land distributions to white settlers of what was, for decades, Indian Territory. The story of the land runs between 1889 and 1895 are told in the Land Run Mail Order Brides series.