The trail began in New Echota, Georgia, when the Cherokee Nation was forced to abandon its community once gold was discovered in nearby Dalonegah. New Echota contained the Cherokee legislature, churches, schools – even a Masonic Temple.
When we saw it last fall, we were stunned at how hard they had worked to assimilate into the white man’s world. It was there the Cherokee alphabet was developed, and the first Cherokee newspaper was published. There was great wealth and prosperity, which was just too tempting for their neighbors.
In 1831, the entire community was suddenly herded into a barricaded enclosure without regard to families or property or dignity. Kept there for a miserable summer, over 16,000 Indians were then put on a forced march to Oklahoma, through a most terrible winter, with no proper clothing shelter or adequate food. About a quarter of them died before reaching their “new homeland” and many died shortly thereafter, as no provisions had been made for them.
Other tribes were also part of this removal process, and the wonder of it is that so many found a way to survive and even prosper, despite a continual barrage of rigged and broken treaties.
In Muskogee we saw something called “The Five Civilized Tribes Museum,” which was the government agency building where those Indians that the government deemed “civilized” – the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminoles – went to deal with the Indian agent. Sad stuff. The story as told there from the government point of view involves some very convoluted logic and outrageous euphemisms.
So today we reached that promised land, where the Cherokee Nation is now centered around Tahlequah OK. We started at the Cultural Center, off-limits for photographs except for some the restored early buildings which have been moved here. They look like the homes and businesses of any other pioneers of the times.
We also saw the restored first court house of the Cherokee, which now functions as a museum to their judicial process and contains the first printing press they had in Oklahoma. Again – no interior shots.
One other stop was at Fort Gibson. This fort was build in 1824 to help carry out the role of relocating the Indians displaced from the Southeast. They provided some provisions to the thousands who disembarked there, with no resources of their own. They also played a role in dealing with disputes among the tribes.
All was relatively peaceful till the Civil War, when the post was briefly occupied by the Confederates, then returned to Union troops. There was much civilian fighting and property destruction during the War, though official battles were not fought.
Some buildings remain, and serve to mark the place and the time that America thought Indian Removal was a dandy idea.
We often go by Indian casinos and hope that they can laugh all the way to the bank with their profits.
And, on a lighter note – speaking of profits – our very first stop of the day was at a hugely significant American landmark. Yes, I speak of Muskogee OK, wherein the very first box of Girl Scout cookies was created and sold in 1917. They were personally baked by the Mistletoe Troop, and the profits were used to send gifts to doughboys fighting World War I. This is memorialized by a bronze statue of a life-size girl scout, her sash covered with merit badges, her three fingers raised in a pledge of commitment, and four boxes of girl scout cookies at her feet, titled “A Promise to Keep.”
If only all of our promises were kept so well in this country…