During the first part of the nineteenth century, the American
government policy was to remove Indians from east of the Mississippi
River and to "give" them reservations in Indian Territory. The primary
argument in favor of Indian removal claimed that European Christian
farmers could make more efficient use of the land than the Indian
heathen hunters. This argument conveniently ignored the fact that
Indians were efficient farmers and had been farming their land for
In their book The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the
Southeast, Theda Perdue and Michael Green write:
"In one sense, removal was a continuation of the policies
created by Europeans when they first came to America, took a piece
of land, and pushed the Indians off it so they could use it for
The tribes which were removed from the southern states to what
would later become Oklahoma had often welcomed Christian missionaries,
were successful farmers and planters, and had adopted new forms
of government. In an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Arrell
Morgan Gibson writes:
"Leaders of the Southern tribes could not comprehend, in their
hope to coexist and cope with the fast changes swirling about
their nations, that their success in altering tribal ways and
education, business and polity only precipitate ugly envy and
antagonism among their Anglo-American neighbors."
Arrell Morgan Gibson goes on to say:
"Leaders of the Southern tribes did not understand that the
nineteenth century Anglo-American society was obsessively monisticit
feared, scorned and rejected people unlike themselves in culture
and physical characteristics."
In the south, the idea of removal stemmed from greed, from the
desire to acquire Indian lands. Non-Indians justified the idea of
removal with religionEuropeans had been chosen by their god
to occupy and develop the landand by racism which viewed Indians
as an inferior people.
Briefly described below are some of the removal-related events
from 1818, two hundred years ago.
In Mississippi, US commissioners brought presents to the Choctaw
chiefs in an effort to get them to remove to a territory west of
the Mississippi River. In his book The Removal of the Choctaw
Indians, Arthur DeRosier reports:
"As soon as the Indians learned that the secretary of war
desired their removal west, they broke off discussions and voted
unanimously against a cession. The Choctaws were so positive in
their stand that the commissioners decided to abandon their negotiations
and leave the nation."
The non-Indians in Mississippi were not pleased with the failure
of the negotiations and brought pressure for a "get tough" policy
regarding the Choctaw. Congress responded by appointing George Poindexter
to head a Congressional committee regarding the removal of the Choctaw.
Arthur DeRosier writes:
"As a Mississippi politician who desired Indian lands for
his constituents, Poindexter proved a poor choice for the committee
No formal hearings were held and Poindexter tried to convince
members of Congress that the time had come for a direct approach
to Choctaw removal.
In Georgia, the Cherokee were informed that the United States
would no longer protect them from Americans who took their lands.
The United States offered the Cherokee $100,000 to abandon their
lands and move west of the Mississippi.
Approximately 1,000 Cherokee from the lower towns migrated to
Arkansas. They settled on former Osage lands which had been purchased
for them. Among those who moved was Sequoya who was trying to develop
a system for Cherokee writing.
In Georgia, John Ross was elected President of the Cherokee
National Council. This was a position second to the Principal Chief.
Ross was not only fluent in English, but was also literate in the
language as well.
William McIntosh and the Creek National Council enacted the
"Laws of the Creek Nation". McIntosh and the council saw the American
plan for civilization as inevitable and felt that the laws would
help them acculturate, survive, remain in the southeast, and prosper.
A party of about 75 Stockbridge under the leadership of John
Mtohksin attempted to move from New York to Indiana. When they arrived
in Indiana to live with the Miami and the Delaware they found that
these tribes had been forced to sell their land.
Indians 101 is a series exploring American Indian histories,
cultures, and current concerns. More from this series:
101: A Brief Overview of Cherokee Culture
101: The Chickasaw Indians
101: The Removal of the Chickasaw Indians
101: The Removal of the Ponca Indians
101: The Removal of the Flathead Indians
101: Choctaw Education After Removal
101: The Choctaw Removal
101: The Indian Removal Act