TODAY in History: The Treaty of New Echota & the Cherokee Nation

The historical marker showing the site of the signing of the Treaty of New Echota. – imgarcade.com

 by William “Doc” Halliday

Have you ever been to Calhoun, Georgia?  It is a small city of about 15,000 residents in the Northwest area of that state.  Interstate 75 runs along the east edge of the city with several exits to the city.  If you have never heard of Calhoun, perhaps you have heard of the Trail of Tears.  About 3 1/2 miles north of Calhoun is the New Echota Historic Site.  New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until their forcible relocation in the 1830s. 

Gold has been considered a valuable commodity for thousands of years.  In 1828 gold was discovered in Georgia resulting in the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829.  This was the first significant gold rush in the United States.  Unfortunately, much of the land belonged to the Cherokee.  Cotton compounded this issue. 

Not all white Americans were callous to the plight of the Cherokees.  Many of them were outraged by the dubious legality of the treaty and called on the government not to forcibly move the Cherokee. 

Until the cotton gin came into widespread use, short-staple cotton had been an arduous crop to grow and process because of the time-consuming task of removing the sticky seeds from each of the individual boles of cotton.  This process took so long that it was virtually unprofitable to grow cotton.  The Cherokee possessed over 1.7 million acres of tillable land in Georgia.  Settlers moved to Georgia to take advantage of the land and the favorable climate for growing cotton.  Immigration to the area increased rapidly during the 1820s and 1830s.  The Cherokee were a threat, not because of violence, but because they competed in growing cotton and their land was desired.  The situation created an overwhelming desire to remove the Cherokee.  

Beginning in 1805, the State of Georgia began giving land to immigrants through a lottery system.  Some if not all of this land belonged to the Cherokee.  The lottery continued into the 1830s.  

One hundred and eighty-one years ago, on December 29, 1835, the Treaty of New Echota was signed.  This treaty ceded all of the Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi River to the United States.  The treaty included land in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee as well as Georgia.  In real estate transactions, it is said that a willing seller and a willing buyer will determine the fair market value of a property.  This treaty had neither a willing seller nor a willing buyer.  In truth, the seller was not properly represented.  The treaty was signed by a group of dissident Cherokee. 

In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the 1,000 mile march with inadequate clothing.  Most of the Cherokee were on foot without shoes or moccasins.  Estimates of the death toll due to the forced removal run as high as 25 – 35 percent of the total population of the Cherokee Nation. 

The United States was not a willing buyer in that this country had no desire to pay a fair market value. The Senate did agree to pay $5 million for the land.  This was more than 40 percent less than the true market value at that time.  The Cherokee leaders had asked for $20 million.  The treaty was signed by twenty-one members of the Cherokee Nation.  A census by the United States government that was taken that year, showed 18,335 members of the Cherokee Nation.  Not a single signer of the treaty was a chief.  The leadership of the Cherokees and the vast majority of the members refused to acknowledge the treaty.  There was also a clause in the treaty as it was signed, allowing any Cherokee who so desired to remain and become a citizen of the state in which they resided on 160 acres of land.  That clause was later unilaterally stricken out by President Andrew Jackson. 

The treaty did provide a two-year grace period for the Cherokee to willingly immigrate to Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.  No one was willing.  Not all white Americans were callous to the plight of the Cherokees.  Many of them were outraged by the dubious legality of the treaty and called on the government not to forcibly move the Cherokee. 

The Trail of Tears actually encompasses the forced removal of other Native Americans in addition to the Cherokee.  In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the 1,000 mile march with inadequate clothing.  Most of the Cherokee were on foot without shoes or moccasins.  Estimates of the death toll due to the forced removal run as high as 25 – 35 percent of the total population of the Cherokee Nation. 

William “Doc” Halliday, historian and writer, can be contacted at w_halliday@yahoo.com .

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