Thursday, August 1, 2019

Review of The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War


This powerful history details a little known part of the Civil War--how Native Americans in Indian Territory responded to the Civil War.


The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War
by Clarissa W. Confer is a very tragic narrative beginning with how some Cherokee leaders had adopted a few of the worst social behaviors of European Americans in the early 1900's including enslavement of others, owning at least 4,000 Negro slaves. (Of course, even a few Negroes also owned Negro slaves in the Carolinas and Florida so this wasn't unique to a minority such as the Cherokee.)

A few of the Cherokee became rich despite racism and opposition by White Americans, but then the Cherokee were jettisoned from their lands and homes (along with other 'Civilized Tribes') by President Andrew Jackson and other American leaders.

The national mistreatment officially began with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which banished a number of tribes to Indian Territory so Whites could steal their lands, houses, and other things (including gold in Georgia), and forced the tribes onto the Trail of Tears.

The future state of Oklahoma became a dumping ground for unwanted peoples by the Americans, the state name even comes from a Choctaw leader who coined it, meaning “Red People”! Some of the Native Americans, after resisting for a while, eventually tried to appease the American government, thinking that was their only choice, and moved to Indian Territory soon.

But some of the Cherokee continued to resist. Even the resisters were forced out in 1838. Many Cherokee suffered disease, starvation and other horrors on their forced removal, about 3,000 dying on the way. The mostly Scottish John Ross (1/8th Cherokee, 7/8th's White), was one of the Cherokee Nation leaders who severely criticized the Cherokees who had quit resisting the U.S. Law. His 2nd wife was a Delaware Quaker lady, Mary Brian Stapler.

The compromising Cherokee voluntarily moved to Indian Territory earlier. Eventually, some pro-Ross forces murdered 3 of these Cherokee leaders; and Ross supporters justified the murders as following Cherokee Law, that of executing 'traitors.' No one was ever arrested for the murders.

Both pro-treaty and anti-treaty Cherokee owned slaves. John Ross continued to own slaves until one year before his death in 1866. One question is why did Ross continue to own slaves after he married a Delaware Quaker. Was Mary Brian Stapler only culturally a Friend, or wouldn't Ross listen to her abolitionist views?

In the midst of these controversies within the Cherokee Nation, the Civil War started. The Cherokee, including John Ross supported the Confederacy because of the many cases of abusive treatment by the U.S. Furthermore, the Confederate Government made big promises including representation in the Confederate Government!

However, the Confederate leaders failed to follow through on most of their promises. So then some Cherokee for various reasons decided to switch and support the Union. This led to civil war within the Cherokee Nation itself. Native American groups attacked other Native Americans, stole, destroyed property, and slaughtered each other. Pro-Union Cherokee civilians were attacked as they fled north by pro-Confederacy Cherokee.

Union and pro-Confederates burned homes in the Cherokee capital, etc. At least one Union army attacked and killed Native Americans after being told, basically, to kill them all, not take prisoners.

The whole book shows so vividly how evil war is, no matter what its justifications. Again throughout the U.S. and including Indian Territory, both sides violated most moral truths, all of the commandments of 10 Words of the Old Testament, especially slaughter and stealing.

The Cherokee Nation never recovered to its previous achievements, but at least slavery was banned after the end of the war.

Stand Watie (De-ga-ta-ga), the only Cherokee (3/4's Cherokee, 1/4 White), to become a general in the Civil War, continued to fight against the Union, even after Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 9, 1865. Brigadier General Watie kept fighting until June 23, 1865! He was also the only one of the 4 accommodating Cherokee leaders who escaped assassination by the pro-Ross faction of the Cherokee.

Watie served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1862 until 1866. (An intriguing historical footnote is that the U.S. Postal Service printed a stamp honoring Watie on June 29th, 1995, 130 years later.)

The compassionate views of Watie's wife, Sarah Caroline (Bell) show that despite the fog and horrors of the war that at least some recognized that war is contrary to compassion and spirituality. She wrote her husband "to be a good man as always" and to maintain a clear conscience before God and others. She was "particularly worried about the effect of wartime conduct on the young men in the armies."

When she heard that her son, Saladin and a nephew had killed a prisoner, she became very upset. "It almost runs me crazy to hear such things....tell my boys to always show mercy as they expect to find God merciful to them." "She worried that because of this early exposure to condoned killing, Saladin would never value human life as should."
page 131, The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War

Book Evaluation: B

For insights into how Quakers eventually became involved with Native Americans in the 19th century read "Quaker Indian Boarding Schools--Facing Our History and Ourselves" by Paula Palmer, October 2016 in the Friends Journal:

https://www.friendsjournal.org/quaker-indian-boarding-schools/


In the Light,
Dan Wilcox

No comments: