You are currently viewing Whatever risk they might run, Eastern Cherokee Resistance to the Forced Removal of 1838

Whatever risk they might run, Eastern Cherokee Resistance to the Forced Removal of 1838

Brett Riggs is Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University. Prior to joining Western Carolina University, Riggs was a research archaeologist and assistant professor in the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, and previously served as deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and archaeologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Riggs serves on the executive committee of the National Trail of Tears Association, as well as the Native Affairs Liaison Committee of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference. He specializes in the archaeology and ethnohistory of the Cherokee and Catawba peoples, and regularly consults with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the Catawba Indian Nation to provide technical expertise and educational materials for tribal audiences. His studies of Removal-era Cherokee archaeology and documentary sources have guided the expansion and interpretation of the NPS Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in North Carolina and Tennessee.

As we got clear of the mountain and entered a pleasant valley, we met a Cherokee on horseback, named John Welsh, whom I remembered seeing at the Council. I attempted to get into conversation with him about the affairs transacted there, and the present temper of the Indians, but he was very reserved. I gathered sufficient from him, however, to understand that the Cherokees were determined not to abandon their country, whatever risk they might run.              -George Featherstonhaugh, August 26, 1837

The persistence and success of Eastern Cherokees in their ancient homelands, even in the face of the American government’s concerted efforts to dispossess the Cherokee people in 1838, is testament to their carefully crafted, multi-layered programs of resistance to removal. A coalition of Cherokee leaders and their Anglo-American proxies employed subtle legal arguments for state citizenship based on previous treaties, and secured individual removal exemptions through their War Department allies. When those strategies faltered in late summer of 1838, they resorted to coordinated evasion of their military pursuers, a stage of the resistance that culminated in the infamous Tsali affair and concluded with the army abandoning the search for Cherokee fugitives.

Leave a Reply