Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 150-151
Past chief of the Cherokee Nation (1985- 1995) and social activist Wilma Mankiller remarked, "We are still here." Facing rampant racism, a fraudulent treaty, and then dislocation from their homelands in the southeast, Cherokees not only survived but prevailed. Reflectively, Theda Perdue and Michael Green have summarized the complexity and cunning complicity surrounding the 1838-39 infamous Cherokee displacement known as the Trail of Tears, adding to the scholarship of Tim Garrison, Gary Moulton, Walter Conser, Mary Young, and the late William G. McLoughlin.
They juxtapose the remarkable lives of two adversarial Cherokee figures, Major Ridge (along with his son John Ridge, and nephew Elias Boudinot), who led the Treaty Party (about 600) to sign the illegal 1835 Treaty of New Echota, selling the Cherokee Nation for five million dollars, and the other, John Ross, who became the first constitutionally elected chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1828. The Ross Party had about 16,000 members before removal began. The two factions took Herculean measures to halt the other from attaining legal prominence in Washington. Ross first broached the subject of selling Cherokee lands in Georgia, where half of the Cherokees lived before removal; he then advised against continuing the Cherokee Nation as a Nation; and finally he offered to let Cherokees become Georgia citizens. Horrified at the suggestion of "amalgamation" with expansive-minded, racist Americans, the Ridge family campaigned to save the Cherokee Nation by advocating removal and signing the unlawful Treaty. The Ridge family felt that separation from aggressive Anglo-Americans, their government, and endemic racism and poverty was the best solution for Cherokee people.