Native Americans: Removal and Resistance

Native Americans fought on both sides of the revolutionary war. Native Americans risked losing much more of their land and their autonomy at the hands of the colonials, later the Americans, than they did at the hands of the British.

Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828. Indian Removal was an important part of his agenda. The Cherokees of Georgia were a major target for removal west of the Mississippi, to Indian Country, now Oklahoma.

In 1838, despite strong opposition and protests, were forcibly removed by federal troops. According to our text, 4,000 people died in the march in winter which came to be known as the Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears: They Knew it was Wrong


According to Dr. Amy H. Sturgis, History professor, people at the time knew it was wrong, illegal, and unconstitutional. 1/4 to 1/3 of the Cherokee nation people were lost/died.

The argument used to justify the removal was based on lies. It was unconstitutional.

People on both sides knew that the removal was wrong. Davey Crocket, John Quincy Adams, and Ralph Waldo Emerson on the American side. Many Chiefs stated publicly, including writing letters to the president with over 15k signatures saying they did not agree with the removal. It was not the will of the Cherokee nation.

Black Hawk 1767?-1838

Black Hawk

Brittanica Biography

Black Hawk was a Sauk and Fox peoples Chief. He was born at Saukenuk on the Rock River in Western Illinois.

In 1804, after the Louisiana Purchase, Sauk chiefs were persuaded to sign a treaty with the federal government. In 1816 Black Hawk and other Sauk Chiefs signed another treaty they believed would allow them to remain on their lands forever. They had no clear idea what was involved in the signing of the treaty.

. . . the U.S. Army, fired on Black Hawk’s party as they attempted to cross the river (The Mississippi). continuing to fire even as Black Hawk himself waved a white flag of surrender (585).

from Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk

I told them that the white people had entered our village, burnt our lodges, destroyed our fences, ploughed up our corn, and beat our people: that they brought whisky into our country, made our people drunk, and take from them their horses, guns, and traps; and that I had borne all this injury, without suffering any of my braves to raise a hand against the whites (588).

Petalesharo 1797?-1874

Petalesharo, Skidi Pawnee Chief

Petalesharo means “generous chief” or “man chief.” He was a Pawnee nation chief. They occupied lands in the old Missouri Territory.

Successful in efforts in 1817 and 1820 to prevent  captured young women from being sacrificed (Human Sacrifice). This act was written about in newspapers and led to him being sought after for paintings.

Speech of the Pawnee Chief

Known as the speech delivered by “The Pawnee Chief” or “Petalesharo’s Speech.” It is not known who translated the speech or whether it was Petalesharo or another Pawnee chief that delivered it.

The Great Spirit made us all – he made my skin red, and your white; he placed us on this earth, and intended that we should live differently from each other (589).

The speech offers a “separatist” view of religion and culture.

Spare me then, my Father; let me enjoy my country, and pursue the buffalo, and the beaver, and the other wild animals of our country, and I will trade their skins with your people (590).

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882

Arguably the most important American thinker of the nineteeth century. He had a strong influence on Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

He became active in the abolitionist movement in the 1850s. In April of 1838, writing in his journal he lamented that “I can do nothing. Why shriek?” The next day he wrote a draft of this letter to President Martin Van Buren, who was carrying out Andrew Jackson’s (March 4, 1829 – March 4, 1837) removal policy, which was passed by congress in 1830 and known as the Indian Removal Act.

Letter to Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the U.S.A.

Written on April 23, 1838. The letter was published in May 14, 1838, then again on May 19th and May 25th in difference newspapers.

that out of eighteen thousands souls composing the nation, fifteen thousand six hundred and sixty eight have protested against the so called Treaty (601).

After explaining why he is writing, he asks if the rumors are true.

In the name of God, Sir, we ask you if this be so? (601)

He pleads to end the removal and explains what is at stake if he continues.

You, Sir, will bring down that renowned chair in which you sit into infamy, if your seal is set to this instrument of perfidy, and the name of this nation, hitherto the sweet omen of religion and liberty, will stink to the world (602).

Quick Write

How does Native American removal and resistance connect with our American identity? Why does this matter?