The West That Wasn't Won
The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners. They have been dragged from their houses and encamped at the forts and military posts all over the nation." Thus Baptist missionary Evan Jones described the beginning of the forced removal of the Cherokees in June 1837.
By the early 1800s, the Cherokees of northern Georgia had a highly developed culture. Their legal system was patterned after that of the United States, and they printed their own books and newspapers. White missionaries—Moravians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists—mingled among them to share the gospel and inculcate Christian values.
Then gold was discovered in the north Georgia mountains, and white settlers looked longingly at the Cherokees' land. The eventual outcome: the government's decision to move the Cherokees beyond the Mississippi.
Though some white missionaries objected fiercely to the government's action, most acquiesced to the order. Jones further described the outcome: "In Georgia especially, multitudes were allowed no time to take anything with them except the clothes they had on. Well furnished houses were left a prey to plunderers who, like hungry wolves, followed in the train of the captors . …Many of the Cherokees, who a few days ago were in comfortable circumstances, are now victims of abject poverty. Some who have been allowed to return home under passport to inquire after their property have found their cattle, horses, swine, farming tools and house furniture all gone."
By March 1838 the last group had arrived in Oklahoma, their new home, but at least one-third had died along the way.
This is one of the saddest chapters in American history. It helps explain why white attempts to evangelize American Indians in the West met with so much ...