Poteete, Guy speak on Cherokee removal at Trail of Tears symposium

Posted 4/15/18

Cleveland State hosted the Trail of Tears Educational Symposium on Friday to commemorate the 180th anniversary of removal.

Three guest speakers with ties to the Trail of Tears spoke at the …

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Poteete, Guy speak on Cherokee removal at Trail of Tears symposium


Cleveland State hosted the Trail of Tears Educational Symposium on Friday to commemorate the 180th anniversary of removal.

Three guest speakers with ties to the Trail of Tears spoke at the event. The speakers were Brett Riggs, Sequoyah distinguished professor in Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University; Joe Guy, McMinn County sheriff and county historian; and Troy Wayne Poteete, executive director of the Trail of Tears Association.

Guy started with a presentation on the murder of Jack Walker, a member of the Cherokee nation. Walker was the son of Major John Walker, who was himself a grandson of Nancy Ward. Guy explained how prior to 1831, the Cherokee nation was viewed as an entirely sovereign nation by all residents in Georgia, which is where the reservation was located.

“You did see some division at the time between the Cherokee who were in favor of maintaining their sovereignty and those who were in favor of removal,” Guy said. “The ones who wanted removal believed that they should just get out while the getting was good and move somewhere that the white man didn’t own.”

In 1831, Walker went to Washington without authorization from the Cherokee nation to discuss removal with President Andrew Jackson. After learning this, at least two members of the Cherokee plotted to murder Walker. Traveling home near modern-day Spring Place Road with an accompanying friend, Walker was shot by two Cherokee who he and his associate later identified as James Foreman and Anderson Springston. Walker made it home only to die weeks later from his injuries.

Despite two eyewitness accounts by both Walker and his associate, the two murderers (who never even denied the accusations) were never punished for their crime. Guy explained this was mostly due to the local politics of the time, as the prosecutors even took the case to the Tennessee state Supreme Court.

“One of the two judges on this case was Judge Catron, who until this case had been a proponent of Cherokee sovereignty. This marked a complete change in his perspective,” Guy said. “He went from defending the Cherokee to calling them ‘savages.’”

Following Guy’s presentation, Poteete took the stage and discussed the 1835 treaty party, while also wearing a traditional head wrap common among Cherokee.

“The Treaty of New Echota was contested by Cherokees and was incredibly debated,” Poteete said. “This marked a time when a small minority of Cherokee led by Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, who favored westward expansion, signed a treaty that ceded all Cherokee lands.”

The treaty gave the Cherokee $5 million for their land and $300,000 for improvements on their new land in the westward Indian Territory. In May 1836, President Jackson signed it into law, giving the Cherokee two years to vacate their land.

“Looking at it from their point of view, they believed they were doing what was best for the Cherokee nation,” Poteete added. “Those who felt this way were looked at as betrayers by their opponents.”

 Brett Riggs discussed the importance of nearby Fort Cass for the Cherokee.

“The Fort Cass emigration depot was the doorstep of westward expansion,” Riggs said. “The West was viewed as chaos. It was the scary unknown that held nothing but death, which is why so few had gone out west.”

Riggs displayed a hand-drawn map of Fort Cass created in 1838 by West Point graduate Henry Prince. Prince was 27 at the time, and went on to be one of the founding members of the United States Army Corps Topographic Engineers.

Fort Cass was set up as one of three emigration depots with the idea all Cherokee who hadn’t volunteered to move were to be kept here until their day came to move to the Indian Territory in modern-day Oklahoma.

“This was the doorway to the Cherokee nation in the South,” Riggs added.

The event was held in the George R. Johnson building at Cleveland State and had numerous booths for guests to visit prior to the guest speakers.

Each booth pertained to the Trail of Tears, removal or just regional Native Americans in general. Some of the booths included Red Clay State Park, New Echota Cherokee Capital state historic site, Hiwassee River Heritage Center and various others.



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