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“The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation” By John Ehle Essay

Author John Ehle has written a book that follows the struggles of the early Cherokee people that were torn between the ways of their ancestors and the new régimes that some of their people want to follow. The Cherokee people were confused with how to adapt to their surroundings and to claim their own rights that the current government was denying to them. In the Trail of Tears, Ehle uses many different people and the historic accounts of their actions to tell the story of tragic and unfair deals made with the Cherokee people by the United States. One of the main historical figures Mr. Ehle centers upon is Major Ridge. He tells of Major Ridge’s ideas and hopes that would lead his people to prosperity. The United States government is closely analyzed; specifically pertaining to how the government neglected to help the Cherokee people become more efficient for themselves and not protecting them from other land greedy states.

On the Hiwasse River, in approximately 1771, in what is now known as Virgina, a Cherokee woman, who’s father was Highland Scot and her mother full Cherokee, gave birth to a baby boy named Ridge. The woman hopped that Ridge would grow to be a strong leader of his people. The Cherokee people were of a matrilineal society. This meant that Ridge’s mother and her brothers took the active role of instructing him in the ways of being a hunter. From the time that he was born until the age of five he received instruction, in the town that he lived in with other boys, of how to be a warrior. When he was five a great war broke out between the Indians and whites and his parents decided it best to leave.

This war helped give Ridge a glance at what was to come for him and his people. They moved into a cove in the higher mountains, which forced him to stop his training as a hunter so that he could help his family survive. A few years later the war had ended and when he was ten years old his family moved to the town of Chestowee where he resumed his training with his uncles instructions. When Ridge reached puberty he moved to advanced instruction to become a warrior, a strong and mighty position, and this helped to welcome him to manhood. From this point on in his life rituals and ceremonies would be very important in everything he would do. One instance was the rituals that were need in order for a Cherokee man to participate in a very important ball game.

Certain things that were done were that the player could not eat certain types of foods or he could not touch a woman for the whole week before the game. Also the player’s Hickory stick was very important to him and had very important handling procedures that insured that the stick would be kept pure. One rite that was associated with the ball game was the scratching rite. The players were inflicted with almost three hundred scratches made from the ends of feathers all over their bodies. The strict ritual guide lines that Ridge was made to follow when he was younger helped to prepare him for all the struggles that he was to face in the years to come.

It was in this year when Ridge was seventeen that the struggle between the Cherokees and the whites came to a final confrontation. During this time Ridge proved himself as a warrior by having more scalps than his father. When he can home he courted and married Susana. It was at this point he was invited to be a spokesman at the main council meeting for his town, a certifiably honor at his age of twenty-five. He was also known as being one of the first of his people to be a successful farmer, ferry owner and tradesmen. Susana and Ridge bore two children, Nancy and John. Later on Ridge assisted Colonel Jackson in subduing the uprising of the Creeks and Seminoles, which lead to his appointment of Major in the U.S. militia. Major ridge is the person responsible for the formation of the new Cherokee Nation.

He began the new nation at New Echota, which contained within it a museum, library, judicial courts, legislative buildings and its own printing press, which published the first Cherokee newspaper the Phoenix. After his involvement with this new capital city, Major Ridge was hired to be the head negotiator for the Creeks land disputes in 1825. After the election of John Ross as principle chief, he was publicly humiliated and decided to concentrate on his livelihood. His son John then took over the role as heads spokesman. Major Ridge supported his son when John stated Indian immigration was the only future for the Cherokees. He continued to support John after Major Ridge’s own removal to Arkansas and until his murder, in 1839.

There were many individuals and parties that were both beneficial and detrimental to the Cherokees trying to find their own way as a nation. President Thomas Jefferson, who was the phasilitator of the Louisiana Purchase. President Andrew Jackson was one of the key figures in the movement to have the Cherokee’s relocated, just for the sake of creating more land for the white United States. Wilson Lumpkin was also a key factor in the Cherokee removal. He was the one who introduced the removal bill in Congress. Later on as governor of Georgia, he passed legislation making all Cherokee lands within the boarders of Georgia fall under its jurisdictional laws. There where many different religious factions that came into contact with the Cherokee people.

Most of the religious contact between the whites and the Cherokee’s came in the formation of schools. Some of the individuals that helped to create these schools were: Reverend Cornelius started Brainerd in 1817, Reverend Samuel Worcester (postmaster and legal council) and Miss Sophia Sawyer who taught at a Monrovian church/school. There were many positive influences that came to the Cherokees through their own people: Major Ridge, his son John, Sequoyah (creator of the Cherokee written language), Charles Hicks, James Vann and Elias “Buck” Boudinot. The six afore mentioned people were the major influences on the creation of the New Cherokee Nation.

The downfall of the Cherokee people began in 1803 with Thomas Jefferson negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. All of the Cherokee people were against this purchase, because it sold Cherokee and other tribes land to the U.S. that had no right to be bought or sold to any nation. From that point on the Cherokee people were in constant turmoil in way to keep from being pushed of their land by the whites. The United States Government, state governments and white prospectors were the people wanting the land in the name of progress. The New Echota Treaty was the final blow to the Cherokee people.

The treaty, signed by John Ridge, John Walker Jr., Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, Andrew Ross, John Gunter, and Stand Waters, gave the U.S. Cherokee lands of the east in exchange for lands in the west plus subsidies and surplus of 4.5 million dollars. The Cherokees that were opposed to the treaty was John Ross and his entire delegation. Even after they were forcibly removed from their land and relocated, they took the law into their own hands and assassinated Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot (the founders of the treaty).

The most relished part of the book was in the beginning when the Cherokee people where at peace within their own sect. They had not yet lost their identity as a culture. The Cherokee’s knew who they were and that their life, which might be simple compared to the whites, was a full and complete life. This was all that was needed to survive and to be happy. In my opinion this book gives many accurate historical accounts of all aspects of the Cherokee removal. The beginning jumped around in topic a bit, making the book a little difficult to start, but one in the body of it there were many interesting facts given about the removal.


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