Thursday, June 21, 2007

Swindled!

From the diary of Lt. John Phelps, serving in Cherokee County, NC during Cherokee removal

Thursday 21st June 1838
On the 12th inst the Regiment with the exception of one company left camp under the command of Col. Fanning, and marched out among the mountains five or six miles to the east. Some of the Indians were already coming in, and being informed that many of them were collecting at a place of worship of theirs, seven companies of us marched thither and bivouacked. By night fall about a hundred had assembled, and when the camp was hushed they held a prayer meeting. They are of the Baptist persuasion.

One of them opened his prayer by saying that it was probably the last time that they should ever meet at their wonted place of worship; but he exhorted them and prayed that they might not be led astray in the western wilderness.

The twilight was gleaming faintly upon the old hills about them, where they had strayed when young, and formed their earliest and dearest associations; they had left their homes, their neat gardens and fields, their stock and poultry, as tho’ they were going to church, and even thus were they to set out upon their journey for the land from which they expected nothing but sickness and death.

Some of their people as well as whites had returned from that country, and told them that it was very unhealthy. But they must leave their solubrious hills and go to it, tho’ they had never given their consent; they had been belied by one who professed to teach the religious whose rites they were celebrating. The Occasion was deeply affecting, and Indians tho’ they were, the congregation were all in tears. They sung some appropriate hymns and then retired.

As the ceremonies were conducted in Cherokee I was obliged to rely upon an interpreter for what little information I could get concerning their import. It was with much difficulty that he could express the substance of the prayers, tho’ he said that they made one feel quite smart, by which I was pleased to understand that they were thrilling even to him. The next day several whites came about in order to get claims on their property.

The manner in which they had been cheated was various and the cases were numerous. For instance, a white would purchase their improvements, get a deed signed by creditable witnesses, pay a dollar or two down, and promise to pay the remainder when they started for the west. This would be the last of it.

But in general their property was wrested from them with less ceremony than this. It was in vain that we told them not to trust to the whites, that the government would fairly compensate them for every thing that they abandoned; they preferred to make sure of one tenth even of the value of their property than to rely upon the promises of the government which had cheated them more cruelly than the individuals who were prowling among them.

No comments: