Stand Watie and the Confederate Indians

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Have you ever
noticed that some participants in America's greatest calamity, its
War Between the States, are quite familiar to us? Meanwhile, many
others of that eventful age are ignored or likely no longer even
known by those academics who are the gatekeepers of our national
memory. Among the forgotten are the American Indians of the Five
"Civilized" Tribes — Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek,
and Seminole — most of whom fought for the Confederacy.

Few participants
in that war exhibited greater courage, or suffered greater loss,
than these long-forgotten patriots, whose blood kin included such
distinguished personages as the great Sequoyah (George Gist), who
committed the Cherokee language into an alphabet. Their lands and
communities in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), growing and
prosperous before the War of 1861–65, lay in rubble and ruin
afterwards. These Indians, many of them slaveowners, fit none of
the customary American history stereotypes. Throughout their lives,
they adhered to many of the core values of America's Founding Fathers,
including a devotion to the Christian faith; commitment to an excellent
education distinguished by classical and scriptural distinctives;
belief in self-reliant labors and the possession and cultivation
of private property; support of the practices of limited government
— especially on the national level — and separated powers; and the
principles of free market economics, and the creativity and innovation
incumbent in that.

 

 
Stand
Watie

 
 

Such a man
was three-quarter-Cherokee Stand Watie, the only Indian to attain
the rank of general in either the Federal or Confederate armies.
Born in 1806 near Rome, Georgia, and educated at a Christian church
mission school in Tennessee, Watie proved himself a leader even
as a young man. A frequent correspondent in the 1830s with President
Andrew Jackson (not to be confused with Thomas J. "Stonewall"
Jackson), he recognized that man's determination to proceed with
the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokees from the southeastern United
States. For instance, when uninvited white gold-seekers flooded
Cherokee land in north Georgia in the early 1830s, the United States
Supreme Court ordered the state to protect the mostly-Christian
tribe and let them live in peace on their own land. President Jackson
famously responded: "The Chief Justice [John Marshall] has
made his ruling. Now let him enforce it."

So Stand
Watie, divining the imminent slaughter of his people if they did
not leave, and seeking to craft the best possible arrangement for
them, helped negotiate the 1835 New Echota Treaty between the United
States and the Cherokee Nation to which he belonged. He and a couple
thousand other Cherokees left soon after for Indian Territory. The
majority of Cherokees, however, led by Principal Chief (similar
to a President) John Ross, who was 7/8 Scot and 1/8 Cherokee, opposed
the New Echota Treaty and the relocation. They remained in their
homeland until the U.S. army forcibly uprooted them a couple of
years later. Broken promises by President Jackson and other Federal
officials turned this phase of the Cherokees' westward relocation,
in 1838-39, into the tragic Trail of Tears. The Cherokees called
it, literally, "The Place Where We Cried." Thousands of
them, mostly women and children, died in the vast open wilderness
amidst a howling winter and sometimes brutal Federal soldiers, en
route to their new homeland.

Once there,
many of Ross's followers harbored bitter resentment against Watie
and other leaders of what came to be known as the Treaty Party.
Within six months of the larger Cherokee party arriving in Indian
Territory, every Treaty Party leader except Watie was murdered.
He escaped only by a comrade's warning, his own wits and courage,
and the borrowed horse of white Presbyterian missionary friend Samuel
Worcester. Years later, Watie and Ross and their two factions made
peace, though their variant philosophies would flare again during
the War Between the States.

GUERILLA
AND GENERAL

A successful
planter and journalist, Watie supported the Confederacy from its
start. His influence helped lead the Cherokee nation into a formal
alliance with the South. He and many fellow Cherokees, including
William Penn Adair, John Drew, and Clem Rogers (father of famous
American humorist and motion picture icon Will Rogers), as well
as other Indians such as Seminole John Jumper and Creek G. W. Grayson,
gained renown for their battle exploits – renown largely ignored
in traditional American histories. The hard-riding Clem Rogers,
for instance, was one of Watie's chief cavalry scouts.


 

Sarah
Bell Watie

 

 
 

After fighting
commenced in the (Indian) "Nations," Watie organized and
commanded the Cherokee Mounted Rifles. These rough-hewn Oklahoma
horse soldiers earned a fearsome reputation, far out of proportion
to their numbers, for their accomplishments at such battles as Wilson's
Creek in Missouri and Pea Ridge in Arkansas. At the latter, a subordinate
recounted Watie's mounted Indian troopers, though outnumbered, charging
into the face of blazing Federal cannon, capturing them, then turning
them on their fleeing Federal enemy: "I don’t know how we did
it but Watie gave the order, which he always led, and his men could
follow him into the very jaws of death. The Indian Rebel Yell was
given and we fought like tigers three to one. It must have been
that mysterious power of Stand Watie that led us on to make the
capture against such odds.”

Later,
Watie's legend grew as a guerilla fighter while commanding Cherokee,
Creek, Seminole, and Osage troops. One of his most famous exploits
was the capture in a shootout on the Arkansas River of a Federal
steamship and its $150,000 cargo. Another was his leading Confederate
forces to victory in the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, in Indian
Territory, where he captured an enormous Federal wagon train, the
booty of which clothed his entire regiment and fed them and their
civilian dependants for more than a month.

Tragically,
the war forced Watie to fight not only Federal troops, who also
included Indians, but some of his own people as well. The majority
of the John Ross faction transferred their allegiance to the North
when events turned against the Confederacy, and after Ross was captured
by the Federals. Watie's own wife and children had to refugee from
northeastern Oklahoma down the Texas Road into North Texas in the
cold of winter and live out the war amongst the elements.

Year after
year, Federal armies from all over the west hunted Watie. They never
caught him. Brigadier General and Cherokee Chief Stand Watie fought
to the bitter end. He was the last Confederate general to surrender,
undaunted and unvanquished, on June 23, 1865, nearly three months
after Appomattox.

SACRIFICE
AND REMEMBRANCE

Watie returned
to financial ruin and a home burned to the ground by Federals during
the war. He spent his final years farming and trying to restore
his once-beautiful Grand River bottomland, which was devastated
by the war. Aging into his mid-sixties, Watie exhausted his war-punished
body by committing every talent and meager resource remaining to
him to the quality education of his children. Realizing this, one
of his daughters, Watica, who had barely learned to read and write
during a childhood savaged by the years of total war in the Indian
Territory, wrote him from the private school to which he had managed
to send her: "I feel proud to think that I have a papa that
take the last dollars he has to send me chool."

 

 
William
Penn Adair (ancestor of modern-day Oklahoma House Speaker Larry
Adair)

 
 

Tragedy continued
to mark Watie's life as his beloved son Saladin — captain, decorated
war hero, postwar Southern Cherokee delegate to Congress, and only
twenty-one years of age — became the final of his three boys to
precede him in death. He also watched as colossal tracts of land
legally deeded to the Indians a generation before by the U.S. government,
were taken from them as punishment for their support of the Confederacy
and given to other tribes; as other vast tracts were confiscated
from them and given to the mercantilist railroads racing westward;
and as Congress began to levy taxes on Indian Territory business
enterprises, while gradually eradicating the Nations' legally-sanctioned
political independence. Tragedy has marked much of the American
Indian's history since then as well, with one of their chief contemporary
distinctions being that of helming the largest casino efforts in
Oklahoma.

"You
cant imagine how lonely I am up here at our old place without any
of my dear children being with me," Watie wrote another daughter,
Jacqueline, only weeks before his death in 1871. "I would be
so happy to have you here, but you must go to school."

Like another
fabled Confederate general, Robert E. Lee of Virginia, it was said
that Chief Stand Watie died at least partly of a broken heart. Yet
Mrs. A. K. Hardcastle wrote to Watie's widow, the lovely Sarah Bell
of Tennessee: "I read with sadness of the death of your much
esteemed husband. My tenderest sympathy is yours. I trust you have
consolation from a Higher Power than earthly friends for the loss
of one so dear to you. His labors on earth have not been in vain,
he has done much lasting good for his country and country-men, that
will never be forgotten but handed down to the future generations
in the book of history for them to follow in his foot-steps and
to aspire to leave their foot prints on the sands of time as well
as he."

Indeed,
he was not always forgotten. Edward Everett Dale, the great 20th-century
University of Oklahoma historian, for whom that school's Dale Tower
was named, remains long after his own passing, perhaps the dean
of all Sooner State historians. Dale wrote many memorable books,
among them Cherokee
Cavaliers
, which chronicled forty years of 19th-century
Cherokee history, including the Trail of Tears, and which remains
in print nearly seventy years after its writing. He filled the grand
work with over 200 letters written by Cherokee men and women of
the time, great and small alike. But he wrote his inscription to
one: "To the memory of General Stand Watie — Patriot, Soldier,
and Statesman — this volume is reverently dedicated."

And this modest
article.

February
23, 2006

John
J. Dwyer (send him mail) is
chairman of history at Coram Deo Academy near Dallas, Texas. He
is author of the new historical narrative The
War Between the States: America's Uncivil War
.
His website includes
a five-minute preview video about the book. He is also the author
of the historical novels Stonewall
and Robert
E. Lee
, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort
Worth Heritage newspaper.

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