Cost of Emigration to Indian Territory

Quite a spirited and protracted controversy arose over the matter of paying the expenses of the removal of the Cherokees to their new western home.

Gen. Winfield S. Hancock was then in charge of military matters in Georgia and he was authorized to employ one or more competent persons to transport the Indians. Numerous persons applied for the contract, making bids ranging from $30 to $75 per head.

Many Cherokees seemed to prefer that the contract be awarded to their chief, John Ross, and after quite an extended correspondence upon the subject, General Hancock, on August 2, 1838, entered into an agreement with John Ross, Lewis Ross, his brother, and Elijah Hicks, by which they were to be paid $65.88 per head, it being estimated that there were ten thousand Cherokees to be transported, and that eighty days would be required to make the trip across the country. Many Cherokees were gathered into camps immediately, preparatory to starting on the westward trip, when it was decided that as the summer of 1838 was exceedingly drouthy, feed and water along the route would be scarce, the health of the emigrants would be promoted by postponing the trip until later in the season.

This contract was based on the following estimate of expenses for transporting 1,000 persons: 

Fifty wagons and teams, including feed$28,000
Returning wagons and teams to Georgia14,000
250 extra horses, 40 cents per day8,000
Ferriages, etc.1,000
80,000 rations at 16 cents each12,000
Conductor at $5 per day400
Assistant at $3 per day240
Physician at $5 per day400
Physician’s expense returning home120
Commissary at $2.50 per day200
Assistant at $2 per day160
Wagon master at $2.50 per day200
Assistant at $2 per day160
Interpreter at $2.50 per day 200
Total estimate, per 1,000 persons$65,880

Under this contract $776,398.98 was paid to John Ross. A year or two later, upon the petition of the Cherokee Council an additional sum of $486,939.50 was paid, which payment became the subject of a very prolonged Congressional investigation.

Hundreds of pages of testimony were taken tending to show that the claim was excessive ; that other parties had offered to do the work for very much less money; that although a charge was made for returning the wagons, yet the wagons were not returned; that some were transported by water at less expense than the trip by land amounted to ; that the expense of gathering the Indians into camp and boarding them until their caravan was ready to move, was not included in the contract made with General Scott, etc. As is usual, however, in such cases, no direct result was obtained by the investigation.

To The Indian Territory By Water

Mrs. Sarah Ann Moncrief, an Indian woman, ninety-three years of age, who was born on one of the Eastern reservations and came West with others to the Indian Territory, gives the following account of the trip:

“We had heard that there wad a great opening in the West, and this being about the time the pale faces were wanting to get the Indians all out of the states, a bill was passed to have the Government move us. The Government made appropriations to move us all west, paying our expenses and furnishing one year’s rations, issued as the soldiers’ ‘rations were issued, every three months. This applied to our negro slaves as well as to ourselves.

We began to make preparations. There were men who contracted to move us. They went around among the Indians enrolling their names, ages, etc. Then they would set a date to leave, traveling by boat. These emigration agents always sent the Indians by deck passage. We had traveled some before this, but never by deck passage. Our family made arrangements with the agent to let us travel as first class passengers and we paid the difference between that and deck passage. The agent knew that such Indians as we were, and many others like us, could not stand deck passage. We made our start for the West, going down the Tombigbee River to Mobile, Ala. There we crossed Lake Pontchartrain between Mobile and New Orleans, into the Mississippi River. Cholera was raging at that time in New Orleans and we were anxious to take the first boat out. It was an old boat and not a very safe one, by the name of Alvarado. We had not gone up the Mississippi very far when we found we were not in a first-class boat. Nevertheless, we were willing to take anything to get away from that cholera. We found that nearly all the officers and hands were thieves. They broke into my brother’s trunk and stole a number of articles. One night we saw one of the captain’s boys wearing a cap which had been taken from the trunk and we called the captain’s attention to it. He made his boy return all the trinkets he had taken from my brother’s trunk. We had great fear for we knew we were in a den of thieves. We were afraid we would be murdered.

“One very foggy night, the river being very high and the levee breaking in places, our boat ran upon a levee and tied us up for two days. We signaled every boat that passed, but none would come to our aid. Finally, a White River boat came to our rescue. “Our boat was loaded with salt in sacks, and the officers pressed passengers and all into service, carrying sacks from the prow to the stern of the boat. They were over half a day getting us off, but we were glad to get ‘away for we were afraid our boat would sink. In those days we did not pay for our passage until we got to the end of the journey, but the captain begged the passengers to pay him half of their fare so he could pay the captain of the White River boat for pulling us off the levee. There was not much sleeping done by the men from there on to the mouth of the Arkansas, for they feared the thieves. Where the Mississippi backed up into the mouth of the Arkansas there was a sea of water—nothing but water as far as the eye could reach. Here we had to change boats at a place called Napoleon. We got on a boat called the Western Water Lady and there were so many drifts in the Arkansas River that it took us a whole week to get to Fort Smith.”

Schermerhorn’s Threat

Apparently forgetting that in former treaties the United States had solemnly promised to protect the Cherokees in the possession of their lands and in the enjoyment of their rights and privileges, Mr. Schermerhorn, one of the commissioners of the United States, appointed to negotiate the treaty of 1835, by the terms of which the Cherokees were called upon to surrender possession of their remaining lands and homes in Georgia, in an address to the Cherokees at Running Water Council Ground on July 20, 1835, used these words:

“And, now, let me ask you, what have you to gain by delaying this matter ? Certainly nothing. You have tried various ways, for several years past, and every year your situation has been growing worse and worse, every overture for negotiation that has been rejected by you, arid every exertion on your part to be reinstated into your former rights and privileges, and to expel the whites from among you, and to escape the force of the laws of the states over you, has not only failed to bring you the relief promised you by your lawyers and counselors and chiefs ; but it has been followed by more new and insupportable laws and measures. Your principal men have all been turned out of their possessions, or have become tenants at will to the citizens of Georgia. If you continue to cast away the very liberal and generous offers of the Government now made to you, you will even lose the sympathies of some of your best friends. You cannot mistake the policy of Georgia. She is determined to get rid of her Indian population and she will soon legislate you out of the country, by granting your possessions to her citizens, who claim the fee to your lands. And then where will you go? To Alabama or Tennessee You know the whites there are as thick on your lands as they are in Georgia ; and all places surrounded. by emigrants are occupied by white men, as they have been in Georgia. You need not be surprised, if in such a case, the other states were to pass laws that they would not permit the Indians from Georgia to settle within their bounds. Be not deceived. The citizens of the states of Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina are as anxious to get rid of you as Georgia. And they lie still and hold back because Georgia is fighting their battles, as well as her own, with you; and this you will find when the crisis arrives to which I have just alluded; for they have, all of them, already extended their laws over you. Let me say to you, these evils are now at your door. If you reject these overtures you may look for them soon.”

Verily, verily, the Indians’ land grafter did not originate in Oklahoma.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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