Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw Personal Letters/Narratives

John Ridge’s Letter to Albert Gallatin

In John Ridge’s letter to Albert Gallatin, Ridge describes carefully the population numbers of the Cherokee as well as the manner in which Cherokee people farm their land. He indicates that “it really appears that they are farmers and herdsmen,” which, he adds, “is their real character” (34). Why is this proclamation of importance, especially in light of American governmental designs on Native land and ideas regarding the assimilability of Native people?

Ridge “takes pleasure to state, though cautiously, that there is not to my knowledge a solitary Cherokee to be found that depends on the chase for subsistence” (35). Why does this give Ridge “pleasure”? Considering the education and ambitions of Ridge, and his family, what do you make of this statement?

While statements such as the above might make it seem as if Ridge finds the increasing “civilization” of the Cherokee heartening, does he devalue “traditional” Cherokee ways, such as the division of labor in house and farm work? What indications does Ridge give that, indeed, he find some Cherokee traditions inherently superior to those of Euro-American?

We discussed at length the Cherokee laws that Ridge delineates. He explains that he is merely “sketching,” as it were, a few of the laws. The Cherokee “have as yet not [sic] prisons and Justice is quickly awarded” (37). Some of his descriptions of laws are rather thorough, like number seven: “Law, prohibiting the sale of any more Lands to the United States except it be done by the concurrences of the Nat. Committee and Council; Penalty: disgrace & death to the offender” (38). Other laws are described in a much more cursory fashion, such as numbers eleven and twelve, “against stealing” and “against murder” (38). After reviewing the thirteen laws Ridge includes, what do you make of the differences between the laws? What kind of “picture” of the Cherokee legal system, or the standards of behavior within the tribe, do these laws deliver? How do these laws present the attitudes of the tribe concerning their relationship with the American government and concerning the value of land, in particular?

Tushpa Crosses the Mississippi

Tushpa, a Choctaw, related the story of the removal of the Choctaw from Mississippi to Oklahoma to his son, James Culberson. The introductory notes to this account indicate that accounts such as Tushpa’s are extremely rare. Why, perhaps?

In class, students pointed out some features of the account that reveal the persistence of the tribe, their commitment to retaining tribal traditions during the removal, and then the odd apparent abandonment of certain traditions and tribal cohesion upon arrival in Oklahoma.

At the beginning of the account, Tushpa recalls his father, Kanchi, speaking to the tribe: “Some time back beyond our old homes I heard a man preach from a book that he called a Bible [Holisso Holitopa], and although that book was read by a white man, I believe there is something in it better than the way the white man acts . . . We are in much trouble now, but don’t want to kill or destroy, so give us hearts that we hear about in this book and let us be good . . .” (153). These few lines convey a great a deal of information about the attitudes of the chiefs (Tushpa and others) concerning the white man’s Bible, his words, and his actions. Analyze these sentences. What do they tell you about attitudes towards removal and the messages in the Bible?

Students commented on these brief lines from the end of the excerpt: “So ended a four-hundred-mile walk, one of the memorable migrations in the history of the native tribes in the United States . . . After a few days rest, the party so long together, separated to locate homes for themselves” (156). Why is this information so interesting, especially as related to the previous explanation of the challenges and sadness of the journey?