Rattlesnake Peak, North Carolina

Eastern Band of Cherokee Historical Outline

Rattlesnake Peak, North Carolina
Rattlesnake Peak, Above the Clouds

The Eastern Band of Cherokees have been thus officially recognized to distinguish them from that portion of the nation which emigrated west, between 1809 and 1817, and located on the public domain at the headwaters of Arkansas and White rivers, now in Cherokee nation, Indian territory. The latter became known as the Cherokee nation west, while the general term, the Cherokee nation included both. Between 1785, when certain boundaries were allotted to these Indians for hunting grounds, and 1809, when the movement westward was initiated of their own deliberate choice, annuities were from time to time granted by the United States in consideration of the successive sales to the United States of portions of their land.

By a treaty made in 1817 the Cherokee nation ceded to the United States certain land lying east of the Mississippi river, and in exchange for the same the United States ceded to that part of the nation on the Arkansas river as much land on said river, acre for acre, as the United States received from the Cherokee nation east of the Mississippi river, and provided that all treaties then in force should continue in full force with both parts of the nation.

As early as 1809 the aggregate of annuities due the nation on account of the sale of lands to the United States had reached the sum of $100,000, and it was provided by articles of the treaty of 1817 that a census should be taken of those east and of those west, and of those still intending to remove west, and also that a division of the annuities should be made ratably, according to numbers as ascertained by said census, between those who were east and those who were west. Thus the tribe or nation, although geographically separated, was treated as a unit, and all property owned by it was treated as common property.

By a treaty made in 1819 the formal census was dispensed with, and for the purposes of distribution it was assumed that one-third had removed west and that two-thirds were yet remaining east of the Mississippi river. At the same time the nation made a further cession to the United States of land lying east of the Mississippi. Upon the basis of this estimate of numbers, in lieu of a census, annuities were distributed until the year 1835.

Valley of the Soco, North Carolina
Valley of the Soco

By a treaty made in 1828 with the Cherokees west the United States guaranteed to them 7,000,000 acres, with a perpetual outlet west as far as the sovereignty and right of soil of the United States extended. This vast tract was in what is now known as Indian territory, and the Cherokees at the same time surrendered the lands occupied by them on the Arkansas and White rivers, to which they had removed between the years 1809 and 1.817. By the same treaty special inducements were offered to those east to remove west, including a rifle, blanket, kettle, 5 pounds of tobacco, and cost of emigration, with a just compensation for the property which each might abandon.

The treaty of 1833 simply redefined the boundaries of the land mentioned in the treaty of 1828. In 1835 the Cherokees still held a quantity of land east of the Mississippi larger than the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It had been agreed that the United States Senate should fix the price that should be paid for these lands in contemplation of the cession of the same to the United States. The Senate fixed the price at $5,000,000. The Original draft of the treaty of 1835 authorized such Cherokees as so desired to remain east, and in such event to set apart certain lands to them, By a supplemental treaty in 1836 the United States initiated the policy of compelling the Eastern Cherokees to remove west. General Scott employed troops for the purpose. It was a fearful policy. The Indians were hunted over their native lands as if they were wild beasts. As many as escaped capture clung to their homes, and by the treaty of 1846 it was agreed that they might remain.

Cross suits and conflicts between the two bands of Cherokees as to their rights to different funds have occupied the attention of the federal courts and the Court of Claims proper. Present litigation involves more especially their title to the lands now occupied by them, which were purchased for them by their agent, W. H. Thomas, as trustee for that purpose, from their share of funds held by the United States for their benefit. Encroachments upon these lands, plundering of timber, and all forms of aggression are still harassing their peace and antagonizing their efforts to be an industrious, contented, arid prosperous portion of the people of North Carolina. The details of the litigation in progress and the failure of Mr. Thomas to secure or preserve the muniments of a perfect title to the lands he purchased in their behalf are not admissible in this brief outline of their condition in 1800. The looseness with which, for a small fee, the state of North Carolina permits entries upon lands known to fall within the territory embraced in the deeds by Mr. Thomas adds its uncertainty to aggravate the unrest which is everywhere visible among this people as to what they really own in consideration of the money with which they parted, they rightfully expecting valid and permanent titles. The Eastern Band of Cherokees are good citizens, moral and industrious, in spite of the jealousies of white people and the unworthy forms of moral constraint by which it is sought to force them from the homes they own.

In the year 1874, pursuant to act of Congress passed in 1870 (16 United States Statutes, page 130), which authorized these Indians to institute suit in the circuit court of the United States for the western district of North Carolina against Thomas, a reference of the subject matter of conflict was made to an able commission, consisting of Rufus Barringer, John H. Dillard, and T. Ruffin. A decree of award was subsequently made in accordance with the findings of the commission, and since their approval in November 1874, and a confirmatory act of Congress in 1876 proceedings have been in progress to define the exact boundaries of the various tracts set forth in said award and to discover the chain of title through which Thomas and his representatives derived the same. (See House Executive Document No. 106, Forty-seventh Congress, first session, for particulars respecting the conveyance of the Qualla boundary, stated as 50,000 acres, to the Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina, October 9, 1876, and conveyance of August 14, 1880, of 15,211 acres to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and his successors of outlying lands in. Cherokee and other counties, in trust for said band.) 1

Cherokee, History,

Donaldson, Thomas. Indians, Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina 11th Census of the United States, Robert P. Porter, Superintendent, US Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1892.

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  1. The presence anti assistance of George H. Smothers, esq., acting assistant United States attorney for the western district of North Carolina, mid representing the Cherokees, greatly sided inquiry respecting their present legal status in the federal courts.[]

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