Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Trail of Tears
Long before white people lived in the area, bands of American Indians roamed the plains of the region that was later known as Oklahoma. There were large herds of buffalos that grazed on the huge grasslands, and the Indians followed the buffalo. The Indian tribes that lived in the area included the Arapaho, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado was one of the first Europeans to reach the area in 1541. In 1682 a French explorer traveled down the Mississippi River and claimed for France all of the land drained by the Mississippi, including what is now Oklahoma. The United States acquired all of that area in 1803 when Napoleon needed money to fight the European wars. It was called the Louisiana Purchase. In 1819 the United States ceded the Oklahoma Panhandle to Spain to settle boundary disputes. Sometime after 1819 the Indian tribes located in the southeastern United States were prodded to move to the Oklahoma area. The tribes were known as the Five Civilized Tribes because they had lived in close contact with white settlers for longer than one hundred years. These tribes - the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole - were forced by the government to give up most of their lands in the east and start the journey to Oklahoma, which was mostly unoccupied in 1824. Sad processions of Indians moved into the wooded hills and open grasslands of Oklahoma between 1830 and 1842. The trek is known as the Trail of Tears because thousands of Indians died along the way. The Indians who had immigrated to the area were given the right to all of present-day Oklahoma except the Panhandle. Each of the five tribes became a nation. The United States government promised with treaties to protect the Indian nations and guaranteed ownership of the land to the Indians. Each Indian nation established its own courts, legislatures, and written language as well as built their own capital. The Indians later cleared lands, operated farms and ranches, and built schools. The westward movement of pioneers generally passed them because they were protected by the government. The prosperity and protection of the Indians was destroyed by the Civil War (1860-1865). Many of the Indians were Southerners who owned slaves. A brigade of Indians fought for the Confederacy with one Indian becoming a brigadier general. Other Indians fought for the North. After the Civil War was over, Congress forced the Five Tribes to give up the western part of their land because they supported the South. Some of the land was given or sold to other tribes. White settlers soon filled the land bordering Indian Territory. Facts for this post came from an article by Keith D. Harris and H. Wayne Morgan in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, pp 731-732.