The colonists did not understand the laws of “balance” that the Cherokees had practiced from the beginning of time. Blood law meant a “life for a life”. If one of their numbers was killed either accidentally or purposely murdered, balance had to be restored. It was clan law and restitution was made with the death of a member of the offending clan. This didn’t necessarily mean the offender but because Cherokees understood that the offense demanded a sacrifice often a member without family would take the place of the offender who had his whole life ahead of him and perhaps had a young family to support. The Cherokees had a high value for the lives of their countrymen but little regard for those not of the tribe; all others were considered non-entities. If the white settlers or other tribes were the cause of the death, it was still a “life for a life.”
Government officials did not take the killing of non-offending settlers lightly. The newspapers reported the supposed unprovoked raids with explicit details. Often these stories were embellished with many more casualties listed than actually occurred and added incidences of stolen stock such as horses or mules to the tally, which lead to raids into the Cherokee Nation by bounty hunters as well as militia to bring back the offenders for trial.
The Cherokees set up their government loosely based on that of the American government. Twelve delegates would form the National Council from eight districts within the Nation. The eight districts consisted of Hickory Log, Chickamaugee, Chatoogee, Amoah, Etowah, Tahquohee, Aquohee, and Coosewatee. These twelve would choose the Principle Chief, Assistant Principle Chief and National Treasurer. This body would create the laws and approve any further treaties outside the Nation. John Ross was the Assistant Principle Chief when both Chiefs Pathkiller and Hicks died (1827-28). Ross was made Principle Chief (1828-1866) at that time. We are fortunate to have written records from mixed-blood Cherokee John Ross and others such as Assistant Chief Richard Taylor from the Catoosa county area regarding the governmental structure and history.
Some twenty-four treaties had been made and broken by 1819. The National Council declared at that point that no one would give up any more of the tribal lands. Whoever did so would be subject to the old blood laws of the tribe and would be killed. These laws had been suspended in 1810 through treaties with the American government. The Cherokees formed a police force known as the Cherokee Light Horse Guard headed up by Stand Watie to implement the laws and expel intruders from the nation.
President James Monroe in 1820 offered the National Council monies to convince the Georgia Cherokees to remove to the west. The council sent representatives to visit with the Old Settlers in Arkansas. They returned more determined to stand their ground and not cede any more lands.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was formed in 1824 and sent their agents into the Cherokee Nation. They disbanded the Light Horse Guard and implemented the Georgia Guard to evict, arrest, and enforce laws upon those who trespassed into Indian Territory. The Cherokees felt they had honestly abided by the treaties to co-exist and educate their children, form governments, farm crops, and trade with their white neighbors. The fears of the government that the Cherokees would succeed had come to past and the Georgia Legislature insisted that the President enforce the removal act of 1830. It was during this course of events that encampments, forts and stockades began being built throughout the Indian Territory initially under the auspices of providing protection for the Cherokees from those who chose to break the laws.
Leslie Barker Thomas is a resident of Ellijay and the President of the Gilmer County Historical Society, President, Georgia Chapter Trail of Tears Association and Communication Chair Cartecay UMC.
“When history is erased, people’s moral values are also erased.” –Ma Jian
Gilmer County Historical Society
Historic Tabor House & Civil War Museum
138 Spring Street
Ellijay, Georgia 30540
Open Thurs–Sat 10am to 2pm