Eastern Cherokee

 

When it was decreed, in 1838, that the Cherokees should abandon their eastern homes and emigrate to the Indian Territory, about two thousand of them refused to go, and in order to escape from the soldiers who were rounding up the emigrants, they fled to the hills of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Their reservation was gone but they were permitted to remain in the East upon condition that they settle down and become citizens of the United States. A few years later, a Federal agent by the name of William H. Thomas, conceived the idea of securing a tract of land for them in North Carolina.

He proposed to withhold the payments of the per capita fund due them under the recent treaty of the Cherokee Nation with the Government and use that fund for purchasing a suitable tract of land for them near their former homes. Under this arrangement, Thomas collected $34,000 of their per capita fund and bought a tract of 38,000 acres in North Carolina. A year or two later he bought another tract of 13,000 at a cost of $17,000. Thomas took the title to these tracts in his own name, agreeing to deed to each Cherokee his proportionate share of the land. Before the individual deeds were executed, however, by some scheme of high financing, Thomas became insolvent and confessed judgment in the sum of $30,000 in favor of a man by the name of Johnson. The land was sold under execution at a sheriff's sale and Johnson bought it. The Cherokees brought suit in the United States Court to recover the land, and finally succeeded in securing title to the greater portion, but not all of the land purchased for them by Agent Thomas.

For many years these Eastern Cherokees were neglected by the Government. No United States agent was provided them from whom they might have secured advice and assistance in raising crops, but this attempt to defraud them of the lands which their own money had purchased, served to remind the Government of its duty toward them, and an agent was located among them in 1875, who aided them materially in establishing schools and in developing farms. Like their brothers in the West they, too, had-suffered terribly from the ravages of the Civil war and were now striving to recover from the destitute condition in which that war had left them.

In after years various attempts were made by various state and Federal officials to induce this fragmentary band of Cherokees to join their brethren in Indian Territory and in 1883 an act of Congress was passed authorizing them to institute a suit in the United States Court of Claims to ascertain whether or not, at that late day, they would still be entitled to an equal share of the property of the Cherokee Nation. Suit was brought under the act above mentioned, but the Court of Claims decided adversely to them. Upon appeal to the United States Supreme Court the decision of the Court of Claims was upheld, the Supreme Court holding that:

"The Cherokees in North Carolina dissolved their connection with the Cherokee Nation when they refused to accompany the body of it on its removal, and have had no separate political organization since. They ceased to be a part of the Cherokee Nation, and henceforth they became citizens of, and were subject to the laws of the state in which they resided. If Indians in that state (North Carolina) or in any other state east of the Mississippi River wish to enjoy the benefits of the common property of the Cherokee Nation, in whatever form it may exist, they must, as held by the Court of Claims, comply with the constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation, and be readmitted to citizenship, as there provided. They cannot live out of its territory, evade the obligations and burdens of citizenship, and at the same time enjoy the benefits of the funds and common property of the Nation."

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