Friday, October 28, 2011

New Echota - Cherokee Capitol

The Pride and Shame of Two Nations - More
The original courthouse where the elders
met still stands at New Echota today.

New Echota, founded in 1825, was the first and final capitol of the "unified" Cherokee Nation. The park, now a Georgia Historical Site, is located just off Interstate 75 on highway 225, about an hour north of Atlanta. Here, in what quickly became a bustling little town, hopes of a sovereign government for the Cherokee were both nurtured, then extinguished. Here is where the leaders of a nation of proud immigrants signed a treaty that surrendered their land to a new breed of immigrants. Yes, you read that right; the Cherokee were immigrants. Cherokee migrated from the north and nudged the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the south and west. The Cherokee migrated south for the same reasons so many other northerners do: a warmer climate, and seemingly abundant natural resources (and a retreat from the European invasion). In 1825, the well armed and aggressive European immigrants were moving south at a rapid pace.

The 1830's Cherokee lived in log
cabins similar to this
The landscape and structures of New Echota capture a key period in the history of the Cherokee. A place where they almost overcame (or assimilated). They had a government very similar to the United States: a constitution, a written language, and, as a nation, a relative amount of wealth. There were those that opposed their "progress" and newly adopted European characteristics. The opposition came from the newly-formed state of Georgia, the US government,  and a good number of the Cherokee themselves. When the "friendly" European visitors discovered gold within Cherokee territory, the onslaught began. The end to any hope of peacefully coexisting with the white settlers was near.
The kids sampled old-fashioned hand-
churned butter and sweet buttermilk.
To make a long story short, the Cherokee leaders signed a treaty that either forsook their brethren, or the chieftains sacrificed their own lives for the sake of their people. They were outnumbered and outgunned. What choice did they have? President Andrew Jackson had ignored the Supreme Court's decision to let the Cherokee keep their land, and it would be taken either by force or coercion.

The Cherokee opponents of the treaty retaliated quite violently. The endorsers of the "Treaty of New Echota" were assassinated. The remaining Cherokee were removed. Within ten years of the proud founding of a capitol city, the Cherokee were gone. The endorsers of the "Treaty of New Echota" were assassinated, and the balance of Cherokee were marched West to Oklahoma. 

One of the fireplaces in the old tavern at New Echota.
The march west eventually became known as the Trail of Tears. Women, children, and the elderly were forced to walk much of the way. The cruel cold of winter took about 4,000 of the 15,000 remaining Cherokee. A once proud nation was suddenly silenced. Today, New Echota is an echo of the best of times, and a reminder of the tragic end of a legacy.

Visiting New Echota evokes a range of emotions from amazement and admiration to sorrow and shame. It's a place you must visit if at all possible. It's a history that must not be forgotten.

No comments:

Post a Comment