What is wrong with this statement about the Cherokee Trail of Tears?

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

You can find this statement in Wikipedia, plus a US Department of the Interior website, dozens of Cherokee history blogs and official tribal websites, based in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Lord knows, were else. It is a quote assigned to Second Chief Charles Renatus Hicks, the father of the Cherokee Renaissance. Can you see the minor detail about this statement that makes it inappropriate for history textbooks or The Americas Revealed?

“We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell to our native land, the country that the Great Spirit gave our Fathers, we are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us birth…it is with sorrow we are forced by the white man to quit the scenes of our childhood… we bid farewell to it and all we hold dear.”

Charles Hicks, Tsalagi Vice Chief on the Trail of Tears, August 4, 1838

First problem, of course, is that Hicks functioned as the de facto Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nations for over a decade . . . but then when Pathkiller died, Hicks became the official Principal Chief. He spoke Cherokee as a second language and was also a very active member of the United Brethren (Moravian) Church. He would have used the word God, instead of Great Spirit. However, do you think that I should tell the folks in Oklahoma and North Carolina that Charles Hicks died at 2:00 AM on January 20, 1827? That’s eleven years before the Trail of Tears.

This is typical of what I run into over and over again when trying to extract accurate history from the books and websites about America’s past. Someone makes a false statement or a poorly researched speculation . . . then so many people replicate the faulty information that it becomes factual.

Cherokee history for popular consumption does not have an exclusive claim to malarkey. A legion of books, professional papers and websites, created by academicians tell you that the “Yuchi” People were from eastern Tennessee. Yuchi is a spelling that originated in the David Crockett era of the Tennessee Frontier . . . but the fact is that the homeland and largest population of the Uchee was in the Lower Savannah River Basin. However, there were Uchee villages scattered throughout the region east of the Mississippi. They were consumate traders.

Then there are the Chickasaw. Textbooks always place them in a relative small area of western Tennessee, when the fact is that there were Chickasaw villages from Paducah, Kentucky to the Pee Dee River of South Carolina until after the American Revolution. According to the Creek Migration Legend, the Chicksaws were original members of the Creek Confederacy and always close friends with the Upper Creeks.

Text books and Wikipedia articles present the Creeks as a people, who have always been associated with swamps and flat land. Not so. Until forced southward by British colonists in the mid-1700s, the Creeks considered the Southeastern Coastal Plain to be unhealthy. Until then most Creek towns and villages were built adjacent to water falls, river rapids, shoals or mountains. All of the major rivers in Western North Carolina have Creek names, including the Oconaluftee, which runs through the Cherokee Reservation.

It’s a factual jungle out there, folks!

2 Comments

  1. Richard, please check the wording on the last sentence for context. It’s all good! Thank you so much for all of your considerable work. Hope you’re staying safe!
    ~Bill in Roswell, GA

    Liked by 1 person

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