"The Promise" is a moving reminder of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and all the promises made to American Indians before and since." John Guthrie Cherokee Tribe Oklahoma

Cherokee Trail of Tears:
Other Paths

© 1996 Ralph Jenkins

My thanks to the several people who responded to my earlier piece on post-Removal migration to the Cherokee Nation. I would like comments, corrections, or additions to these further thoughts on Cherokee survival strategies and the complex issue of identity. There is evidence in the historical record of a sizeable group of Cherokee who neither escaped removal nor completed the Trail of Tears, but instead began the journey, dropped out, and possibly returned to the old Nation.

Grant Foreman's account of the emigrations by water in June, 1838, gives some evidence of this possibility. These were the groups that left under military supervision, before the Cherokee asked for and were granted permission to supervise their own migration. Foreman writes:

Twenty-eight hundred of them [Cherokee] were divided into three detachments, each accompanied by a military office, a corps of assistants, and two physicians. The first with about 800 in the party departed June 6; the next with 875 started on the fifteenth.

The first party forcibly placed on the boats was in charge of Lieut. Edward Deas and was made up of Cherokee Indians from Georgia who had been concentrated at Ross's Landing. They were escorted by soldier guards aboard a little flotilla consisting of one steamboat of 100 tons, and six flatboats, one of which was constructed with a double-decked cabin. In the excitement and bitterness accompanying the enforced embarking of the Indians and their crowded condition aboard the boats, the conductors thought it best not to attempt to muster and count them until later. .

Starting early on the morning of the ninth they reached Decatur at six o'clock to take the train to Tuscumbia but were compelled to remain until the next day. Then "the Indians and their baggage were transferred from the boats to the Rail Road cars. About 32 cars were necessary to transport the Party, and no more could be employed for want of power in the [two] Locomotive Engines."

As the Indians were much crowded on the train the twenty-three soldiers were discharged. The first detachment reached Tuscumbia at three o'clock and boarded the steamboat SMELTER which "immediately set off for Waterloo at the foot of the rapids without awaiting for the 2nd train of Cars with the remainder of the Party." When the second party reached Tuscumbia they went into the camp awhile waiting transportation by water. As the guard had been discharged, whisky was introduced among them, much drunkenness resulting, and OVER ONE HUNDRED OF THE EMIGRANTS ESCAPED [emphasis mine]. The remainder were carried by water aboard a keel boat and a small steamer about thirty miles to Waterloo.

Here the party was united and set out on the eleventh aboard the steamboat SMELTER and two large double decked keel boats; the next afternoon they reached Paducah, Kentucky, where Lieutenant Deas left one of the keel boats which he found superfluous. He succeeded in mustering the Indians after a fashion and found that he had 489. (Grant Foreman, Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1956 (copyright 1932), p.291)

His account suggests the ease with which individuals or even groups could leave the emigration party; on June 8, six miles above Decatur, "such of the people as choose have gone ashore to sleep and cook" (Foreman, p.292). By June 10, the party were about 150 miles by land from their point of departure in Tennessee. Over 100 had left the group on the previous night. By the 11th, in Paducah, Deas counted 489; the original party of about 800 had shrunk by about 300 between June 6 and June 12. Where did they go? If they had wanted to re-settle in the West, they could have stayed on the boat with the rest of the party. But they were still within walking distance of their old homes. The guards had been discharged. It would have been easy to infer that the white government had no further interest in them; their land had been surveyed and seized, and they were now free to go where they would. It is not difficult to imagine numbers of them returning home, to live as they could.

Can we quantify this group? Called "deserters" by early historians, they have naturally received little attention from studies of the main lines of Cherokee history. Nevertheless the documents of the removal permit at least an estimate of their numbers. I have relied here on Thornton, Resurgence And Removal, p.71, Table 8; Starr's History Of The Cherokee Indians; and The New American State Papers: Indian Affairs VOL 11: Southeast, Scholarly Resources, Inc.,pp. 258-59 for the numbers of Cherokee migrating under the supervision of the Cherokee leaders.

Here are the parties leaving under their own supervision:
DETACHMENT                DEPARTED                ARRIVED
Hair Conrad             Aug 23, 1838            Jan 17, 1839
Elijah Hicks            Sep 1, 1838             Jan 4, 1839
Jesse Bushyhead         Sep 3, 1838             Feb 27, 1839
John Benge              Sep 28, 1838            Jan 17, 1839
Situwakee               Sep 7, 1838             Feb 2, 1839
Old Field               Sep 24, 1838            Feb 23, 1839
Moses Daniel            Sep 30, 1838            Mar 2, 1839
Choowalooka             Sep 14, 1838            Mar , 1839
James Brown             Sep 10, 1838            Mar 5, 1839
George Hicks            Sep 7, 1838             Mar 14, 1839
Richard Taylor          Sep 20, 1838            Mar 24, 1839
Peter Hildebrand        Oct 23, 1838            Mar 24, 1839
John Drew               Dec 5, 1838             Mar 18, 1839

Here are the recorded numbers. I have taken the numbers of deaths from the State Papers, because in one case (Hair Conrad's party) they are higher than Starr's numbers; Starr gives 54, not 57.

                        THORNTON        STARR     STATE PAPERS
                         --------------         ---------     ---------------------     
Hair Conrad       729     654      9      57        24         14
Elijah Hicks      858     744      5      54
Jesse Bushyhead   950     898      6      38       148        171
John Benge       1200    1132      3      33
Situwakee        1250    1033      5      71
Old Field         983     921     19      57        10          6
Moses Daniel     1035     924      6      48
Choowalooka      1150     970             NA
James Brown       850     717      3      34 
George Hicks     1118    1039             NA
Richard Taylor   1029     942     15      55
Peter Hildebrand 1766    1311             NA
John Drew         231     219             NA

TOTAL           13149   11504     71     447       182        191

For 4 parties, no information on deaths was recorded. I have therefore estimated the death rate overall, and posited the
number of deaths that might have escaped the records assuming a uniform death rate for those parties. 

                      DEATH          UNRECORDED
DETACHMENT            RATE           DEATHS
                                                                                                                                                        Hair Conrad              
Elijah Hicks            6.29%
Jesse Bushyhead         4.00%
John Benge              2.75%
Situwakee               5.68%
Old Field               5.80%
Moses Daniel            4.64%
Choowalooka                            58
James Brown             4.00%
George Hicks                           56
Richard Taylor          5.34%
Peter Hildebrand                       89
John Drew                              12
5.03%   215
TOTAL                   5.03%         215

The number of Cherokees who might be expected to arrive is thus the number departed plus births and accessions, minus deaths and desertions. I have compared the expected number to the actual recorded number. This gives 1301 Cherokees unaccounted for. These are shown in the column headed POSSIBLE "LOST" CHEROKEES. If these are combined with the number known to have deserted, we have over 1500 known to have begun the journey who may have dropped out and returned, or settled along the way, or pursued another path to another life.

                 ACTUAL                  POSSIBLE       TOTAL       "LOST"
                EXPECTED   RECORDED        "LOST"       RECORDED     PLUS

Hair Conrad        674        654           20             24           44
Elijah Hicks       829        744           85                          85
Jesse Bushyhead    941        898           43            148          191
John Benge        1170       1132           38                          38
Situwakee         1184       1033          151                         151
Old Field          941        921           20             10           30
Moses Daniel       993        924           69                          69
Choowalooka       1150        970          180                         180
James Brown        819        717          102                         102
George Hicks      1118       1039           79                          79
Richard Taylor     989        942           47                          47
Peter Hildebrand  1766       1311          455                         455
John Drew          231        219           12                          12
TOTAL            12805      11504         1301            182         1483

If these 1483 are combined with the more than 300 known to have left the Deas party, we have 1700 or more who might have taken alternative paths. Of course these are "soft" numbers; record-keeping was surely not uppermost in the minds of anyone, and some of the numbers may overlap. But it is also possible that the true number is larger, not smaller. Either way, this evidence suggests a fairly large group of Cherokees unaccounted for by the record-keepers. And some of these may have been the ancestors of those whose family histories keep alive the memory of Cherokee origins despite their absence from the Dawes and Miller rolls.

Please know that I offer these numbers in full awareness of their uncertainty and of the speculative nature of my inferences, and with the hope that they may be useful to others, and that I welcome comments and corrections.

Ralph Jenkins

Originally posted to INDIAN-ROOTS Wed 20 Nov 1996, reprinted here by permission of Ralph Jenkins.

For a first-hand account of the Trail of Tears you will want to read  the Birthday Story of Private John G. Burnett, Captain Abraham McClellan s Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry, Cherokee Indian Removal, 1838-39.  Private Burnett was on the detail of removing the Cherokees during the Trail of Tears - a very moving account. Thanks to Les Tate for recommending this wonderful web site.   Private Burnett - Remembering the Trail of Tears

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