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Archive for Sunday, August 8, 2004

Indian past dotted with many Trails of Tears

August 8, 2004

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The 1820s and 1830s were years of immense change for the native peoples of eastern Kansas -- most of it for the worse.

Peoples such as the Kanza, Pawnee and Osage faced the opening of the Santa Fe and Oregon-California trails, which brought ever-increasing numbers of traders, missionaries and squatters. Contact with European-Americans like these brought devastating disease, alcohol and its attendant problems, and often divisive religion.

But there was more.

"We think of the European-Americans who came to Kansas in 1854 as the first pioneers, the first settlers," historian Dale Nimz says. "But in fact there was actually an earlier wave of Native-American pioneers as well."

Either due to pressure from the federal government or in an attempt to remove themselves from the encroachment of growing numbers of European-Americans, native peoples from the east and upper Midwest began making their way into Kansas in growing numbers in the 1820s.

At the time, what is now Kansas was called Indian Country, and it was considered to be land that was not valuable, Nimz says.

"It was on the edge of civilization, probably never would be settled by European-Americans, and so it was a good place to relocate these Native-Americans," Nimz says.

The motivations for removal of the American Indians from the east to the west were mixed. There were those who supported Native Americans as those who opposed them, Nimz says.

The basic idea was to "get them out of the way," he says. There was also a sentiment that Indians could be preserved and protected in Kansas, he adds.

"Indian Kansas," says Randy Thies, archeologist with the Kansas State Historical Society, "was to be the place they were all to live and be free from what they called the 'baneful influence' of the whites back East."

The most precipitous event speeding the removal process came in 1830 with the signing of the Indian Removal Act, pushed through Congress by President Jackson. The Act gave Jackson the power to negotiate removal treaties with tribes living east of the Mississippi River, one of the conditions of which was the exchange of their lands for lands west of the Mississippi.

The most well-known act of removal took place in the late 1830s in what is known as the Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears involved the removal of a confederacy of tribes who banded together for protection "to survive the onslaught and the invasion within their homelands in the southeastern United States," according to Dan Wildcat, American Indian studies professor at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Wildcat, a Euchee member of the Muskogee nation in the Creek nation, is descended from people who were a part of the Trail of Tears.

"The Trail of Tears involved the Chickasaw, Choctaw, the Seminoles, the Cherokee and the Creek," who were "with very brutal and deadly force" removed from the southeastern United States to present-day Oklahoma, Wildcat says.

But their plight, though bitter, was not singular.

"I think people have no knowledge of the fact that we really need to talk about a whole series of Trails of Tears," Wildcat said.

Next week, the "immigrant Indians" from the East make their way into eastern Kansas along their many Trails of Tears, compounding the plight of native peoples of the area in "River City Chronicles."

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