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Cherokee Old Settlers

Chief Buffington

“I have seen my people strive to make a living ever since the last bunch of Cherokees arrived over the trail of tears to the present time. I have seen many of our tribe deed away their land to satisfy a mortgage of which they were not able to cope.

“I have had many ask me the difference in an ‘Old Settler Cherokee’ and an ‘Eastern Emigrant.’ An old settler is a Cherokee who came with the first bunch from Georgia without being forced by the government. An eastern emigrant is one that remained behind and was forced by the government to remove to the new country, west of the Mississippi and this movement was known as the ‘Trail of Tears.'”

Excerpt from the interview of Thomas Buffington, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1899 to 1903. Buffington died at his home in Vinita February 11, 1938. He was known for many years as the “last Cherokee Chief” because his successor, W.C. Rogers, never had the power and authority usually exercised by tribal chiefs. [Cherokee Nation website]


As early as 1775, some Cherokee, along with people from other nations including the Choctaw and Chickasaw, voluntarily moved to Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. But in 1802, the U. S. government and the state of Georgia worked out a deal that would nullify Indian titles to lands claimed by the state in exchange for land that would become Alabama and Mississippi. In 1815, hoping to convince the Cherokee to voluntarily vacate their land, the government established a reservation in Arkansas. At this time, the bands of De-wali (The Bowl), Sequoyah, Spring Frog and Tatsi (Dutch) moved to the reservation and became known as “Old Settlers.”

There is still much controversy over who else relocated to the new reservation. Articles in the Arkansas Gazette [reported in “The Cherokee Nation” website] address doubts that only Cherokee relocated to the reservation in Arkansas:

Spring Frog

“Those who strenuously advocate the removal of the Cherokees to the west of the Mississippi, Col. M’Kenney and other agents of the Government in particular, have often repeated the unfounded assertion, as our readers very well know, that the full Cherokees are desirous of emigrating, but are kept back by the influence of the Chiefs, half-breeds and white men, whose interest it is to keep them where they are. Col. M’Kenney in his last report told the public that the government had sent off upwards of 600 Cherokees- this is a fine come-off indeed. Six hundred Cherokees! We know this to be intended as a blind- we knew there were some whites, some blacks, and many half-breeds, and so informed the public. But as an Indian cannot be a competent witness, we have probably not been believed. We now bring in a white man to testify.

“The Steamboat Industry, Capt. Johnson arrived at this place, about noon, on Wednesday last having on board about 100 cabin and deck passengers principally emigrants to the Territory, and about 200 emigrating Cherokee Indians from the old nation who are on their way to the Cherokee country up the Arkansas. A few of these Cherokees have a little of the appearance of the Indian, but the principal part of them show no signs of retaining in their veins any portion of the aboriginal blood.

Sam Houston

“The Steamboat Waverly, Capt. Pennywit arrived here on Thursday morning last, from New Orleans, and departs in the afternoon of the same day, for Cantonment Gibson. She had nearly 100 cabin and deck passengers, mostly emigrants to the Territory, besides near 200 emigrating Cherokee Indians who are removing to the Cherokee country up the Arkansas. These people are called Cherokees, in consequence of their residing among and being intermarried with that nation, but we say very few among them who bore any resemblance to the Indian.”

In 1819, some of the traditional Cherokee led by Di’wali moved to Texas, a Mexican territory at the time. They were welcomed by the Mexican authorities who saw them as possible allies against the influx of Anglo-American settlers. During the Texas War of Independence, however, the Cherokee settlers remained mostly neutral. The new Texas President, Sam Houston, who was an adopted member of the Cherokee tribe, signed a treaty in 1836 with the Texas Cherokee. But Houston’s successor, Mirabeau Lamar, sent militia to evict them in 1839.

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