Stand Watie was born to a prominent and affluent Cherokee family in the village of Oothcaloga in what would later become part of Georgia. His life epitomized how decisions and tensions in the east continued to shape Native American society after removal and decades later during the Civil War.
Many of Watie's kin had embraced recent innovations to Cherokee society, and they became active participants in the modern centralized Cherokee government. Brother Elias Boudinot, for example, founded the first Native Americans newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, and uncle Major Ridge was one the most powerful chiefs in the Cherokee Nation.
Watie would rise to prominence in the era of removal, serving as the clerk of the Cherokee Supreme Court and Speaker of the Cherokee National Council. He was one of the signers of the controversial Treaty of New
General William T. Sherman and other practitioners of hard war may have learned this strategy from watching affairs in the west.
When the war ended, Opothleyoholo and other Unionist Indians were hardly rewarded for their loyalty. Although the federal government discussed granting them just compensation for their service and reimbursement for the damage done to their property on account of their loyalty, the Unionist Indians were sorely disappointed. Despite frequent rhetoric to the contrary, Native American soldiers received less than their white counterparts and Native American families did not receive reparations for their destroyed property. As in the past, divisions within Native American communities were ignored and residents of Indian Territory were uniformly punished as conquered enemies. The United States took retribution through a series of postwar treaties that paid little attention to the variety of experiences and loyalties within Native North America. Several tribes were compelled to sell their lands far below their value, while other tribes had their lands reallocated for reservations designated for other culturally diverse Indian nations. In addition to its disastrous diplomatic effects, the Civil War also brought high mortality rates and widespread physical destruction to many Native American communities. These social costs of the war would shape Indian society for decades to follow. As a result, Native Americans were among the biggest losers of the Civil War.
Echota (1835), the land cession that directly led to the forced removal of the Cherokees out of the southeast. Many of the other signers of the treaty were close relations of Watie.
The tensions within Cherokee society that emerged during removal continued in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma). His uncle (Major Ridge), cousin (John Ridge), and brother (Elias Boudinot) formed a political faction in the decade that followed the Treaty of New Echota, and Watie emerged as a leader of this political alliance. In the following years, Cherokee politics could in many ways be seen as a competition between the Watie and the Ross factions.
These divisions within Cherokee society continued through the Civil War. When the war began, Chief Ross allied the Cherokees with the Confederacy. Watie, himself a prominent slaveholder, raised a cavalry regiment in the cause. He became colonel of the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles in October
1861, engaged in many small battles and skirmishes, and helped with the Confederate retreat at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March
1862. The united front of Cherokees gradually eroded and Ross would later lead a Unionist faction of Cherokees to Kansas. His performance resulted in his promotion to brigadier general.
Watie would not surrender to Union forces until June 1865, making him the last Confederate general to surrender.
The war caused more than political and physical destruction; it also reshaped cultural institutions within their communities. The Presbyterian Church among the Seminoles in the Indian Territory saw its influence wane in the early part of the war, especially as it was associated with abolitionism in a nation that largely sided with the Confederacy. As Unionists fled to Kansas, the Baptist Church and its less-defined stance on slavery became the prominent form of Seminole Christianity. Other Native American groups experienced renewals in more traditional forms of religion, with the use of sweat baths, black drink, and various war dances. Among the Delawares, for example, many Baptists returned to the ceremonial cycle of the Big House religion. As one leader proclaimed, ''We wish to live together as a Nation according to our former customs'' (Hauptman 1995a, 31).
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