American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Watie, Stand

Title: Stand Watie
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Stand Watie (1806–1871) was the only American Indian to hold the Confederate rank of brigadier general during the U.S. Civil War. He was also the last Confederate general to surrender, laying down his arms in June of 1865, more than two months after the surrender of the South at Appomattox. In addition, Watie served as principal chief of the Confederate Cherokee Nation, part of a governmental fissure that occurred within the larger Cherokee Nation due not only to the Civil War, but also to past disagreements over Cherokee removal.

Born into the Cherokee Nation in 1806 in what is now Georgia, Stand Watie was raised by a full-blood Cherokee father and a mixed-blood mother. His family is full of well-known Cherokee leaders. Elias Boudinot, Watie's brother, was the founder of the Cherokee Phoenix and a signer of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which ignited the removal of the Cherokee from their lands in the southeastern United States. Similarly, Major Ridge, Watie's uncle, was a factional chief in the Cherokee Nation. John Rollin Ridge, Watie's cousin, became a well-known Cherokee poet and author in California during the second half of the nineteenth century. While Watie may not be as well-known as his kin, his role in nineteenth-century Cherokee politics is crucial to understanding the tribe's rocky transition from their eastern homeland to their new land in the Territory.

Watie was among a small group of dissenters who considered removal to Indian Territory a promising solution to white encroachment on Cherokee land. He was thus one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which ceded Cherokee land for new land out west. This treaty was considered fraudulent by the majority of the Cherokees living in the East and solidified a divide between pro- and antiremoval parties in the tribe.

Watie and his cosigners moved to the Territory (today Oklahoma) in 1837, before the devastating forced removal of most remaining tribal members along the Trail of Tears in 1838. At least one-quarter (approximately 4,000) of the traveling population died along the way. Once the remainder of the tribe, led by John Ross, arrived and settled in the Territory, the pro- and antiremoval parties clashed. In 1839, Watie's relatives—Boudinot, Major Ridge, and his son John Ridge—were executed by the antiremoval party for betraying their tribe. As a member of this influential family, Watie was now considered the leader of the proremoval Cherokees.

Strife among the tribe's factions continued until 1846, when peace was made by way of a new treaty with the U.S. government. Between 1846 and the outbreak of the Civil War, Watie had a family and began a legal practice. He also became a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, a mainly white proslavery organization.

In 1861, with the secession of the South from the Union, Watie raised the Cherokee Regiment of Mounted Rifles. He used this regiment's influence to pressure John Ross, the Cherokee's principal chief (and longtime foe of Watie and the Confederate States), to side with the Confederacy. Watie's tactics worked and, soon after the war's beginning, Ross briefly sided with the South. In 1862, however, as Ross fled the Territory for Philadelphia, Watie was elected principal chief of the Confederate Cherokees.

Watie participated in battles at Pea Ridge (1861), Wilson's Creek (1861), and the first Battle of Cabin Creek (1863), among others, and was promoted to brigadier general in 1864. The general was known for his guerilla war tactics.

After the Civil War, Watie left politics behind in large part and returned home, where he died a few years later in 1871.

Amy M. Ware


Further Reading
Cunningham, Frank. [1959] 1998. General Stand Watie's Confederate Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.; Franks, Kenny A. 1979. Stand Watie and the Agony of the Cherokee Nation. Memphis, TN: Memphis State University Press.
 

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