|The earliest Georgia miners
found lots of easy picking gold along streams, washed out from
mountainsides above. Public domain image.
In 1828, gold was found on Cherokee Indian land
Georgia. Word spread quickly of the vast deposits being mined, and soon
the region was swarming with prospectors in search of riches. The
rip-roaring start up community of Dahlonega became the boomtown of the
gold mining industry in Georgia, its name originating from the Cherokee
word meaning "yellow money".
Despite the successes of the miners, the problem remained how to
convert their gold into legal tender for spending. The lone US Mint at
the time was located in far away Philadelphia, where the raw gold could
be processed and coined into money. Unfortunately, there was no easy,
safe, or inexpensive method to move the gold bullion to Philadelphia,
and then back again to the South in the form of coins. The trails were
rugged and filled with danger. For many, the obvious solution was for
the United States Mint to establish a branch facility in the place
where the gold was being unearthed. Similar action was being sought by
North Carolina, for the same reasons.
While the the Georgia gold discovery brought excitement and wealth to
some people, it caused misery and disaster for others. The Cherokee
Nation, on whose ancestral lands many of the most profitable mines were
located, were ordered away from their homes by the state of Georgia in
1828. Rather than simply obey or organize physical resistance, the
Cherokees fought in the courts against their expulsion. In two
decisions, the US Supreme Court sided with the Cherokees, declaring
that forcibly removing the Indians from their lands violated their
rights. Tragically for the Cherokees, the Supreme Court ruling was
largely ignored. President Andrew Jackson, in what could have set a
dangerous precedent for the American system of shared power between the
branches, openly defied the Supreme Court. Jackson reportedly said
"John Marshall [the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court] has made his
decision; now let him enforce it".
|"The Trail of Tears", by
Robert Lindneux, illustrates some of the hardships suffered by the
Cherokee during their forced 800-mile journey from Georgia to what is
today Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
The Cherokee land seizures continued unabated
until 1838, when Georgia
rounded up the remaining 20,000 or so Cherokees and sent them packing
west, under military escort.
Along the difficult journey, the Cherokees lost nearly a quarter of
their population to starvation, exhaustion, disease, and other
afflictions. At the end of this somber "Trail of Tears", the Cherokee
Nation settled in what is now present day Oklahoma, on land far
inferior to that which they had been forced to vacate. Even though the
Cherokee had played by the white man's rules and won, they still lost
the game because the outcome was fixed. Americans have much history to
be proud of, but the unfair treatment of the Cherokee Indians is one of
the most disgraceful chapters from the past.