There are some things Americans don’t forget, as in: “Remember The Alamo!!” and the “Trail of Tears.”
Tennessean Davy Crockett was etched in permanent Volunteer State hero archives by leaving Tennessee when called to arms, and bravely dying while fighting the Mexicans at the Texas Alamo.
Native son Andrew Jackson rode his fame as a hero at the Battle of New Orleans all the way to the White House.
As a boy who read hundreds of history and adventure books, Andy Jackson was one of my heroes, along with Davy.
But since moving to Tennessee and learning how he treated Native Americans, ol’ Andy has had some slippage in personal hero status.
Was he “demon” or “hero,” or both?
Somewhere, someone once said: “Time heals.”
If that was a medical diagnosis, the patient perished judging from a quote made to the media at the state’s largest Pow Wow last fall at Long Hunter State Park.
From 1838 to the present, a lot of time has passed, but not time enough for some to forgive President Jackson, who signed the decree ordering the Cherokee people in a forced march out of Tennessee in the dead of winter, now known as the Trail of Tears where thousands perished as they were force-marched out of Tennessee, across the Mississippi River through Cape Girardeau, Mo., en route to Oklahoma.
The march ran through Rutherford and Cannon counties and what is now Long Hunter State Park, site of Tennessee’s largest annual Native American Indian Association’s Pow Wow each October.
It is with irony the Pow Wow is held, by way crows fly, within a few miles of Jackson’s “Hermitage” home place in nearby Davidson County.
“We don’t use $20 bills with Andrew Jackson’s picture on it,” decreed Murfreesboro resident Janet M. Northcutt. “I’m of mixed blood, part Melungeon (lost people) and Cherokee.”
“I’m very proud of my Native American ancestry, and it was shameful, really a crime against humanity, when Andrew Jackson and his decree resulted in thousands of deaths of my people on the forced march where thousands perished on the route to Oklahoma,” noted Mrs. Northcutt.
“That’s why I don’t accept $20 bills, with Andrew Jackson’s picture on them,” Mrs. Northcutt declared. “His likeness should be removed from our currency…”
The woman of mixed lineage can boast that her grandfather, John Ellsworth Leach, a full-blooded Cherokee, served as a guide with President Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at San Juan.
“We’ve documented his payroll vouchers when he served with the Rough Riders,” Mrs. Northcutt noted. “President Roosevelt in one of his books, also mentions my grandfather by name…”
In one of America’s most respected magazine sources of national heritage, one letter to the editor called for Jackson’s removal from U.S. currency, while another pointed out that Jackson adopted a Creek child found in his dead mother’s arms at the 1813 Battle of Tallushatchie in Alabama.
The legend is that Jackson took an Indian infant out of the child’s dead mother’s arms in the aftermath of that battle, and adopted the child. However, historic annals confirm Jackson routinely referred to Indians as “savages.”
The Cherokees, under leadership of John Ross and Major Ridge, were the last tribe to hold out against signing treaties that resulted in other tribes, such as the Creeks and Choctaw, being uprooted to west of the Mississippi River.
However, the Cherokee used courts and diplomacy to try to keep their ground and possessions.
John Ross, born in the 1790s to a Scottish trader and a woman of mixed Indian lineage, didn’t dress in animal skin leggings. He worked in his grandfather’s trading post as a boy near today’s Chattanooga. He wore a tie and suit as an adult, and ultimately was named chief of the Cherokee with Major Ridge as his chief counsel.
Finally, President Jackson ordered them out of their native lands in Tennessee.
The end result of Jackson’s presidential action was the “Trail of Tears”…a trek marked today with historical markers along Old Nashville Highway that runs through Murfreesboro, Smyrna and La Vergne.
President Jackson was controversial throughout life, including a duel where he killed a man allegedly over disparaging remarks made about Rachel, his wife who left a prior husband to wed the man destined to be president.
If Jackson had perished in the duel, would our history have been different at the Battle of New Orleans, the presidency and for the Cherokee?
Hind-sight and the passing of time do not provide those answers?