CULLMAN — Peter Kessler, Fairview High School, writing from the perspective of Benjamin H. Freeman, an American soldier during the Cherokee Indian Removal.
April 23, 1838
We have been given our orders by President Martin Van Buren to accompany Winfield Scott in his quest to remove the Indians from United States soil in the South to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. These orders come on the heels of Andrew Jackson’s presidency in which he kick-started the removal. This order will take several years, in my opinion, for the savage Cherokee will not leave their land peacefully, and I believe many will lose their lives in this effort. I hope to return to my family soon, for I was forced to leave my wife and our first-born child. A second is on the way.
May 26, 1838
Today our company set out for the Cherokee Nation to evict them and take them to their new home. Rain began to fall as we marched, signifying to me that this day will end in a dreary disaster and not a peaceful removal. It has been over a month since we received our orders, and the men are sad to leave their homes for the removal of the savages. I for one do not believe that they should get this free land in the West. They will prosper while men here argue over the gold in the South. We will approach the Nation around midnight. I pray none of us will die.
B. H. F.
May 27, 1838
Today we have sustained a victory in my mind. The chiefs of the Cherokee Nation have decided to accept the offer and move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The people are not at all what I had heard about them. They did not perform savage actions or speak in vulgar tongues. They wore not the dead skin of a rotten doe, but the fine fur of the beaver and moccasins of smooth leather. Appearances must be deceiving for I have heard stories; these people may not dress savagely, but they are a curtain of deception.
B. H. F.
June 1, 1838
We have been on the trail a little over a week. The Cherokee have been good so far—no uprisings or rebellious individuals. I feel slightly sick to my stomach to think that these human beings were forced from their homes and had to leave all their possessions behind. For what? A new home far off to the West! I am beginning to question why we do such a dishonorly thing. Do the Cherokee look at us as savages or as a feared power? Maybe they leave because they know what is in Oklahoma or that an ambush is waiting down the road—that must be it. My mind is at ease for the time being.
August 11, 1838
Three months have past since we left North Carolina, travel is slow, and many are beginning to get sick. Almost every other day a fever strikes up amongst the natives. I fear they will soon begin to die. My purpose for thinking this is that I don’t want any blood on my hands. Our food is still good and my boots still have their soles, but we have made little progress. We are halfway to Tennessee when we should be at the Mississippi River. Back home my wife misses me—I wish I could be there for her and John, my first-born, instead of leaving them alone; he is barely one and a half. The last letter I received was shocking and my heart is broken. My second child, Veronica, died at two months.
B. H. F.
August 14, 1838
I mourn the loss of my daughter. I am depressed and angry. Why has this happened to me! I hold the urge to shoot the savages! They mock me with their words even though I know not what they say. Everywhere I look and everything I hear causes me pain. I long to see my son and witness the birth of my third child. As an Indian boy lags behind the rest, I see a soldier kick him down and scream at him to move faster. I outrank this man, and although I too am frustrated with these people, the sight of a hurt child sets a fire in me. I nearly shot the private where he stood! I ordered him to the rear of the company, but the boy ran from me fearfully and I did not see him again for some time.
B. H. F.
September 24, 1838
Many of the Cherokee have died from diseases. I estimate around 400 have fallen to sickness. As I walked today, I dropped my canteen, and before I could get it a native man reached down and picked it up. His lips were parched and sweat poured from his forehead. His black hair was dirty and unkept. Instead of taking a drink, he handed it back to me. I was shocked! A man nearly dying of thirst gave back water because it was not his! I jumped on my horse and trotted to the man. He gladly accepted the canteen of water and took two long drinks. With a smile he handed it back.
B. H. F.
October 12, 1838
We are slowly crossing the Mississippi, stopping to replenish our water supplies. A Cherokee woman had just given birth to a little boy. She cries on the bank for several hours. A native man goes over to comfort her. I feel their pain. They are hundreds of miles away from home just like I am and there is no hope on the horizon. Many have died and more are sick, the child will not last more than a month or two at the most. Knowing the feeling that your child is hurt and you can do nothing is by far the worst in the world. They may not know but I feel their pain.
B. H. F.
December 4, 1838
The cold of winter begins to set in. Freezing temperatures are causing many natives and soldiers alike to become seriously ill. As we walk along our path towards the Oklahoma territory, which lies less than a month away, people being to die. Frostbite takes many and leads to a few amputations. Our doctors and cry for help to us neglect the Cherokee as we march along. Many are content to die because they believe their life is now over as far away from their home.
B. H. F.
December 31, 1838
New Years Eve, we will reach Indian Territory in Oklahoma tomorrow. My heart is sad for these people. One can only imagine the pain they would go through to see their home taken, friends and family dead, and a new land they know nothing of. We have committed a terrible genocide campaign that I only hope will be remembered as a horrible choice by us. To let all know that we killed thousands of innocent people and that it was under orders of our President. I will never forget this year of my life during this march. this Trail of Tears.
B. H. F.