Stand Watie was a leader of the Cherokee Nation and the only Native American to reach the rank of general in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. He was in command of the Confederate Indian cavalry of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, made up mostly of Cherokee, Muskogee, and Seminole tribes.
He would also be the last Confederate general in the field after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
Stand Watie was born in Oothcaloga, Cherokee Nation, which is modern Calhoun, Georgia, on December 12, 1806, the son of Uwatie and Susanna Reese. His father was a full-blooded Cherokee, while his mother was the daughter of a white father and Cherokee mother.
He was named Degataga, which meant "standing firm." As he grew older, he combined his Cherokee and English names into Stand Watie.
He had two brothers: Gallagina and Thomas.
By 1827, Stand's father, David, had become a wealthy planter in Georgia who was also a slave owner.
Stand Watie became a bit of a writer and often helped write articles for the Cherokee Phoenix. It was the first Native American newspaper that published articles in English and Cherokee.
He became involved in the dispute over Georgia's anti-Indian laws, but it mattered little. Gold was soon discovered on Cherokee land, and white settlers encroached on their land.
In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, and despite a Supreme Court ruling protecting the Native American land, President Andrew Jackson forced removal with the state militia. Knowing that removal was inevitable, the Watie brothers tried to secure Cherokee rights before relocating to Indian territory. They were among the Treaty Party leaders who signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
However, the majority of Cherokee Indians opposed removal and, therefore, opposed the treaty. Tribal Council and Chief John Ross refused to ratify the treaty.
Move To Indian Territory
In 1835, Stand Watie emigrated to Indian Territory along with many other Cherokee. They joined some others from their tribe who had relocated as early as the 1820s and were known as the "Old Settlers."
Those that remained on tribal lands in the East were eventually removed by force by the United States government in 1838. Their removal became known as the "Trail of Tears," and approximately 4,000 Cherokee died on the journey. It was one of the saddest moments in American History.
Stand and others who supported the Cherokee treaty with the United States government before the removal were sentenced to death for giving up tribal lands, which was a capital offense under Cherokee law. All of Stand's relatives were sentenced to die on June 22, 1839. They would all die except Stand.
In 1842, Stand Watie encountered James Foreman. He recognized Foreman as one of his uncle's executioners and, in response, killed him. Three years later, Stand's brother was executed, and a couple of years later, Stand was arrested and eventually brought before the courts.
The Court believed that Stand was innocent and acted out of self-defense. His nephew Elias Cornelius Boudinot helped defend him.
Despite the travesties that happened to his family and tribe, Stand became a successful plantation owner and owned many slaves. He also began to see a rise in politics and served on the Cherokee Council from 1845 to 1861.
He would become principal chief of the Cherokee nation in 1862.
The Civil War
Stand Watie was the only Native American to rise to a brigadier general's rank in the Confederacy during the war.
Stand worried, like many Cherokee, of more expansion into their land by the Federal government. So, he and his fellow Cherokee sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. He organized a regiment of cavalry and was commissioned a colonel in what would become the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles.
Colonel Stand Watie led his troops against the Union Army as well as against the Creek, Seminole, and others in Indian Territory that supported the Union.
He played a significant role in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on March 6-8, 1862. Watie's troops captured Union artillery positions and covered the retreat of Confederate forces from the battlefield after the Union took control.
However, many Cherokee would defect to the Union before the war was over. This included John Ross, who was against the original treaty that would cause many of Stand's relatives to die. Ross and his followers went to Fort Leavenworth, and the remaining Cherokee elected Stand Watie as principal chief.
Despite the loss of Cherokee support, Watie continued to fight against the Union and was given the rank of brigadier general by General Samuel Bell Maxey on May 10, 1864. He commanded the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, composed of two regiments of Mounted Rifles and three battalions of Cherokee, Seminole, and Osage infantry.
Watie and his men fought numerous battles and skirmishes in the western Confederate states, including Indian Territory, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. His men fought in more battles west of the Mississippi River than any other unit in the Confederacy.
He took part in one of the most famous Confederate victories in Indian Territory, the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, which took place in modern-day Mayes County, Oklahoma.
He and General Richard Montgomery Gano led a raid that captured a Federal wagon train and netted approximately $1 million worth of wagons, mules, commissary supplies, and other needed items.
Stand Watie's forces massacred black haycutters at Wagoner, Oklahoma, during this raid. Union reports said that Watie's Indian cavalry "killed all the Negroes they could find," including wounded men.
Since most Cherokee were now Union supporters, during the war, General Watie's family and other Confederate Cherokee took refuge in Rusk and Smith counties of east Texas.
The Cherokee and allied warriors became a potent Confederate fighting force that kept Union troops out of southern Indian Territory and large parts of North Texas throughout the war but spent most of their time attacking other Cherokee.
The Confederate Army put Watie in command of the Indian Division of Indian Territory in February 1865. By then, however, the Confederates were no longer able to fight in the territory effectively.
On June 23, 1865, at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation, Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives for his command, the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. He was the last Confederate general in the field to stop fighting.
After the war, Watie was a member of the Cherokee Delegation to the Southern Treaty Commission, which renegotiated treaties with the United States.
Later Years and Death
John Ross had signed an alliance with the Confederacy in 1861 in order to avoid disunity within his tribe and among the Indian Territory Indians. Within less than a year, Ross and part of the National Council concluded that the agreement had proved disastrous.
In the summer of 1862, Ross removed the tribal records to Union-held Kansas and then proceeded to Washington to meet with President Lincoln. After Ross' departure, Tom Pegg took over as principal chief of the pro-Union Cherokee.
Following Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Pegg called a special session of the Cherokee National Council. On February 18, 1863, it passed a resolution to emancipate all slaves within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.
After many Cherokee fled north to Kansas or south to Texas for safety, pro-Confederates took advantage of the instability and elected Stand Watie principal chief. Ross' supporters refused to recognize the validity of the election.
Open warfare broke out between Confederate and Union Cherokee within Indian Territory, the damage heightened by brigands with no allegiance at all. After the Civil War ended, both factions sent delegations to Washington, D.C. Watie pushed for recognition of a separate "Southern Cherokee Nation" but never achieved that.
The U.S. government, recognizing that the two factions would never agree on common terms, decided to negotiate with them separately and play them against each other. By doing so, it was able to extract a number of concessions from both sides. The resulting treaty required the Cherokee to free their slaves.
The Southern Cherokee wanted the government to pay to relocate the Cherokee Freedmen from their lands. The Northern Cherokee suggested adopting them into the tribe but wanted the federal government to give the Freedman an exclusive piece of associated territory. The federal government required that the Cherokee Freedmen would receive full rights for citizenship, land, and annuities as the Cherokee. It assigned them to land in the Canadian addition.
This treaty was signed by Ross on July 19, 1866, and ratified by the U.S. Senate on July 27, four days before Ross' death.
The Cherokee moved on from Stand Watie's vision of the Indian nation. He lived out the rest of his life trying to recuperate his lost fortune in exile.
He died on September 9, 1871.