Stand Watie is an important figure in the history of the Native American Cherokee people, and also the histories of Indian Territory and of Oklahoma.
What is not well known is that he served as an officer in the Confederate Army, during the American Civil War. Watie was born into a powerful Cherokee family in Georgia in 1806. Many Cherokee had adapted mainstream culture, and Watie’s father owned a plantation. The Cherokee tribe was the dominant Indian nation in north Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, beautiful mountain country.
In the 1830s, settlers coveting Cherokee land forced the tribe to relocate west, in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). It is no coincidence that the 1829 gold rush brought tens of thousands of outsiders into Cherokee lands.
Watie and others signed a treaty agreeing to relocate to Indian Territory, and moved in the 1830s. Members who did not leave voluntarily were forced out and the result was the Trail of Tears, in which perhaps 4,000 Cherokee died during their forced move west.
In the Cherokee part of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) Stand Watie built up a plantation. When the Civil War came, as a slave owner, Watie sided with the Confederates. While Indian Territory tried to remain neutral, Watie raised a Cherokee cavalry regiment for the Confederacy that fought at such battles as Pea Ridge.
What is most remarkable is the last Confederate general to surrender was not one of the plantation owner class, but a Cherokee Indian. Stand Watie surrendered the last Confederate force on June 23, 1865, more than two months after Lee surrendered at Appomatox in Virginia. Watie died peacefully in 1871.
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