Someone was cleaning out their files and offered a pension application to anyone interested. Since it related to the “Cherokee Disturbance” and since no one else stepped up, I asked for the application. I didn’t know what was there, and you never know what you might receive.
It’s a one page form completed by Robert McGee, age 81 who lived in Buckner, Parker County, Texas in August 1892 when he applied for a pension. On July 27, 1892, Congress provided pensions to surviving soldiers who served 30 days or more in the “Indian Wars.”
Robert McGee served for 12 months in the military, enlisting in Hawkins County, Tn. in June of 1837 as a sergeant in the “Cherokee Disturbance.” Other than personal information about Robert, that he was 5 feet 10 inches tall, of dark complexion, grey eyes and dark hair and by trade, a blacksmith, and that he was married to Ester Bery in Mountain Valley, Hawkins County in January 1829, there is nothing more here about the Cherokee Disturbance. It does tell us that he moved to Boonville, KY, then Galleton, MO, then finally to Parker Co., TX. It’s somehow ironic that in an odd sort of way that his migrations, and those of many other families, paralleled the path of the Indian removal. Of course, the difference was that Robert chose that path, could leave, or not, when he chose, and was permitted to take his belongings or dispose of them as he saw fit and no one starved him. The Indians did not have that opportunity.
If Robert was 81 in 1892, he was born in about 1811. He married in 1829, so in 1837 when he served for a year, he was age 26 or so and probably had 3 or 4 children. If he was a blacksmith, he was likely also a farmer, and going to serve in the military was not something he probably wanted to do. However, all able-bodied men served in the local militia and military service at some level wasn’t optional. Trouble was forseen, so provisions were made in advance for militia.
The Cherokee has been ordered removed to what is now Oklahoma by an act of Congress in 1830 by a one vote margin. This horrific Indian Removal Act is the legacy of President Andrew Jackson. The Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1836 by a few Cherokee, exchanging land in the east for land in the west, gave the Cherokee two years to remove themselves, although it was never voted on or ratified by tribal members. Because of this, many Cherokee felt it was illegal and refused to go and by 1838, the military was forceably removing them, culminating in the tragic episode in American history known at the Trail of Tears.
The map below shows the Trails of Tears Historic Trail today.
This story, Cherokee Removal Scenes: 1838 takes place in Ellijay, Georgia, but it wasn’t much different anyplace else in the Cherokee Nation.
Robert McGee would have had to remove families, probably much like his own, from their homes into removal forts similar to concentration camps, and from there began the forced march to Oklahoma during the horrific winter months of 1838. Robert McGee was discharged in 1837 in Rogersville, so while he might have participated in the roundup, he was not one of the soldiers who “accompanied” the Indians on the Trail of Tears itself. If he served for 12 months, as his application says, he would have been discharged in June of 1838, still well ahead of the beginning of the Trail of Tears march.
Many soldiers felt for the human suffering of the Cherokee. Others were vicious and cruel, abusing the Indians and stealing the goods from their forcibly abandoned homesteads. One soldier said, “I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.” Indeed, it would be extremely hard to see unarmed people, everything stripped from them, dying of disease and starvation, freezing to death on a journey they never elected to take.
As I look at Robert McGee’s pension application, I wonder about the experience he had. Hawkins County was not close to the Indian villages in Tennessee, which were near the Alabama/Georgia border, so he may have been spared the worst of the activities.
I wondered if there was any way to tell how Robert McGee felt about the Indian removal, whether he was one of the compassionate soldiers or otherwise. I found a tree on Ancestry.com that had several source records appended, including information about his military service record, so I knew I had the correct Robert McGee. I was scanning for maybe a story he had written or that had been passed down through his descendants, when I saw the name of his child, born in 1847, Andrew Jackson McGee. I guess that probably says it all.
Note: I am in the process of preparing a second article about this family. In the mean time, I encourage everyone to read the comments for a very unexpected turn.