1841: Archilla Smith, Trail of Tears Cherokee

2 comments January 1st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Archilla Smith was hanged over a tree branch in Cherokee Country (since the gallows hadn’t been delivered in time) for the murder of John MacIntosh.

Our narrative for this event is Indian Justice: A Cherokee Murder Trial at Tahlequah in 1840, a volume derived from the reports of 19th century poet John Howard Payne, who’s best known for writing “Home! Sweet Home!”.

Payne lived with the Cherokees in Georgia immediately preceding their forcible removal to Oklahoma along the Trial of Tears, and then repaired to Oklahoma with the evicted tribe. (Payne unsuccessfully lobbied the U.S. Congress against its removal policy.)

The procurement of Cherokee signatures on the treaty that gave legal cover to the tribe’s expulsion from Georgia was a source of bitter controversy … and a generation of internecine violence. Our principal for this date’s post, Archilla Smith, himself affixed an X-mark to this notorious document, and he was defended at the trial in question here by another signer, Stand Watie.

Payne’s book, however, does not much treat the political context of Indian removal, nor even read as something like a true crime book: the brawl between the killer and the victim, two aggressive men with a passing and private quarrel, is little more than the background fact; the question for the jury turned on little but the degree of wilfulness or intent in the fatal stab wound Smith dealt, and various witnesses describe the same scene of their melee with slight differences of shading.

Rather, it’s a courtroom drama, and an outsider’s sketch of Cherokee jurisprudence (amalgamating tribal and Anglo-Saxon practices) circa 1840. It’s also the first newspaper any Oklahoma trial.

There as no appearance of bitter feeling on either side. The accused and the judge and jury and spectators, all seemed in the best of humor with one another. The accused smoked much of the time; and his judge, and most of the jury, every now and then would get up and go across the log-court to him with “Arley, lend me your pipe;” and receive his pipe from his mouth (as is the Indian custom); and revel in the loan of a five minutes’ smoke. … The wife and handsome young daughter of the accused attended … His three young sons, one a boy about ten, — the others about twelve and fifteen, were in the court room nearly all the time, and often sat by their father’s side.

-Payne

At one point, the judge digresses into the ancient right of clan vengeance and dismisses it in view of the “improved” system. But Payne’s postscript notes that one of Smith’s own jurors (from the first jury) would himself be killed just days after the execution when the juror attempted to exact family retribution on a murderer who had been acquitted in court. This is the snapshot of an evolving society.

Archilla Smith’s first jury hung. The second jury tried to hang, but was forced by the judge to come to a conclusion. Finally, it convicted Smith on December 26, 1840. Smith took word of his fate evenly.

“You are every one of you old acquaintances of mine, Jurors,” he remarked after hearing his fate. “You have been several days engaged about my difficulty. But I have no hard thoughts against any one of you, Jurors, nor Judge, against you. I believe your object has been that my trial should be a fair one.”

Cherokee law required that after five days, the sentence be executed. Accordingly, the hanging was fixed for New Year’s Day at noon.

Because there was also no tribal prison, Smith was simply held under guard in a log hut, and was able to get around the new Cherokee capital of Tahlequah with those guards. In Payne’s narrative, this invites no trouble on the part of the prisoner, whose bonhommie even after his death sentence belies the ill-tempered knife-slayer described by court witnesses. (Though Smith did once try to bribe his guard to let him escape.)

Accordingly, on one of those five days between sentence and hanging, Archilla Smith and his friends simply rode up to the Cherokee Chief John Ross to appeal personally for a pardon. He’d obtained about two hundred signatures on a petition supporting such an act of clemency.

Nevertheless, Ross, a foe of the removal treaty and of Stand Watie,* told them that the matter was out of his hands … but Smith and his party still ate dinner at Ross’s home that evening and nothing untoward occurred. Open hospitality was a Cherokee custom, and Ross regularly entertained dozens of visitors at his two-and-a-half-story log house, “as many as the table can accommodate.”

When the hang-day finally came, two different men preached under the noose.

The first, an Anglo named Worcester, who issued a bog-standard 19th century Anglo hanging sermon in English:

Almighty God! We see before us an awful instance of thy power. May it eventuate in an equally impressive exemplification of thy love. May the bitter fruit of the one sin for which atonement is now about to be exacted, procure the pardon of many. May it not only produce sincere penitence and consequent acceptance with thee, in the unhappy sufferer who now stands upon the threshold of eternity, but operate as a warning to all who either witness or hear of his fate. May it show this people to what dreadful results intemperance may lead; and when they see that the great commandment ‘whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ cannot be evaded; may it bring them to a salutary meditation through which all may be converted. In the name and through the meditation of our blessed Savior, we ask that the influences of the Holy Spirit may draw this blessing on the nation; and may the victim now offered up to the violated laws have cause to bless a doom, which if it awaken him to a proper knowledge of Thee and of himself will yet prove to him a happiness and a mercy into thy hands, oh blessed Savior, we commend his spirit.

The second gallows-preacher was a half-blood Protestant minister named Reverend Young Wolf — and this reverend had actually been the foreman of the jury which condemned Archilla Smith in the first place. Young Wolf preached in Cherokee, thus:

God of heaven! Creator of all things! Thou, who knowest our inmost thoughts I pray to thee have mercy on this man. He is standing on the threshold of death. He will presently leave this world to enter the world of spirits. Thou canst see into his heart. Thou art aware whether the charge for which he suffers is true or not. If he is guilty, I supplicate thee to forgive all his sins. Into thy hand we submit ourselves. We assemble together as a people to witness the death which our friend is about to suffer; and may it make us remember that we too, are born to die sooner or later, and prepare to meet thee in peace. May the view of thy power which we are now beholding, humble us before thee. May we continue humble. We are now about to part with our friend Archilla. We give him up to thee. May he receive thy pardon for his sins, that hereafter we may all come together again before thy throne and unite there in thy praise!

The doomed addressed the multitude last.

He, too, spoke in Cherokee, and the natives whom Payne spoke with were divided as to whether the “escapes” and “third time” which Smith mentioned referred to the two times that his juries refused to convict him, or to two previous, undetected crimes.

Friends, I will speak a few words. We are to part. You will presently behold how evil comes. I do not suffer under the decree of my Creator but by the law passed at Tahlequah. — Friends, you must take warning. — I think, perhaps, that my being hated has brought me to this. No man can hope every time to escape; and the third I have been overtaken by the law. But avoid such practices. — I suppose I was preordained to be executed in this manner. I am ready to die. I do not fear to die. I have a hope, there, to live in peace. (Tears now gushed from his eyes.) I should not have shed tears had not the women come here to see me. — I have no more to say.

* Ross and Watie were lead figures of the rival factions within the Cherokee polity, and they would be recognized as opposing chiefs by the Union and the Confederacy (respectively) during the coming U.S. Civil War. Stand Watie lives on in bar bets: he has the distinction of being the last Confederate general (and his First Indian Brigade the last Confederate force in the field) to surrender to the Union, on June 23, 1865.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Public Executions,USA

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1838: Tsali, Cherokee

5 comments November 25th, 2010 Headsman

The decade following establishment of the “permanent Indian frontier” was a bad time for the eastern tribes. The great Cherokee nation had survived more than a hundred years of the white man’s wars, diseases, and whiskey, but now it was to be blotted out. Because the Cherokees numbered several thousands, their removal to the West was planned to be in gradual stages, but discovery of Appalachian gold within their territory brought on a clamor for their immediate wholesale exodus. During the autumn of 1838, General Winfield Scott‘s soldiers rounded them up and concentrated them into camps. (A few hundred escaped to the Smoky Mountains and many years later were given a small reservation in North Carolina.) From the prison camps they were started westward to Indian Territory. On the long winter trek, one of every four Cherokees died from cold, hunger, or disease. They called the march their “trail of tears.”

-Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

This date in 2010 happens to be Thanksgiving in the United States.

Dating to the Civil War in its modern incarnation, its ancestral event is the “first thanksgiving” wherein European colonists* chowed down with the Wampanoags who had saved them from starvation in New England.

This moment of apparent amity obviously also presages the near-annihilation of native peoples by those European colonists over the succeeding centuries; even in 1621, the seeds of future conflict were at hand. By the very next year, Wampanoag chief Massasoit would demand the execution of legendary Pilgrim-befriender Tisquantum (Squanto).

So it’s also fitting to remember that this day in 1838** was the execution of Tsali, the hero of those escaped North Carolina Cherokee whom Brown mentions — a man tied to a tree and shot this date by the U.S. Army for resisting “Indian removal”.

While assimilated Cherokees like Chief John Ross were themselves right in the thick of the debate about deportation, Tsali was a traditionalist farmer in North Carolina who had little contact with such sketchy political machinations.

When Washington’s ethnic cleansing policy shed its diplomatic cover for naked force, Tsali and his family killed some of the soldiers sent to capture them for removal.** General Scott was not amused.

The individuals guilty of this unprovoked outrage must be shot down; & there is another object demanding equal & immediate attention, viz: –the protection of the white families, residing in that region, who are, doubtless, much alarmed (& may be in great danger) at the most unexpected spirit of hostility evinced by the fugitive Indians about them by the murders in question.†

And, of course, they were. Tsali is said to die in that fearlessness of the noble savage, a fitting aspect for any martyr at the last.

I have a little boy…If he is not dead, tell him the last words of his father were that he must never go beyond the Father of Waters, but die in the land of his birth. It is sweet to die in one’s native land and be buried by the margins of one’s native stream.

-Tsali’s recorded last words

It’s one of those ironies of empire (not unlike Thanksgiving Day itself) that Tsali’s dying wish was made possible by the very fact that other Cherokees collaborated in his death. Or at least, that’s how Tsali came to be remembered.

Other Cherokee with farms outside the boundaries of the formal Cherokee nation were then maneuvering to avoid the effects of the removal treaty — which by its own letter ought not apply to other Cherokee. William Holland Thomas, the remarkable Caucasian-born orphan adopted by the chief of these Cherokee, Dancing Bear, cut a deal with General Scott:

if [Dancing Bear’s Cherokee] would seize Charley [Tsali] and the others who had been concerned in the attack upon the soldiers and surrender them for punishment, the pursuit [for other Cherokee in the Great Smokies] would be called off and the fugitives allowed to stay unmolested … he could secure respite for his sorely pressed followers, with the ultimate hope that they might be allowed to remain in their own country …

It was known that Charley and his party were in hiding in a cave of the Great Smokies, at the head of Deep creek, but it was not thought likely that he could be taken without bloodshed and a further delay which might prejudice the whole undertaking. Thomas determined to go to him and try to persuade him to come in and surrender. Declining Scott’s offer of an escort, he went alone to the cave, and, getting between the Indians and their guns as they were sitting around the fire near the entrance, he walked up to Charley and announced his message. The old man listened in silence and then said simply, “I will come in. I don’t want to be hunted down by my own people.” They came in voluntarily and were shot … one only, a mere boy, being spared on account of his youth.†

Scott honored the deal, goes the story, and those un-removed Cherokee indeed persisted in North Carolina. Whether due to Tsali’s sacrifice or not, they remain there to this day: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, headquartered in Cherokee, N.C.

On November 25, 1838, Tsali was executed … They were ordered to kill him so they could stay in North Carolina. Tsali was killed. We are still here. Tsali is a Cherokee hero.

-Resolution of the Cherokee Tribal Council (Source)


Bilingual English/Cherokee street sign in Cherokee, N.C. (cc) image from Chuck “Caveman” Coker.

Nearby, you can hike, bike, or ride horses in the Tsali recreation area.

* Including the first man hanged at Plymouth Colony.

** Or at least, the most widely reported date. The sourcing is slightly inconsistent and ambiguous as to whether all the family turned itself in and was shot together, or whether Tsali’s three kinsmen were executed on a previous date with Tsali shot on this date.

† As cited by Paul Kutsche, “The Tsali Legend: Culture Heroes and Historiography,” Ethnohistory, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Autumn, 1963)

‡ These Cherokee would form a legion in the Confederate army which actually had the distinction — under then-Colonel William Thomas — of firing the last shots in the Civil War east of the Mississippi.

§ John Finger’s sacred cow-slaying take on the evolution of the Tsali legend in The Eastern Band of Cherokees: 1819-1900 is that only the family turned in voluntarily, but the army left Tsali alone once the younger men were killed, and the old man was mopped up (involuntarily) by the Cherokee themselves: “there was no noble sacrifice … [and] the capture and execution of Tsali little affected the right of the Qualla Cherokees to remain in North Carolina.”

That version would also resolve the apparent discrepancy in the date and number executed, with Tsali captured on the 24th and shot on the 25th.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Myths,No Formal Charge,North Carolina,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA

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