Cherokee Homefront2021-02-03T17:21:40-05:00

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Cherokee Home Front

A letter written by Sarah Watie, wife of the leader of the Cherokee, describing the toll the American Civil War took on the Cherokee nation.

Sarah Watie to Stand Watie

“Sarah Watie to Stand Watie,” June 12, 1864. Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

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Rusk County, Texas

June 12, 1864

My husband,
I have not been well enough to write much since I come here. Sometimes I feel well for a day or two then worse. I don’t hear from you at all and that troubles me and all things put together keeps me in such low spirits that I can’t mend. I been very bad off ever since I left Jarratts. There is someone coming in every few days but none of them can tell me anything where you are and tell me whether I had better get a place or not and where. . . . I have been feeling sick, and I don’t hear from you. It makes me feel very depressed. People visit from the army every few days, but none of them can give me news of you. . . .
I have no idea that you can leave long enough to come here. I do wish you would leave the service and let them see whether they can do so well without you as some seem to think. As for me I want some to learn how well they will do for I don’t feel as if they treat you right so let them go where they want to go. As for the Nation, I believe it is bound to go to the dogs and the more one does to save it the more blame they will have to bear. I don’t ever expect to sit down in peace among them and if I could I would not for my weight in gold for I am tired of it and if nothing better than the last few years remains for me why I have no desire to live if it was not for Jack and Ninny. I would rather die than always live in dread as we did. It is no pleasure. I would like to live a short time in peace just to see how it would be. I would like to feel free once in life again and feel no dread of war or any other trouble. . . . I don’t know if you can get a leave long enough to visit. I think you should just leave the army and let them see how badly they do without you. They don’t appreciate you like they should. As for the Confederacy, it is going to fail, and anyone who fights for it is going to be blamed. I am so tired of this war. If it weren’t for our children I would rather be dead. I would like to experience peace, just to know what it is like to not live in fear.
You wrote to me you would meet me at Sheltons but I have no idea you will be there so soon. But write to me and tell me when you can be there or in that neighborhood and I will go. I do hope the war will end this year. I will try and get somewhere close to a school so that the children can go from home. They are too small to board out long at the time. I will try and have them clothes enough for winter but that is all I can do for I can’t spin a bit myself nor do I expect I can if I remain weak as I am. Tell Saladin he must shift for his clothes for I can’t buy anything at all. Oaks went back without any load from here. I told him to take what he had from here and buy a load at Sulpher Springs and hurry back to camp. I don’t know whether he can buy anything that will pay or not. I will watch and if I can I will buy that is tobacco. I can’t buy anything with old money you must send me some that will pass. I told Oaks to trade on what he had and sell what he bought for new. . . You said you would be at Shelton’s, but you never said when. Write and tell me where you will be and I will visit you. I hope I can get a home close to a school this year. The children are too little to live at a boarding school. I am trying to get them new clothes for winter, but there is nothing to buy. Tell your servant he must find his own clothing this year. Oaks went to town to see what he could find, but no one will take our old currency, so he is going to have to trade for things. Please send new currency.

“Sarah Watie to Stand Watie,” June 12, 1864. Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

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Background

The independent Native nations that lived on land claimed by the United States were affected by the American Civil War. About 20,000 Native men from all over North America fought with the Union and Confederate armies. The disruptions to trade, political alliances, and daily life in the Union and Confederacy were also acutely felt in Native communities.

The Cherokee Nation practiced slavery before the outbreak of the war, and there was a faction of the nation’s leadership that supported the pro-slavery stance of the Confederacy. At the start of the war, a different faction of the Cherokee Nation leadership tried to stay neutral, but their lands were surrounded by other Native nations aligned with the Confederacy. On October 7, 1861, Cherokee leader John Ross signed a treaty with the Confederate government. He promised to provide Cherokee soldiers to the Confederate army. In return, the Confederacy promised to protect the Cherokee from Union armies, and to give them food rations, livestock, tools, and a delegate at the Confederate Congress in Richmond.

The Cherokee Nation lost approximately 6,000 people by the end of the war. The Union government labeled the Cherokee as traitors and stripped the nation of many of its rights when peace was restored.

About the Document

Sarah Watie was the wife of Stand Watie, a prosperous Cherokee plantation and slave owner. Stand was the only Native American to rise to the rank of general during the American Civil War. This letter illustrates the hardships faced by Sarah and other Cherokee civilians while their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons were fighting for the Confederacy.

Vocabulary

  • Cherokee Nation: A North American Native tribe that originally inhabited territory in the area now known as the American southeast. Today, the Cherokee Nation is headquartered in Oklahoma.
  • Confederate: Relating to the group of states that seceded from the United States before the Civil War in order to preserve slavery.
  • Union: The name for the states that remained a part of the United State during the Civil War.

Discussion Questions

  • What does Sarah’s letter reveal about the conditions in Cherokee communities during the American Civil War?
  • How does Sarah feel about the war? What does she long for?
  • Why is it important to acknowledge the contributions and experiences of Native people in the American Civil War?
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Themes

POWER AND POLITICS; DOMESTICITY AND FAMILY; AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP

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