Today In Western History: President Jackson Signs The Indian Removal Act

May 28, 1830

President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the biggest land grab in the history of the US, as he forcibly removes all the Eastern Indians to land west of the Mississippi River.

Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and President; responsible for the Trail of Tears
Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and hero of New Orleans; President responsible for the Trail of Tears

Jackson had been no friend to the Indians long before he became president, and had supported removing them westward for a long time.  As far back as 1814, he had commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a branch of the Creek nation during the Creek War of 1813-1814.  As a punishment for daring to challenge the powerful new nation, 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama were taken away from their control.  But he wasn’t finished.  In 1814 and again in 1815, he waged war on the Seminole nation, even though they were living in Florida, which was a Spanish territory at the time.  His rational was that this was punishment for harboring runaway slaves.  The primary result of this action was that Spain realized they couldn’t defend Florida against the intrusions or acquisitions of the new country, the United States, so the next year Spain cut its losses and sold Florida to the United States.

Jackson didn’t stop at waging physical war on the Indians, he also took part in negotiating 9 out of 11 treaties with them between 1814 and 1824, treaties in which they were ‘encouraged’ to trade their home lands in Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina in exchange for lands in the west.  Keep in mind, the ‘west’ of this period was the land next to the Mississippi river, not west of the Missouri River.  The few tribes who did agree to these ‘treaties’ did so hoping this concession would help them retain control over the remaining portion of their territory and to protect themselves from future harassment by white settlers.  Of course, it didn’t work.  It was only a matter of time until white settler began crowding the Indians once more, and as their farms expanded, there was only one place to get the land they wanted.,  Once gold was discovered in Georgia, it was inevitable that the Indians would be pushed out once more.

When Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, the Indian Removal policy would become more obvious and enforced.  In his first year in office, early in 1829, he called for an Indian Removal Act and worked quickly towards reaching that goal, despite significant opposition by Christian missionaries, and others including the soon to be legendary Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, and a rookie Congressman

Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo
Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo

from Illinois  (and future president), Abraham Lincoln.  In the end though, their objections were overruled, as most white Americans were in  

Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President
Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President

favor of the passage of the Indian Removal Act to protect their own interests.  In the south, the state of Georgia, which was involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee  nation, was particularly eager to rid themselves of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole) in order to have free access to the gold to be found in their land.  

After a bitter but doomed to fail debate in Congress, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830.  In his Second Annual Message to Congress, given on December 6, 1830, Jackson’s comments on Indian removal begin with these words: “It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.”  A great piece of self-serving nonsense.



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Today In Western History: The play “The Lion of the West” opens


The play The Lion of the West opens in New York City, today in 1831.    It was the first of many plays, books, and 

Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo
Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo

movies celebrating Davy Crockett.  It stars James Hackett as a parody of Davy, a character called Nimrod Wildfire.

Born in 1786 in Tennessee, Crockett grew up in a poor family that hired him out as a cattle drover at age 12. He eventually settled in middle Tennessee, where he became famous for his skill as a professional hunter. The Tennessee forests of  were still filled with game at that time, and Crockett once killed 105 bears in a single season.

Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and President; responsible for the Trail of Tears
Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson, Indian fighter and President; responsible for the Trail of Tears

After a stint fighting Indians with future president, Andrew Jackson, Crockett began a career in politics, eventually becoming a Tennessee state representative in 1821. As a state legislator, Crockett was a strong advocate for the rights of squatters who were claiming land on the frontier without legal permission. At the same time, the political fortunes of his old commander, Andrew Jackson, were on the rise. When Jackson became president in 1828, he pointed to Crockett as a symbol of the frontier values and spirit he believed should be adopted throughout the nation.

Politics alone, however, would not have ensured Crockett’s enduring status as an American hero. For that, only the 19th-century version of Hollywood would be adequate. In 1831, the play The Lion of the West opened at New York City’s Park Theater. Starring the popular actor James Hackett as a legendary frontiersman named Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, the play was a thinly disguised and highly exaggerated account of Crockett’s life.  Two years later, the play was followed by an equally larger-than-life biography, Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee.

After Crockett died at the Alamo in 1836, along with fellow frontiersman James Bowie, William Barrett Travis and nearly two hundred other volunteers, his posthumous transformation from mortal man to mythic martyr was almost inevitable. A bogus 1836 autobiography portrayed him as an American Hercules and established many of the tall tales that would remain forever associated with his name.

Fess Parker, as Walt Disney's Davy Crockett
Fess Parker, as Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett

In the 20th century, Crockett’s fame waned for a time, but Walt Disney revived the legend. In 1954, Disney began producing a series of movies and television programs featuring the actor Fess Parker as Crockett. The series was a ratings blockbuster, and it led to the largest media-generated commercial craze up until that time. Children all across America clamored for coonskin caps, powder horns, books, and records so that they could be just like their idol, Davy Crockett.


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