The Story of Junaluska

Hayden Couvillion

Andrew Jackson has become a figure of historical fixation over the last few years . In April of last year, it was announced he was being removed from the twenty-dollar bill and replaced by a black woman he likely would have despised – Harriet Tubman. And it is well documented that Trump looks to Jackson as something of a historical role-model. In recent weeks Donald Trump has elevated Jackson’s historical standing, claiming Jackson would have prevented the Civil War.

In many ways it’s no surprise that Trump looks to Jackson. Trump’s politics, while a little less egregious than Jackson’s, are similar. Both gravitate towards a political rhetoric that embraces protectionism and nationalism. For Jackson this meant protecting whites from the inferiority of Native Americans and forcing their migration from the East Coast. And for Trump it means the forced removal of undocumented immigrants and the building of a wall along the Mexico-United States border, also in an attempt to protect whites.

Trump and Jackson also share a penchant for being consistently inconsistent. In recent days Trump has shifted his stance on funding historically black colleges and universities. And he seems unsure on how that wall is going to be paid for, or if it’s going to be built at all.

Likewise, Jackson, during his long political career, was also known to make promises he either never planned to fulfill or later found to be politically inconvenient. It’s the latter category that put Jackson in the crosshairs of a man who once fought right alongside him.

Tucked into the western mountains of North Carolina is the memorial of a Native American Cherokee named Junaluska, meaning “one who tries but fails,” after he promised to kill every Creek Indian in battle and failed to do so (reports indicate only a few survived). A year later, and at the side of Andrew Jackson, Junaluska had another chance to kill every Creek in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the War of 1812.

By all accounts, Jackson, Sam Houston (the Texas senator and statesman), and Junaluska overwhelmed the Creeks, with Junaluska leading the charge that breached Upper Creek’s Fort of Tohopeka in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. The aftermath was gruesome. Some two hundred and fifty Creek bodies were killed in the Tollapoosa River at the bottom of Tohopeka and never recovered, while 700 more were killed and buried by Jackson and Junaluska’s forces.

Following the battle, Jackson told Junaluska that “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the east.” About twenty-five years later though, Jackson seemed to forget his promise.

After the discovery of gold in Northeast Georgia, the siren call of prosperity became too much for white Americans to ignore. In 1838, the Cherokee Indians were removed from their homeland and forced to walk more than 800 miles to the state of Oklahoma and Kansas, where defined reservations were outlined for Cherokees and other Native American nations.

The removal of the Cherokees did not go without Junaluska’s protests. Meeting Jackson in Washington, DC before the Indian Removal Act was finalized, Junaluska urged Jackson to reconsider, but Jackson refused telling Junaluska, “Sir, your audience is ended. There is nothing I can do for you.”

Junaluska begrudgingly obliged, but during the walk to Oklahoma he lost his wife and daughters. The toll of the forced relocation was understandably difficult. Beyond the death of his wife and daughters, between 2,000 to 6,000 Cherokees died. A few years later, a defiant Junaluska walked back home to North Carolina with a handful of others. The government, recognizing his sacrifices and contributions to the United States, granted Junaluska some 350 acres.

Junaluska never forgave Jackson though, saying “If I had known at the battle of the Horseshoe what I know now, American history would have been differently written.” And later on, Junaluska was even more blunt, reportedly stating, “If I had known Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at the Horseshoe.”

By some reports Junaluska saved Jackson’s life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend by tripping a prisoner of war who was diving at Jackson with a knife. We’ll likely never know if that is more myth than reality, but Jackson’s promise is well documented – he intended to forever protect and serve Junaluska and his people. But as the political winds shifted, Jackson’s promise turned to empty words.

(Image labeled for reuse: Wikipedia)

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