This story is part of a five-part series examining the presidency and legacy of Andrew Jackson. For full context, please visit these stories as well: "Wrestling With Jackson," "Reevaluating Old Hickory's Legacy," "The Cruel Enslaver," "At The Hermitage, the Full Story Must Be Told."
Andrew Jackson remains an arch villain in the history of Native America. We, the indigenous people of the United States, continue to live with his deadly legacy. When Donald Trump assumed the presidency and hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office, we knew exactly where we stood in his eyes.
Jackson, the Indian killer, was directly responsible for the agonizing deaths of thousands of Native people — Cherokees, Muscogee Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles — in the death marches, collectively known as the “Trail of Tears,” of the 1830s. He was a prime conductor on the murderous genocide train that roared from coast to coast. That train, when it stopped in the late 1890s, left alive — according to U.S. government statistics — only 237,196 Natives out of a population that numbered upwards of 60 million when the Pilgrims landed.
What part did Jackson play in this sordid history? Let’s take a look at the real history of this early-day Hitler. Actually, Jackson’s so-called Indian-fighting career began rather late in life. Jackson moved to Nashville in 1788, at a time when battles between white settlers and allied Cherokees and Creeks were raging in the area. But there is no record of his having fought any Indians at all during this period. This seems somewhat odd in light of his later advocacy.
Jackson was 46 when the Creek War began in 1813. In the first two campaigns against the Creek Nation, his armies were actually repulsed by the intrepid, grimly determined Creek warriors who were vastly outnumbered and massively outgunned by Jackson’s forces. According to mainstream Anglo history, Jackson defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, with the Native forces losing more than 800 warriors. But there is a Creek version that Jackson’s forces actually slaughtered hundreds of women and children after making sure that most of the warriors were absent from the fortified village in the bend of the Tallapoosa River.
As for the Trail of Tears, Jackson was the evil architect and enforcer of Indian removal. He signed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830, and saw to the carrying out of fraudulent treaties resulting in the hideous deaths of tens of thousands of indigenous men, women, children and elderly.
Jackson pushed forward the most murderous campaign against Native Americans in U.S. history. So bent was he on Indian genocide that he even tried to prevent the issuance of soap to Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. This was after he’d left the presidency and his successor, Martin Van Buren, was carrying out his wishes. When Cherokee leaders were finally able to prevail upon the Army for the issuance of soap, Jackson — upon hearing of this humanitarian concession — flew into a rage at The Hermitage and demanded that the order for the issuance for soap be rescinded.
Jackson was a racist devil incarnate, an early-day American Hitler whose deadly legacy for Native Americans remains extant to this very day. The genocide train continues still, but in more subtle forms — and if it were possible, I am sure Jackson would be looking down smiling.
Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist and freelance reporter for Native and non-Native publications. He was an organizer and delegate to the First and Second Intercontinental Indian Conferences held in Quito, Ecuador, and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Recently, he has been an active participant and reporter in the Standing Rock struggle in North Dakota. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty. He is also writing a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war of the late 20th century. Bender is the recipient of several Eagle Awards by the Tennessee Native American Eagle Organization and a former director of Native American Legal Departments and a Tribal Public Defender.