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Historic "Trail of Tears" Corn

Trail of TearsIn 1830 the Congress of the United States passed a bill called the “Indian Removal Act”. The Cherokee fought removal legally by challenging the removal law in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Cherokee challenged the law as an independent Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation v. Georgia the Court refused to hear a case extending Georgia’s laws concerning the Cherokee because they did not represent a sovereign nation. However, in 1832 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee on the same issue in Worcester v. Georgia. In this case Chief Justice John Marshall ruled the Cherokee Nation was sovereign. This ruling made the removal law invalid. Due to many factors the Cherokee Nation in 1835 was politically divided. A minority of Cherokee supported the removal and signed the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty validated the removal act. Therefore, in 1838 the United States government forcibly removed more than 16,000 Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek Indians from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. They were sent during the severe winter of 1838-1839 to Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. Hundreds of Indians died during their trip west, and thousands perished from relocation. This tragic chapter in American history was known as the Trail of Tears.

The Cherokee brought provisions to sustain them during the relocation. These included corn for planting in Oklahoma. Some of the corn survived and was given the name ‘White Eagle’. This corn is highly revered by descendants of the Trail of Tears March.

Debbie Henry of the NRCS is the American Indian/ Alaskan Native Special Emphasis Program Manager and American Indian Tribal Liaison for Georgia. In 2007, she requested the Jimmy Carter Plant Materials Center (PMC) grow production seed of ‘White Eagle’ for education and remembrance of the Trail of Tears March to Oklahoma. Debbie provided the corn to the PMC for spring 2007 planting. Personnel from Area 3 of the NRCS and PMC harvested 1,100 pounds of clean high quality corn on August 23, 2007. Packets of this corn are being sent to interested parties in the Southeastern United States.

“Trail of Tears Corn”

Time: 1838
Location: North Georgia Mountains

The stockade provided little protection from the freezing rain and winds as the families huddled closely together trying to keep their children warm. Many people had no shoes or blankets. There were no houses for shelter and the food rations were almost depleted.

Soon the resumption of the forced march to the Oklahoma Territories would begin.

The Trail of Tears was underway. Within a short span of time, at least 4,000 Cherokee will have perished, most of those that would be lost were women, children and the elderly.

Time: 2002
Location: Jimmy Carter Plant Materials Center, Americus Georgia

Some of the corn seed that was originally carried on the Trail of Tears has survived and produced a small amount of crops for the last 163 years.

The USDA-NRCS Jimmy Carter Plant Materials Center is developing the Trail of Tears Corn seed stock. This is an attempt to help reintroduce this very rare and special crop to the descendants of the Cherokee People that once covered the North Georgia Mountains. The corn is being grown in a protected and irrigated area in order to produce viable seed stock for future use. This will provide tribal members and others the opportunity to feed their families with this very special corn.

The Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee, Cherokee Heritage Foundation, Chestatee-Chatahoochee RC&D, Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe, Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission, Jimmy Carter Plant Materials Center, and Underwood Gardens have been instrumental partners since the inception of this project.

This project owes much gratitude to Mayo Underwood, of Underwood Gardens. Without her infinite knowledge of heirloom plant varieties and the connection that she shares with Mother Earth, none as this would have been possible. The original seed stock that she provided will be grown and cherished for many years to come. Plans are to grow this sacred corn in a respectful manner and great lengths have been taken to insure that the seed stock will remain pure.

Larry J Coburn