General William Sherman described reservations as ‘ land entirely occupied by Indians and entirely surrounded by white thieves’. Unscrupulous agents bilked the Indians of supplies, and squatters and speculators gnawed away their land. The Cherokee and Delaware ‘outlets’, which were intended as free-passage corridors westward for the tribes to hunt, were disregarded by settlers and cattle-drovers, then used to settle other dispossessed tribes. The removal process itself had been traumatic, with large numbers of Creek and Cherokees, in particular, dying in transit through disease and exposure. Once settled, they were supposed to support themselves through farming, but were usually allocated land unfit for purpose. The result, frequently, was the ‘creation of slums in the wilderness’, the marooned inhabitants succumbing to despair, disease and alcoholism. In this depressing context, missionaries were perhaps the least pernicious external influence, promoting education alongside Christianization; Mission Bands Reserve was an island of relative tranquillity, until its residents were once more ousted westward.
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