Sallie Emma Darden and My Indian Ancestors
Updated: Aug 11
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on May 9, 2021
I introduced Sallie Emma Darden, my paternal grandmother, to the world in a July 31, 2019 article titled, "Adam and Sallie Watkins: A Legacy of Love". Sallie Emma Darden was born on March 12, 1894 in Kentucky. She was the daughter of George Harry Darden, a former slave of African descent, and Sallie Cooper, a full-blooded Native American.
I have written extensively about the experiences of my African American ancestors in America in articles such as "Olivia and William Carmichael: A Legacy of Extraordinary Success" and "The Bridge-Builders". Now, it is time to tell the true story of America's inhumane treatment and calumny of my Native American ancestors.
The Five Civilized Tribes
Sallie Cooper and her parents were members of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokees were one of what white colonists called the "Five Civilized Tribes" -- Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles -- that were located in the Southeastern part of the United States from the East Coast to the Mississippi River. The Cooper family was located in a rural community known as Wallonia in what is now Trigg County, Kentucky.
"The Five Civilized Tribes" tried to peacefully coexist with white European settlers from 1622 through the 1800s. White colonists and our national government had no interest in a peaceful coexistence arrangement.
Even though the Indian-white wars dominated our history as a nation from 1622 to 1815 and were of considerable importance until 1890, they have mostly disappeared from our national memory. The grave fate of the "Five Civilized Tribes" foreshadowed the death and destruction Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River would ultimately experience at the hands of white men.
The "Five Civilized Tribes" welcomed whites of interracial goodwill and runaway slaves who sought refuge inside their Tribal Territories. They were peace-loving peoples.
Between 1787 and 1855, U.S. territorial expansion was influenced, in large part, by slavers' influence. Slaveholders coveted Indian and Spanish land and wanted to drive Native American tribes farther away from the slave holding states to prevent slave escapes. As a result, America took Florida from Spain in the War of 1812 because slaveholders demanded that the government do so. President Andrew Jackson attacked a Seminole fort in Florida in 1816 because it harbored hundreds of runaway slaves, thus initiating the First Seminole War.
The Seminoles' refusal to surrender their African American members led to the First Seminole War (1816-18) and Second Seminole War (1835-42). The Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest war the United States ever fought against Indians.
From the Beginning, Indians Sought Peaceful Coexistence
Native Americans thought interracial marriages were a common way for two societies to deal with each other, and Indians in the United States repeatedly suggested such a policy to our national government. Spanish men married Native women in California and New Mexico and converted them to Spanish ways. French fur traders married Native women in Canada and Illinois and converted to Native ways.
In New England and Virginia, English colonists quickly moved to ban interracial marriages. Pocahontas was the first and last Native to be accepted into British-American society, and Pocahontas was accepted only because she married the well-known and powerful Englishman named Capt. John Smith.
Interestingly, in 1624, Capt. Smith proposed using Christopher Columbus' get-tough policy with Caribbean natives as a model for handling Native Americans in Virginia. Smith called these Indians "treacherous and rebellious infidels" and urged colonists to force these Native Americans "to do all manner of drudgery work and slavery for them."
During this period, Native Americans sought to acculturate into "triracial isolates," which were nonracial enclaves where Native Americans, escaped African slaves, and whites could peacefully coexist. Whites colonists and slave owners were not interested in this kind of acculturation. White settlers and their commercial companies wanted the lands that Native Americans occupied and the riches that came from these lands. Furthermore, whites had the advantage of rigged territorial courts of law to settle land disputes with Indians and superior weaponry -- guns and bullets versus bows and arrows.
The viciousness of white attitudes towards Native Americans is reflected in the fact that the Massachusetts legislature in 1789 passed a law prohibiting teaching Native Americans how to read and write "under penalty of death."
The mutual acculturation between Native and African Americans was fairly natural. It arose from their shared experience in slavery, as well as escapes by blacks to Native communities where they were protected from recapture and death. Like blacks, Native Americans were enslaved by white colonists and settlers, as well.
Despite their efforts to peacefully coexist with whites, "The Five Civilized Tribes" were forcefully dispossessed of their lands and exiled to Oklahoma in the 1830s along the "Trail of Tears." The ensuing death toll for Native Americans from this campaign of illegal land dispossessions and forced relocation to reservations in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the western territories was catastrophic.
Native Americans Were Subjected to the Worse Forms of White Supremacy
Benjamin Franklin called Native Americans "ignorant savages." The Declaration of Independence labeled them as "merciless Indian Savages." After the Revolutionary War to free America as an English colony and after the Ohio War in 1790, President George Washington regarded Native Americans as "animals of prey" who should be slaughtered and their cultures destroyed.
In 1845, William Gilmore Simms wrote, "Our binding prejudices .... have been fostered as necessary to justify the reckless and unsparing hand with which we have smitten [Native Americans] in their habitations and expelled them from their country."
In 1871, Francis A. Walker, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, considered Native Americans so far beneath morality that he said, "When dealing with savage men, as with savage beasts, no question of national honor can arise."
Every treaty America's national government, territorial governments, and private companies made with Indian Nations was broken by the white man. The white men's lack of trustworthiness and honest dealings eventually gave rise to the term "Indian-Giver."
By any objective definition, America's national government fully and officially embraced the concept of "white supremacy" in its dealing with Native Americans from the 1600s up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During this period of time, an estimated 60 million Native Americans were exterminated by white European settlers, U.S. Army soldiers, and white vigilantes on the Western Frontier.
Slaughtering Nez Perce Indians
In 1805, the Nez Perce Indians, who lived and hunted on an estimated two million acres of land in the territory known today as Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, saved the Lewis and Clark expedition when they came down off the Rockies on their westward journey. The entire exploring party was famished and sick with dysentery. They could not defend themselves, if attacked. The Nez Perce welcomed the white explorers, fed them, and nursed them back to good health so Lewis and Clark could continue on with their journey.
By 1855, the white men's greed for land and gold broke the relationship between the Nez Perce and white settlers in the Western territories where the Tribe lived and hunted. In 1873, President Ulysses Grant issued an executive order protecting the Nez Perce’s lands in the Wallowa Valley from settlement by white men. Two years later, the tribe was betrayed when Grant issued a new order re-opening the Valley to white settlement. The new order took away the Wallowa Valley and three-fourths of the remainder of the Nez Perce’s tribal lands. This order was ruthlessly enforced by the U.S. Army against Nez Perce men, women, and children on the night of August 9, 1877 as many of them were slaughtered while they slept in their tepees.
The sheer scale and efficiency by which U.S. Army troops killed the Nez Perce and other western Native American tribes were admired by Adolf Hitler during his rise to power in Nazi Germany. Hitler used the U.S. "ethnic cleansing" campaign of Native Americans as a model to conduct his genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Gays, and Black Germans during World War II.
From coast to coast, white greed and savagery were systematically perpetrated upon Native American Tribes. In addition to the unrelenting betrayal and genocide experienced by the "Five Civilized Tribes," the Anishinaabeg, Apache, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Chilliwack, Chinock, Coast Salish, Cochiti, Comanche, Eskimo/Aleuts, Hopi, Iroquois, Kiowa, Kwakiutl, Lenni Lenape, Luiseno, Navajo, Nez Perce, Ojibwa, Omaha, Onondaga, Osage, Paiute, Papago, Passamaquoddy, Pawnee, Pequot, Pima, Potawomi, Seneca, Shawnee, Sioux (e.g., Dakota, Santee Sioux, Lakota, Teton Sioux, and Oglala), Snehyttens, Suquamish, Tewa, Tlingit, Wabanaki, Winnebago, Yuma, Zuni, and a host of other Indian Nations experienced the same violent and thoroughly disgusting treatment from our national government and white settlers.
Sallie Cooper's Native American ancestors lost everything they had when they were forced onto the Trail of Tears. Sallie Cooper's parents found refuge in a "triracial isolate" in the rural community of Wallonia, Kentucky where she eventually met and married George Harry Darden. Sallie Emma Darden was the product of this African American-Indian marriage, which was accepted within both cultures.
For four centuries, white historians, government scribes, and news reporters have recorded America's mistreatment of Native Americans in the light most favorable to whites. This body of spin-masters has lied over and over again about the nature and scope of Indian-white relationships in America. In truth, no ethnic group in the history of the world has suffered more pain, anguish, loss of land and natural resources, bodily injuries from Indian-white wars and conflicts, and genocide at the hands of white Anglo-Saxons than Native Americans.
Native Americans have seen, experienced, and endured the worse aspects of white behavior in this country. Yet, they remain very proud peoples, and they still form the heart and soul of this nation. After all, Native Americans were the first Americans. The rest of us are descendants of European migrants who came here willingly or African slaves who came to America involuntarily in the hell holes of slave ships.
I am very proud of my African American and Native American heritages. I embrace the positive values of both cultures.
[Acknowledgement: I wish to credit the excellent historical research I used in this article to the following highly acclaimed books on this subject: "Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War," by Daniel J. Sharfstein, W.W. Norton & Company, New York/London, 2017; "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West," by Dee Brown, Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1970; "Lies My Teacher Told Me," by James Loewen, Simon & Schuster, 1995, 2007; and, "Native American Wisdom," by Alan Jacobs, Watkins Media Limited, 2018.]
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