Brigadier General Isaac Stand Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865; Ten weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox April 9, 1865.
General Watie commanded the Confederate Indian cavalry of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, made up mostly of Cherokee, Muskogee and Seminole Native Americans.
Born December 12, 1806 in Oothcaloga, Cherokee Nation (Georgia) with the given name “Degataga” (Cherokee for “stand firm”).
Degataga was the son of full-blooded Cherokee ‘Uwatie’ (Cherokee for “the ancient one”), and Susanna Reese, the daughter of a white father and Cherokee mother.
When his parents converted to Christianity, his father took the name of David Uwatie; his mother Susanna renamed him Isaac. Later, the family dropped the “U” from the spelling of Uwatie, and became well known as the “Watie” family.
Isaac preferred to use a form of the English translation of his Cherokee name, “Stand Firm,” and became known as “Stand Watie.”
By 1827 his father, David Watie, had become a wealthy planter, using African-American slaves as laborers.
After Gold was discovered in Georgia in 1828, much of the Georgia Gold Rush ended up under the control of the Cherokee Indians. White settlers and prospectors flocked to Georgia by the thousands, all encroaching on Indian lands. This conflict led to Congress passing the 1830 Indian Removal Act.
This Government Act was designed to force all Native American Indians from the Southeast, to resettle on lands west of the Mississippi River. By 1832 Georgia had confiscated most of the Cherokee lands.
Stand Watie and several other Cherokee leaders believed removal was inevitable, and favored securing Cherokee rights by treaty before relocating to Indian Territory. Watie was among the Cherokee leaders who signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.
The majority of the Cherokee still opposed removal, and the Tribal Council as well as Chief John Ross refused to ratify the treaty.
In 1835, Stand Watie, his family, and many other Cherokee emigrated to Indian Territory (eastern present-day Oklahoma). They joined Cherokee who had relocated as early as the 1820s and were now known as the “Old Settlers”.
In 1838, any Cherokee who remained on tribal lands in Georgia, were rounded up and forcibly removed by the U.S. government. Their journey became known as the Trail of Tears. On this journey some 4,000 Cherokee died.
After removal, many Cherokee blamed the so called “Treaty Party” for giving up tribal lands. These Cherokee considered anyone who signed the Treaty guilty of a “blood” (capital offense) and were targeted for assassination.
Stand Watie, his brother Elias Boudinot, an uncle Major Ridge, a cousin John Ridge, along with several other Treaty Party men, were attacked on June 22, 1839. Only Stand Watie survived.
Several years later, in 1842, Stand Watie encountered one of his attackers. Watie recognized James Foreman as one of the men who had killed his uncle. Stand Watie shot him dead.
The violence within the tribe was far from over, another of his brothers, Thomas Watie, was murdered in 1845. Between 1845 and 1846, there were 34 politically related murders just among the Cherokee.
Stand Watie, a slave holder and a successful planter like his father, began to develop a plantation of his own on Spavinaw Creek in the new Indian Territory. Stand continued to serve on the Cherokee Council from 1845 to 1861, part of the time serving as Speaker.
In 1856, his enemies charged Stand with the murder of James Foreman in Arkansas. Watie’s nephew Elias Cornelius Boudinot who had just become an attorney defended him. Stand Watie was acquitted at his trial on the grounds of self-defense.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, a majority of the Cherokee Nation voted to support the Confederacy. Watie organized a regiment of cavalry. Then in October of 1861, Stand Watie was commissioned as Colonel in the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles.
Stand Watie not only had to fight Federal Union troops, he also was forced to fight other factions of the Cherokee who chose to support the Union. Other Native American Indians fought on the side of the Union, so Watie found himself fighting against the Creeks, and Seminoles in his own Indian Territory.
March 6-8, 1862, Watie’s troops captured Union artillery positions in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
Pea Ridge National Military Park
Soon Stand Watie was promoted to Brigadier General by General Samuel Bell Maxey. General Watie commanded the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.
General Watie fought in a number of battles and skirmishes in the western Confederate states, including Indian Territory, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. Watie’s First Indian Brigade reportedly fought in more battles west of the Mississippi River than any other unit.
General Watie took part in what is considered to be the greatest (and most famous) Confederate victory in Indian Territory, the second Battle of Cabin Creek, which took place in mid-September 1864. General Watie and General Richard Montgomery Gano led a raid that captured a Federal wagon train and netted approximately $1 million dollars worth of wagons, mules, commissary supplies, and other needed items. General Watie’s forces massacred black haycutters at Wagoner, Oklahoma during this raid. Union reports said that Watie’s Indian cavalry “killed all the Negroes they could find”, including wounded men.
General Watie’s Indian Brigade and allied warriors became a potent Confederate fighting force that kept Union troops out of southern Indian Territory and large parts of north Texas throughout the war.
Word did not reach General Watie of Lee’s surrender April 9 at Appomattox for some time.
On June 23, 1865, at Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nation, General Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives for his command. General Stand Watie was the last Confederate general in the field to surrender.
After the Civil War, Watie led the Southern Cherokee delegation to Washington, D.C. and the Southern Treaty Commission. Watie was asking to have tribal divisions recognized, hoping for peace. The United States Government however, negotiated only with leaders who had sided with the Union.
Stand Watie decided to stay out of politics during his last years, rebuilding his plantation.
He died September 9, 1871, at the age of 64; a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Delaware County, Oklahoma.
Now We Know