Stand Watie (December 12, 1806 – September 9, 1871) — known as Standhope Uwatie, Degataga (Cherokee: ᏕᎦᏔᎦ, “stand firm”), and Isaac S. Watie — was a leader of the Cherokee Nation and a brigadier general of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.
He commanded the Confederate Indian cavalry of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, made up mostly of Cherokee, Muskogee and Seminole, and was the final Confederate general in the field to cease hostilities at war’s end.
Prior to removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory in the late 1830s, Watie and his older brother Elias Boudinot were among leaders who signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835.
The majority of the tribe opposed their action. In 1839 the brothers were attacked in an assassination attempt, as were other relatives active in the Treaty Party. All but Stand Watie were killed. Watie in 1842 killed one of his uncle’s attackers, and in 1845 his brother Thomas Watie was killed in retaliation, in the continuing cycle of violence. Watie was acquitted at trial in the 1850s on the grounds of self-defense.
During the American Civil War and soon after, Watie served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1862–1866). By then, the majority of the tribe supported the Confederacy. A minority supported the Union and refused to ratify his election. The former chief John Ross, a Union supporter, was captured in 1862 by Union forces.
Watie led the Southern Cherokee delegation to Washington after the war to sue for peace, hoping to have tribal divisions recognized. The US government negotiated only with the leaders who had sided with the Union, and named John Ross as principal chief in 1866 under a new treaty. Watie stayed out of politics for his last years, and tried to rebuild his plantation.
Watie was born in Oothcaloga, Cherokee Nation (now Calhoun, Georgia) on December 12, 1806, the son of Uwatie (Cherokee for “the ancient one”, sometimes spelled Oowatie), a full-blood Cherokee, and Susanna Reese, daughter of a white father and Cherokee mother. He was named Degataga. According to one biography, this name meant “standing firm” when translated to English. He combined his Cherokee and English names into Stand Watie.
His brothers were Gallagina, nicknamed “Buck”(who later took the name Elias Boudinot); and Thomas Watie. They were close to their paternal uncle Major Ridge, and his son John Ridge, both later leaders in the tribe. By 1827, their father David Uwatie had become a wealthy planter, who held African-American slaves as laborers.
After Uwatie converted to Christianity with the Moravians, he took the name of David Uwatie; he and Susanna renamed Degataga as Isaac. In his life, Degataga preferred to use a form of the English translation of his Cherokee name, “Stand Firm.” Later, the family dropped the “U” from the spelling of their surname, using “Watie.” Along with his two brothers and sisters, Stand Watie learned to read and write English at the Moravian mission school in Spring Place, Cherokee Nation (now Georgia).
Stand Watie occasionally helped write articles for the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, for which his older brother Elias served as editor from 1828-1832. The first Native American newspaper, the Phoenix published articles in both Cherokee and English.
Watie became involved in the dispute over Georgia’s repressive anti-Indian laws. After gold was discovered on Cherokee lands in northern Georgia, thousands of white settlers encroached on Indian lands. There was continuing conflict, and Congress passed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, to relocate all Indians from the Southeast, to lands west of the Mississippi River.
In 1832 Georgia confiscated most of the Cherokee land, despite federal laws to protect Native Americans from state actions. The state sent militia to destroy the offices and press of the Cherokee Phoenix, which had published articles against Indian Removal.
Believing that removal was inevitable, the Watie brothers favored securing Cherokee rights by treaty before relocating to Indian Territory. They were among the Treaty Party leaders who signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. The majority of the Cherokee opposed removal, and the Tribal Council and Chief John Ross, of the National Party, refused to ratify the treaty.
One source states that Stand Watie married four women: Eleanor Looney, Elizabeth Fields, Isabella Hicks, and Sarah Caroline Bell. His child with Elizabeth Fields was stillborn in 1836. He and Sarah Bell married in 1842. They had three sons and two daughters, but there were no grandchildren.
John Ross had signed an alliance with the Confederacy in 1861 in order to avoid disunity within his tribe and among the Indian Territory Indians.
Within less than a year, Ross and part of the National Council concluded that the agreement had proved disastrous. In the summer of 1862, Ross removed the tribal records to Union-held Kansas and then proceeded to Washington to meet with President Lincoln. After Ross’ departure, Tom Pegg took over as principal chief of the pro-Union Cherokee.
Following Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Pegg called a special session of the Cherokee National Council. On February 18, 1863, it passed a resolution to emancipate all slaves within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. Most of the “freed” slaves were held by masters who were part of the pro-Confederate Cherokee.
After many Cherokee fled north to Kansas or south to Texas for safety, pro-Confederates took advantage of the instability and elected Stand Watie principal chief. Ross’ supporters refused to recognize the validity of the election. Open warfare broke out between Confederate and Union Cherokee within Indian Territory, the damage heightened by brigands with no allegiance at all.
After the Civil War ended, both factions sent delegations to Washington, D.C. Watie pushed for recognition of a separate “Southern Cherokee Nation”, but never achieved that.
The U.S. government refused to recognize the divisions among the Cherokee. As part of the new treaty, it required the Cherokee free their slaves. The Southern Cherokee wanted the government to pay to relocate the Cherokee Freedmen from their lands. The Northern Cherokee suggested adopting them into the tribe, but wanted the federal government to give the Freedman an exclusive piece of associated territory.
The federal government required that the Cherokee Freedmen would receive full rights for citizenship, land, and annuities as the Cherokee. It assigned them land in the Canadian addition. In the treaty of 1866, the government declared John Ross as the rightful Principal Chief.
The tribe was strongly divided over the treaty issues and return of Ross. He died in 1867 and a new chief was elected, Lewis Downing, a full-blood and compromise candidate. He was a shrewd and politically savvy Principal Chief, bringing about reconciliation and reunification among the Cherokee. Tensions lingered into the 20th century, but the Cherokee did not have the extended insurrection among pro-Confederate forces that occurred in the South.
Shortly after Downing’s election, Watie returned to the nation. After the treaty signing, he had gone into exile in the Choctaw Nation. He tried to stay out of politics and rebuild his fortunes. He returned to Honey Creek, where he died on September 9, 1871. He was buried in the old Ridge Cemetery, later called Polson’s Cemetery, in what is now Delaware County, Oklahoma, on September 9, 1871. He was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.