Bill Moeller Commentary: When We Talk About Atrocities Let’s Not Overlook Our Own Country


A few years ago, I wrote about the Bataan Death March in World War II as a prime example of man’s inhumanity to man.

Later, I wrote about atrocities on both sides in the Spanish-American War after peace documents had already been signed. Those were preceded by what is known today as the Trail of Tears, the removal of Native Americans from land that had been given to them.

First of all, the concept of setting land aside for people who had been overwhelmed or conquered was a new idea, unheard of until the beginning of the 18th century.

People who lost the fight had only one choice: be assimilated into the winner’s ways and practices or perish.

In the beginning, available land was not a problem in our  nation. There was plenty of it to go around. At the beginning, George Washington was adding conditions to the agreement to create the original reservation conditions. The natives were to learn and speak English, adopt European-style economic practices, such as individual ownership of land and of course convert to Christianity.

While the tribes involved may have been called “savages” in some circles, the five tribes which were relocated had already adopted the various cultural and political features of the Eurpoeans, including farming methods, clothing, houses and in many cases by Washington’s requested conversion to Christianity.

The five tribes each had a written constitution, a judiciary system and a public school system. They were, in fact, referred to as “the civilized nations.”

The problem with “reservations” was that as soon as the land given to the tribes appeared to become valuable by, say, discovery of oil or gold, the land was taken back again and the tribes moved somewhere else.

As I hope we all know, the Trail of Tears had its beginning when a law known as the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830.

In short, the act allowed the federal government to ignore any and all promises made to Native Americans regarding the land they had been granted by treaty.

It also allowed the federal government to then relocate them east of the Mississippi River. Initial enforcement of the act was by Jackson and later continued by President Van Buren.

One source says that the phrase “Trail of Tears” was originally coined to depict the last of five forced marches — the Cherokee tribe — but it later referred to all five of them, as well as those made by other tribes.

Perhaps “Trail of Shame” might be a better term for it.

One part of the event that’s been unknown or ignored by many of us is the number of Black African slaves each tribe took with them. That’s right, slaves.

I’ll wager few of us read about that in school books.

One source says the Choctaw Nation included over 19,000 members and an estimated 500 slaves, the Creek Nation over 22,000 members and 900 slaves, the Chickasaw contingent was just under 5,000 natives and over 1,100 slaves and a little over 16,000 Cherokees had nearly 1,600 slaves.

No estimate was given of the number of slaves for the Seminole Tribe.

Our Northwest history includes slavery practiced by our own Native tribes, but those were enemies captured in war, not going for the highest bidder at a slave auction.


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at