Stand Watie (1806–1871)

Stand Watie was a Cherokee leader who signed the Treaty of New Echota, which led to the tribe’s removal from its homeland in the southeastern United States to the Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma). Watie also fought for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, becoming the only Native American to achieve a general’s rank on either side during the war.

Stand Watie was named Degadoga, which means “he stands,” when he was born on December 12, 1806, near New Echota, Georgia, the son of Oo-wa-tie, who was a full-blood Cherokee, and Susanna Reese, who was half Cherokee. When his father took the name David Watie after his baptism in the Moravian Church, he renamed his son Isaac S. Watie. The youth combined his Cherokee and Moravian names to become Stand Watie.

Watie was married to Elizabeth Fields, who died in childbirth, and Sarah Caroline Bell, whom he married in 1842 and with whom he had three sons and two daughters. The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture states that he was also married to Eleanor Looney and Isabella Hicks.

The eastern Cherokee were politically split between the followers of Principal Chief John Ross and a group led by Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, Watie, and Watie’s brother Elias Boudinot. In 1836, the Ridge faction signed the Treaty of New Echota, ceding the Cherokee lands in the east and leading to the tribe’s removal to the Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears; the treaty group traveled separately from the rest of the tribe, with about 660 led by John Bell (father of Sarah Carolina Bell) taking the Memphis to Little Rock Road to Arkansas’s capital then traveling to Evansville (Washington County) before passing into the territory.

Cherokee law called for the lives of the treaty signers, and on June 22, 1839, the two Ridges and Boudinot were executed. Watie escaped, though he did see the body of his murdered brother. Watie and Ross would remain bitter enemies for the rest of their lives, based on the fact that Ross may have instigated the killings.

In 1842, Watie went into a grocery store in Washington County and encountered James Foreman, one of the alleged killers of Major Ridge. The two fought, and Watie stabbed and shot Foreman, killing him. Watie was represented by Fayetteville (Washington County) jurist David Walker during his trial and was acquitted of murder charges.

When the Civil War began, Watie joined the Confederate army as a colonel, raising the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles in 1861, even as Ross and the Cherokee Nation wavered on whether to join with the South. They ultimately signed a treaty with the Confederacy. Watie and his troops fought at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, in 1861, and at the March 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. He was supposed to participate in the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862, but apparently never left the Indian Territory with his command.

In July 1862, John Ross left the Indian Territory in the company of Federal troops, and in his absence, a Confederate-controlled Cherokee tribal council elected Watie as principal chief.

Watie and his troops operated primarily in the Indian Territory, and many of their activities focused upon attacking Unionist Indians and Federal supply caravans. Watie’s men were part of a Confederate force defeated in the first battle of Cabin Creek on July 1–2, 1863, by a Union command that included the First Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment. He avenged himself on John Ross in October 1863 when his men raided the Cherokee capital at Talequah, burning the council house and Ross’s home, Rose Hill. Watie gained noteworthy acclaim with the capture of the steamboat J. R. Williams on June 15, 1864, in which a total of $120,000 in food and supplies was seized. Watie’s forces did much better in the second battle of Cabin Creek on September 19, 1864, capturing a large Federal wagon train as part of operations that destroyed $1.5 million in Union property.

On June 29, 1864, Watie was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Confederate army, with the promotion to date from May 6, 1864. Watie was the only Native American in either army to earn a general’s rank. He was also the last Confederate general to surrender, which he did on June 23, 1865, near Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation.

After the war, Watie participated in the Fort Smith Conference and in treaty negotiations in Washington DC, before spending a few years in exile in the Choctaw Nation. He eventually returned to his pre-war home at Honey Springs, where he died on September 9, 1871. He is buried in the Ridge Cemetery in Delaware County, Oklahoma.

For additional information:
Confer, Clara. The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.

Cunningham, Frank. General Stand Watie’s Confederate Indians. San Antonio, TX: The Naylor Company, 1959.

DeBlack, Tom. “The War within the War: The Cherokees and the Civil War in Arkansas.” Pope County Historical Quarterly 46 (September 2012): 6–14.

Edwards, Whit. “The Prairie Was On Fire”: Eyewitness Accounts of the Civil War in the Indian Territory. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2001.

Franks, Kenny A. “Stand Watie.” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WA040 (accessed January 30, 2020).

Warde, Mary Jane. When the Wolf Came: The Civil War in the Indian Territory. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2013.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 01/30/2020