Born Degataga (“Stands Firm”) in 1806, after the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 he led a migration of Cherokee people to Indian Territory in Eastern Oklahoma in defiance of Chief John Ross, believing that the U.S. foothold in the west was not so strong and there was a chance of establishing the tribe there as a free people.
Giving up tribal land in this way was regarded as a “blood offence” which led to revenge attacks in later years, resulting in the deaths of many of his family, especially since the eventual forced removal of Cherokee on the Trail of Tears involved so much suffering.
However he became Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1862-66 and rose to the rank of Brigadier-General in the Confederate States Army. He and his men had many notable successes, the greatest being the 2nd Battle of Cabin Creek, an attack on a Union wagon train in which $1.5 million worth of supplies were taken and the wagons destroyed.
Watie was dismayed by the Confederate surrender and held out as long as possible. He returned to his plantation and died in 1871.
He is buried in Polson’s Cemetery, Delaware County.
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