March 7 and 8 marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Pea Ridge, fought in northwest Arkansas near the Oklahoma border. Victory at Pea Ridge was important for the Union Army, which was trying to defend Western states, such as Kansas and Missouri. This battle was also significant because it saw the biggest engagement of American Indian soldiers in the war, with almost 1,000 of the 16,500 Confederates who fought there.
The battlefield is now managed by the National Park Service (NPS) as Pea Ridge National Military Park. Because the Trail of Tears also goes through the park, there are two big Indian stories for the NPS to tell here. The park service has recently updated its exhibits on both topics; the original exhibits dated to 1963 and did not mention the Trail of Tears at all. The new exhibits reflect both changes in the NPS and its ongoing consultation with the Cherokee Nation.
The Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations) allied with the Confederacy early in the Civil War. The Cherokees were the last to join this alliance because of internal political divisions between Principal Chief John Ross and his long-standing rival, Stand Watie. Watie had become the leading figure of the faction that signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which forced the Cherokee Nation to move to Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma). Ross and an overwhelming majority of the population had opposed this removal. The rivalry was bitter, and there were political murders on both sides in the 1830s and 1840s.
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