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History Center forum focuses on Indian law

POSTED: December 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A Gainesville native who has become an authority on Indian removal will come back home Tuesday night to talk about the topic at the regular monthly forum of the Northeast Georgia History Center.

Tim Alan Garrison, professor of history and director of Native American Studies at Portland State University in Oregon, wrote "The Legal Ideology of Removal - The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations" six years ago. It is one of the most significant works done on the subject, pulling together the various legal issues involving the forced removal of Native Americans from their homelands.

Since that book, he has been much in demand as a lecturer around the country and has continued to research and write about the topic and related issues. One of the more recent is "On the Trail of Tears: Daniel Butrick's Record of the Roundup, Internment and Removal of the Cherokees." It is based on the journal of a missionary who traveled with the Cherokees when they were removed from North Georgia to Oklahoma.

He also has extensively researched and written a paper on President Andrew Jackson's role in the Indians' removal and how the issue played a part in dividing the country even beyond the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Garrison continues to work on a hefty two-volume work about U.S. Indian policy law.

Tim says his interest in Native American history probably was a product of growing up in Gainesville. "I can't put my finger on it," he said, "but it's where you have the Indian names and places I was curious about. I went to Enota School, there's Yonah Mountain (in White County), and the Chattahoochee River was the boundary (for Indian territory)."

He earned business and law degrees from the University of Georgia, a master's in history from Clemson and received his doctorate in history from the University of Kentucky. A professor at Kentucky, Theda Perdue, who is from Georgia, turned him on to the legal issues involved in removal, and it's been non-stop since.

While Garrison has been up to his ears in papers and research, one would think he's turned up about everything about Native Americans, the Trail of Tears and related issues. Yet he remains curious. A lot of side issues raise questions he's been unable to answer or hasn't had time.

One mystery remains the burial site of George Corn Tassel, an Indian who was hanged in Gainesville and was a key in a legal tug-of-war between the state and federal governments. Tassel was accused in Pickens County of murdering another Indian in 1830. His lawyers argued that because the incident occurred in what was then Indian territory, Georgia had no jurisdiction.

State judges didn't agree, and after conviction, Tassel was sentenced to die. Cherokee lawyers appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which stayed his scheduled execution in Hall County.
Georgia saw the case as important in states' rights. The legislature had already adjourned, but Gov. George Gilmer called a special session before lawmakers got out of town to support its position. The state was moving to take over remaining gold-rich Indian territory and was afraid the Supreme Court's action would interfere. Federal troops already were in the gold mining area to maintain order among invading prospectors.

In that environment, the governor fast-tracked an order to Hall County Sheriff Jacob Eberhardt to proceed with the hanging of Tassel, saying in effect that the federal government had no business meddling in state affairs.

Large crowds witnessed the hanging on Christmas Eve, 1830.

Garrison is sympathetic with the Indians' cause. In a preface to his book, he wrote, "My ancestors lived on land they acquired in one of the Cherokee land lotteries. Since becoming familiar with the story of the Indian Removal, I have acquired a deep sense of guilt about that personal heritage. While we as a nation are loathe to apologize, I do not hesitate to ask for forgiveness from the descendants of those who walked the Trail of Tears."

A Gainesville High School graduate, Garrison is the son of Jeannine and Talmadge Garrison. His wife, Cindy, is the daughter of Jim and Dorothy Lamb.

Garrison's talk will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville. Admission is free for members, $3 for nonmembers (Web site).

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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