The Apache and Cherokee Indians, at face value, may seem as different as Native American tribes can be. They both had radically different methods of dealing with colonists and settlers in their territories, were located on opposite sides of the continent, and had vastly different ways of running their societies. Despite their differences, they were also alike in many ways, and among these likenesses was the idea of reciprocity, a chief similarity that the two groups shared.
For the purpose of this essay, this writer will define reciprocity as the expectation or ‘norm’ that people will respond to another party in the same manner in which the other party has treated them. So, for practical purposes, this means rewarding a good deed with another good deed, and punishing a bad deed with another bad deed. Of course, in order for a system like this to produce a favorable outcome, both groups must start out with good deeds, otherwise the system will only lead to relatively permanent hostilities.
Among the Apaches and the Cherokees, reciprocity was an important behavioral norm both within the tribe and toward outsiders of each tribe’s respective culture. However, this essay will mostly examine the two tribes’ behavior of reciprocity toward outsiders, with internal reciprocal acts taking the backstage. The majority of the most notable examples were indeed concerning the two tribes’ relationships with the Americans, and it is from these interactions that we can see the way the two tribes differed in their attitudes toward the Americans, yet were very similar in demonstrating a firm belief in reciprocity.
Far from the Apache, on the opposite side of the continent, the Cherokee nation was a southeastern tribe that, at their peak, spanned multiple states, including North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and, most notably, Georgia. During the time of George Washington, the Cherokee had begun relinquishing their traditional ways and had already begun “civilizing” in the western way. Around the turn of the century, the Cherokee had organized a national government. By 1827, when the Cherokee drafted their own constitution, they had lost most of their land outside of Georgia. The Cherokee were ultimately forced off their land by the Georgia Guard in 1838 during the infamous Trail of Tears.
The Cherokee went to great lengths to appease the American demands, in order to keep their land and live in harmony with the Americans. Reciprocity was certainly understood as a way for the Cherokee to reach that goal: by doing as the Americans had required, they would in turn be rewarded equitably. However, this trust in reciprocity worked both ways; in return for this appeasement, the Americans grudgingly dealt with the Cherokees longer than most any other tribe. John Ridge, the son of Major Ridge—one of the members of the tribal council—was sent with his father’s blessing to the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. His education at an American institution...