Elias Boudinot, Cherokee publisher and signer of the removal treaty, was born around 1802 in what is now North Georgia and given the name Buck Oo-watie Galagina, or Stag. In 1818 he went to mission school in Cornwall, Connecticut, where he took the name of Elias Boudinot, after the Philadelphia philanthropist who had befriended him. He also married an Anglo woman, Harriet Ruggels Gold. Boudinot completed his education at Andover Theological Seminary and returned to the Cherokees as a missionary in 1826.
In 1828, with funds he raised from missionary groups, Boudinot established the first Cherokee newspaper, the Phoenix. A full blood and staunch nationalist, Boudinot adopted an editorial policy endorsing Cherokee sovereignty against Anglo encroachment.
By 1832, however, he realized the inevitability of removal and used the Phoenix to call for a public dialogue. Tribal chief John Ross forbade publication of any pro-removal sentiments and pressured Boudinot to resign as editor. When the Cherokee National Council refused to negotiate a removal treaty, the United States government turned to a small faction of the Cherokees willing to relocate. In 1835 Boudinot, acting as a leader of this faction, signed the Treaty of New Echota authorizing removal. The Cherokee constitution labeled this action as treason, a capital offense.
In an 1837 pamphlet Boudinot justified the actions of the treaty faction by pointing to the superior power of the United States. He lamented the social and cultural changes brought about by encroaching whites and the consequent removal pressures and contended that removal to the West would protect the Cherokees from further moral harm.
Recent interpretations, however, stress the economic and political motives of the treaty party. A study of these men's lives reveals that most had been somehow slighted by the elite Cherokees who controlled the national government. Some were thwarted in their attempts to gain permits for commercial ventures, some failed in elections for national government, and others owed large debts to powerful elites. Relocation to the West appeared to offer new opportunities for economic and political advancement. Further, the U.S. government promised generous land grants to those resettling in the West, payment of their debts, and protection of their property from deep financial losses during removal. While undoubtedly sincere in his moralism, Boudinot also acted as the representative of a rising middle class of Cherokees who sought removal for personal enrichment.
On June 22, 1839, as Boudinot worked in his yard in the Indian Territory, Oklahoma, three Cherokee men approached him soliciting medicine. As he turned to accommodate their request, the men attacked him and hacked him to death. In this way, he was executed for crimes against the Cherokee nation. After Boudinot's execution, the Cherokees underwent seven more years of political turmoil before the bitter factions forged an uneasy peace in 1846.