Cherokee Trail of Tears

There are many events in American history that are the cause for shame. One of these events is the Trail of Tears that occurred in the 1830s.

The ongoing effort of the expansion of settlers into Native Indian lands brought about a law that forced them to choose between leaving or staying and losing their sovereign nation rights.

The Trail of Tears wasn’t just a relocation of the Native Indians, it required that they walk 5,043 miles and many died during that journey.

Southern Illinois Trail of Tears map
Southern Illinois Trail of Tears map
  • The white European sentiment against any culture or group was carried over when the settlers established themselves in what is now the United States. This belief had been part of the early explorers as they conquered many areas during their exploration. To the white Europeans, the Native Indians were barbarians that deserved little respect or good treatment.
  • The Native Indian tribes had been living on the lands in America for thousands of years. When the expansion of the settlers started encroaching on the lands where they lived and hunted, some of the tribes made agreements with the U.S. Government. These tribes included the Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole. Over the years, treaties were signed only to be broken by the government, allowing settlers to invade Indian land.
  • The anti-Indian feelings came to a peak when Andrew Jackson became President. He held contempt for the Native Indians and had participated in two wars that fought against them. He pushed for the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that offered some of the tribes an option: relocate to new lands or stay and become Citizens. If they chose to stay they would lose all of the rights that they had as a sovereign nation. Given the harsh treatment of the Native Indians, many decided to relocate.
  • The Choctaw were the first Indian tribe to relocate in 1831 and the last tribe to relocate in 1838 was the Cherokee. This means that it took almost seven years for all of the tribes to move from various areas of the south to what is now Oklahoma. Some of the Cherokee didn’t want to go and President Jackson finally got their leaders to sign the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty offered a trade for the current lands that the Cherokee lived on for land in Oklahoma plus $5 million. Not all Cherokee agreed to the treaty and they petitioned Congress to remain. Unfortunately, they lost and in May of 1838 Jackson had the Cherokee forcibly removed.
  • Jackson had sent General Scott and soldiers to gather up all of the Cherokee people and put them into stockades which were prison camps. In a lot of cases, the people couldn’t even get their personal belongings. During that summer some of the Native Indians were forced to start their walk to Oklahoma and many died from diseases and the heat. The remaining Natives were held at the stockades until the fall months arrived.
  • Once fall occurred the remaining Native Indians were rounded up and sent on their walk. It took them many months to walk 1,000 miles and the journey was dangerous and treacherous. The walk continued into the winter months and thousands of Cherokee died of starvation, the cold, and diseases. It is estimated that around 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives on the Trail of Tears.
  • While the land in Oklahoma was promised to the Native Indians, over the years that land was taken away from them. Different laws were passed that didn’t allow the Native Indians to have full control of their land and the government eventually sold it off.
  • Today, visitors can travel and learn the history and shame by visiting the Trail of Tears National History Trail.

Q&A:

Who were the five Native Indian tribes that had to walk to Trail of Tears?
Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole

Michigan's Saginaw Trail
Michigan's Saginaw Trail
Why did President Jackson push to have Native Indians relocated?
He was prejudiced against Native Indians

How many miles did the Native tribes have to walk on the Trail of Tears?
5,043 miles

How many members of the Cherokee tribe died walking the Trail of Tears?
4,000

If the Native Indians chose to stay what would they lose?
Sovereign nation status

How many years did it take for all of the Native Indian tribes to relocate?
7