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The “Trail of Tears” was the controversial forced relocation of the Cherokee Indians in 1838. Around 20,000 Cherokee where rounded up and started the 1,000-mile march to their new lands in Oklahoma. The march started in the winter of 1838 when most Cherokee did not have shoes or appropriate clothing for the harsh winter weather out west. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died during this journey. Many controversial events took place leading up to the “Trail of Tears”. The 1830 signing of the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson who proclaimed happiness and a great day for the country with the removal of the Indians from White settlements. He also announced his desires to replace these Indian savages and their wilderness lands with cities full of happy people, liberty, civilization and religion. Another damaging event for the Cherokee was the acceptance of the Treaty of New Echota by a minority Cherokee leader named Major Ridge. This Treaty was accepted and upheld by the US government and turning a blind eye to the complaints by majority Cherokee leader Chief John Ross. Although Andrew Jackson praised the signing of the Indian Removal Act as a positive for America to remove Indians from white settlements, this was a travesty to the Cherokee and to all Americans by letting race and greed determine the fates of a complete race of innocent people.
While the US government wanted the Indians to move west of the Mississippi, they never really forced the Indians to move until a more aggressive President took office and that man was Andrew Jackson. With the signing of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 the Cherokee Indians fates were sealed along with other Indian tribes. This act was nothing short of a governmental extermination act written to remove a race of people. In Andrew Jackson’s own words in his message to congress’ he calls the Indians savages (Jackson,1830). Andrew Jackson goes on to talk about how the country needs to focus on white Christian settlements with art and factories instead of forest with savages running around. He felt that whites should be able to travel and settle freely in country and not worry about the savages. To try and make things more appealing for the Indians he tried to compare the Indians moving west as a positive event like the early white settlers leaving behind their families for new lands. While Andrew Jackson calls the Indians savages, writer William Bartram noticed they were people much like other civilizations (Stewart, 1996). Bartram observed the Indians and noticed they hunted, fished and grew crops just as white settlers do while at the same time having some of the same flaws with adultery and fornication. Bartram still noticed signs of the mistreatment of the Indians by dishonest and violent traders’ years after the signing of The New Land Purchase of 1773 where the Creek and Cherokee gave up two million acres of land (Stewart, 1996). There were many reasons for the whites to want to remove the Indians from their lands. The white settlements were growing and looking for more land and they also wanted to eliminate the savages. Another reason for the removal of the Cherokee was the discovery of gold in the Georgia Gold rush that began in 1829 in Cherokee territory (Williams, 1995). According to Grant Forman, the US government want to make a push to remove the Cherokee from the south because they felt it was inevitable since they had removed Indians in the north (Forman, 1932).
In 1835 the controversial signing of The Treaty of New Echota gave the Cherokees land away to the US Government (Ratified Indian Treaty, 1835). This treaty was signed by a minority leader party lead by Major Ridge and John Ridge. This treaty called for the removal of the Cherokees and was opposed in a letter to government by majority leader Chief John Ross (Ross, 1836). Chief John Ross states that the New Echota treaty was signed by fraudulent leaders of the tribe and should not have been recognized. In his letter to the US government he mentions how overwhelmed the Cherokee Nation is and how their hearts are sickened with their belongings being taken away. Chief John Ross also goes into details of how they have assimilated to the life of the whites by using Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as their leaders as well as becoming Christians. The US Government would deny Chief John Ross of his claims and upheld the signing of the Treaty of New Echota and eventually sending General Winfield Scott to Cherokee nation to remove them from their lands (Cashin, 1994). General Scott addressed the Cherokees by orders of President Jackson that he is to remove them from their lands by any means needed. General Scott hoped for a peaceful removal but did say that he would forcibly remove them with his many troops. This began the “Trail of Tears” in the winter of 1838 where around 20,000 Cherokee were rounded up and ending several months later in 1839 after 4,000 had died (Smithers, 2018). The “Trail of Tears” began in the Georgia, North Carolina mountains and ending in Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee were not prepared for the midwestern winter and died due to the weather as well as disease and sickness. While this did have immediate consequences by having all of the remaining Cherokee removed from their homeland, some of the Eastern Band of Cherokee managed to stay behind and still live on the reservation today. While not great in numbers there are still a little over 2,000 Cherokee living in Cherokee, North Carolina. There is no doubt that this number would be significantly greater if it weren’t for the “Trail of Tears”.
In conclusion, it was wrong to remove the Cherokee from their lands. The Cherokee tribe did what the things that needed to be done to fit in with the new white settlers even though they were on the land first. The Cherokee spoke English, farmed and traded with the settlers, and had domesticated animals. They also started dressing like the whites as well as adopting the Christian lifestyles. The US government should not have accepted a signed treaty by someone that represents the minority of Cherokee nation. In todays time this would be an act of war to accept a signed treaty by someone other than its rightful leader. However, Andrew Jackson knew that the US was more powerful than the Indians and would be able to take the land regardless. This is another blackeye for the history of the US and almost the elimination of a race. Growing up and even into adulthood, I have been able to visit Cherokee, North Carolina. At one point it was a poor community with a few tourist attractions setting in the Blue Ridge mountains. While right or wrong the town has thrived with the addition of a casino over the past 20 years and major changes have taken place. Even today the Cherokee people still have pride and it is still a nice experience to visit the town and the surrounding area. It has been 181 years since the “Trail of Tears” and many have not forgotten the despicable act, but it is good to see the Eastern Band of Cherokee still surviving on their ancestor’s homeland.
- Transcript of President Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress ‘On Indian Removal’ (1830). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=25&page=transcript
- General Winfield Scott’s address to Cherokee nation. Cashin, E. J. (1994). A wilderness still the cradle of nature: Frontier Georgia: A documentary history. Savannah: Library of Georgia.
- Letter from Chief John Ross in opposition of the New Echota Treaty. John Ross, The Papers of Chief John Ross, vol 1, 1807–1839, Norman OK Gary E. Moulton, ed. University of Oklahoma Press, 1985, p. 458–461.
- Cherokee Treaty at New Echota, Georgia (Ratified Indian Treaty); 12/29/1835; Indian Treaties, 1722 – 1869; General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/treaty-new-echota, July 14, 2019]
- Foreman, G. (1932). Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
- SMITHERS, G. D. (2018). CHEROKEE DIASPORA: An indigenous history of migration, resettlement, and identity. S.l.: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
- The Georgia Historical Quarterly: Volume LXXIII, Fall 1989, number 3. (1989). Savannah, GA: Georgia Historical Society.
- Williams, D. (1995). Georgia Gold Rush: Twenty-niners, Cherokees, and Gold Fever. University of South Carolina Press. Stewart, M. (1996). The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 80(2), 393-395. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/stable/40583446
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