The Cherokee Trail of Tears (1838-1839)

The Cherokee Nation was present in the United States for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of Europeans in the fifteenth century. Residing in the southeastern part of the United States, the Cherokee culture was highly developed and peaceful.

Initially, these indigenous peoples welcomed and assisted the European immigrants. However, when the new settlers learned that there was gold to be mined in Georgia on the land belonging to the Cherokees, aggressive action was taken by the government of the United States to acquire the land of the Cherokees. The Federal Indian Removal Policy was developed by speculators interested in securing the lands owned by the Native Americans and on May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the policy into law. Essentially, the Federal Indian Removal Act allowed the President to offer western lands to the Native Americans in exchange for the lands they inhabited, and owned, in the southeastern states.

· Indian Removal Act explains how this Act developed, as well as the response of the Native Americans up to the Trail of Tears.

· Indian Treaties and the Removal Act of 1830 a website of the Department of State, offers a discussion of the removal of the Cherokee and other tribes and why it benefited the expansion of the United States.

· New Georgia Encyclopedia: Cherokee Removal is an historical overview of the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia.

· Digital History is an extensive historical site that explains the economics and politics of the Jacksonian Presidency and the inhumane treatment of Native Americans during this time.

The Removal Act resulted in what is now called The Cherokee Trail of Tears, the forced exodus of thousands of Cherokee people from their homes in southeastern states to undeveloped, and often arid, areas in the West. Before the journey even began, over 4000 Cherokee men, women, and children perished while in confinement. Much of the culture and history died with those people and there is very little documented in public records during this time of their extermination.

  • The Trail of Tears has a brief explanation, from a Cherokee viewpoint, of what happened to the people on this journey.
  • Cherokee Removal Forts offers a description of the forts that were built to temporarily house the evicted Cherokees.

The Treaty of New Echota was signed on December 29, 1835. Although John Ross was the delegate representing the Cherokees, his role was undermined by a small group of Cherokees who called themselves The Treaty Party. Among John Ross’s demands was the payment of $20 million for the Cherokee lands. The Treaty Party asked for $5 million, and the treaty was accepted. The Cherokee people did not accept the treaty, however.

The Trail of Tears began what was a dark period in the history of America. The mass removal of Native Americans from their home territories to areas that became reservations isn’t matched by any other ethnic group in the history of the United States.