The Trail of Tears

It wasn’t called the Trail of Tears for no reason.

Since the founding of the United States, there were some who wanted to remove Native Americans living in the Southeast and resettle them across the Mississippi River. After their removal, there would be more land for white Americans to cultivate crops, such as cotton and tobacco.

Throughout the early 1800s, support for this idea began to grow. In the presidential election of 1828, Andrew Jackson, a strong advocate for the removal, was elected president. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and the president signed it days later.

The Indian Removal Act would force the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes, called the Five Civilized Tribes because of their adoption of Western cultural aspects, to move west of the Mississippi, to “Indian Territory” in modern day Oklahoma. Although the act stated that all treaties with the Native American tribes must be fair, and they must not be intimidated into signing them. But Jackson overlooked this aspect of the Indian Removal Act, threatening some tribes with invasions.

The Choctaw were the first to leave in 1830, having to walk hundreds of miles, some even in chains along the way. As many as 4,000 died of disease.

The Creek tribe was forcibly relocated by the end of 1837. Out of the 15,000 who make the journey, 3,500 died on the way.

Members of the Chickasaw tribe emigrated or were forcibly moved between 1837–1847, making it the last tribe to be completely moved from their homeland. On the way between 200–800 of the 4,000 tribe members taking the journey passed away.

In 1838, only 2,000 of the 22,000 Cherokee living in the South had emigrated to the Indian territory. This caused the new president, Martin Van Buren to send in soldiers to accelerate the speed of their removal. Once the army arrived, the Cherokee were forced into stockades, while they watched their homes being looted. They then walked upwards of 1,000 miles, with disease killing many. By the time they reached Oklahoma, over 5,000 Cherokee were dead.

Map of the locations of tribes before the Indian Removal Act and the routes they took to reach Oklahoma.

The Seminole tribe on the other hand, was unwilling to give up without a fight. They refused to leave, commencing the Second Seminole War. The Seminole were greatly outnumbered, but were able to hold back the Americans and win battles using surprise attacks. But eventually they succumbed to defeat. Most of the Seminole population was killed by battle and disease, and more were killed while being relocated to the Indian territory.

In all, almost 61,000 Native Americans were relocated to the Indian territories. Ravaged by disease, cruel soldiers, and little food, as much as 25% of them, or 15,000, died along the way.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *