The Trail of Tears refers to the eviction of the Cherokee nation from their ancestral land in the Southeast to an Indian reservation in the western part of Mississippi, which is now present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee natives named the ride ‘the Trail of Tears’ due to its destructive effects; the migrants confronted hunger, diseases, and even fatigue on their enforced march, which saw the perishing of approximately 4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokee who faced the relocation. The Cherokee customs thrived for many years within the southeastern United States before the arrival of the European settlers. Upon the coming of the latter, the native Indians they encountered, including the Cherokee, assisted them in every way possible, especially with provisions. The Cherokee introduced the settlers to the foodstuffs such as potatoes and corn, among others, and even went as far as explaining how to utilize herbal medications to treat illnesses. Moreover, they taught them the hunting, fishing, and farming tactics in their new milieu (Pearson, p 1).
By the early 1820s, the majority of the Cherokee had adopted various cultural models of the settlers, such as the fresh plants and the agricultural systems, and encouraged the settlers to set up schools to teach their children the English language. Despite the various changes in their interaction with foreigners, the Cherokee endeavored to preserve their traditional uniqueness through the operation on harmony, accord, and neighborhood with the aversion for the chain of command and personal authority. They never had any idea that the newcomers they treated as friends were later going to be their real enemies regarding their ancestral land.
Since its origin, the government of the United States resisted the gluttonous persons and the venal politicians in the Southeast who had the determination to acquire the valuable pieces of land that were under the occupation of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and the Seminole Indians. Following the Louisiana Purchase, the vast possession of the region west of Mississippi in the year 1803, President Jefferson assumed that persuasion of the Indians could make them give up their ancestral homes in substitute for the parcels of land in the far West. The two leaders, Major Ridge and John Ross took part in defending the Cherokee, and in the year 1827, they anticipated a printed bill that would place the Cherokee on the same foothold as the European settlers as regards self-government.
The Cherokee may have been capable of holding their own against the renegade settlers for a more extended period had it not been for the combination of two circumstances that severely limited that possibility: the inauguration of Andrew Jackson as the President of the United States in 1828, followed by the passing of an 1830 act to remove the Indians after the beginning of the gold rush in the Cherokee land in Georgia (Pauls, p 3). The state declared all the laws on Cherokee null and void after the 1st of June 1830 and banned them from bearing witness against the settlers in court, mining gold, and even conducting business (Learn NC, p 9). In the year 1835, the United States regime presented a new settlement to the Cherokee National Council, followed by President Jackson’s letter that outlined the terms of the settlement and urged its endorsement (Cherokee Nation, p 2).
In December of the same year, the U.S. re-suggested the same agreement to a gathering at New Echota of about 400 Cherokee individuals, and Ridge, then in his old age, had no other option but to support the agreement. About twenty men signed the treaty, but nobody among them was an official of the clan, ceding the entire Cherokee field east of the Mississippi to the United States. In exchange, the government promised to pay $5 million to the Cherokee, as well as new farms in the Indian Territory. The natives widely protested the accord; nevertheless, after an intense argument, on the 17th of May, 1836, the American legislature consented to the agreement of New Echota, and on the 23rd of the same month, it came into law. By the end of December 1837, the government issued a strong warning to the Cherokee Nation to move to their new lands in two years from the treaty confirmation (Learn NC, p 11).
On the 10th of May 1838, General Scott issued a statement that saw that the federal troops and the state mercenaries begin moving the Cherokee into stockades. Three factions departed in the summer voyaging from present Chattanooga by wagon, boat, and rail, principally on the water itinerary, while as many as 16,000 individuals still anticipated removal. Hygiene was appalling, and there was no food, clothing, or medication; even burying the deceased was a problem. Water was another problem, and it was often dirty; illnesses were common in the campsites. There was the prohibition for those traveling over the land to leave during August due to the famine, and the earliest group moved forward, only to miss streams in the areas and move back to the camp. The team left behind requested the postponement of their removal until the fall, and the delay was granted, provided they stayed in their campsites until the journey recommenced (The Age of Jackson, p 4).
The government offered oxen, wagons, and horses, Ross took care of provisions alongside other needs, and during October and November, twelve detachments of one thousand people, including approximately a hundred slaves, embarked on a voyage through the land to the West. Every group was under the leadership of a Cherokee leader and in the company of a doctor, and only the sick, children, nursing mothers, and the elderly rode in the wagons. The northern course, preferred due to the regular ferryboats over Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the right path amid the waterways, came to be the hardest, as the intense autumn rainfalls and the many wagons on the mud-covered route made the roads almost impenetrable. There were little foraging and game to supplement the small portions, and nearly two-thirds of the Cherokee got ensnared in between the frost-bound rivers of Ohio and Mississippi in January (Learn NC, p 22).
On the 24th of March, 1839, the last group reached the West after some had left their motherland as early as the 20th of September, 1838. Nobody knows the exact number of Cherokee who perished during the trip, though there is an estimation of about 4,000 people. The journey was especially tough on the newborns, children, and the aged, as they made up a sizable percentage of those who passed away. The government of the United States never lived up to their promise of compensating the Cherokee $5 million, as stated in the New Echota accord.
The Age of Jackson. “The Trail of Tears — The Indian Removals [ushistory.org].” U.S. History, 2017, www.ushistory.org/us/24f.asp.
Cherokee Nation. “A Brief History of the Trail of Tears.” Cherokee Nation > Home, 2017, www.cherokee.org/About-The-Nation/History/Trail-of-Tears/A-Brief-History-of-the-Trail-of-Tears.
Learn NC. “The Cherokee and the Trail of Tears – North Carolina Digital History.” LEARN NC, 2013, www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newnation/4548.
Pauls, Elizabeth P. “Trail of Tears | Facts, Map, & Significance.” Encyclopedia Britannica, the 9th of April. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Trail-of-Tears.
Pearson, Ellen H. “A Trail of 4,000 Tears | Teachinghistory.org.” Teachinghistory.org, 2017, teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/25652.