- Peace...this is BRIEF history of the 'Trail of Tears' yet I wanted to share it. One of my goals this year, is to post history of my people on a monthly basis, and though we did not begin with this period in time, it is a good place to start to show the strength of who we are.
Migration from the original Cherokee Nation began in the early 1800’s as Cherokees, wary of white encroachment, moved west and settled in other areas of the country. White resentment of the Cherokees had been building and reached a pinnacle after gold was discovered in Georgia, and immediately following the passage of the Cherokee Nation constitution, and establishment of a Cherokee Supreme Court. Possessed with ‘gold fever,’ and a thirst for expansion, the white communities turned on their Cherokee neighbors and the U.S. government decided it was time for the Cherokees to leave behind their farms, their land and their homes.
A group known as the Old Settlers had moved in 1817 to lands given them in Arkansas where again they established a government and a peaceful way of life. Later, they too, were forced into Indian Territory.
President Andrew Jackson, whose command and life was saved due to 500 Cherokee allies at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, unbelievably authorized the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In following the recommendation of President James Monroe in his final address to Congress in 1825, Jackson sanctioned an attitude that had persisted for many years among many white immigrants. Even Thomas Jefferson, who often cited the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy as the model for the U.S. Constitution, supported Indian Removal as early as 1802.
The displacement of Native People was not wanting for eloquent opposition. Senators Daniel Webster and Henry Clay spoke out against removal. Reverend Samuel Worcester, missionary to the Cherokees, challenged Georgia’s attempt to extinguish Indian title to land in the state, winning the case before the Supreme Court.
Worcester vs. Georgia, 1832, and Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, 1831, are considered the two most influential decisions in Indian law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Georgia in the 1831 case, but in Worcester vs. Georgia, the court affirmed Cherokee sovereignty. President Andrew Jackson defied the decision of the court and ordered the removal, an act of defiance that established the U.S. government’s precedent for the removal of many Native Americans from the ancestral homelands.
The U.S. government used the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 to justify the removal. The treaty, illegally signed by about 100 Cherokees known as the Treaty Party, relinquished all lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for land in Indian Territory and the promise of money, livestock, various provisions and tools, and other benefits.
When the pro-removal Cherokee leaders signed the Treaty of New Echota, they also signed their own death warrants. The Cherokee Nation Council earlier had passed a law that called for the death penalty for anyone who agreed to give up tribal land. The signing and the removal led to bitter factionalism and the deaths of most of the Treaty Party leaders once in Indian Territory.
Opposition to the removal was led by Chief John Ross, a mixed-blood of Scottish and one-eighth Cherokee descent. The Ross party and most Cherokees opposed the New Echota Treaty, but Georgia and the U.S. government prevailed and used it as justification to force almost all of the 17,000 Cherokees from their southeastern homeland.
Under orders from President Jackson and in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Army began enforcement of the Removal Act. More than 3,000 Cherokees were rounded up in the summer of 1838 and loaded onto boats that traveled the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers into Indian Territory. Many were held in prison camps awaiting their fate.
An estimated 4,000 died from hunger, exposure and disease. The journey became an eternal memory as the "trail where they cried" for the Cherokees and other removed tribes. Today, it is remembered as the "Trail of Tears." The Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association has begun the task of marking the graves of Trail survivors with bronze memorials.
Info provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center.