Trail of Tears
Documented in various paintings and reports, the Trail of Tears refers to the journey of the Cherokee people from the banks of the Mississippi River to the current Oklahoma. The phrase was coined to express the devastation of the Cherokee people from the forceful eviction, facilitated by Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy. Along the journey, the migrants experienced hunger strikes, infections, exhaustion and harsh treatments from Federal troops, which caused the death of more than 4,000 people out of their population of 15,000.
Causes of the Trail of Tears
There are several causes that have been attributed to the forceful relocation of the Cherokee people. The following are some of the main reasons behind the Trail of Tears;
- Enforcement of the Indian Removal Act by the United States government
- Desire for the rich-cotton producing lands on the east of the Mississippi River by American farmers
- Discovery of Gold in lands held by the Cherokee people
Overview of the Trail of Tears
As Native Americans, the Cherokee people had inhabited lands in several states on the southeastern parts of the United States. When white settles started arriving in the area, the two factions traded and even intermarried with each other. Owing to the fertility of the lands occupied by the Cherokee, they created an agricultural economy. Besides, gold was also discovered in those areas. As a result of this, white settlers began mounting pressure on the Cherokee to give up those lands
During his times as an Army General, Andrew Jackson had advocated for the ‘Indian removal.’ He had spent many years engaging in brutal campaigns aimed at evicting the Creeks and Seminoles who were living in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Through these campaigns, he was able to secure the transfer of several parcels of land from Indians to American farmers.
The Trail of Tears took effect in the 1830s after the signing of the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson. Through the act, the federal government obtained the authority to carry out an exchange of lands held by natives in the fertile eastern part of the Mississippi River with those on the western parts, which had been acquired by the United States through the Louisiana Purchase.
After struggles, involving even the courts, the Cherokee still opposed the eviction. However, considering the military might of the American people, the Cherokee felt it was pointless to continue fighting for the lands. They were convinced that the only way to remain on those lands was signing a treaty with the United States government.
In an event attended by only a handful of Cherokee people, the two factions signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. A few of the Cherokee people in attendance signed the treaty, directing them to cede all their ancestral lands east of Mississippi River to Americans, in exchange for $5 million and new territories on the other side of the river. Despite the protests against the treaty by more than 15,000 Cherokee people, it was ratified by the United States Senate in the following year.
In May 1838, Federal Troops and state militias started conducting roundups of the Cherokees at gun point. This led to separation of families and suffering, as the exercise was done forcefully and with brutality. All homes were ransacked and everyone driven out in readiness for the forceful march. The captives were held in crowded units with poor sanitation, which led to infections and deaths of many.
Towards the end of 1840, Native Americans had been driven out in tens of thousands to the Indian Territory via land, water and rail. Although the U.S government had promised the Cherokee people it would not interfere with their lands further, the eviction carried on simultaneously. By 1907, almost all had been wiped out from their new location and Oklahoma was made declared a state in American territory.
At the end of the Trail of Tears, almost a third of the Cherokee population had died as a result of the harsh treatments by Federal troops, diseases, droughts and exhaustion. Besides, they were also able to lose their ancestral lands to white settlers. The journey left the Cherokee people, under their leader, Chief John Ross in great desperation and severely divided.
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