Native Americans: the Trail of Tears

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Updated: Sep 30, 2020
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“During the 1830s approximately 125,000 Native Americans residing in Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee were forced to travel, mainly on foot, thousands of to Federally designated Indian territory across the Mississippi due to white settlers growing lust for the land occupied by the Native Americans. in doing so caused the death of 15,000 Native Americans. This was the “Trail of Tears”.

White American settlers, mainly on the western frontier, held animosity and anxiety towards the Native Americans. They also lived on rich potential farming land that they thought was deservedly theirs even if they didn’t own it. And to give the settlers more reason to claim Native American land. Gold was discovered in Georgia which prompted the state of Georgia to claim the land without consultation or treaty. Earlier in America George Washington felt the best way to counteract the Native American “problem” was to assimilate or civilize The Native Americans. Teach them English, have them adopt Christian faith, as well as adopting our culture. Several tribes embraced the assimilation and were called the “Five Civilized Tribes” and where given sovereignty as their own nations. Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek were apart of these tribes but, unfortunately, even if every tribe in the southeast region assimilated there was on one unaddressed issue aside from forcing Native Americans to give up their culture to placate Americans.

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Settlers would not respect them as a sovereign nation because they still wanted the land they were living on and where confident due to Americas Manifest Destiny to take hold of the west and make America a country that would go from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. This gave settlers a sense of warped righteousness leading them to commit egregious acts in order to claim Native American land for themselves which squatting, theft, and burning of homes and livestock and even mass murder. Not only the efforts of land acquisition where committed by settlers, but there were efforts on a state level. While State gov’t in the south ignored or enabled Americans to push Native Americans off their land the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native Americans.

Cherokee Nation v. Georgia in 1831 where the Cherokee Nation wanted to prevent policies that would essentially destroy them as a society so that Georgia could claim their land as its own. Many of these cases presented to the Supreme Court legitimized tribe as a sovereign independent nation. These rulings where ignored mainly because little to no action was made to enforce these rules.

President Andrew Jackson and the removal of Native Americans is integral since he was a large proponent of “Indian removal”. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by Andrew Jackson and the forced displacement of Native Americans on a large scale began. Initially, the act of removal was supposed to be negotiated, voluntary, and peacefully and it didn’t permit coercion to sign treaties but Andrew Jackson took that as a suggestion and he ignored it and hastily took illegal action towards Native Americans. His first target was the Choctaw and with the threat of U.S. military invasion the Choctaw Native Americans they vacated there home and headed west. They were given little to no food during there march to present-day Oklahoma and bore many casualties.

Although it was not common some Native Americans still put up a fight in some cases. The act even sparked the “ 2nd Seminole war”. While the first Seminole war in 1817 Acquired Florida land from Spain and removed a sizable portion of Seminoles the “2nd Seminole war” removed the majority out of Florida leaving only several hundred Seminole Native Americans. To go into further detail of the war in 1823 several years after the first Seminole war the Treaty of Moultrie Creek was signed. The Seminoles agreed to move to a four million acre reservation in central Florida if the United States held its agreement to aid them in supplies and money during their transition a relocation to a new land. Settlers were given permission to construct roads and look for runaway slaves in their reservation. Neither side upheld fully its agreement which lead to many confrontations between settlers and the Seminoles. This increased further tension and resentment.

After the signage of the “Indian Removal Act” the Treaty of Payne’s Landing in 1832 was signed which gave Seminoles three years to relocate to Land assigned to the Creek if they deemed it fit to live on unfortunately the group Seminoles delegated to survey the land where coerced into signing the Treaty of Fort Gibson which essentially underhandedly forced them to agree to the previous treaty (Treaty of Payne’s Landing). The Seminoles felt they never agreed to the treaty, so the Seminoles stayed planted in Florida. In 1835 marked the beginning of the 2nd Seminoles war while the Seminoles put up a considerable fight, but it was only a matter of time until they lost. Seven years later in 1842 marked the end of the Seminole war accumulating up to 1,600 U.S. casualties and 3,000 Native American casualties.

Not every tribe fought removal with outright war like the Seminoles. Some in the promise of money and opportunity, which were often convenient lies, head out west with little resistance. the Cherokee Nation resisted but they knew if they fought the U.S. Military head on would lead to dire consequence so they hoped a diplomatic approach would be more fruitful and appealed to the Supreme Court, but their efforts went to waste when confronted with Andrew Jackson’s determination and flagrant nonchalance towards the law. He ignored Supreme Court rulings and proceeded with the removal of Native Americans.

The Chickasaw Nation, a tribe that resided in Mississippi which claimed jurisdiction over them and dissolved their Sovereignty. On October 20, 1832, Chickasaw chiefs gathered at the national council house and signed the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, where they gave up their remaining territory in the state of Mississippi to the U.S. and agreed relocate west across of the Mississippi River to find land.Though unlike the majority of Tribes which gave up its territory for land grants. The Chickasaw fought for more. They wanted financial compensation. The Chickasaw Nation wanted three million dollars for its territory east of the Mississippi River. The U.S. begrudgingly conceded to the Chickasaws’ terms in 1837 after five long years of debate. It took 30 years until the United States paid the three million. The Chickasaw paid the Choctaw 530,000 for territory in the west for the land they could live on. On July 4th, 1837 in Memphis, Tennessee The Chickasaw with all the belongings they could carry mobilized. 3,000 Chickasaw Native Americans traveled east crossing the Mississippi River approximately 500 died during their journey.

The trail of tears consisted of five main routes each for every major Native American tribe(Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Chickasaw). The conditions of the trail were brutal Many were forced out of their homes with just the clothes on their back and had to endure a march to Oklahoma some had to walk thousands of miles for six months with a light blanket and meager provisions. Many died from exposure to the elements many had to face a bitterly cold winter and a harsh southern summer. Disease ran rampant throughout the trail as well as many contracting Malaria, Cholera, Smallpox, Measles, and Pneumonia. over a 100,000 Native Americans were displaced by the Trail of tears and of that 100,000, 15,000 died. The U.S. Government stated promised that the designated Indian Territory would go untouched by America, but the territory slowly shrunk and in 1907 Oklahoma had become a state”

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Native Americans: The Trail of Tears. (2020, Sep 30). Retrieved from