The Trail of Tears History

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“The Trail of tears was the removal and march of indigenous people off their land to a designated location assigned by the United States government. This was one of the most tragic events that happened to natives on US soil, between the inhuman and unethical treatment as well the overuse of power for the gain of other. Many don’t know about the trail of tears and it is very important to understand how the governmental power was abused, what lead to the Relocation Act and removal of so many Native Americans in the Southern civilized tribes as well as the forgotten northern states, as well as the tragedies they faced in what they called Nunnadautsun’t “The Trail Where They Cried” now known as the Trail of Tears and the Culture and heritage they lost from their hardships.

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In 1830, the United States passed the Removal Act, and this later evolved into the Trail of Tears which started in 1838. The Act allowed President Jackson the power to grant land west of the Mississippi River recently purchased to Natives in trade for their homelands. The land had been bought from the France for less than $0.03 per acre and totaled 500 million acre, this procurement is known as the Louisiana Purchase. After President Jackson granted the land to Natives, he promised bonuses like being under protection by the United States Government for life and have financial and material assistance. Thus, President Jackson managed to relocate nearly 60,000 eastern Indians to new territory, which is now known as the panhandle of Oklahoma. As stated by (Sturgis page xxi) under the command of General Winfield Scott, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations where all relocating south. The Cherokee tribe however got tricked into an illegitimate treaty when unrecognized leaders of the tribe signed the treaty, as a result 15,000 tribal members began a petition to protest. But as stated by (PBS) The Supreme court denied their request and demanded they relocate within 2 years or they would be forced off of their land. At the conclusion of the two years only 2,000 volunteered to relocate leaving the remaining 16,000 behind. The remaining Cherokees were forced by 7,000 of Jackson’s army to be held in stockades like livestock in preparation to be marched across land and water alike. Unable to gather belongings before they were forced off their land, an abundance of heritage and culture was left behind this is known as the trail of tears today.

The five civilized tribes that were affected as stated before are the Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw as well as the Cherokee. Combined this accounted for more than 60,000 Natives that were moved off their land of which 47,000 were forced to relocate. Choctaw Indians were the first to relocate in 1831 followed by the Seminole in 1832 who fought in guerrilla warfare type attacks to stake claim of their land, then the Creek in the year 1834 although they never signed the relocation treaty,
years later in 1837 the Chickasaw Indians, and lastly the Cherokee in 1838. The most common tribe know for their hardships during the trail of tears was the Cherokee and this is due to the harsh conditions, volume of residence and the fact that they were the final tribe to relocate. The tribes where considered civilized as a result of their functional social systems, government and schools that mimicked the Europeans. However, the government did not deem them civilized enough to live along side of the european settlers and they were relocated thereafter. Even though many Natives converted to the Christianity adopted many European cultures such as farming methods clothing and even housing, some of the wealthy Natives even owned black slaves that worked on their cotton plantations (PBS).

For the Cherokee the relocation began with 16,000 but soon many died from the harsh condition they faced. The relocation trail was 1,200 miles long which would be hard enough to survive, and they had to deal with the unethical treatment by President Jackson’s men. As the pressure to move the Natives grew so did the hardships that were faced along the trail many forts were used to house the Indians as the 5-month roundup began. These camps were known for the abundance of human waste which caused dysentery, lack of food sources, and even a sex trafficking location where many women and children were raped by the whites who oversaw them. After the five-month round-up ended the barefoot march began and the cold winter wasn’t there major problem. The government agreed to “donate”” blankets to the Natives however they were used from hospitals and were contaminated with many diseases such as whooping cough, typhus, and cholera. The trip lasted 6 months Thousands had no shoes or blankets many were starving and weak. Forced to sleep in the mud without a shelter to cover them from the elements and often with shackles and chain to prevent any escape. As stated in (byers p.46) as many as 20 Cherokee died a night due to the sever cold and pneumonia that resulted. That’s nearly 25% of all the Cherokees relocated that ended up dead because of the tragedies faced during the trial of tears. This accounted for over 4,000 deaths over the 1,200-mile journey and as they were forced into the stockades to live.

With the forced relocation of so many Natives to West of the Mississippi white European settlers gained nearly twenty-five million acres of native land which was then used for farming and slavery. White settlers from Europe escaped oppression by coming to America for a free life and choices however upon arrival they decided to overuse the power they believed they had and then oppressed the natives and trampled all their freedoms and rights. Forcing so many off of their land with an unethical journey that took so many lives in horrid conditions with an abundance of diseases and unspeakable hardships. As the Europeans began taking over Native land stealing their possessions and burning their homes and structures to ensure all the Natives left there land and moved west.

The main reason for the Indian Removal act and the Trail of Tears was for the expansion of land for European settlers, for the use of farming as well as mining of metals and minerals. With the worry that The Natives would return for their land many of these soldiers who were looking to take over that land previously owned by the Native Americans decided to take actions into their own hands, hurting many natives that would try to flee and this caused many conflicts between not only soldiers and natives, but between the solders as well as some believed it was not ethical and they were only there because it was required for there job. The Indians faced so many hardships and death as well but a proper burial was not given to the many who did lose their lives in fact if a loved one passed away along the trail they couldn’t dig them a grave, and if they did try they could be punished and even shot as a result. (byers p.46). But along with the many man-made hardships that they faced mother nature was also a huge contribution to death, many of the deaths came from starvation during the harsh winter months when hunting was not an option and no food had been put in storage in preparation for the winter ahead.

Water was also sparse along the trail as fresh water was only available at ponds and rivers but that could be more than a day’s walk between fresh water sources, and many Native Americans died for malnutrition dehydration, and the disease as they had no way to store fresh water or any food sources (Sturgis). With the dry heat of Oklahoma, Natives where also susceptible to overheating due to lack of ability to perspire. Just like the lack of food and storage, clothing for the winter was sparse and all they had was what was on their back as the Natives were moved into stockades in March when it was chilly but not cold why and the fact that they were told they would be moved right away they didn’t pack for the cold weather. When combining that with the fact that they were forced to relocate so fast and with much force they didn’t have the time or means to stock up for what was to come after they left the stockades. Regardless of the time of year there was always hardships and diseases that
The Native Americans had to overcome between Heat, Cold, disease and lack of constant food and water there was always something to be worried about along the trail of tears. Many European Americans also wanted to Eradicate the Native American population and even deliberately spread diseases to try to decrease the Natives populations. This was After the First settlers brought over many diseases that proved deadly to many Indians in earlier years.

By 1838 the last of the Natives took to the trail, originating from Red Clay, Tennessee they moved on foot to their final destination in Oklahoma. Now as stated above there were many hardships and tragedies they Native Americans had to overcome, and many might say why not just stop and some towns along the way. However, soldiers were under strict orders to avoid all towns as they worried about the spread of diseases being harbored by the natives. Once the Natives reached the Mississippi River,
they were forced to pay for a Ferry to take them to the other side. By March of 1839 all the Tribes were successfully relocated to Oklahoma and the rebuilding of Houses and Farms began as they began clearing land for crops. The Trail was finally over but could the tribes ever forgive those who stated fifty years prior that “all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
This was broken with the unethical treatment and forced relocation of many Native Americans for the Economic gain of the White Europeans. Nearly 1,000 Cherokee Natives escaped the roundup and managed to survive unharmed for year by 1868 they regained recognition in North Carolina now the Cherokee are the second largest Native tribe in the United States as of 2018 (PBS).

On top of the 5 civilized tribes in the southern states there was also tribal nations in the North such as the Sauk and Fox that were forced off their land as well. In 1832 the Black Hawk War opened the millions of acres of land for white settlement. This all started from the treaty of 1804 however in 1830 when 1,000 tribe members were on a hunting trip many white settlers began occupying there village Saukenuk now present day Rock Island Illinois. Upon their arrival back to the village many Natives threatened European settlers off there land with violence this was led by Chief Black Hawk. Shortly after threats from the Natives, General Edmond Gaines and his men were ordered by Illinois Governor John Reynolds to retake claim on the village with any force required (IPTV). Once the Sauk tribe was relocated east a treaty was signed deeming them never to return East. However, this was later broken in a misunderstanding and Governor Reynolds ordered 1600 Militiamen under the order of captain Abraham
Lincoln. Through many months following this initial attack there were many small altercations that took place eventually Chief Black Hawk was Captured and held imprisonment by the United States Government when he fled back across the Mississippi in a battle with lots of bloodshed (IPTV). The Black Hawk war was the last known Native American resistance in Illinois, costing hundreds of tribal and White settlers their lives. Later in 1832 settlers began staking claim of Eastern Iowa lands because of the Black Hawk Purchase treaty. Although many don’t associate the Black Hawk war with the Trail of Tears, it was during the same time period and because of the same relocation act that brought oppressions, hardships, and death to so many Native Tribes. The trail of tears was specific to the south and many are more educated on it because there was more bloodshed over a longer period however it’s important to understand the United States didn’t just strip Southern tribes of their land that made up an abundance of their Culture and heritage but also the smaller Northern Tribes that also felt the effects of the Indian Relocation Act.

There are multiple untold stories of the trail of tears and we may never know the full extent of what was endured during 1830 to 1840. From the Indian removal act in 1830 and the forced relocation of all Native American Tribes on the East side of the Mississippi to the West. As well as the many hardships that were endured such as harsh cold weather and extreme heat, to lack of clothing shelter and any footwear. The deaths of many loved ones will never be brought back today, and the Natives tribes faced unspeakable tragedies such as starvation abuse by white settlers, disease, and illness that could have been prevented if they were treated with respect and with the constitution in mind when it stated “all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. Through the Years much of the Native American Culture has been lost because of the removal from their homelands, and all of the money treaties and governmental assistance will never be ableto repay for the lost heritage and hardships they faced. The Trail of Tears, and the Indian Relocation act cost so many innocent people their lives, all for the betterment of other humans. The Five civilized tribes had learned many of the ways the white settlers had such as education, governmental system so they were better able to comingle with the European settlers however they were still forced to make the 1200 mile journey and stay in the stockades in the harsh disease filled conditions. On top of all of the major tribes there are also smaller tribes in the northern states that also faced many hardships due to the Indian Removal act and the carelessness of so many so they could prosper from the land and resources that once was that of Native Villages. From the unethical treatment and hardships to the Removal act and treaties there was an abundance of governmental power that was abused over time and we may never know the true extent of the lost heritage and culture brought on by the westward expansion. As stated in the Inconvenient Indian Chapter 2 “European settlers quickly crafted the narrative ignoring Native humanity and reduced Indians to blood seeking instruments”.”

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The Trail of Tears History. (2020, Sep 30). Retrieved from