The markers and remnants of the Trail of Tears stretch like a series of scars across the American landscape. The trail animators present themselves as a representation of America at its worst; her captives as a mark of amazing resilience in the face of unspeakable cruelty and terror.
Despite the massive encroachment of white settlers on North American lands during the 16th and 17th centuries, the sovereign Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations in the early 1800s comprised significant tracts of land stretching from northwest Georgia to Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
The Cherokee were particularly adept at seeking signed documents protecting their native lands; a dozen treaties were signed between the United States federal government and the Cherokee between 1785 and 1819. As white settlers continued to advance on native lands, tribes sought mitigation in the courts of Washington in vain or almost. Gradually, other large tribes in the young United States accepted the treaties that forced their migration west across the Mississippi River.
Gold was discovered in Georgia in 1828; in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. The act gave the president the power to offer Native groups, which numbered about 125,000 people at the time, 16,000 acres west of the Mississippi River in Oklahoma Territory in exchange for tribal lands in the Oklahoma Territory. within state borders. The removal of these native groups would free up millions of acres in the American Southeast for mining, cotton growing, and the growing white population.
The Indian Removal Act had the immediate effect of many groups moving west beginning in the early 1830s, following roads and rivers to “Indian territory” in present-day Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears is the shortcut used for the series of forced displacements of over 60,000 Native people from the five tribes between 1830 and 1850 and extending through the 1870s. The forced removal of the Choctaw Nation began in 1831; Seminoles in 1832; stream in 1834; Chickasaw in 1837; and the Cherokee in 1838 – the greatest forced displacement of all. The Illini Confederacy, Osage and Quapaw tribes were also displaced.
In honour of National Trail of Tears Commemoration Day September 16 Stacker compiled a list of stories behind the Trail of Tears for each of the nine states it passed through, based on archived personal accounts and historical documents and largely focusing on the most significant displacement – that of the Cherokee – in 1838 and 1839. Much of the history has been lost due to the destruction of native lands and settlements following the forced eviction of these people from their homes and later systems structured educational institutions that did not recognize these people, their languages or their stories.
During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, tribal communities numbering over 17,000 (including 16,000 Cherokee) were welcomed by over 7,000 soldiers deployed by President Martin Van Buren. Homes were looted, people were herded into camps, others were killed, and thousands at a time marched west, often at gunpoint. The routes – not one but a tangle of trails – have forced people in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas and Illinois to get to Oklahoma on foot, by train and by boat.
The main route ran from present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Nashville and Clarksville, then to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, into Illinois via a crossing of the Ohio River, then to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma . Along the way, lack of food, horses, supplies, and other provisions—including shoes for many travelers—made the trek difficult for all and impossible for thousands. Deaths piled up rapidly due to severe exposure, starvation and contagious diseases such as cholera, influenza, malaria, measles, dysentery, syphilis, tuberculosis, typhus, whooping cough and yellow fever.
Those who survived the march found themselves in Indian Territory with insufficient supplies necessary for survival and a harsh landscape inhospitable to hunting, farming or gathering. In total, between 1830 and 1850, about 100,000 Native people east of the Mississippi River were unwillingly moved into Indian Territory.
More than 4,000 people died along the way, representing up to one in four Cherokees. The survivors remade the Cherokee Nation, which exists today as a still sovereign nation based in Oklahoma with over 330,000 citizens across the United States.
The Trail of Tears was designated by Congress in 1987 as a National Historic Trail. Keep reading to discover many stories and important landmarks along the trail.
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