There has been many black spots throughout American history, one that frequently comes to mind would be the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears refers to the period of time in which the Federal government forcibly removed thousands of Cherokee, along with the members of other Indian tribes. The Cherokee was succumbed to disease, lack of food, foul weather, mistreatment of soldiers, and much more. The removal process and the actual journey cost thousands of lives, extinguishing a large portion of the tribal population.
The term Trail of Tears came from the Cherokee term Nunna dual Tsung, which ranslated meant “Trail where we cried” (Thornton 289). Ever since European colonization, Indian tribes had to accustom to a new way of life. Through wars and treaties throughout the years, the size of the Indian nations such as the Cherokee began to shrink immensely. During this time, the newly established country, the United States, began to encourage these Indians to embrace mainstream White American customs (Hill). These southern tribes followed this “plan for civilization” by accepting customs of farming, English literature, Christianity, Slaveholding, etc.
Although, many still etained aspects of their own culture, customs, and traditions (Hill). Although between the years of 1721 and 1819 over ninety percent of their land was taken away, the Cherokee were able to establish their own constitution, deeming itself as a sovereign nation. They traded and intermarried with other tribes and Europeans, creating economic networks in which they were able to thrive (Stories). This success, however, did not go unnoticed, states in which the Cherokee’s presided, such as Georgia, wanted the Cherokee to be removed from their land.
Georgia warned the federal government that if they did not do anything, he state eventually would. The two events that really put forth the ideas of Indian removal were the inauguration of Andrew Jackson as the president of the United States and the discovery of gold in Georgia, both which occurred in 1828 (Trail of Tears). After this discovery, Georgia, in turn, “passed an act annexing Cherokee country, declaring Cherokee laws null and void, and allowing no Indian as witness or party in anywhere a white man should be defendant” (Thornton 290).
Cherokee customs became criminalized and Whites who worked among the Cherokee had to sign loyalty oaths to the state (Hill). This was all set in place, in effort to convince the Cherokee to relocate. The federal government helped this effort by passing the Indian Removal Act of 1930. Initially the Indian Removal Act of 1930 was supposed to enact the removal, on a voluntary basis, of all eastern tribes to areas set aside for them west of the Mississippi (Trail of Tears). Many believed this was a humane solution since the Cherokee could avoid the ever growing encroachment of white settlers (Magliocca 891).
However, this law was widely debated due to the question of whether states had the constitutional right to xtend their laws over Indians, because it would conflict with treaties that guaranteed Indian sovereignty (Davis 55). Nevertheless, after much debate, Andrew Jackson was able to get congress to pass the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1930. The Cherokee nation tried to fight against this continued attack against them by bringing their case to the supreme court. They did this by having a missionary named Samuel Worcester sue the state of Georgia, due to the actions they set forth against the Cherokee.
Worcester’s attorney argued that Georgia’s actions violated several treaties guaranteeing Indian overeignty, along with infringing on the 1802 Trade Intercourse Act (Davis 61). The decision, stated by Chief Supreme Judge Marshall, of Worcester v. Georgia is as follows: “The Cherokee Nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties and with the acts of Congress.
The whole intercourse between the United States and this Nation, is, by our Constitution and laws, vested in the Government of the United States.. ” (Worcester v. Georgia) The Supreme Court, under the Supreme Chief Justice Marshall ruled with Worcester. Stating that Georgia had no right to interfere with the Cherokee, since they are deemed a territory and a sovereign nation. this decision should of set precedence throughout the rest of the nation, President Andrew Jackson simply ignored it. His actual response to this decision was “John Marshall had made his decision, now let him enforce it” (Thornton 290).
Alt Jackson continued initiating his removal plans with much resistance from the southern tribes. Jackson eventually made treaties with all five major Indian tribes: the Chickasaw, Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and Cherokees (Stories). These treaties, although, were developed through bribes and coercion. Chickasaws and Choctaws accepted the terms of their treaties while the Creeks, Cherokees, and Seminoles resisted against it. This is especially true when it came the Cherokees. To enact a treaty the federal government sought out their minority, the ones who did not oppose removal.
With only 300 to 500 of these Cherokees present, the Treaty of Echota was signed in December 1835. None of these Cherokees held any position of power and were not an accurate representation of the Cherokee nation. The treaty, in turn, had the Cherokees exchange all their land east of Mississippi for land westward and several millions dollars. This included a two year deadline to vacate this land. Leaders of the Cherokee, such as Chief John Ross, along with the rest of the Cherokee nation were outraged and fought legality of this treaty. Nevertheless, however, the senate passed the Treaty of Echota by one vote (Thornton 290).
Some Cherokee did travel westward voluntarily, however, any did stayed put, believing that the government would not actually remove them. Despite this belief, as the two-year deadline approached, President Martin Van Buren ordered that the Cherokees would be removed from their home by military force and placed in temporary detention camps (Carson). A soldier who participated in this removal, John G. Burnett, recounted an the incidents he witness during the event. “Men working in the fields were arrested and driven to the stockades. Woman were dragged from their homes by soldiers whose language they could not understand.
Children were often eparated from their parents and driven into the stockades with the sky for a blanket and the earth for a pillow” (Thornton 291). Due to the conditions of these camps and the sweltering summer heat, thousands died from diseases such as dysentery, measles, and whooping cough (Carson). In the fall, the Cherokee began to be removed and were ordered to travel west. While some went by water, many had to walk the whole way there, there were regulations that only the very young, sick, and elderly were allowed to ride on wagons and horses. This was due to a attempt for the government to ave money (Davis 89).
The trail consisted of areas across Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Illinois, Missouri, into Indian Territory, modern day Oklahoma (Thornton 291). This journey was full of suffering, hence the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee, along with the other tribes were not prepared for this type of journey. This was true when it came to the United States military also, it simply did not have the resources to remove and migrate this large amount of people, in an organized and human way. Thousands died of disease, weather, starvation, mistreatment from soldiers, and much more.
The dead were left behind and were buried throughout the trail. Once the Cherokee reached their destination, the turmoil did not cease. Many still died while trying to reestablish themselves as a nation in Oklahoma, due to lasting epidemics and other contributing factors. It was believed that over four thousand individuals died due to the actions that led to the trail of tears. However, new research has suspected that there were more than eight thousand deaths, double than the originally estimate (Thornton 289). “Departure of the Cherokee population left only scattered indigenous groups in he Southeast.
By 1842 most of the Five Civilized Tribes- the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole – had been removed from their prosperous farms and plantations and resettled on the southeast to government-assigned lands in Oklahoma. The last of the Seminoles of Florida were removed in 1858” (Carson). The Cherokee eventually reestablished itself in Oklahoma, enacting a new constitution and capital which is still present in Oklahoma today. The Trail of Tears was eventually designated as a National Historic Trail by Congress (Carson).
The Trail of Tears marked a heinous and tragic period of American history. Due to unconstitutional laws and treaties, the United States government forcibly removed thousands of native Indians from their homeland. Due to the conditions that they suffered through before, during, and after their journey through the Trail of Tears, thousands of Indians perished forever. Although, the Trail of Tears is something people do not like to talk much about, its a period of history that need to be understood and examined, so something tragic like this would never happen again.