The Trail of Tears was the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to a reservation in modern day Oklahoma. The Cherokee come from an Iroquoian line. They were one of the largest tribes involved in European colonization. The Cherokee believed they were at the world’s center and each direction had a different meaning. The north was defeat and trouble, the south was peace and contentment. The east represented triumph and the west represented death.
It was absurd for them to think of going west, the direction of the Trail of Tears, given it represented death. “Trail of Tears”, comes from the Cherokee nunna dual tsuny. This roughly means, “the trail where they cried”. The Cherokee aided the colonies/states in battle many times and had a major involvement in the War of 1812.
President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, despite their help. This act would later include the Trail of Tears. Past presidents had recommended and supported it. Following the Indian Removal Act, Worcester vs. Georgia and Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia rose up in 1832 and 1831.
In 1835, the Senate passed the Treaty of New Echota. This justified the removal of the Cherokee Nation to the west of the Mississippi. Before settlers came, the Cherokee thrived and spanned about one hundred forty thousand square miles in the southeast. The average town of the Cherokee had about thirty to sixty houses and a council house. The council house held meetings and had a sacred fire that always burned inside. The Cherokee lived around many religious beliefs, one, in particular, being duyuktv.
This means “the right way”, and says to achieve balance and harmony in life, especially with nature. The plants of corn, beans, and squash had a lot of spiritual significance, as did hunting, dancing, housework, and religious ceremonies. They were believed to be rich and great parts of nature and life. They were governed by a democratic consensus or general agreement. Peace and war chiefs along with priests had leadership roles. While men were the chiefs and priests, Cherokee women had a high place in their culture. Women owned the property. They were the source of familial ties and passed everything to their daughters.
Women did most of the farming as well. Men did help with the sowing and reaping, but most of the job rested with women. The first foreign interaction took place in the mid-sixteenth century when Hernando De Soto’s expedition came through. Interaction lacked for a couple of years after, but soon more came. People came from Spain, England, and France to the east coast to colonize. In the late seventeenth century, the British were the first to keep relations with the Cherokee. The Cherokee and British created a treaty to set up an alliance.
It was signed in the Town of Neguassee. Alexander Cuming took seven Cherokee back to Great Britain, strengthening the alliance. Through the French and Indian War, the Cherokee remained allied to Britain. No matter who was allied with who, the Europeans thought the Cherokee had many deficiencies. These included having “heathen” rituals, not being Christian, and being “uncivilized”. The Europeans did believe in the Cherokee’s right to their homeland.
They also felt that they “discovered” it, meaning they had more power over the land. This meant that the British and others were allowed to take the land. The British also failed to recognize how big farming was to the Cherokee. Hunting seemed more important to the Cherokee because they traded with deer skins. Also because women did the farming. The British would only ever put women working in a secondary job, not one that was a large part of the economy.
New diseases that the Cherokee were not built to defend came along with the Europeans. Between 1738 and 1739, around nine thousand Cherokees died from a smallpox epidemic. Other epidemics of smallpox came during 1698 and 1759-1760. Not only did this cost the Cherokee in numbers, it also shook some beliefs. The Cherokee began to have a distrust with the British because the disease came with them. Smallpox twisted the believed power of the medicine man. He could not cure this disease like he could others. Before these diseases brought by Europeans, the Cherokee had about thirty-three thousand people.
Through the 1700s they lost close to eighteen thousand people. The Europeans’ hunger for expansion caused many losses of land and people. With this encroachment of the Europeans, conflicts such as the French and Indian War and Cherokee war arose. They left the Cherokee and other tribes with a major loss of people, land, and resources. The Cherokees help to the British during the French and Indian War did not help. The British began to destroy native villages, which disrupted their economies. By 1773 the Cherokee and Creek were so in debt to the British, they gave two million acres to the British through the Treaty of Augusta.
Later, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals got the Overhill Cherokee to sell a vast amount of land in 1775. Out of anger, a group of Cherokee attempted to seize two forts in July of 1776 but failed, forcing their retreat. Many other raids followed but did not help the Cherokee, and left them in an even worse place. Much of the Cherokee Nation was lost. They had to give up more land with the Treaty of DeWitt’s Corner in May 1777, and the Treaty of Long Island of Holston in July.
When America gained independence, all the Cherokee land “given” to the British became American. In the War of 1812 and the Creek War, the Cherokee helped President Jackson and the military. Yet, the Americans and government continued to usurp the Cherokees land. Despite this, the Cherokee began to adopt the American culture. They began building and creating a written language. With having letters and paper, they even went as far to make a similar constitution and have a newspaper. As America grew, the Treaty of Tellico was written in 1805.
This allowed companies to build roads on Cherokee land.The inability to hunt increased as hunting grounds decreased. This slowed trading of the Cherokees.
In 1819, the Cherokees gave up another four million acres of land in hopes it would prevent any further encroachment. This did not last for long. In 1829, some found gold on remaining Cherokee land. This gave a push to completely remove the Nation. Georgia’s legislature ruled that the state had power over Cherokee land and could seize it if wanted.
In 1830, Congress took the long-awaited step of passing the Indian Removal Act. This gave the final permission for the Cherokee to work out removal treaties. The leaders Major Ridge, Joseph Vann, and John Ross, felt different about what to do. The fight to keep their land continued. Worcester vs. Georgia in 1832 ruled the Cherokee had sovereign power over their land. But, this ruling did not protect them from removal.
Major Ridge made the Treaty Party in favor of moving west for five million dollars. In 1835 Ridge and the Treaty Party signed the Treaty of New Echota (Treaty of New Georgia). This was without the consent of the other leaders, making it illegal. Major Ridge and the others signed it along with President Jackson. The treaty then went through the Senate, resulting in its passing. Ridge’s family, along with a few others, then moved west by choice. The Treaty of New Echota allowed the Cherokee two years to get out and move. After three next to none were even prepared.
John Ross fought along the rest of the tribe to stay in their homeland, but lost and the military forced all out in 1838. President Martin Van Buren had General Winfield Scott and soldiers order out the Cherokee at last. Scott led seven thousand soldiers through Cherokee land holding people at gunpoint. The soldiers rounded up sixteen thousand Cherokee while they burned and destroyed homes and property. About three hundred Cherokee were able to escape to the Appalachian Mountains through the chaos. The Trail of Tears took place from October of 1838 to March of 1839. The journey took around one-hundred sixteen days covering around one-thousand miles.
In groups of around one thousand Cherokee, most traveled on foot. One of the first groups went by boat. No matter which route, soldiers would not allow for slowing or stopping to rest or bury their dead along the way.
Congress did not plan supplies and funds for the migration well. So, the Cherokee had next to no food, shelter, and clothing. The Trail also cost the Cherokee. They had to pay to bury any dead, cross farmers’ lands, and go across rivers by ferry. Once arrived the name nunna dual tsuny became popular among the tribe. It means “the trail where they cried”, for they mourned and lost a lot on the way.
The Trail of Tears left a great impact on the Cherokee. Four thousand people died along the Trail. This was due to harsh weather, sickness and lack of supplies. It was also due to the cruel treatment by the soldiers, such as not allowing for stops. Many families were also separated forever due to deaths or being part of different groups. This left kids orphaned or mothers without their beloved children.
In Oklahoma, feuds and deaths rose up due to the many rival tribes in one reservation. The Cherokees were divided, which created conflict in founding a new government. There were those removed in 1817, the Treaty Party who chose to move, and the majority who walked the Trail of Tears. Tsali was the leader of those who escaped to the mountains.
Some captured and killed him for killing American soldiers. The government allowed some of Tsali’s followers to stay in the mountains. They are thought to have assisted with his capture. Those in the mountains and some who returned, later on, were the founders the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
On the American side, people were misinformed about the impact. American citizens were told that all was peaceful and that few died. This prevented anyone, outside of government, to stand up against the cruelty. Still, the Cherokee increased in number and made due with their new home, but there were still changes. A major lack of resources once arrived, left more dead.
Due to limited land, the Cherokee had to exercise hunting and depend on it more. This was not preferred due to the earlier use and dependence on farming. Also, the Cherokee did not have the same trust for other government, let alone whites in general, as they used to. The Trail cut deep and will never be forgotten, from the losses to the cruelty of the white people.