The Trail of Tears


"We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell to our native land, the country that Great Spirit gave our Fathers, we are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us birth... it is with sorrow we are forced by the white man to quit the scenes of our childhood...we bid farewell to it and all we hold dear." This is the way that Cherokee Vice Chief Charles Hicks described, in 1838, the emotions that must have been felt after the mistreatment and the abuse that was wrought upon the Cherokee Indians. It was a trail of blood, a trail of death, but ultimately it was known as the "Trail of Tears".


Picture this, it’s the War of 1812 and Andrew Jackson is mounting up forces against the Pro-British faction of the Creek Indians. The United States appealed for Cherokee support for aid in war against Tukumsa and another Indian known as Red Sticks. The Cherokee Nation replied with six to eight hundred of their best warriors. It was this war were the Indians fought side by side with Jackson. After a treaty in 1814 was forced on the Creek Indians, the Cherokees filed claims for their loss. There was no promise that their claims would be acknowledged. This would bring on the biggest betrayal on the Cherokee Indians, Andrew Jackson.


Andrew Jackson demanded the session of twenty-three million acres of land to the United States. The Cherokee Nation, however, owned Four million acres of this land. The Cherokees protested again to Indian agent Jonathan Meigs in the War Department. Once again their former ally called these claims "Cherokee intrigue". Andrew Jackson then suggested with troops already in the field that this would be the perfect time to remove Cherokees as well as Creeks out of Tennessee. The Indian Removal Act was introduced by Andrew Jackson and was passed by Congress in 1830. This act was to force the Indians west of the Mississippi River. General Winfield Scott and his army of approximately seven thousand troops largely carried this out, in May of 1838. When the army arrived in Georgia, thousand of Cherokee Indians would be rounded up with dragnets and penned up in wooden stockades. By June 5, 1838 it was estimated that only 200 Cherokee had escaped. There were between fifteen to seventeen thousand Cherokee held in these crude jails, where they would await their long brutal journey west. This route from Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and finally ending in Oklahoma, would later be referred by Cherokees as Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi, or "the trail on which they cried".


"I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west....On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold and exposure..."
Private John G. Burnett Captain Abraham McClellan\'s Company,
2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry
Cherokee Indian Removal 1838-39


The journey on which the Indians traveled would bring many deaths due to starvation, droughts, and disease. There were two main ways of travel, by land and river. River travel was difficult if not impossible because low river levels due to the drought. All in all it took 645 wagons, 5000 horses and oxen and river vessels used primarily for the ill. Grant Foreman, Dean of Indian Historians, recorded this appalling period. He stated that the weather was extremely hot, there was a drought, and water was scarce and there were suffocating clouds of dust mixed with the oxygen. He also stated that at least three but, up to five people died per day on the trail.