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  • Jahnavi

The Trail of Tears

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

For those who have not heard of the Trail of Tears, it was one of the worst times in the history of the Native Americans. It was a series of forced displacements of approximately 60,000 Native Americans between 1830 and 1850 by the United States government. It was part of the Native Indian removal, an ethnic cleansing that occurred over a period of nearly two decades. Members of the so-called Five Civilised Tribes, the Cherokee, Muskogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States to areas to the west of the Mississippi River that had been designated Indian Territory. In other words, this ethnic cleansing was the Holocaust of the 19th century that got lost in the pages of a history book.

In 1830, a group of Native American tribes, collectively referred to as the "Five Civilized Tribes" (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes), were living as independent nations in what would later be known as the American Deep South. The process of the cultural transformation from their traditional way of life towards a white American way of life was proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox. It soon started gaining momentum, especially among the Cherokee and Choctaw.

At the same time, American settlers had been pressuring the federal government to remove the Natives from the Southeast as settlers were trespassing Indian lands and wanted more land made available to the settlers. Although the effort was opposed by some, including the U.S. Congressman of Tennessee, President Andrew Jackson gained Congressional passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the government to extinguish any Indian title to land claims in the Southeast.

In 1831, the Choctaw became the First Nation to be removed and their removal serves as the model for all future relocations. After two wars, many Seminoles were removed in 1832. The Muskogee (Creek) removal followed in 1834, The Chickasaw in 1837, and lastly, the Cherokee in 1838.

Some managed to evade the removals, however, and remained in their ancestral homelands; some Choctaw still reside in Mississippi, Muskogee (Creek) in Alabama and Florida, Cherokee in North Carolina, and Seminole in Florida. A small group of Seminole, fewer than 500, evaded forced removal. In fact, the modern Seminole Tribe of Florida is descended from these individuals.

The forced removals were not simple. In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. In fact, the Cherokee people called this journey the “Trail of Tears,” because of its devastating effects. These effects included 4,000 deaths in the ensuing trek to Oklahoma. The Cherokee began the 1,000 mile march in the winter of 1838 with scant clothing and most on foot without shoes. Because of the diseases during the time, the Indians were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the way. Several Cherokee were murdered by locals as they trekked. With all of this, it eventually took almost three months to cross the 97 kilometres on land between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. However, after Andrew Jackson, the 8th President of the United States, Martin Van Buren pitied them and told them that they can go back to their homeland if they wished, showing that he was sorry for his country’s actions, before his presidency.

So, in conclusion, I believe that the Trail of Tears is the most sorrowful legacy of Andrew Jackson’s Era. The Cherokee weren’t the only tribe forced off their ancestral lands by the United States government, contrary to popular belief. This also shows us how many events as sad as this has been lost in the pages of history and forgotten by people around the world.

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