The trail of tears historic trail is a 2,200 miles long trail that highlights the route followed by the American Indian tribes in the forced westward migration in the 1830s. The name "Trail of Tears" was given to the route followed by the members of the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole and Choctaw nations when they were forcibly relocated from their homelands in eastern United States to the present-day eastern Oklahoma (Massey).
In 1830, congress passed the Indian Removal Act that required the various Indian tribes located in today's southeastern United States to give up their lands in exchange for the federal territory that was located on the west of the Mississippi River. Most of the Indians resisted fiercely to the policy, but as time went by, the major tribes which included the Seminoles, Choctaws, Muscogee Creeks and Chickasaws gave in. They accepted to be relocated to the Indian Territory which is the present-day Oklahoma (Pauls). The Cherokee were forced to move due to a treaty signed by the tribe of the New Echota in the late 1835 that was ratified by the U.S. Senate in May 1836. The signing of the treaty tore the Cherokee into two factions: a majority of that strongly opposed the treaty and a minority that supported it.
The process of removing the Cherokee began in May 1838. A myriad of state militia together with the U.S. Army troops moved into the Cherokee homelands and forcefully evicted more than 16,000 Cherokee Indian people from their homes in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Families were separated while the elderly and ill were forced out at gunpoint with the people being given only moments to collect their cherished possessions (David & Kay). The white looters followed and ransacked the homesteads as the Cherokees were led away. The children and women were drawn from their homes with only the clothes they had on their bodies. The U.S. soldiers prevented them from retrieving any extra food, clothing or blankets. Their homes were fully burnt and property stolen. Farms that were owned by the Cherokee people for generations were taken by the white settlers in a lottery. The Cherokee were moved to stockades at the Indian Agency close to Charleston, Tennessee. They were organized into separate groups of approximately 1,000 people in preparation for the journey that became known as the Trail of Tears. They were later sent to one of three emigration camps. The U.S. Army gave orders to move them to the west.
The impact was devastating to the Cherokee community. Hundreds of Cherokees died on their trip to the west while thousands more perished as a result of the effects of relocation. This tragic stage in the American and Cherokee history became known as the Trail of Tears and concluded the implementation of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 whose mandate was to remove all the American Indian tribes in the east of the Mississippi River to the lands located in the west.
Preparation for the Journey
The trail of tears was a journey that covered 1000 miles and consisted of 600 wagons and carts, over 100 oxen and 5,000 horses. They had no moccasins, scanty clothing and light blankets. Their removal began in November 1838 with the prospect of experiencing winter travel to cover the trail.
Three groups left during summer while travelling from the current Chattanooga by rail, wagon and boat primarily via water route. However, the river levels were too low for navigation causing one group to travel overland in Arkansas. The result was an experience of three to five deaths per day due to illness and drought experienced by the group.
Fifteen thousand captives still awaited removal. They experienced poor conditions such as crowding, drought and poor sanitation that made them miserable. Many of them died in the process. The Cherokees asked to postpone the removal until the fall and would voluntarily remove themselves. The delay was however, granted on grounds that they remain in internment camps until they resumed the travel. By November, 12 groups of Cherokees each with 1,000 members were tramping 800 miles via land to the west. The last group that included Chief Ross went by water.
This story is both appalling and sad. The men, women and children were forced out of their homes to walk over 1000 miles while experiencing the most terrible trials and tribulations. It took them six months to travel across the Trail. The story and tragedy of the trail was made more cumbersome by the hazards that they encountered during the journey which include misery, sicknesses and death. Others include exposure to extremely cold weather conditions, malnutrition and starvation, inadequate clothing and diseases. One person out of every four died on the forced march across the trail.
The transport systems varied considerably along the trail. The wealthy members travelled ahead of the others. They were the lucky ones that travelled in warmer weather conditions and in carriages and covered wagons. Most of the members of the five civilian tribes suffered due to lack of provisions and comfort. Many horses died in the process so more people were even forced to walk through the trail.
There were no provisions made for either sanitation or shelter. The camps were infested with disease and the water was polluted. They were subjected to intense diseases and infection such as smallpox, measles, malaria, whooping cough, cholera, pneumonia and influenza. Moreover, there was no cure for these diseases and no medical doctors on the trail. The sick, weak, young and elderly were the first to perish. The trail was later followed by grieving, bereaved families and was filled with unmarked graves that were far away from their initial homelands.
The Cherokee death toll in the Trail of Tears is estimated to be approximately 4000 people and is attributed to malnutrition and exposure to diseases. They refer to the trail as 'Nunna daul Isunyi' which means "The Trail Where They Cried". According to Bray, the trail passed through Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. It also passes through the major cities of Memphis and Nashville.
The impact of the 'Trail of Tears' was devastating to the Cherokee community and was hard mainly to the infants, old and young populations. Thousands died from the consequences of the forced migration on the trip to the west and hundreds more were deserted and detached from their families. The tragic relocation ended on March 1839 and resettlement of the tribal members in Oklahoma commenced afterwards. They struggled to reassert themselves in the years that followed in the new and unfamiliar land. However, today they are a proud and independent tribe whose members are resilient despite the adversity that they have endured and invest in their future.
Bray, Kristi. "Spotlight: Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail." Recreation.gov. N.p., 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2018.
Massey, Deana. "The Story Of The Trail Of Tears." Kawvalley.k12.ks.us. N.p., 2002. Web. 17 Sept. 2018.
Pauls, Elizabeth. "Trail Of Tears | Facts, Map, & Significance." Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2018.
Scott, David, and Kay Scott. "Exploring The Parks: Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail | National Parks Traveler." Nationalparkstraveler.org. N.p., 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2018.
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