On this Day:
On May 28,1830 United States President, Andrew Jackson, signs the Indian Removal Act, a key law leading to the forced removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes out of Georgia and surrounding states, setting the stage for the Cherokee Trail of Tears.
It was US President Andrew Jackson’s policy to removing Native Americans from their ancestral lands to make way for settlers and speculators that led to the infamous Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
The Cherokees of Georgia initially tried legal means to resist the policy and actually won their case in the U.S. Supreme Court. However President Jackson refused to acknowledge the judgement and 20,000 were eventually marched west at gunpoint. A quarter of their number would perish on the journey.
At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida–land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians’ land, the federal government forced them to leave their homelands and walk hundreds of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River. This difficult and sometimes deadly journey is known as the Trail of Tears.
The ‘Indian Problem’
White Americans, particularly those who lived on the western frontier, often feared and resented the Native Americans they encountered: To them, American Indians seemed to be an unfamiliar, alien people who occupied land that white settlers wanted (and believed they deserved). Some officials in the early years of the American republic, such as President George Washington, believed that the best way to solve this “Indian problem” was to “civilize” the Native Americans. The goal of this civilization campaign was to make Native Americans as much like white Americans as possible by encouraging them convert to Christianity, learn to speak and read English and adopt European-style economic practices such as the individual ownership of land and other property (including, in some instances in the South, African slaves). In the southeastern United States, many Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee people embraced these customs and became known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.”
But their land, located in parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee was valuable, and it grew to be more coveted as white settlers flooded the region. Many of these whites yearned to make their fortunes by growing cotton, and often resorted to violent means to take land from their Indigenous neighbours. They stole livestock, burned and looted houses and towns, committed mass murder, and squatted on land that did not belong to them.
State governments joined in this effort to drive Native Americans out of the South. Several states passed laws limiting Native American sovereignty and rights, and encroaching on their territory. In Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the U.S. Supreme Court objected to these practices and affirmed that native nations were sovereign nations “in which the laws of Georgia [and other states] can have no force.” Even so, the maltreatment continued. As President Andrew Jackson noted in 1832, if no one intended to enforce the Supreme Court’s rulings (which he certainly did not), then the decisions would “[fall]…still born.” Southern states were determined to take ownership of Indian lands and would go to great lengths to secure this territory.
Andrew Jackson had long been an advocate of what he called “Indian removal.” As an Army general, he had spent years leading brutal campaigns against the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida, campaigns that resulted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres of land from Indian nations to white farmers. As president, he continued this crusade. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the federal government the power to exchange Native-held land in the cotton kingdom east of the Mississippi for land to the west, in the “Indian colonization zone” that the United States had acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase. (This “Indian territory” was located in present-day Oklahoma.)
The law required the government to negotiate removal treaties fairly, voluntarily and peacefully. It did not permit the president or anyone else to coerce Native nations into giving up their land. However, President Jackson and his government frequently ignored the letter of the law and forced Native Americans to vacate lands they had lived on for generations. In the winter of 1831, under threat of invasion by the U.S. Army, the Choctaw became the first nation to be expelled from its land altogether. They made the journey to Indian Territory on foot (some “bound in chains and marched double file,” one historian writes) and without any food, supplies or other help from the government. Thousands of people died along the way. It was, one Choctaw leader told an Alabama newspaper, a “trail of tears and death.”
The impact of the resulting Cherokee “Trail of Tears” was devastating. More than a thousand Cherokee – particularly the old, the young, and the infirm – died during their trip west, hundreds more deserted from the detachments, and an unknown number, perhaps several thousand, perished from the consequences of the forced migration. The tragic relocation was completed by the end of March 1839, and resettlement of tribal members in Oklahoma began soon afterward.
The Cherokee, in the years that followed, struggled to reassert themselves in the new, unfamiliar land. Today, they are a proud, independent tribe, and members recognize that despite the adversity they have endured, they are resilient and invest in their future.
First, Two Quotes:
The Indian Removal was the most brutal war in the history of American warfare.
Private John Burnett, who served in the mounted infantry
“I could not but think that some fearful retribution would come upon us. The scene seemed to me like a distempered dream, or something worthy of the dark ages rather than a present reality.”
-Lieutenant John W. Phelps, who assisted with the removal
Second, a Song:
The Trail of Tears refers to the forced displacement of what white American colonizers called “The Five Civilized Tribes”.
Over twenty years between 1830 and 1850; somewhere around 60,000 to 100,000 Native Americans were forced from their homes into the land the new Government had decided would be “Indian Territory”. During their removal, countless died from exposure, disease, and starvation.
Their unnecessary deaths are now seen as a near-genocidal event, and the route they walked and died upon is forevermore known as The Trail of Tears.
This provides a brief, very informative history of this terrible event. We hope you learn from it.
Thought for the Day:
“The love of possession is a disease with them; they take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own and fence their neighbours away.”
-Sioux Chief Sitting Bull
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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