Friday, July 21, 2017

The Trail of Tears


Dear Friends,

Many have heard of the "Trail of Tears." The phrase "Trail of Tears" is said by some to be the description of the removal of the Cherokee Indians from their homelands in 1838. While that may be the case, the term "Trail of Tears" is actually linked to the journey that followed the removal of a group of Indian tribes collectively known as the Five Civilized Tribes. Those tribes were the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw.

In reality, the Trail of Tears was a series of forced removals of the Choctaw, Seminole Creek, Chickasaw, and the Cherokee. This included their black slaves from their lands in the Southeastern United States between 1830 and 1850. Their destination was to an area West of the Mississippi River that became known as Indian Territory, which is modern-day Oklahoma. The trail West into Oklahoma was a total distance of nearly 1,000 miles. And yes, in case you're wondering, while they had some horses, they mostly walked that distance.

In 1831, the Choctaw were the first Native Americans to be removed. One Choctaw leader is said to have called the journey West "a Trail of Tears and Deaths." Then in 1832, the Seminole Indians were removed. The Creek Indians followed in 1834, and the Chickasaw were removed in 1837. The last to leave was the Cherokee in 1838.

While some say that all were removed, that's not true. In reality, many members of the various tribes refused to leave even at gunpoint and remained in their ancestral homelands. For example, some Choctaw are today found in Mississippi, Creek in Alabama and Florida, Cherokee in North Carolina, and Seminole in Florida. In fact, one small group of Seminole who retreated into the Everglades were never rounded up by the United States Army. Those who are there today are said to be the descendants of those who refused to be evicted back in the 1830s. 

By 1837, it is said that 46,000 Indians from the Southeastern United States had been removed from their homelands. To give you an idea of how many died along the way, it is said that approximately 1 in 4 died making the grueling trek West. More than 4,000 of the 16,543 Cherokee who made the arduous journey died along the way. They died from exposure to the elements, diseases that they had no immunity to, and of course, starvation since they had little to eat along the way West.

Why was it done? Well, simply put, it was to make more land available to American settlers in the very early 1800s. It was all about President Andrew Jackson. He was a soldier and statesman, a man who served as the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837 and the founder of the Democratic Party. He also wanted to evict all of the Indians from their lands in the Southeast. And even when he lost a battle in the U.S. Supreme Court over the legality of the removal of those Native American tribes, the five nations, he violated the Supreme Court decision and went ahead with his plan to evict all of the Indians.

This all came about because many who wanted to settle in what we know now as the Deep South actually pressured the Federal government to remove Indians from the Southeastern states. The fact is that they petitioned the Federal government while at the same time they themselves were squatters encroaching on Indian lands. President Andrew Jackson is responsible for pushing the Indian Removal Act of 1830 through Congress. And while it was definitely started under Jackson, it was actually carried out by Jackson's successor President Martin Van Buren as well.

While settlers were one reason for it taking place, I believe the other reason for what brought about the Indian Removal Act was the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828. That discovery actually stated what became known as the Georgia Gold Rush. The result of that gold rush and the demands of the settlers for more land enabled the passing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 relocation program which opened up 25 million acres for settlement.

It should be known that the Cherokee fought the Indian Removal Act. Not with arrows, but in the courts. The Cherokee nation actually filed several lawsuits regarding conflicts with the state of Georgia. In the most startling case of the times, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court actually ruled in favor of the Cherokee.

President Andrew Jackson have completely disregarded that Supreme Court ruling. Instead, Jackson negotiated a "land exchange treaty" with the Cherokee. Jackson negotiated with the Cherokee the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835, which granted Cherokee Indians two years to move to Indian Territory. When the Cherokee negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, the tribe exchanged all of their land East of the Mississippi for land in modern-day Oklahoma and a $5 million payment from the Federal government. Just so you have an idea of how much money that amounted to in 1835, $5,000,000 in the year 1835 is worth $132,088,028.44 in 2017.

Of course, many Cherokee felt betrayed that their leadership even accepted the deal. In fact, it is said that over 16,000 Cherokee signed a petition to prevent the passage of the Treaty of New Echota. Because of this, only a fraction of the Cherokee people left voluntarily. The others were rounded up during the Van Buren administration. To relocate the tribes, the Federal government had the assistance of state militias. Most of those Cherokee were forced to go West in 1838.

During the summer of that year, like the other Indian nation being relocated, the Cherokee were placed in temporary camps along the way. These camps were furnished with very little food and disease became rampant. Then in November of 1838, the Cherokee in the camps were broken into groups of 1,000 or so. Those groups were the ones who were pushed West while having to endure the worse weather imaginable. It is said that torrential rains turned the ran into snow because of the freezing temperatures, and it took its toll on those journeying West.

By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans from the five various tribes had been removed from their land East of the Mississippi River. It was devastating as thousands died along the way West. And while people talk about those who died en route, it should be known that about 800 Cherokee died in Oklahoma after they arrived.

To me, this is one of the saddest chapters in relations between the United States and Native American Indian tribes. Knowing what took place, it should not surprise us, nor should it not be understandable, that even today almost 180 years later, that some Native Americans still loath President Jackson.

Tom Correa

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment.