No country is a saint. There are stains on every country's history and these are important to be remembered to ensure the mistakes from the past are never again repeated and to under how and why things are today. The Trail of Tears was the forced displacements of around 60,000 Native Americans from 1830 and 1850 by the United States government. This is known as the Indian Removal and included members of the Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (aka Creek), Cherokee nations (plus thousands of the Native Indian's black slaves). They were removed from the Southeastern United States west across the Mississippi River. Today the Trail of Tears Historic Trail memorializes those injustices.
History Of The Removals
The American government carried out these deportations under the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to new areas designed "Indian Territory". They were precipitated by the discovery of gold in 1828 in Georgia.
- Choctaw: Date 1831-36, Total Removed 15,000, Deaths en-Route 2,000-4,000
- Muscogee (Creek): Date 1834-37, Total Removed 19,600, Deaths 3,500 (Including Disease After Removal
- Chickasaw: Date 1837-47, Total Removed Over 4,000, Deaths Several Hundred
- Cherokee: Date 1836-38, Total Removed 16,000, Deaths 2,000-4,000
- Seminole: Date 1832-42, Total Removed 2,833-4,000, Deaths ?
Many thousands perished from disease, starvation, and exposure - with many dying without ever reaching their destinations. They were forced to travel thousands of miles west and then more died after arriving at their destination. For less saddening historical native sights in the US consider visiting the stunning mounds at Cahokia and Poverty Point - one of America's oldest archeological sites.
In 1830 the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes were collectively known as the "Five Civilized Tribes". They were living as autonomous nations and they were transforming from their traditional way of life towards a white American way of life. This had been proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox - according to Theda Perdue's 2003 book Mixed Blood Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South, "Chapter 2 'Both White and Red'"
- US President: Andrew Jackson Who Signed The Indian Removal Act Into Law
As the American settlers expanded they pressured the federal government to remove the Indian tribes of the South. Of the tribes that were moved it was the Seminoles of Flordia that fought long and hard before being mostly removed. A few managed to evade removal and managed to stay in their ancestral homelands. Today the Seminole Tribe of Florida is descended from the group of Seminole that managed to evade deportation.
- Land Openned For White Settlement: 25 Million Acres or 38,600 Square Miles
The Cherokee removal was one of the last. Of the 16,500 Cherokee forced to move, an estimated 3-4 thousand died, thus earning it the sorrowful name of the "Trail of Tears."
The Indian Territory
The destination for these peoples was the Indian Territory largely in Oklahoma. Before the American Civil War, the American policy was one of removal, after the war it switched to one of assimilation. Today the Indian reservations are within the borders of the United States but are mostly exempt from the state's jurisdiction.
Visiting The Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail
Today the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail includes over 5,000 miles of trails. It spans nine states and marks the removal of the Cherokee.
- Length Of The Trails: 5,000 Miles
- States Crossed: Tenn., Ill., Mo., Ga., Ky., Ark., N.C., Ark., And Okla.
Today sections of the trails can be retraced on foot, by vehicle, by boat, by bicycle, and even by horse. Along the way, one learns of the pain and suffering, and intolerance that led to one of the country's darkest days. Coupled with that are heroic stories of survival.
The National Park Service administers the trail in cooperation with the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Trail of Tears Association, and a bunch of agencies including, county, local, federal, and state agencies. The Trail sites are not all on public land, some are on private land and one should ask for permission before visiting any sites on private land.
Those planning to visit the trail are encouraged to download the official map and guide from the National Park Service here.
There are many museums, parks (some federal, other state, still others local), historic sites along the Trail of Tears. One will need to visit the websites of each individual site to see the hours and for more information. See here for the National Park Service's Trail of Tears homepage.
The Trail of Tears is not a single trail, but rather a complex network of trails following the various routes taken at different tribes by different groups. It is one of the heaviest and darkest places to see and explore in the United States and is a great way to learn about the country's past.