Trail of Tears
When European settlers came to America they found that the Native Americans who were Indians. The Europeans were looking for new lands to conquer and America had proved to a viable place where they could obtain raw materials for their industries due to the vast amount of lands that had not been exploited. A good example would be how most English settlers who were considered to be from the lower class were able to move and got land for themselves. Native Americans were very welcoming to the European settlers not knowing that they would be the cause of their problems that would last decade of years to come. European settlers would engage in frequent war with the Natives as they wanted to impose their rule on them. Although they were able to negotiate a few treaties and leaved in peace for a while, after the American Revolution thing took a turn as the white settlers were now completely in power.
The Trail of Tears is an historical term that is used to refer to the forceful relocation that were done on the Native American community who had settled in South Eastern region of the United States. The forceful eviction was a result of enactment of Indian Removal Act of the year 1830 that had been signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1930 (Thorton, pg. 289-300). The act gave powers to the president to give the unsettled lands that were located on west of Mississippi and in exchange of the Indian lands that were located on existing state borders. Some tribes were okay with this act and moved peaceful while others felt that the relocation was unfair and they wanted to resist. This paper looks at how some native tribes were forceful removed from their land and the effect that the Removal Act had in the long run.
Land policy had long been an issue between the Native Indians and the Cherokee nation. Wen settlers first arrived and started setting up settling point like Jamestown. At first, the Indians were friendly people who welcomed the settlers but soon they noticed the Europeans wanted control especially of the land which is one thing that the Indians valued. The Indians would not allow the Europeans to take possession of their land and that is where the disagreement between the two groups begun (Wood, pg. 1471). The settlers knew the land was useful resource because of its fertility, minerals found in certain location that Cherokee community claimed possession and owning large chunks of land would have also been a sign of wealth. The Indians however believed that the land was communal and everyone was entitled to the land. It is the privatization of land that would lead to disagreement between the Indians and Europeans even after America attained its independence becoming a sovereign nation.
Gold deposits had been discovered in the land that the tribal Indians occupied in the 18000s. Most of these land approximately seven million acres had already been acquired in eastern Tennessee, northwest Georgia and southwest North Carolina. In 1819, Georgia would appeal to the government to remove the Indians from the tribal lands and when these appeals failed they decided to purchase the land. Cherokee which was among the largest tribal native Indian group had established their own government system which was quite similar to the United States system (Ehle, pg. 126). It was made up of a principal chief who was elected, a senate, and they also had a house of representative. They were considered as a threat by the U.S government and were among the tribes that would be moved from their land. There were states that were coming up with laws in order to drive away the Native Americans for example Worcester v. Georgia of 1832. These laws were passed in order to limit the sovereign rights of the Indians. In 1832, a ruling was made by the supreme court ruling the legislation by Georgia was unconstitutional but the federal authorities under the orders of Jackson ignored the order.
The year 1838 during the fall and winter the forceful eviction of the Native Indians begun. The Cherokees were forced to surrender their land on east of Mississippi River to the government and had to move to the west which is the present day Oklahoma. The eviction was not really smooth as a lot of force was being applied that led to injuries as well as deaths of several people. It is approximated that 4000 Cherokees died and this came to be famously known as Trial of Tears. The journey to the new land was not an easy journey as the migrants underwent devastating challenges. Some of these challenges included diseases, hunger, extreme weather conditions and exhaustion as they were required to match for longer journeys. Trial of Tears has been classified as one of the most tragic eras in the united states history (Strickland, pg. 292-309). Native Indians who were the original occupants of United States before even the British, French and Spanish were feeling the effect of people they had welcomed into their land.
Trails of Tears and the forceful eviction marked the sorrows that would follow the Indians. It was seen as the beginning of extermination of the Native Indians by the U.S government. After the American revolution had taken place and the government had been created, Indians were not seen as part of the nation as they were regarded a separate nation within a sovereign country. The Indians were committed to living peaceful with the white settlers but once the settlers had their powers, they wanted to take control of everything as America had proved to be quite a rich and resourceful country. The U.S government in a bid to control these resources that the Indians too had access began a campaign that was characterized by false promises, a lot of treaties were signed that were not honored, racist attitudes as Indians were people of color, and threats by the military that they would remove them forcefully from their native territory. Indians felt unsafe and while some resisted the government intentions, most understood that the resistance would not bare any fruits and that is why some moved intentionally.
When the Indians moved to the West, it gave the settlers an opportunity to continue growing and prospering in the new country that they had created. The most prominent tribes that were affected by the forceful movement included Choctaw, Seminole, Creek, Cherokee and Chickasaw. These tribes had the majority of people driven out of their land which was approximately 60,000 Indians (Perdue, pg. 89). These groups were particularly targeted because they were the majority, were civilized and had good leadership organizational structure. Their way of life and functional system was well organized and defined as they had laws on ownership of property, government offices, had built their own schools which were quite similar to Europe. The white settlers saw them as a threat and if not squashed they would create a revolution that may have an effect on the American government. The leaders from these tribes were often open to negotiating peace talks but most time U.S government wanted everything done their way or would trick them into signing treaties which would not eventually be honored.
One of the effects that the forceful relocation had was broken trusts between the Indians and the white settlers. The Indians were now being treated with utmost disrespect to a land that they first were occupants, it damaged their spirit as a nation. The relocation resulted in immeasurable misery that led to despair. In order for the government to ensure that the Indians relocate swiftly, they were prearranged and wretched to various travelling caravans that would allow ease of management by the military. During the trail they experienced the worst of conditions. They did not have anywhere to sleep when it was dawn and had to sleep in the cold on mad or plain ground that had crawling insects. The caravan included children who also had to undergo such terrible conditions. They did not have enough food and some died due to starvation. There were sever disease outbreaks including pneumonia, dysentery, whooping cough, tuberculosis and pellagra. These diseases contributed to the high number of deaths that were experienced during the movement of the caravan.
The 1830 Removal Act although it gave President Jackson the power to relocate the Indians as they had given their consent, they had to be compensated. However, this proved to be an empty promise as the relocation was not implemented as per the policy. Choctaw Indians who were the first group to be migrated in 1831 had served as a reference to successful relocation. The group was followed by Seminole in 1832, Creek would later follow in 1834, Chickasaw 1837 and last was the largest group Cherokee 1837. By 1837, it is approximated 46000 Native Indians had been moved from the southern states forcefully. Their relocation opened up 25 million of acres of land that were given to white settlement. The settlers used this lands to grow cotton that was a high selling commodity during the 19th century especially as an export product. This was a clear indication that the government wanted to completely eliminate the Indians. How can a government in place trick people who had owned land legally for years to relocate through false promises of compensation and forcefully removing those who did not abide by the law, only to award the land to white Europeans for personal gain (Minges, pg. 453-479). If the promises in the treaty had been honored and the relocations conducted in a more humane manner, then it would have been a little bit better.
Aside from death and diseases, removal of the natives from their land broke families apart. While some Indians did not want to move to the west some escaped and began a life in North of Mississippi. A system that was already organized was also destroyed. The Indians had to restart their civilization again in a different location including having to build new schools, hospitals and social amenities. This took them back to a phase they had already crossed and evolved (Young, pg. 502-524). The Cherokee tribe which had very fertile land were forced to the dry plains which were not good agricultural land. A tribe that was once mighty to be reckoned with had been turned into nothing. There was a split in the group as some agreed others refused who were the majority and were being led by Chief John Ross who was negotiating so that they could not lose their land. Their culture was also lost as they started adopting European culture and over the years a tribe that was the majority is now among the most minority groups in America. The westward expansion by the European was a sign that they could do anything in order to stay in power.
More than a decade later issues of land and resources still persist between the U.S government and the Indians. In 2016, the U.S Government was required to pay $492 Million to 17 American Indian Tribes for the mismanagement of the resources. There have been more than 100 lawsuits that have been brought to court by American Indians as well as the tribal government against the federal government most citing the injustices they underwent including failed promises from the treaties. Tribal lawsuits have proved quite difficult to settle as most are often based on payments that should have been made by the government over the course of the decades (Berutti, pg. 291-308). Because of an error that was made by the Jacksonian administration, Trail of Tears may continue to haunt the United States for a very long time.
In conclusion, Trail of Tears perfectly illustrates the inhumanity that Native Indians had to undergo in a country they were the first inhabitants. The white settlers who moved to America were hell bet on creating a perfect life and freedom for themselves and were greedy that they wanted to possess everything including the rich land. Trail of Tears had quite a devastating effect to the Indians as they suffered from diseases, lacked food and shelter, suffered harsh climatic conditions which resulted in death of thousands of people including the children. Trials of Tears shows the white supremacy that existed among the European nations who believed they were better than all the other races and thus they had to exert their rule upon them.
Berutti, Ronald A. “The Cherokee Cases: The Fight to Save the Supreme Court and the Cherokee Indians.” American Indian Law Review 17.1 (2016): 291-308.
Ehle, John. Trail of tears: The rise and fall of the Cherokee Nation. Anchor, 2011.
Minges, Patrick. “Beneath the underdog: Race, religion, and the trail of tears.” The American Indian Quarterly 25.3 (2001): 453-479.
Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green. “The Cherokee Removal.” A Brief History with Documents. New York-Bedford (1995).
Strickland, William M. “The rhetoric of removal and the trail of tears: Cherokee speaking against Jackson’s Indian removal policy, 1828–1832.” Southern Journal of Communication 47.3 (1982): 292-309.
Thornton, Russell. “Cherokee population losses during the Trail of Tears: A new perspective and a new estimate.” Ethnohistory (1984): 289-300.
Wood, Mary Christina. “Indian land and the promise of native sovereignty: The trust doctrine revisited.” Utah L. Rev. (1994): 1471.
Young, Mary. “The Cherokee Nation: Mirror of the Republic.” American Quarterly 33.5 (1981): 502-524.