The Trail of Tears and the Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation

Published on December 17, 2011 by Amy

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Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Benjamin Nance, photographer
Tennessee Department of Environment and
Conservation, Benjamin Nance, photographer

The caravan was ready to move out. The wagons were lined up. The mood was somber. One who was there reported that “there was a silence and stillness of the voice that betrayed the sadness of the heart.” Behind them the makeshift camp where some had spent three months of a Tennessee summer was already ablaze. There was no going back.

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A white-haired old man, Chief Going Snake, led the way on his pony, followed by a group of young men on horseback. Just as the wagons moved off along the narrow roadway, they heard a sound. Although the day was bright, there was a black thundercloud in the west. The thunder died away and the wagons continued their long journey westward toward the setting sun. Many who heard the thunder thought it was an omen of more trouble to come.

This is the story of the removal of the Cherokee Nation from its ancestral homeland in parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama to land set aside for American Indians in what is now the state of Oklahoma. Some 100,000 American Indians forcibly removed from what is now the eastern United States to what was called Indian Territory included members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes. The Cherokee’s journey by water and land was over a thousand miles long, during which many Cherokees were to die. Tragically, the story in this lesson is also one of conflict within the Cherokee Nation as it struggled to hold on to its land and its culture in the face of overwhelming force.

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail commemorates the removal of the Cherokee and the paths that 17 Cherokee detachments followed westward. It also promotes a greater awareness of the Trail’s legacy and the effects of the United States’ policy of American Indian removal not only on the Cherokee, but also on other tribes, primarily the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.

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