TRAIL OF TEARS
Prior to the insertion of Europeans into North America, there were millions of Native Americans living throughout what is now the United States. Many believe that the transition west and eventually into specified areas happened prior to the 19th century, but that is not the case. At the beginning of the 1830’s there were still nearly 125,000 Native Americans living in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida, on land that their ancestors had lived on for generations. In a mere 10 years, the history of these lands had been ripped away from the Native Americans, and there were very few who remained in the Southeastern United States.
Tensions have always run high between the Native Americans and the White Americans. The former Europeans saw the group and foreign, uncivilized, and “alien”, which led to resentment. Many, including George Washington, felt like the easiest solution to the so called “Indian Problem” was to simple civilize them. If the Native Americans adapted to Christianity, learning English, and switched over to European economic cultures, they would get along just fine, at least in the eyes of people like Washington. Some tribes, like the Cherokee and Seminole tribes did adapt nicely, many others did not, refusing to abandon their history. In the end, it didn’t matter if they changed with the times or not, the Native Americans lived on valuable land, and the new White America wanted this land.
The land which was settled by the Native Americans centuries ago was very valuable, as it was fertile to grow cotton on, and with the profit driven environment of the new America, it no longer mattered how civilized their new neighbors were, that land would be churned for profit. White Americans stole livestock, burned and looted towns, and simply refused to leave land that wasn’t theirs. Although the lands were consistently protected by the Supreme Court, it was only a matter of time until a president came along that decided to disobey the rulings. That came in the form of Andrew Jackson, who said that if no one intended to enforce the rulings, then the decisions would fall “still born”.
In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the federal government the power to exchange Native-held land in cotton rich areas for land in the west, essentially removing the Natives from their homes and sending them to what is now Oklahoma. This removal and travel westward is known as the Trail of Tears. The first nation to be moved west was the Choctaw, which many claim had to walk by foot to Oklahoma, many marched in double file lines with their legs bound in chains. The “Indian Removal” continued throughout the 1830’s with tribe after tribe being moved westward. 3,500 of the 15,000 Creeks who set out for Oklahoma did not make the trip. Even after being forced to leave by Federal Decree in exchange for $5 million, a large portion of the Cherokee tribe chose to stay and fight for their lands, which simply led to more death and massacre. Those that would survive the fighting were marched to the Indian territory, where disease was plentiful, leading to another 5,000 Cherokee deaths.
By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans had been driven off their land and moved across the Mississippi, with the promise that their new land would be theirs forever, or at least until 1907 when the new White Americans in charge decided they could use that territory in Oklahoma. As time went on, the Native American territory got smaller and smaller, because the profit driven civilization of the modern United States prevailed.