The Discrimination of the Cherokee in the Trail of Tears and North American Colonization

The Cherokee tribe inhabited much land mainly in the states that are now North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, and it was estimated to have taken up 135,000 square miles (Vick). The Cherokees were discriminated against because of their beliefs about having a dignity beyond their rather simple means and even referred to themselves as the “principal people” (Ehle, 1). The Trail of Tears was a devastating event that changed the lives of the Cherokee people for the rest of time.

It was started due to the relationship between the white settlers of North America and the Indians. The crossing and the effects and outcomes are very important when it comes to the Trail of Tears.

The colonization of North America brought along not only the new world, but conflict between settlers and Indians that already inhabited the land. Areas became quickly overpopulated and white settlers wanted land that the Indians owned (McGill). John Ross was a Cherokee chief that became the tribe’s negotiator with governmental people of the colonies and who was in charge of the treaties the Cherokee people signed between the years of 1785 and 1819, soon after becoming the tribe’s principal chief with the help of Ridge who was named his counselor (Hicks).

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The end of the war with France brought upon a new problem in sight, in which the English became friends with Cherokee tribes, whom signed a peace treaty declaring friendship between tribes and colonies. The treaty had an underlying meaning that the English kept hidden from the Cherokee, stating that the Cherokee tribes shall stay friendly with the English while they gave more and more of their land.

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The English deceived the Cherokee and other Indian tribes into indirectly giving up their land (Williams, 147). What wasn’t taken by treaty was taken otherwise, and when the Cherokee tried protesting against losing their land to the white, George Washing wrote to them explaining how white men lived in these areas and they could not move (Williams, 149). Native Americans inhabited land that white farmers wanted for their own personal use, and the land the Cherokee were settled on would soon become a great cotton frontier of southwestern Georgia and central Alabama and Mississippi (Goldfield, 153). In 1798 the United States signed the Treaty of Tellico with Cherokee leaders, which stated that the remaining 43,000 square miles of tribal land will continue to belong to the Cherokee. The United States did not live up to this statement, because 21 years later, the land they owned shrank to one-third and after harassment and persuasion, the Cherokee agreed to allowing roads to cross their land (Williams, 150). Thomas Jefferson was originally for allowing the relocation of the Indians to wait until it could be done peacefully, and upon favorable terms, but didn’t want to disappoint settlers and give them a reason to regret putting him in office. His proposal for solving the problem was to move all the Eastern Indians to the Louisiana Purchase lands, and it became clear to many troubled Cherokee that their ability to adopt white man’s ways would not benefit them in the attempt to keep their land (Williams, 151).

As the other Indian tribes headed out to the new Indian reservations set in place by the United States government, the Cherokee held out as long as they could, but finally agreed to relocate in 1838 (Hicks). The first detachment started in October, as people full of grief set off in direction of the west (Williams, 162). The Cherokee started out traveling through Tennessee into Kentucky, and cutting through the bottom section of Illinois. From there the trail led to Missouri where the trail split into two sections both leading into Arkansas and ending where the reserved Indian territory was located, in Oklahoma (Ehle, 1). On the trail, wagons sunk to the axles in mud, and the people, being exhausted, had to push and pull them free. River crossings were especially dangerous due to not having enough money to pay for the needed ways of transport (Williams, 162). Few Cherokees were able to bring personal possessions that could increase comfort and most had only a single blanket which made rain and snow very uncomfortable for them to deal with. Illnesses were a rising danger to the Indians, having them strike in camps, and new sicknesses arising daily such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, small pox and cholera, which preyed on the weak travelers. Illnesses weren’t the only danger creeping upon the Cherokee; malnutrition was also a big problem in the travels. It was hard for the Cherokee to come along food to buy on the way, and keeping food with them on their travels for fear of it going bad before they got the chance to eat it. Having money for food they came across was also a problem, though their only comfort as the Cherokee died, was that there were fewer of them to feed (Williams, 163).

After traveling the Trail of Tears, the Cherokees concluded that the land of the west was similar to the land they inhabited in the east. Oklahoma Mountains are much smaller than Appalachian Mountains in Georgia and North Carolina. There were such differences as this and the species that also inhabit the land. Cherokee people recently arriving to this reservation were most likely physically and psychologically exhausted, and they carried hardly any possessions with them all the way. The government agreed to supply rations of food for one year after arrival, but ended up being stolen or seen as fraud by officials, and the tribes were not being taken care of as they concluded, and were forced to start farming and producing their own food sources. Attempt in farming ended in failure due to lack of adequate equipment and knowledge of landscape and climate (Vick).

The Trail of Tears was a master plan of the white settlers wanting the land that raised the Indians. On the trail, many Cherokee perished due to hunger and sickness, and there were many deaths every day. If walking the Trail of Tears wasn’t bad enough, the life they lived after relocating was anything but perfect, having to learn the land and area, and produce their own food. The Trail of Tears is an event in history that will never be forgotten, and will be remembered by not only the Cherokee tribe forever.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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The Discrimination of the Cherokee in the Trail of Tears and North American Colonization. (2024, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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