The Sufferings of the Native Americans During the Trail of Tears

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Native Americans Tribes from their ancestral lands and consequent migration to new Indian Territory, which is situated to the west of the Mississippi River.

The nature of the westward journey was tough and deadly. The migrants had to face harsh cold weather, insufficient food and numerous diseases that left many dead along the way. President Andrew Jackson encouraged the eviction which was then effected by the United States Army. The Congress authorized the removal policy, set by the President in 1830 when they passed the Indian Removal Act in which allowed the Federal government to forcefully move the Native American Tribes west of the Mississippi River.

This act remains as a symbol of inhuman treatment and racial discrimination by the United States Federal government against Indian people (Mifflin 1). The trail of tears was a journey that perceived how Native Americans suffer as they left their ancestral land and saw how that land was handed to white settlers, a group that was just out to accomplish its selfish ambitions.

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It witness how Native Americans fought to stay in there lands, and how rough the journey was to those Indian Tribes that never gave up on there lands. The government’s actions were in bad faith and this paper examines the atrocities that the Government of the United States committed at that time.

Assimilation of Native Americans

In the Early 1830s, approximately 125,000 Native Americans occupied several millions acres of land that their ancestors have lived in and cultivated through generations. This land, in the East, included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, as well as Tennessee (Routledge 1).

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The land was quite valuable and highly coveted by white settlers who began to flood the region at the time.

The settlers were determined to grow cotton in this fertile land. It did not matter to them that the Native Americans were already “civilized”. Only the land mattered to the settlers and they were determined to obtain it at whatever cost. They mistreated the Native Americans, stole their livestock, looted houses and even razed down their towns. By the end of the decade, the southeastern part of the United States had only a few Native Americans, who actually remained to work in farms of the white settlers, who evicted these communities. The white settlers had managed to grab a land that was not their own (Helicon 1).

Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, as well as Choctaw nations comprise the five tribes that were forced out of their land by the Federal government in collaboration with the white settlers. White Americans, more so the ones that lived in the western frontier viewed Native Americans as unfamiliar people who held from them the land they really needed and more so deserved owning. Some officials such as President George Washington, who served in the American Republic in its early day’s believed that the resentment towards Native Americans could only be solved by taking the five communities through a civilization process.

The civilization process that kicked off in the 1780s encouraged Native Americans to learn how to speak and read English and adopt Christianity. It also urged the tribes to resort to European economic practices. The whole process was meant to make Native Americans resemble White Americans as much as possible. Some Native Americans embraced the civilization process. This explains why they are referred to as the “Five Civilized Tribes”. However, most Native Americans rejected the White Man’s offer and this left the government to wonder on how to assimilate this group (Helicon 1).

Relocation Policy

In a twist of events, the government abandoned its assimilation campaign in the 1820s in favor of a relocation program. But this option did not prove to be so affective as most Native Americans did not yielded to the demands the government made nor accepted the offers they were given. In 1830s, when the Federal government realized that the Georgia and Cherokee nations had become troublesome, it resorted to forceful relocation. The government saw the troubles between the Georgia and Cherokee nations as the only viable option that remained to remove Native Americans who cling to the land that white settlers urgently needed for cotton. These communities were forced by the Federal government to leave their native lands and walk several miles to present day Oklahoma, the Indian Territory that was designated for them (Helicon 1).

Before their removal, Native Americans appealed with the government to spare them the ordeal but all was futile. A Choctaw, George Harkins, is one of the individuals who pleaded with the government. He made an eloquent appeal to the Federal government against removal but this did not succeed. In his letter to the President Andrew Jackson, Speckled Snake from the Cherokee Nation, he told the President that the Indian Territory will not be any better to white settlers who already had the eastern lands which they had its ownership through treaty. He expressed his fear that white settlers would even follow them to their new territory as it seemed this land would not satisfy them.

The next attempt to try and keep there land was to appeal to the Supreme Court. In 1823 the Supreme Court had stated that the Native Americans could live in American soil but they could not hold the titles to the lands in which they live in. The Supreme Court based their disission on that the Native Americans right of occupancy was inferior to the United States right of discovery. In reaction to the court dission the Creeks, Cherokee, and the Chicasaw created a policy in which restricted the sales of land to the government.

They wanted to protect the little bit of land they had left from the government. Everything they did was of no use. The white settlers kept burning their towns or stealing their livestock. Because of what the white settlers where doing to there lands, the Cherokee made there own consitution and decleared themselves as a sovereign nation. Indian nation did this so that they could be legally capable of ceding their lands, but the state of Georgia did not recognize their sovereign status. Once again the Cherokee took their case to the Supreme Court.

In 1831 the Supreme Court ruled for them. The court had stated the Cherokee’s had the right of self government, and stated that the Georgia extension of state law was unconstitutional, but the state of Georgia refused to give in to the Court decision. Some Americans such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who felt the operation, was out of order also protested the policy. In addition, a New England Newspaper referred to the policy as a hateful business. However all these fell on deaf ears and the Federal government continued with their operation uninterrupted (Helicon 1).

Interestingly, President Andrew Jackson defied even the directive that was given by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, restraining the Federal government from relocating the Cherokees. In his response to the ruling, the President dared the Chief Justice to enforce his decision if he had the powers to do it. Ultimately, the movement began in the early 1830s and continued to 1840s. It marked the end of the relocation operation. The migrants went on foot, on horseback, by wagon and ultimately by steam boat before they reached their final destination. The journey was quite dangerous but the removal of the five different tribes had distinct severity. Routledge (1) notes that many people found the journey to be quite cumbersome. They travelled approximately 1,287 kilometers (880 miles).

The Westward Journey

In October 1831, the Choctaws moved out of their rich and valuable land. This was the first tribe to be forced to leave and approximately four thousand members of the community set out for the journey. Using all the means within their reach foot, wagon, horseback, as well as steamboat, the group finally reached Indian Territory. They migrated during winter and therefore faced several challenges. They walked over trails that were covered by snow, shelter was just inadequate and the available food could hardly reduce their starvation.

The migrants moved in large groups of 500 and 2,000 individuals and hundreds of people died along the way. Entire families died and in some cases death swept away all communities. Some people died of diseases, others died due to exposure and exhaustion and some more due to accidents. This horrible experience by the Choctaws forms the genesis of the term “Trail of Tears”. Subsequent mass removals happened in 1832 and 1833 respectively (Mifflin 1).

The Choctaw nation was followed by the Muskogee nation also known as the Creek nation, unlike the first, this was not peaceful. Conservative factions of the tribe resisted attempts to remove them from their land. They stood by the Muskogee removal treaty they signed in 1832. This deadlock resulted Creek War in the 1836-1837 that was commanded Winfield Scott.

More than 14,500 Creeks were captured by the United States Army and forcefully marched to Oklahoma. About 2,500 individuals were forced to brace the journey in chains. Whereas it is not clear how many people died during the trip, approximately 30,000 individuals died after the arrivals due to exposure and diseases. On the other hand, Chickasaws which had fewer tribal members were removed quite easily. Nevertheless, five hundred members of the community died of small pox. They suffered and one of them remarked that not even money could compensate the loss they suffered (Mifflin 1).

Cherokees is the tribe which suffered the most from hands of the US Army. The first batch of the community that has moved between 1835 and 1837 supported the removal and experienced few challenges. This group felt it was needless to stand against the Federal government and the white settlers who were determined to stop at nothing else but the eviction. However, approximately 14,000 members of the community resisted the relocation program. Consequently, the Cherokee Nation was invaded by Georgia Militia who destroyed crops and burned houses (Mifflin, 1).

As Cherokees fled, the white looters enjoyed every moment of the eviction. They ransacked the houses and carried away as much as they could. In addition, they managed to scatter families; the elderly and the ill that remained behind as their relatives ran away were forced out at gun point (Berner 198).

In order to bring the Georgia Militia in control and organize the removal process, the US soldiers rounded the members of the Cherokee community who were around into small camps. Due to the congestion in camps, diseases such as cholera, whooping cough, dysentery, as well as typhus spread rapidly while some suffered from starvation.

These caused massive death and those who were still sick by the time they were setting off the journey were forced to join the rest, there condition notwithstanding. By the end of the journey, one quarter of the community had died. As the Cherokee nation left their ancestral land after the brutal treatment, back in Georgia corrupt officials were having their way. The Cherokee lands were quickly snapped by speculators as well as white settlers (Mifflin 1).

The Seminole nation was deceived by the government with whom they signed a treaty. When the federal authority demanded that the community honor the fraudulent, they fought the authority. This resulted into the Second Seminole War. The battle began in 1835 with federal forces moving into Florida to forcefully remove the Seminoles. The last group of Seminoles that were forced out of their ancestral land left for the Indian Territory in February 1859 (Mifflin 1). The reality of the pain caused on these tribes cannot be ignored even in the current society. In the music industries, artists such as Billy Ray Cyrus have recounted the painful moments that characterized the Trail of Tears (Verna 115).


The brutal relocation of American Indians still remains in the History of the Nation as a painful story that has left many wondering if the government had human feelings. It was an expression of racism that was deeply existed at those times to a level that the sovereignty of the helpless communities was trashed. Even the rule of law at that time could not stop the indiscrimination that was witnessed during the relocation. The law permitted nobody, even the President, to force Native Americans into surrendering their lands.

It, rather, allowed the government to engage Native Americans in negotiations of treaties voluntarily and peacefully. This had no place as President Andrew Jackson, who was a relocation crusader even long before he came to power, conspired with the Congress to ensure white settlers had their way. This relocation still forms an important identity of the tribes that were forcefully evicted, and it seems it shall remain in their minds even through future several generations.

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The Sufferings of the Native Americans During the Trail of Tears. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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