“We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell to our native
land, the country that Great Spirit gave our Fathers, we are on the eve of
leaving that country that gave us birth… it is with sorrow we are forced
by the white man to quit the scenes of our childhood..
.we bid farewell to
it and all we hold dear.” This is the way that Cherokee Vice Chief Charles
Hicks described, in 1838, the emotions that must have been felt after the
mistreatment and the abuse that was wrought upon the Cherokee Indians. It
was a trail of blood, a trail of death, but ultimately it was known as the
“Trail of Tears”.
Picture this, it’s the War of 1812 and Andrew Jackson is mounting up
forces against the Pro-British faction of the Creek Indians. The United
States appealed for Cherokee support for aid in war against Tukumsa and
another Indian known as Red Sticks.
The Cherokee Nation replied with six to
eight hundred of their best warriors. It was this war were the Indians
fought side by side with Jackson. After a treaty in 1814 was forced on the
Creek Indians, the Cherokees filed claims for their loss. There was no
promise that their claims would be acknowledged. This would bring on the
biggest betrayal on the Cherokee Indians, Andrew Jackson.
Andrew Jackson demanded the session of twenty-three million acres of
land to the United States.
The Cherokee Nation, however, owned Four million
acres of this land. The Cherokees protested again to Indian agent Jonathan
Meigs in the War Department. Once again their former ally called these
claims “Cherokee intrigue”. Andrew Jackson then suggested with troops
already in the field that this would be the perfect time to remove
Cherokees as well as Creeks out of Tennessee. The Indian Removal Act was
introduced by Andrew Jackson and was passed by Congress in 1830. This act
was to force the Indians west of the Mississippi River.
Scott and his army of approximately seven thousand troops largely carried
this out, in May of 1838. When the army arrived in Georgia, thousand of
Cherokee Indians would be rounded up with dragnets and penned up in wooden
stockades. By June 5, 1838 it was estimated that only 200 Cherokee had
escaped. There were between fifteen to seventeen thousand Cherokee held in
these crude jails, where they would await their long brutal journey west.
This route from Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri,
Arkansas, and finally ending in Oklahoma, would later be referred by
Cherokees as Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi, or “the trail on which they cried”.
“I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes,
and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades.
And in the chill of a
drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep
into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west….On
the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow
storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end
of the fateful journey on March the 26th 1839, the sufferings of the
Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death.
had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known
as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill
treatment, cold and exposure…”
Private John G. Burnett
Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company,
2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry
Cherokee Indian Removal 1838-39
The journey on which the Indians traveled would bring many deaths due
to starvation, droughts, and disease.
There were two main ways of travel,
by land and river. River travel was difficult if not impossible because low
river levels due to the drought. All in all it took 645 wagons, 5000 horses
and oxen and river vessels used primarily for the ill. Grant Foreman, Dean
of Indian Historians, recorded this appalling period. He stated that the
weather was extremely hot, there was a drought, and water was scarce and
there were suffocating clouds of dust mixed with the oxygen. He also stated
that at least three but, up to five people died per day on the trail.
the end of June 1838 two to three hundred Indians were sick. On June 17,
1838 General Charles Floyd of the Georgia militia wrote to Governor Gilmen
of New Echota that they were convinced that there were no longer any
Cherokee in Georgia. This .