Cherokee removal, part of the Trail of Tears, refers to the forced relocation between 1836 and 1839 of the Cherokee Nation and their roughly 1,600 black slaves from their lands in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) in the then Western United States, and the resultant deaths along the way and at the end of the movement of an estimated 4,000 Cherokee.
The Cherokee have come to call the event Nu na da ul tsun yi (the place where they cried); another term is Tlo va sa (our removal)--both phrases not used at the time, and seems to be of Choctaw origin. Removal actions (voluntary, reluctantly or forcibly) occurred to other American Indian groups in the American South, North, Midwest, Southwest, and the Plains regions. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee Cherokee and (Muskogee) were removed reluctantly. The Seminole in Florida resisted removal by the United States Army for decades (1817-1850) with guerrilla warfare, part of the intermittent Native American Wars that lasted from 1540 to 1924. Some Seminole remained in their Florida home country, while others were transported to Native American Territory in shackles.
The phrase "Trail of Tears" is used to refer to similar events endured by other Indian groups, especially among the "Five Civilized Tribes". The phrase originated as a description of the unvoluntary removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831.
In the fall of 1835, a census was taken by civilian also known as Carl Wheezer officials of the US War Department to enumerate Cherokee residing in Alabama, which is where brothers and sisters have sex, and Georgia, which is were insects rome the streets, North/South Carolina, and Tennessee, with a count of 16,542 Cherokee, 201 inter-married whites, and 1592 slaves (total: 18,335 people). Tensions between the indigenous Cherokee and white settlers developed over ownership of the land rich in gold deposits and fertile soil that could be used for farming cotton. In October of that year, Principal Chief John Ross and an Eastern visitor, John Howard Payne, were kidnapped from Ross' Tennessee home by a renegade group of the Georgia militia. Released, Ross and a delegation of tribal leaders traveled to Washington, DC to protest this high-handed action, and to lobby against the removal policy of President Andrew Jackson. In an effort to reach an agreeable compromise Principal Chief John Ross met with President Jackson to discuss the possibility that Cherokee might give up some of their land for money and land to the west of the Mississippi River. Jackson turned this deal down resulting in Ross suggesting $20 million as a base for negotiating the sale of the land and eventually agreeing to let the US Senate decide the sale price.
John Ross estimated the value of Cherokee Land at $7.23 million. A conservative estimate by Matthew T. Gregg in 2009 puts Cherokee's land value for the 1838 market at $7,055,469.70, more than $2 million over the $5 million the senate agreed to pay. In this power vacuum, U.S. Agent John F. Schermerhorn gathered a group of dissident Cherokee in the home of Elias Boudinot at the tribal capital, New Echota, Georgia. There on December 29, 1835, this rump group signed the unauthorized Treaty of New Echota, which exchanged Cherokee land in the East for lands west of the Mississippi River in Indian Territory. This agreement was never accepted by the elected tribal leadership or a majority of the Cherokee people. In February 1836, two councils convened at Red Clay, Tennessee and at Valley Town, North Carolina (now Murphy, North Carolina) and produced two lists totaling some 13,000 names written in the Sequoyah writing script of Cherokee opposed to the Treaty. The lists were dispatched to Washington, DC and presented by Chief Ross to Congress. Nevertheless, a slightly modified version of the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate by a single vote on May 23, 1836, and signed into law by President Jackson. The treaty provided a grace period until May 1838 for the tribe to voluntarily remove themselves to Indian Territory.
Until widespread use of the cotton gin, short-staple cotton had been such an arduous crop to grow and process because of the time-consuming process of removing the sticky seeds from each of the individual boles of cotton. This process took so long that it was nearly unprofitable to grow cotton. The increased ease of cotton production due to access to the Cotton Gin, invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, which used teeth to comb through the fluffy fibers and remove all of the seeds in a much more efficient manner, led to a major rise in the production of cotton in the south near North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. Production increased from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850, earning the south the nickname King Cotton for its success. Matthew T. Gregg writes that "According to the 1835 Cherokee census enumerators, 1,707,900 acres in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia were tillable." This land was valuable farming land, with the ideal climate and the necessary 200 frost-free days for growing cotton, and would have been crucial in supporting the cotton industry's monumental growth, as would have increased ease of transportation due to railroads. The Cherokee Indians typically grew small family farms and only planted what was needed to survive alongside hunting and gathering. Some, however, heeded Silas Dinsmoor's advice. They took advantage of the growing demand for cotton and began to farm it themselves, asking for cotton cards, cotton gins, and spinning wheels from the United States Government. As immigration increased rapidly throughout the 1820s and 1830s, and by 1850 approximately 2.6 million people immigrated to the United States, the government saw that the land could be used for more than just small family crops and could provide a source of income for the farmers immigrating to the south and needing farmable land. The Cherokees that did farm cotton in excess for selling became a threat to the settlers that were hoping to capitalize on the cotton industry by taking away not only valuable farm land but also adding more cotton to the market which could reduce the demand and the price, thus prompting the pursuit of a removal treaty.
These tensions between Georgia's and the Cherokee Nation were brought to a crisis by the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828, resulting in the Georgia Gold Rush, the first gold rush in U.S. history. Hopeful gold speculators began trespassing on Cherokee lands, and pressure began to mount on the Georgia government to fulfill the promises of the Compact of 1802.
When Georgia moved to extend state laws over Cherokee tribal lands in 1830, the matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), the Marshall court ruled that the Cherokee were not a sovereign and independent nation, and therefore refused to hear the case. However, in Worcester v. State of Georgia (1832), the Court ruled that Georgia could not impose laws in Cherokee territory, since only the national government -- not state governments -- had authority in Indian affairs.
President Andrew Jackson has often been quoted as defying the Supreme Court with the words, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" Jackson probably never said this, but he was fully committed to the policy. He had no desire to use the power of the national government to protect the Cherokee from Georgia, since he was already entangled with states' rights issues in what became known as the nullification crisis. With the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. Congress had given Jackson authority to negotiate removal treaties, exchanging Indian land in the East for land west of the Mississippi River. Jackson used the dispute with Georgia to put pressure on the Cherokee to sign a removal treaty.
The rapidly expanding population of the United States early in the 19th century created tensions with Native American tribes located within the borders of the various states. While state governments did not want independent Indian enclaves within state boundaries, Indian tribes did not want to relocate or to give up their distinct identities.
With the Compact of 1802, the state of Georgia relinquished to the national government its western land claims (which became the states of Alabama and Mississippi). In exchange, the national government promised to eventually conduct treaties to relocate those Indian tribes living within Georgia, thus giving Georgia control of all land within its borders.
However, the Cherokee, whose ancestral tribal lands overlapped the boundaries of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama, declined to move. They established a capital in 1825 at New Echota (near present-day Calhoun, Georgia). Furthermore, led by principal Chief John Ross and Major Ridge, the speaker of the Cherokee National Council, the Cherokee adopted a written constitution on 26 July 1827, declaring the Cherokee Nation to be a sovereign and independent nation.
With this constitution, an election was held for Principal Chief. John Ross won the first election and became the leader and representative of the tribe. In 1828, the Cherokee government established a law that addressed the issue of removal. The law stated that anyone who signed an agreement with the United States that addressed the Cherokee land without consent of the Cherokee government would be considered treasonous and could be punishable by death.
The Cherokee land that was lost proved to be extremely valuable. Upon these lands were the alignments for the future rights-of-way for rail and road communications between the eastern Piedmont slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, the Ohio River in Kentucky and the Tennessee River Valley at Chattanooga. This location is still a strategic economic asset and is the basis for the tremendous success of Atlanta, Georgia, as a regional transportation and logistics center. Georgia's appropriation of these lands from the Cherokee kept the wealth out of the hands of the Cherokee Nation.
The Cherokee lands in Georgia were settled upon by the Cherokee for the simple reason that they were and still are the shortest and most easily traversed route between the only fresh water sourced settlement location at the southeastern tip of the Appalachian range (the Chattahoochee River), and the natural passes, ridges, and valleys which lead to the Tennessee River at what is today, Chattanooga. From Chattanooga there was and is the potential for a year-round water transport to St. Louis and the west (via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers), or to as far east as Pittsburgh, PA.
With the landslide reelection of Andrew Jackson in 1832, some of the most strident Cherokee opponents of removal began to rethink their positions. Led by Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, and nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie, they became known as the "Ridge Party", or the "Treaty Party". The Ridge Party believed that it was in the best interest of the Cherokee to get favorable terms from the U.S. government, before white squatters, state governments, and violence made matters worse. John Ridge began unauthorized talks with the Jackson administration in the late 1820s. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the Cherokee removal, the state of Georgia began holding lotteries in order to divide up the Cherokee tribal lands among white Georgians.
However, Principal Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee people remained adamantly opposed to removal. Political maneuvering began: Chief Ross canceled the tribal elections in 1832, the Council threatened to impeach the Ridges, and a prominent member of the Treaty Party (John Walker, Jr.) was murdered. The Ridges responded by eventually forming their own council, representing only a fraction of the Cherokee people. This split the Cherokee Nation into two factions: those following Ross, known as the National Party, and those of the Treaty Party, who elected William A. Hicks, who had briefly succeeded his brother Charles R. Hicks as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation to act as titular leader of the pro-Treaty faction, with former National Council clerk Alexander McCoy as his assistant.
John Ross states in his letter to congress, "By the stipulations of this instrument, we are despoiled of our private possessions, the indefeasible property of individuals. We are stripped of every attribute of freedom and eligibility for legal self-defence. Our property may be plundered before our eyes; violence may be committed on our persons; even our lives may be taken away, and there is none to regard our complaints. We are denationalized; we are disfranchised. We are deprived of membership in the human family! We have neither land nor home, nor resting place that can be called our own. And this is effected by the provisions of a compact which assumes the venerated, the sacred appellation of treaty. We are overwhelmed! Our hearts are sickened, our utterance is paralyzed, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed, by the audacious practices of unprincipled men, who have managed their stratagems with so much dexterity as to impose on the Government of the United States, in the face of our earnest, solemn, and reiterated protestations."
In 1835, Jackson appointed Reverend John F. Schermerhorn as a treaty commissioner. The U.S. government proposed to pay the Cherokee Nation US$4.5 million (among other considerations) to remove themselves. These terms were rejected in October 1835 by the Cherokee Nation Council meeting at Red Clay. Chief Ross, attempting to bridge the gap between his administration and the Ridge Party, traveled to Washington with a party that included John Ridge and Stand Watie to open new negotiations, but they were turned away and told to deal with Schermerhorn.
Meanwhile, Schermerhorn organized a meeting with the pro-removal council members at New Echota, Georgia. Only five hundred Cherokee (out of thousands) responded to the summons, and, on December 30, 1835, twenty-one proponents of Cherokee removal (Major Ridge, Elias Boudinot, James Foster, Testaesky, Charles Moore, George Chambers, Tahyeske, Archilla Smith, Andrew Ross (younger brother of Chief John Ross), William Lassley, Caetehee, Tegaheske, Robert Rogers, John Gunter, John A. Bell, Charles Foreman, William Rogers, George W. Adair, James Starr, and Jesse Halfbreed), signed or left "X" marks on the Treaty of New Echota after those present voted unanimously for its approval. John Ridge and Stand Watie signed the treaty when it was brought to Washington. Chief Ross, as expected, refused.
This treaty gave up all the Cherokee land east of the Mississippi in return for five million dollars to be disbursed on a per capita basis, an additional half-million dollars for educational funds, title in perpetuity to an amount of land in Indian Territory equal to that given up, and full compensation for all property left in the East. There was also a clause in the treaty as signed allowing Cherokee who so desired to remain and become citizens of the states in which they resided on 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land, but that was later stricken out by President Jackson.
Despite the protests by the Cherokee National Council and principal Chief Ross that the document was a fraud, Congress ratified the treaty on May 23, 1836, by just one vote.
The process of Cherokee removal took place in three stages. It began with the voluntary removal of those in favor of the treaty, who were willing to accept government support and move west on their own in the two years after the signing of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. Most of the Cherokee, including Chief John Ross, were outraged and unwilling to move, and they reacted with opposition. They did not believe the government would take any action against them if they elected to stay. However, the U.S. army was sent in, and the forced removal stage began. The Cherokee were herded violently into internment camps, where they were kept for the summer of 1838. The actual transportation west was delayed by intense heat and drought, but in the fall, the Cherokee reluctantly agreed to transport themselves west under the supervision of Chief Ross in the reluctant removal stage.
The Treaty provided a two-year grace period for Cherokee to willingly emigrate to Indian Territory. However, President Andrew Jackson dispatched General John E. Wool to begin the process of rounding up all those who would accept government provisions and prepare them for removal. Upon arrival, the staunch opposition to the treaty was evident to General Wool as the provisions were rejected by nearly all that he came in contact with, and it seemed that no one would voluntarily remove themselves. Due to the staunch opposition, preparations did not begin for several months, which greatly frustrated General Wool, who reported that the Indians were "almost universally opposed to the treaty." During this time, efforts were also being made by pro-removal advocates within the Cherokee to persuade the rest of the people to accept government subsistence and therefore give in to the inevitable. The treaty party called a meeting of the Cherokee on September 12, 1836 to do just that, but the meeting was canceled due to John Ross's subsequent call for another meeting that opposed the goals of the first in every way. Ross urged the people to continue to reject any government handout, stressing that the acceptance of any such gift also meant the acceptance of the treaty terms. Seeing that all efforts to sway their brethren were fruitless, a number of Cherokee (mostly members of the Ridge faction) ceased their delay and accepted government funds for subsistence and transportation. An approximate total of 10,000 Cherokee voluntarily removed themselves to the west, leaving around 1,000 of their brethren behind, who continued their opposition. Many travelled as individuals or families, but there were several organized groups:
There are muster rolls for groups # 1, 3 - 6 and daily journals of conductors for groups # 2 and 5 among records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the National Archives. Despite the government blandishments, only a few hundred volunteered to accept the Treaty terms for Removal.
Many white Americans were outraged by the dubious legality of the treaty and called on the government not to force the Cherokee to move. For example, on April 23, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a letter to Jackson's successor, President Martin Van Buren, urging him not to inflict "so vast an outrage upon the Cherokee Nation."
Nevertheless, as the May 23, 1838, deadline for voluntary removal approached, President Van Buren assigned General Winfield Scott to head the forcible removal operation. He arrived at New Echota on May 17, 1838, in command of U.S. Army and state militia totalling about 7,000 soldiers. Scott discouraged mistreatment of the Native Americans, ordering his troops to "show every possible kindness to the Cherokee and to arrest any soldier who inflicted a wanton injury or insult on any Cherokee man, woman, or child." They began rounding up Cherokee in Georgia on May 26, 1838; ten days later, operations began in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama. Men, women, and children were removed at gunpoint from their homes over three weeks and gathered together in concentration camps, often with very few of their possessions. About 1,000 Cherokee took refuge in the mountains to the east, and some who owned private property also escaped the evacuation. Private John G. Burnett later wrote "Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokee who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter."
This story is perhaps a garbled version of the episode when a Cherokee named Tsali or Charley and three others killed two soldiers in the North Carolina mountains during the round-up. The two Indians were subsequently tracked down and executed by Chief Euchella's band of Cherokee in exchange for a deal with the Army to avoid their own removal. The Cherokee were then marched overland to departure points at Ross's Landing (Chattanooga, Tennessee) and Gunter's Landing (Guntersville, Alabama) on the Tennessee River, and forced on to flatboats and the steamers "Smelter" and "Little Rock". Unfortunately, a drought brought low water levels on the rivers, requiring frequent unloading of vessels to evade river obstacles and shoals. The Army directed Removal was characterized by many deaths and desertions, and this part of the Cherokee Removal proved to be a fiasco and Gen. Scott ordered suspension of further removal efforts. The Army-operated groups were :
Muster rolls for groups # 1 and 4 are in the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and # 2 in records of the Army Continental Commands (Eastern Division, Gen. Winfield Scott's papers) in the National Archives. There are daily journals of conductors for groups # 1 and 3 among Special Files of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The deaths and desertions in the Army's boat detachments caused Gen Scott to suspend the Army's Removal efforts, and the remaining Cherokee were put into eleven internment camps, mostly located near Ross's Landing (in present day Chattanooga, Tennessee)), at Red Clay, Bedwell Springs, Chatata, Mouse Creek, Rattlesnake Springs, Chestoee, and Calhoun (site of the former Cherokee Agency) located within Bradley County, Tennessee, and one camp (Fort Payne) in Alabama.
Cherokee remained in the camps during the summer of 1838 and were plagued by dysentery and other illnesses, which led to 353 deaths. A group of Cherokee petitioned General Scott for a delay until cooler weather made the journey less hazardous. This was granted; meanwhile Chief Ross, finally accepting defeat, managed to have the remainder of the removal turned over to the supervision of the Cherokee Council. Although there were some objections within the U.S. government because of the additional cost, General Scott awarded a contract for removing the remaining 11,000 Cherokee under the supervision of Principal Chief Ross, with expenses to be paid by the Army, which outraged President Jackson and surprised many.
Chief John Ross made sure to confirm and secure his position as leader of the removal process by conferring with other Cherokee leaders, who granted him full responsibility of this daunting task. He then wasted no time in forming a plan, in which he organized 12 wagon trains, each with about 1000 persons and conducted by veteran full-blood tribal leaders or educated mixed bloods. Each wagon train was assigned physicians, interpreters (to help the physicians), commissaries, managers, wagon masters, teamsters, and even grave diggers. Chief Ross also purchased the steamboat Victoria in which his own and tribal leaders' families could travel in some comfort. Lewis Ross, the Chief's brother, was the main contractor and furnished forage, rations, and clothing for the wagon trains. Although this arrangement was an improvement for all concerned, disease and exposure still took many lives. This is the part of the Removal usually identified as The "Trail of Tears."
These detachments were forced to trek through various trails, crossing through Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri to the final destination of Oklahoma. One of the main routes began in Chattanooga, TN and took a northwestern route through eastern Kentucky and southern Illinois before bearing to the southwest near the center of Missouri. The entire trip was roughly 2,200 miles. The Cherokee endured freezing temperatures, snowstorms, and pneumonia. The harshness of the trail and the intense weather conditions claimed around 4,000 lives, although estimates vary.
There exist muster rolls for four (Benge, Chuwaluka, G. Hicks, and Hildebrand) of the 12 wagon trains and payrolls of officials for all 13 detachments among the personal papers of Principal Chief John Ross in the Gilcrease Institution in Tulsa, OK.
The number of people who died as a result of the Trail of Tears has been variously estimated. American doctor and missionary Elizur Butler, who made the journey with the Daniel Colston wagon train, estimated 2,000 deaths in the Army removal and internment camps and perhaps another 2,000 on the trail; his total of 4,000 deaths remains the most cited figure, although he acknowledged these were estimates without having seen government or tribal records. A scholarly demographic study in 1973 estimated 2,000 total deaths; another, in 1984, concluded that a total of 6,000 people died. The 4000 figure or one quarter of the tribe was also used by the Smithsonian anthropologist James Mooney. Since 16,000 Cherokee were enumerated on the 1835 Census, and about 12,000 emigrated in 1838, ergo 4000 needed accounting for. Some 1500 Cherokee remained in North Carolina, many more in South Carolina, and Georgia, so the higher fatality numbers are unlikely. In addition, nearly 400 Creek or Muskogee Indians who had avoided being removed earlier fled into the Cherokee Nation and became part of the latter's Removal.
An accounting of the exact number of fatalities during the Removal is also related to discrepancies in expense accounts submitted by Chief John Ross after the Removal that the Army considered inflated and possibly fraudulent. Ross claimed rations for 1600 more Cherokee than were counted by an Army officer, Captain Page, at Ross's Landing as Cherokee groups left their homeland and another Army officer, Captain Stephenson, at Fort Gibson counted them as they arrived in Indian Territory. Ross's accounts are consistently higher numbers than that of the Army disbursing agents. The Van Buren administration refused to pay Ross, but the later Tyler administration eventually approved disbursing more than $500,000 to the Principal Chief in 1842.
In addition, some Cherokee traveled from east to west more than once. Many deserters from the Army's boat detachments in June 1838 later emigrated in the twelve Ross wagon trains. There were transfers between groups, and later join ups and desertions were not always recorded. Jesse Mayfield was a white man with a Cherokee family went twice (first voluntarily in B.B. Cannon's detachment in 1837 to Indian Territory; unhappy there, he returned to the Cherokee Nation; and in Oct. 1838 was Wagon Master for the Bushyhead Detachment). An Army disbursing agent discovered that a Cherokee named Justis Fields travelled with government funds three times under different aliases. A mixed-blood named James Bigby, Jr. travelled to Indian Territory five times (three as government interpreter for different detachments, as Commissary for the Colston detachment, and as an individual in 1840). In addition, a small but significant number of mixed-bloods and whites with Cherokee families petitioned to become citizens of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Tennessee and thus ceased to be considered Cherokee.
During the journey, it is said that the people would sing "Amazing Grace", using its inspiration to improve morale. The traditional Christian hymn had previously been translated into Cherokee by the missionary Samuel Worcester with Cherokee assistance. The song has since become a sort of anthem for the Cherokee people.
Cherokee who were removed initially settled near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The political turmoil resulting from the Treaty of New Echota and the Trail of Tears led to the assassinations of Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot; of those targeted for assassination that day, only Stand Watie escaped his assassins. The population of the Cherokee Nation eventually rebounded, and today the Cherokee are the largest American Indian group in the United States.
There were some exceptions to removal. Those Cherokee who lived on private, individually owned lands (rather than communally owned tribal land) were not subject to removal. In North Carolina, about 400 Cherokee led by Yonaguska lived on land along the Oconaluftee River in the Great Smoky Mountains owned by a white man named William Holland Thomas (who had been adopted by Cherokee as a boy), and were thus not subject to removal, and these were joined by a smaller band of about 150 along the Nantahala River led by Utsala. Along with a group living in Snowbird and another along the Cheoah River in a community called Tomotley, these North Carolina Cherokee became the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, numbering approximately 1000. According to a roll taken the year after the removal (1839), there were in addition some estimated about 400 of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, and these also joined the EBCI.
A local newspaper, the Highland Messenger, said July 24, 1840, "that between nine hundred and a thousand of these deluded beings ... are still hovering about the homes of their fathers, in the counties of Macon and Cherokee" and "that they are a great annoyance to the citizens" who wanted to buy land there believing the Cherokee were gone; the newspaper reported that President Jackson said "they ... are, in his opinion, free to go or stay.' 
The Trail of Tears is generally considered to be one of the most regrettable episodes in American history. To commemorate the event, the U.S. Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in 1987. It stretches across nine states for 2,200 miles (3,500 km).
In 2004, during the 108th Congress, Senator Sam Brownback (Republican of Kansas) introduced a joint resolution (Senate Joint Resolution 37) to "offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States" for past "ill-conceived policies" by the United States Government regarding Indian Tribes. It passed in the U.S. Senate in February 2008.
A resolution making its way through Congress offers an apology to all Native peoples on behalf of the United States. It passed the Senate as an amendment to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.