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Native American Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears


What was the Indian Removal?

Indian Removal was the United States Government’s policy of relocating Native American Indian tribes from their territories east of the Mississippi to land west of the Mississippi in the early 1800s. Fueled by their desire to expand their colonies, government and military leaders had already been pushing Native American Indians westward for quite some time. Under Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, Native Americans were allowed to remain only if they assimilated into the American lifestyle.

Some tribes (Creek and Seminole) resisted and wars ensued, followed by treaties and generally, the loss of Native territories to the United States. In 1823, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Native Americans could occupy land, but not hold its title.

Shortly after Andrew Jackson was elected president, he began pushing for the passing of the Indian Removal Act.

What was the Indian Removal Act of 1830

Signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 allowed the United States government to make treaties with Native American tribes, exchanging their land east of the Mississippi for land west of the Mississippi, essentially forcing the tribes out of their lands. The Act intended for voluntary relocation, but in reality, the tribal leaders were pressured and coerced into leaving.

The Act was controversial when it was introduced, and heavily debated before it passed.

Most Southern states supported the Act because it meant they could take over land occupied by the natives, in order to expand their crops. Georgia, in particular, had already been in dispute with the Cherokees over land boundaries. Many Americans in support of the Indian Removal Act believed that it would end conflict between Native Americans and the United States, thinking that United States expansion would end at the Mississippi River.

Which American Indian tribes were affected by the Indian Removal Act?

Though the Indian Removal Act applied to all Native American Tribes, it especially affected the larger Southeastern tribes, which were known as the 5 Civilized Tribes. These tribes were primarily located in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Until this time, the tribes had been living as autonomous nations.

The 5 Civilized Tribes were given this nickname by European colonists because these tribes were willing to partially assimilate into American culture and integrate into their society.

The 5 Civilized Tribes:

Cherokee – Lived in Georgia, North and South Carolina, and East Tennessee. The Cherokee Nation is the largest remaining tribe left in the United States

Chickasaw – Originally located in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Choctaw – Lived in the Mississippi River valley in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana

Muscogee/Creek – Originally lived in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina

Seminole – Originally from Florida, though made up of Natives from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Seminoles had integrated with African Americans who escaped from slavery in South Carolina and Georgia.

What was Indian Territory?

The concept of Indian Territory was started by the British Crown in 1763, when they agreed to stop colonization at the Appalachian Mountains, later pushing that back to the Mississippi River. The Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 defined Indian Territory to the region West of the Mississippi, which is now Oklahoma. The native tribes east of the Mississippi were driven out of their territories into Indian Territory.

What treaties were signed between Native American tribes and the United States?

  • Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek – September 27, 1830 – Choctaws in Mississippi sold their land east of the river to the U.S. Government. They were paid and given land west of the river in Indian Territory. This was the first removal treaty under the Indian Removal Act.
  • Treaty of Cusseta – March 24, 1832 – The Creeks gave up their claims to land east of the Mississippi River, and individual families were granted lands, while some were moved west of the River. The Creeks faced conflict with settlers and squatters, and were eventually deported to Indian Territory.
  • Treaty of Pontotoc Creek – October 20, 1832 – This agreement promised the Chickasaw tribes payment for their lands, though they were not paid in full for many years to follow. Once in Indian Territory, the Chickasaws merged with the Choctaws.
  • Treaty of New Echota – December 29, 1835 – Cherokees were moved to Indian Territory despite their disapproval of the treaty and refusal to sign the agreement. They even wrote a petition against the movement and gathered 15,000 signatures. Their forced move became known as the Trail of Tears.
  • Treaty of Payne’s Landing – May 9, 1832 – The Seminoles agreed to check out the land in Arkansas Territory, to see whether it was suitable. The chiefs inspected the land and signed a treaty in which they agreed to relocate to West of the Mississippi, though many people involved said they were coerced into signing. The chiefs also said they did not have the power to make that decision for their entire tribe. The Seminoles continued to refuse relocation, which led to the Second Seminole War.

What was the Trail of Tears?

The Trail of Tears refers to the forced movement of Native American tribes from their territories east of the Mississippi River to an area west of the River. The term sometimes refers specifically to the movement of the Cherokee tribe.

On their journey, Native Americans faced starvation, disease, exhaustion, and for many, death. The journey on the Trail of Tears is now considered an act of genocide. In all, over 100,000 Native Americans were expelled from their lands and forced to make the journey on the Trail of Tears. Of that 100,000, approximately 15,000 died. About a quarter (4,000) of the 17,000 Cherokees that made the trip died from the harsh conditions of the trip.

Where was the Trail of Tears?

The Trail of Tears traveled through Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas to Oklahoma. Today, the Trail of Tears is a National Historic Trail, which is part of the National Parks Service.

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