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Throughout the history of the United States there have been many horrible events, in my opinion, the most tragic of all was the Trail of Tears. Also known as the Indian Removal Act, it took place at the beginning of the 1800’s. In the eyes of many white settlers and their representatives, the expulsion of Native Indians was a necessity for territorial expansion and a way to take advantage of the vast mining and forestry resources.
European and American settlements from the 1600’s to the 1800’s greatly pushed the boundaries of Indian territories farther inland. Territorial expansions in the U.S. were normally backed up by many different treaties, laws, and legal rulings, which all actually supported the expansions. Even in the 1780’s, the U.S. Constitution already contained articles that granted congress and the president full control of all Indian affairs. This basically indicated that each of the states were exposed to federal arrangements in their dealings with any local tribes. (Marsico, 2010, p. 20) During this time, Georgia was handling factors to eradicate the Cherokee Nation. Congress then approved of the Indian Removal Act. Andrew Jackson was the one who signed the act, and made it law on May 28, 1830. “This act granted the executive authority to negotiate land-exchange treaties with native nations residing within boundaries of the United States. Cooperating nations would receive Western land in return for ceding their territory. Thus ”Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma was born.” (Sturgis, 2007, p. 37) Regardless that the Indian Removal Act had parts explaining the protection over the tribes who were liable to removal, it was executed without this part being enforced. The Americans who thought that it would genuinely benefit the Indians and would protect them from the possibility of extinction actually were in favor of it. However, it also raised a lot of controversy throughout many organizations, especially people in the North-East who were against the legislation. Even a few of the statesmen and also the senators were against notions of removal as well. Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen (of New Jersey) was one the loudest opponents: “We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres on our southern frontier,’ he proclaimed.” (Bowes, 2009, p. 19) Disregarding the efforts of those who were against it, the establishment of the Indian Removal Act throughout the House of Representatives had guaranteed to pass through a vote of 102 to 97. In the 1820’s, many of the Choctaw traveled west of the Mississippi. However, many of the rest were not inclined to leave their sacred homeland. One reason that some Indians had left voluntarily was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek which was signed among the Choctaw and the government representatives and Secretary of War John Eaton, on September 27, 1830. This treaty was seen as one of the largest transfers of land between the United States Government and Native Americans. This presented the first removal treaty enforced under the Indian Removal Act. The Choctaw had given away eleven million acres of their home land in exchange for fifteen million acres that were located in the Indian Territory. Congress ratified the Treaty in 1831. It had contained a part that was applicable to those who stayed to obtain their U.S. citizenship. About 1,300 Choctaws, who decided to stay in the state of Mississippi, became citizens of the U.S.. It is estimated that about 15,000 Choctaws left and obtained their new homes in the Indian Territory, A.K.A. Oklahoma. Through the Curtis Act, their government was dissolved, as it was essential for acknowledging the Oklahoma status of being a state. Also, the Choctaws ended up dividing into two separate groups: the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians who gained federal recognition in 1945.
In just four weeks in May and June, four military operations were able to be carried out (Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama). Almost exactly 17,000 Cherokees were rounded up at gunpoint and were taken away and relocated to various containment camps made specifically for the Cherokee prisoners. These camps proved to not even have basic sanitation provided for the prisoners living there. These roundups were carried out to catch the Cherokee Indians by surprise. The majority of families were separated, husbands were taken wives and children, and many were only left the clothes on their backs, and all other possessions were left behind. “John G. Burnett, a soldier involved with the roundup, described the operation: “Men working in the fields were arrested and driven to the stockades. Women were dragged from their homes by soldiers whose language they could not understand. Children were often separated from their parents and driven into the stockades with the sky for a blanket and the earth for a pillow…. ”” (Sturgis, 2007, p. 58) The first departure westward occurred from spring 1838 and lasted until the summer. The beginning groups were marched on the route of 800 miles. The intense heat was far too much for most children and elderly to endure sadly. The second departure was in the fall and winter of 1838 to 1839. Unlike the first departure that was in the scorching heat, the second one went through the rainy season, and because of that, the wagons ended up sinking down in the mud, and with freezing temperatures and snow, the journey was even harder to endure. Countless things need to be taken into account when considering the Cherokee deaths ranging from disease, food shortages, and weather conditions to just failure of the U.S. troops to protect the Cherokee from attacks by thieves.
At first, the Cherokees were loaded on steamboats, and taken down the Tennessee and Ohio rivers to the Mississippi, once they were there they were forced to take the foot routes to the Indian Territories. Thousands of the Cherokee were taken away, just as planned. Since this departure started in the hottest season, due to sickness, the amount of deaths were uncanny. The Cherokee National Council, along with other chiefs, made a proposal to General Scott that the Cherokee removal be postponed until the fall, when the weather would be calmer, to prevent so many deaths. “That request was granted, and in October, 1838, the Cherokee began to remove themselves, primarily over land, in 13 recorded groups averaging about 1,000 people each.” (Thornton, 1987, p. 117) The first and the second departure in combination with the wretched conditions of the confinement camps caused almost 4.000 Cherokee deaths, which was a quarter of their population. The death numbers continued to rise with the arrival of the Cherokee in the Indian Territory, due to disease and continuous lack of food. Other Southeast tribes specifically the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole shared the same fate as the Cherokee.
The Indian Territory was meant to be a permanent homeland for many tribes. In 1854, north of the Indian Territory included the territories of Kansas and Nebraska which were both later recognized as state status. From 1866 forwards, the tribes who stayed in those regions were moved to the south, supposedly reserved for the Southeast tribes, A.K.A. the ‘Five Civilized Tribes.’ In the 1880.s, the appearance of the Boomers followed and Indian reservations became of interest to the white people in want of more Indian land for settlement once again.
Perhaps one of the most genocidal events was triggered by the approval of the Indian Removal Act. President Andrew Jackson authorized the use of force to follow through with this act. It granted European settlers exactly what they were looking for, large regions of rich soil so that they could establish farms on lands that were previously inhabited by the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole were a role-model for successful assimilation into the white peoples society. The horrible routes they were forced to take the journey on, away from their own lands in the South-East, to where Oklahoma now is located, this became symbolically known as the ‘Trail of Tears’. Society has named this event for exactly what it represented. The United States motive to abolish Indians might be questionable, but the Indian Removal Act was obviously made with the intention of making Indians go extinct, or to abandon their sacred home lands.
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