Trail of Tears
America is a great country. It has much to offer that one cannot find in many, if any, other countries
in the world. And yet, there are dark clouds over episodes of the past.
There have been groups over the years that have been treated abominably. The Irish. The
African-Americans. The Jewish. And many others. But none – none – have been treated as badly
as the first Americans…. the Native Americans.
Almost as soon as ships landed, those onboard were taking advantage of the Native Americans. Over
the years, the government perfected the maltreatment. Contracts, treaties were broken freely and
frequently. Not even worth the paper they were written on.
However, one of the darkest episodes, without doubt, would have to be the notorious Trail of Tears.
Unfortunately for the five “civilized tribes”, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and
Seminoles (among others), had the misfortune to be living on land that the white man desired and
which turned out to be on gold. So, they obviously had to go.
How did the government pull it off? By passing the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It negated any
and all treaties and opened the way to claim the land as their own.
Not only that, they were being moved to what wasn’t even officially the Oklahoma territory. Being
moved from fertile land to a dust bowl. How could the Indians mind, right?
The first to be moved were the Choctaws in 1831. This move was to be the model on which all
other moves would based. No November 1, 18331, the Choctaws were forced to gather in Memphis
and Vicksburg. It was a harsh winter that ended the plan to move the Indians via wagons. Instead
the plan changed to transporting them via steamships. Except the rivers froze over.
The count on the Choctaws to be moved was approximately 17,000. No exact count exists of
casualties but somewhere between 2,500 and 6,000 died en route on the Trail of Tears.
The Seminoles refused to go peacefully and fought back. Chiefs like Osceola, Halleck Tustenugee and
black Seminoles like Abraham and John Horse led attacks against the army for nearly a decade. In the
end, the Seminoles were still forced to move.
The Creeks were actually led into an agreement to give up their land by some of their own chiefs
such as William McIntosh. After all was said and done, McIntosh was assassinated by his own. After
summoning resistance, the Creeks were still forcibly moved.
The Chickasaws actual receive monetary compensation for their lands. They received a total of
$530,000. They were allowed to move with their livestock and possessions. Upon arrival in the
Territory of Oklahoma, the Chickasaws merged with the Choctaws.
The last group forcibly moved would be the Cherokees. This would result in the deaths of at
least 4,000 Cherokees. They christened this event “the Place where they Cried.”
Some 13,000 Cherokees were forced to travel, on foot, over a thousand miles. Few had shoes or
Moccasins and little clothing to ward off the harsh winter. Not only did they have to battle and
survive the elements, they also had to survive the hostile whites. Many did not… never completing
As we learned during Annie Oakley Boom Days last month, many Cherokees hid and remained behind
in North Carolina and Georgia. So did members of the other tribes. So, though, they were forced
to march far from home, all the tribes survived and rebounded in their original states.
Can you imagine having the government tell you that you no longer own your home, your business,
your personal possesions, and forcing you to march over a thousand miles in the middle of winter
with no supplies, clothes or food? Can you begin to imagine the hardships you would need to
endure to survive? Only to find on your arrival a land not fit for farming, and nothing with which
to build new homes? Nothing with which to hunt?
And why? Because the white man desired your land.
Yes foks, it did happen. It can’t be undone. And please, God, don’t ever let us forget. For by
remembering, perhaps we will prevent it ever happening again. But, that does not make it right.
Indeed, what could make it right? Can a price tag be placed on forgiveness?
I certainly do not have the answers.
Still, Western North Carolina nestled in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, the Cherokees have
rebounded and carved out a land of their own. They have thrived. They have succeeded. And
they have have revenge. in that White Man still covets their land. But now, White Man must pay
to visit the land of the Cherokee.
Let’s just pray that it never, ever happens again!