Trail of Tears
Early Historical Information
The presidency of Andrew Jackson (1830-1838) was marked by policies that removed Native Americans from their ancestral lands. This relocation of American Indians was designed to make room for settlers into those lands. Also, land speculators could make significant profits from the buying and selling of land. There was almost no political resistance to these policies because the main supporters of Jackson lived in the western and southern states. They favored plans to free up the land that was occupied by Native Americans along the frontier west of the Mississippi River. The removal of First Nation people was often begun in the winter and the Native Americans had little in the way of protective clothing or shoes and no food was provided to them along the way. They often had little notice and no opportunity to prepare for the removal. They were not allowed into the villages and towns along their way and this necessitated even longer and harder routes to reach their destination in Oklahoma. Resistance was met with armed militia and there was little that the Indians could do to defend themselves.
The Term: "Trail of Tears"
The name "trail of tears" is not a reference to a specific trail or pathway. Rather it is an expression of compassion for the grief and hardship that accompanied the forced removal of Native American peoples from their homelands.
In 1830, the United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830". The removal (sometimes referred to as ethnic cleansing) was intended to move Native Americans of the Creeks, (Muscogees) Chickasaws, Cherokees, Seminoles, and Choctaw nations from their communally owned tribal homelands in the South Eastern United States to areas that had been designated as Indian Territory in what is now eastern Oklahoma. Other smaller bands of Indians were also moved along with both Jewish and Christian Americans of European descent, slaves, and African American freedmen. Native Americans and freedmen who owned private, individually owned lands were not subject to the Removal Act. There are records of the removal but it is not known exactly how many individuals died on their way to Oklahoma.
The removals constituted forced migration and the nations being moved walked most of the way to the newly named Indian Territories. The Choctaw peoples were removed first beginning in 1831 followed by the Seminole in 1832, the Muscogees (Creek) in 1834, Chickasaw in 1837 and lastly the Cherokee in 1838. Forty six thousand Native Americans had been moved from their homelands by 1838. Thousands of them died along the way of exposure, starvation and disease. It is believed that the Cherokees alone lost as many as 4000 of their people on the trail. The removal of native Americans from these areas opened up 25 million acres to white settlers.
In 1987, over 2100 miles of the original trails were named the "Trail of Tears National Historic Trail" by Federal Law. The trail crosses rivers, waterways and portions of nine states. Native Americans were marched through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Efforts have been made to gather and record information about American Indian Genealogy for those who are studying their heritage.