In the early decades of the 19th century the US was rapidly growing and needed to expand towards the south.
The need to expand towards the south was because white settlers needed to acquire land where they could cultivate cotton. However, there was an obstacle to their plans, and the barrier was the native Indians who were living in this region. The native Indians occupying this region were referred to as the civilized tribes because they were conversant with the western culture.
These tribes included Muskogee, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and the Cherokees. The trail of tears was a term that was used to refer to the forced movement and the relocation of these native Indians tribes. In 1830, the Indian removal Act was passed, which officially permitted the federal government to relocate the native Indians. The Act was supported by Andrew Jackson who was the president during that period. This Act enabled Jackson to negotiate with the Native Americans, and several removal treaties were signed (Bruchac and Magnuson 23). These treaties stipulated that Indians should surrender their lands in exchange for new lands that were to be provided in the western parts of the United States. Some Indian tribes voluntarily signed the treaties, while others were coerced to do so, but at the end of it all the tribes had to relocate. The Choctaw were the first to be relocated in 1831, approximately 4000 members of this tribe were removed, and they left in groups of about five hundred to two thousand individuals.
During their relocation, hundreds of them died from exhaustion, exposure and diseases. These deaths made the entire communities and families to perish. During the relocation, some Choctaw Indians remained behind.
Those who stayed behind were swindled and their property taken, forcing them to leave (Hausman 95). The Choctaw Indians occupied the regions that are currently Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The treaties that resulted in the reduction of Choctaw territory to eleven thousand acres were signed in 1901. The remaining territory was granted to the federal government by the treaty of the dancing rabbit. The Choctaws were removed in three sessions that begun in 1831 and ended in 1833. Their relocation coincided with a severe winter that subject the Choctaw to snow, sleet, and flash floods. They also faced a food shortage that further deteriorated their condition.
The relocation of the Choctaw was also affected by adverse weather conditions that blocked rivers with ice, halting transportation for several weeks. This prompted the American authorities, which were charged with the relocation, to introduce food rationing. This saw the Choctaws given one turnip, two cups of warm water, and a small portion of boiled maize, which they were supposed to eat the whole day. When the Choctaw eventually reached the Little Rock after being transported by government wagons, it is thought that one of their chiefs wrote that the relocation was a “trail of tears and death” (Rozema 79) The next Indian tribe to be relocated was the Creek, which did not leave peacefully. After signing a relocation treaty in 1832, the Creek put up an armed resistance in between 1836 and 1837.
Many Creeks also lost their lives because of disease and exposure to other health hazards. The Creeks were forced to go to Georgia, but approximately twenty thousand of them remained in Alabama. Creek’s tribal governments were banned by the state, and subjected to the state laws. The Creeks who remained in Alabama had their land divided into allotments with every one of them getting his share.
They were then given an option of either selling their share of land and joining other Creeks in the west, or remaining in Alabama and conforming to the laws of the state. Squatters and land speculators started to deceive Creeks out of their land, leading to violence that eventually culminated to the Creek war of 1836. In order to end this violence, the American military arrested over fourteen thousand Creeks and relocated them to Oklahoma, and this saw approximately two thousand five hundred people make the journey in chains (Rozema 80). Owing to their small number, the Chickasaw tribe was easily relocated to their new lands. In addition, the Chickasaw were dully compensated by the United States government for their land that was annexed in Mississippi river. When the Chickasaw reached the Indian Territory, they integrated with Choctaws, after mistrusting one another for many years. This social integration made these two tribes become one nation.
Approximately five hundred Chickasaw members lost their lives to small pox during the relocation. However, historians have maintained that the relocation of Cherokees was the most tormenting. This is because militia men from Georgia invaded the tribe and burnt homes, scattered families, and destroyed crops. The brutal relocation of the Cherokee tribe was also influenced by the gold rush that took place in Georgia in 1829. People involved in the gold trade started to invade Cherokee lands, and they also pressured the state government in Georgia to implement the Indian relocation Act of 1802.
The land case between the Cherokee nation and gold speculators was taken to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gold speculators. The court claimed that the Cherokee were not an independent nation (Rozema 81). The remaining tribe was gathered by federal troops and sent to concentration camps. In these camps, diseases spread and ended up killing twenty five percent of the entire tribe. Members of the Seminole tribe were relocated in 1832, after being deceived by agents from the federal government into signing a relocation treaty.
When the government authorities tried to enforce this deceptive treaty, the Seminoles fought against it, which led to the outbreak of a war in 1835 that was referred to as the second Seminole War. The war was fought between the Seminole tribe and the U.S soldiers in Florida. The war was sparked by the decision of Seminole Indians helped by some blacks to attack United Sates troops marching to Fort King.
There were one hundred and ten soldiers in this match, yet only three survived the attack. This made the United States army in Florida realize that the Seminoles were hell-bent on resisting the relocation, and as a result they prepared for war. The Seminole attacked and looted a train that was supplying goods to the military. They also burnt several plantations where they were joined by black slaves who worked there (Rozema 82).
However, by 1859, the last group of Seminoles Indians had been relocated to the western United States in chains. Historians have not accurately determined the tribe from which the phrase “The trail of tears” came from. However, it has been speculated that the phrase might have originated from the Cherokees or Choctaws. Despite the origin of the phrase, all Indians who were relocated from their homelands went through a lot of pain and suffering.
The relocation exercise was completed by the year 1837 and it saw approximately forty-six thousand Native Americans, who occupied states in the south-east, sent away and leave behind their homes. This created twenty five million acres of land that was given to white settlers. Andrew Jackson strongly supported the relocation of Native Americans from their home land, and he was responsible for nine of the eleven treaties that removed Native Americans from their lands. Historians have maintained that the Indian tribes signed the treaties in order to obtain certain advantages. Their first aim was pleasing the federal government, with the hope that they would be allowed to keep a portion of their land.
Secondly, the Indians tribes signed the treaties in order to evade harassment from whites (Rozema 82). The Supreme Court in 1923 ruled that Indians could live in lands within America, but they were not allowed to get title deeds. This decision was driven by the fact that the Supreme Court perceived the right of Indians to own land to be subordinate to the right of the United States government to discover it. This decision posed a threat to the right of owning land among American Indians, and the Chickasaws, Cherokees, and the Creeks responded by coming up with policies that prevented sale of land to the United States government. This move was aimed at protecting the little land that had remained in their possession before it was taken away. The Indian tribes initially attempted to protect their land using non-violent means. One of the techniques they used was adoption of American practices like western education, keeping of slaves, and large-scale farming.
This is the reason why these Indian tribes were referred to as the civilized tribes (Burgan 18).
Bruchac, Joseph and Diana Magnuson. The Trail of Tears. New York: Random House, 1999. Print. Burgan, Michael. The Trail of Tears. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books, 2001.
Print. Hausman, Blake M. Riding the Trail of Tears. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011. Print. Rozema, Vicki. Voices from the Trail of Tears.
Winston-Salem, NC: J. F. Blair, 2003. Print.