Trail of Tears



Trails of Tears sign

The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others in the United States, from their homelands to Indian Territory (eastern sections of the present-day state of Oklahoma). The phrase originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831. Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation en route to their destinations. Many died, including 4,000 of the 15,000 relocated Cherokee

In 1831 the Choctaw were the first to be removed, and they became the model for all other removals. After the Choctaw, the Seminole were removed in 1832, the Creek in 1834, then the Chickasaw in 1837, and finally the Cherokee in 1838. After removal, some Native Americans remained in their ancient homelands - the Choctaw are found in Mississippi, the Seminole in Florida, the Creek in Alabama, and the Cherokee in North Carolina. A limited number of non-native Americans (including African-Americans - usually as slaves) also accompanied the Native American nations on the trek westward. By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans from these southeastern states had been removed from their homelands thereby opening 25 million acres for predominantly white settlement.

map of trail of tears
Trail of Tears Route Map



In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the thousand-mile march with scant clothing and most on foot without shoes or moccasins. The march began in Red Clay, Tennessee, the location of the last Eastern capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee were given used blankets from a hospital in Tennessee where an epidemic of small pox had broken out. Because of the diseases, the Indians were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the way; many times this meant traveling much farther to go around them. After crossing Tennessee and Kentucky, they arrived in Southern Illinois at Golconda about the 3rd of December 1838. Here the starving Indians were charged a dollar a head (equal to $21.83 today) to cross the river on "Berry's Ferry" which typically charged twelve cents, equal to $2.62 today. They were not allowed passage until the ferry had serviced all others wishing to cross and were forced to take shelter under "Mantle Rock," a shelter bluff on the Kentucky side, until "Berry had nothing better to do". Many died huddled together at Mantle Rock waiting to cross. Several Cherokee were murdered by locals. The killers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government through the courthouse in Vienna, suing the government for $35 a head (equal to $763.88 today) to bury the murdered Cherokee. [source:]

trail of tears painting

Below are government documents written at the time, submitted by Larry Benefield

ORDERS. No. 25.
Head Quarters, Eastern Division.
Cherokee Agency, Ten. May 17, 1838.

MAJOR GENERAL SCOTT, of the United States' Army, announces to the troops assembled and assembling in this country, that, with them, he has been charged by the President to cause the Cherokee Indians yet remaining in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama, to remove to the West, according to the terms of the Treaty of 1835. His Staff will be as follows:

LIEUTENANT COLONEL W. J. WORTH, acting Adjutant General, Chief of the Staff.
MAJOR M. M. PAYNE, acting Inspector General.
LIEUTENANT R. ANDERSON, & E. D. KEYES, regular Aids-de-camp.
COLONEL A. H. KENAN& LIEUTENANT H. B. SHAW, volunteer Aids-de-camp.
Any order given orally, or in writing, by either of those officers, in the name of the Major General. will be respected and obeyed as if given by himself.
The Chiefs of Ordnance, of the Quarter-Master's Department and of the Commissariat, as also the Medical Director of this Army, will, as soon as they can be ascertained, be announced in orders.
To carry out the general object with the greatest promptitude and certainty, and with the least possible distress to the Indians, the country they are to evacuate is divided into three principal Military Districts, under as many officers of high rank, to command the troops serving therein, subject to the instructions of the Major General.
Eastern District, to be commanded by BRIGADIER GENERAL EUSTIS, of the United States' Army, or the highest officer in rank, serving therein: - North Carolina, the part of Tennesseelying north of Gilmer county, Georgia, and the counties of Gilmer, Union, and Lumpkin, in Georgia. Head Quarters, in the first instance, say, at Fort Butler.
Western District, to be commanded by COLONEL LINDSAY, of the United States' Army, or the highest officer in rank serving therein: -- Alabama, the residue of Tennesseeand Dade county, in Georgia. Head quarters, in the first instance, say, at Ross' Landing.
Middle District, to be commanded by BRIGADIER GENERAL ARMISTEAD of the United States' Army, or the highest officer in rank, serving therein: -- All that part of the Cherokee country, lying within the State of Georgia, and which is not comprised in the two other districts. Head Quarters, in the first instance, say, at new Echota.
It is not intended that the foregoing boundaries between the principal commanders shall be strictly observed. Either, when carried near the district of another, will not hesitate to extend his operations, according to the necessities of the case, but with all practicable harmony, into the adjoining district. And, among his principal objects, in case of actual or apprehended hostilities, will be that of affording adequate protection to our white people in and around the Cherokeecountry.
The senior officer actually present in each district will receive instructions from the Major General as to the time of commencing the removal, and every thing that may occur interesting to the service, in the district, will be promtly [promptly] reported to the same source. The Major General will endeavour to visit in a short time all parts of the Cherokeecountry occupied by the troops.
The duties devolved on the army, through the orders of the Major General & those of the commanders of districts, under him, are of a highly important and critical nature.
The Cherokees, by the advances which they have made in christianity and civilization, are by far the most interesting tribes of Indians in the territorial limits of the United States. Of the 15,000 of those people who are now to be removed -- (and the time within which a voluntary emigration was stipulated, will expire on the 23rd instant -- ) it is understood that about four fifths are opposed, or have become averse to a distant emigration; and altho' [although] none are in actual hostilities with the United States, or threaten a resistance by arms, yet the troops will probably be obliged to cover the whole country they inhabit, in order to make prisoners and to march or to transport the prisoners, by families, either to this place, to Ross' Landingor Gunter's Landing, where they are to be finally delivered over to the Superintendent of Cherokee Emigration.
Considering the number and temper of the mass to be removed, together with the extent and [unclear: fastnesses] of the country occupied, it will readily occur, that simple indiscretions -- acts of harshness and cruelty, on the part of our troops, may lead, step by step, to delays, to impatience and exasperation, and in the end, to a general war and carnage -- a result, in the case to those particular Indians, utterly abhorrent to the generous sympathies of the whole Americanpeople. Every possible kindness, compatible with the necessity of removal, must, therefore, be shown by the troops, and, if, in the ranks, a despicable individual should be found, capable of inflicting a wanton injury or insult on any Cherokeeman, woman or child, it is hereby made the special duty of the nearest good officer or man, instantly to interpose, and to seize and consign the guilty wretch to the severest penalty of the laws. The Major General is fully persuaded that this injunction will not be neglected by the brave men under his command, who cannot be otherwise than jealous of their own honor and that of their country.
By early and persevering acts of kindness and humanity, it is impossible to doubt that the Indians may soon be induced to confide in the Army, and instead of fleeing to mountains and forests, flock to us for food and clothing. If, however, through false apprehensions, individuals, or a party, here and there, should seek to hide themselves, they must be pursued and invited to surrender, but not fired upon unless they should make a stand to resist. Even in such cases, mild remedies may sometimes better succeed than violence; and it cannot be doubted that if we get possession of the women and children first, or first capture the men, that, in either case, the outstanding members of the same families will readily come in on the assurance of forgiveness and kind treatment.
Every captured man, as well as all who surrender themselves, must be disarmed, with the assurance that their weapons will be carefully preserved and restored at, or beyond the Mississippi. In either case, the men will be guarded and escorted, except it may be, where their women and children are safely secured as hostages; but, in general, families, in our possession, will not be separated, unless it be to send men, as runners, to invite others to come in.
It may happen that Indians will be found too sick, in the opinion of the nearest Surgeon, to be removed to one of the depots indicated above. In every such case, one or more of the family, or the friends of the sick person, will be left in attendance, with ample subsistence and remedies, and the remainder of the family removed by the troops. Infants, superannuated persons, lunatics and women in a helpless condition, will all, in the removal, require peculiar attention, which the brave and humane will seek to adapt to the necessities of the several cases.
All strong men, women, boys & girls, will be made to march under proper escorts. For the feeble, Indian horses and ponies will furnish a ready resource, as well as for bedding and light cooking utensils -- all of which, as intimated in the Treaty, will be necessary to the emigrants both in going to, and after arrival at, their new homes. Such, and all other light articles of property, the Indians will be allowed to collect and to take, with them, as also their slaves, who will be treated in like manner with the Indians themselves.
If the horses and ponies be not adequate to the above purposes, wagons must be supplied.
Corn, oats, fodder and other forage, also beef cattle, belonging to the Indians to be removed, will be taken possession of by the proper departments of the Staff, as wanted, for the regular consumption of the Army, and certificates given to the owners, specifying in every case, the amount of forage and the weight of beef, so taken, in order that the owners may be paid for the same on their arrival at one of the depots mentioned above.
All other movable or personal property, left or abandoned by the Indians, will be collected by agents appointed for the purpose, by the Superintendent of CherokeeEmigration, under a system of accountability, for the benefit of the Indian owners, which he will devise. The Army will give to those agents, in their operations, all reasonable countenance, aid and support.
White men and widows, citizens of the United States, who are, or have been intermarried with Indians, and thence commonly termed, Indian countrymen; also such Indians as have been made denizens of particular States, by special legislation, together with the families and property of all such persons, will not be molested or removed by the troops until a decision on the principles involved can be obtained from the War Department.
A like indulgence, but only for a limited time, and until further orders, is extended to the families and property of certain Chiefs and and head-men of the two great Indian parties, (on the subject of emigration) now understood to be absent in the direction of Washington on the business of their respective parties.
This order will be carefully read at the head of every company in the Army.

[Signed] Winfield Scott. By Command:
[Signed] [unclear: Lieut. Col.]
Chief of the Staff

Cherokee Removal 1838 - Act 34
Head Quarter's Eastern Division
New Echota May 24 1838

Orders N 34
A sufficient number of troops having arrived or known to be approaching the collection of the Indians within the CherokeeCountry, preparatory to their emigration beyond the Mississippi, will be commenced in Georgiaon the 26th inst. [instant] or as soon thereafter as this order may be received, & in the adjoining States ten days later
The Commanding Officer at every fort & open Station will first cause to be surrounded & brought in as many Indians the nearest to his fort or station, as he may think he can secure at once, & and repeat the operation until he shall have made as many prisoners as he is able to subsist & send off, under a proper escort, to the most convenient of the emigrating depots -- the Cherokee Agency, Ross's Landing& Gunter's Landing. These operations will be again and again repeated, under the orders of the commanders of the respective Districts, until the whole of the Indians shall have been collected for emigration.
In many cases it may be almost impracticable for the commander of an open station to escort his prisoners to one of the distant emigrating depots mentioned above. It is permitted therefore, [unclear: to] such commander, when necessary to send his prisoners under a proper escort, to the nearest fort in the direction of one of those depots there to wait for a [unclear: farther] escort.
On the arrival of Indian prisoners, at an emigration depot they will be received in the first instance by the Commanding Officer at the place.
In every case when detachments are sent out to bring in Indians a sufficient guard will be retained to hold the fort or to guard the subsistence & all other property left at the open station.
Every Commander of a fort or open Station will report his operations & whatever else of interest that may occur around him to the commander of his District, & the latter will frequently make reports to the Major General
[unclear: Instant] references will be made by all to the letter and the spirit of the printed general Order, No 25, which has been extensively circulated for the purpose.
Until the arrival of Brigadier General Armistead, Brigadier General Floydof the GeorgiaMilitia, will be the Commander of the Middle District, head quarters for the present New Echota.

By command of Major General Scott
[Signed] W. J WorthLt Colo [Colonel]
Chief of the Staff
After Order
To each Indian prisoner will be issued daily without regard to age or sex one pound of flour and half a pound

Head Qrs. [Headquarters] Eastern Division
Athens Ten. [Tennessee] Nov 9th 1838

This last requisition for funds to defray the expenses of Twelve land detachments of emigrants, takes the numbers so emigrated, from the several muster rolls in the possession of Capt. Page, disbursing Agent &c [et cetera] which muster rolls make the whole number emigrated, by land, under the arrangement entered into with me, 11721 souls. But the Cherokee authorities, a party to that agreement, allege, that after several of the muster rolls were closed, many additional families and Individuals joined the detachments in March increasing the twelve detachments emigrated, by land, to the aggregate of 12608 emigrants -- making a difference of 887 Souls. Should this be found to be correct when the said land detachments shall be finally mustered West, an additional requisition may be made by the Cherokee authorities for the excess of individuals, whatever the number, over and above the number of 11721. Who have been in this Country mustered in the twelve detachments which are now on the road.
Capt. Page will send a copy of this memorandum to the mustering officer on the Arkansawand desire his particular attention to the Subject, so that a final settlement, on account of the twelve land detachments of emigrants may be made according to the principles of justice.
[Signed] Winfield Scott


The Cherokees are informed that the Superintendent of their removal West, will have Suitable Steam Boats ready for their transportation at the Agency on the 5th day of Feby [February], capable of taking One Thousand persons at a time, with comfort and Safety to their new homes, in fifteen days. The removal by land with unavoidable exposure and fatigue will require at least Seventy days; the choice of way is, however, given to the emigrant. The places of Rendezvous will be [deleted: [illegible]] the Agency, Ross' Landing and a point opposite Bellefonte, at each of which places the Boats will stop to take in Emigrants.
The Superintendent takes this occasion to repeat that he has been instructed by their great Father the President to treat the Cherokees with kindness and friendship, and to assure them that to linger in the midst of a white population, suffering oppression and encroachment, ruin and extermination must inevitably fall on them. In tenderness then to their persons and interests, he would urge them in the most friendly manner, assuring them at the same time that the Treaty will not be altered, to make speedy preparation, settle their business with the Commissioners, and remove before the 23rd. of May, when the time arrives for the application of Military Force.
Cherokee Agency East, January 20, 1838
[Signed] Nat [Nathaniel] SmithSupt. Ch. [Superintendent Cherokee] Removal



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