Trail of Tears
At the beginning of the 1830's, about 125,000 Native Americans lived in the southeastern part of the United States. Ten years later, very few remained. The government wanted to help plantation owners grow cotton on the land where the Indians lived. They forced the Indians to leave their homes and travel to a new territory given to them across the Mississippi River. This journey has been called the 'Trail of Tears.'
Americans were afraid of Indians and thought they shouldn't have a right to land which the white settlers wanted. They thought the Indians were inferior to them. In the early days of America, some people thought that the best way to prevent or stop problems with the Indians was to make them like Americans. They should be taught English, become Christians and learn about private ownership of lands. This was George Washington's belief. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole and Creek tribes in the Southeast did try to do this. They were called the 'Five Civilized Tribes.'
However, as the settlers wanted more land to grow cotton, they didn't care if the Indians were civilized. They wanted all the land. They said that the Indians stole livestock, and burned houses. The settlers wanted the Indians gone. Some state governments were in favor of taking the lands belonging to the Indians. The Supreme Court was against this practice and said that the Indians had sovereign rights over their land. However, the Indians continued to be mistreated.
President Andrew Jackson was in favor of removing the Indians to allow the white settlers to have the land. He had previously been involved in many military campaigns against the Indians in the Southeast which resulted in taking away land from the Indians and giving it to white settlers. He passed the Indian Removal Act which replaced land taken from the Indians in the Southeast with land west of the Mississippi which is now Oklahoma.
By law, the Indians were to be treated fairly in this process, but Jackson wanted them removed by force. The Choctaw were the first tribe to be forcibly driven out. They were made to walk hundreds of miles without any help from the government, such as food, clothing and other supplies. Many died along the way. A Choctaw leader called it 'a trail of tears and death.' The removal kept going. The Creeks were driven out of their land in 1836. 3,500 of the 15,000 who made the march to Oklahoma died.
In 1835, amidst opposition, a few representatives of the Cherokees made a treaty with the government that they would leave land east of the Mississippi in exchange for 5 million dollars and relocation help. Many of the Cherokees felt betrayed. They all didn't want to leave. By 1838, only about 2,000 Cherokee had left. President Martin Van Buren sent the army under General Winfield Scott to Georgia to remove them by force. They put the Indians in stockades and looted their homes. They forced them to walk the 1200 miles to the Indian Territory. More than 5,000 died on the way from disease and starvation.
By 1840, thousands of Indians had been removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Of course, the federal government said that the land there would always belong to them. However, as white settlement moved farther west, the Indian land was valuable. Oklahoma eventually became a state and the Indians lost their land. In the North in 1832, this removal from their land had also happened to the Sauk, Fox and other nations in Illinois and Wisconsin. The removal occurred during the Black Hawk War. Black Hawk was the chief of the Sauk nation.
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