Image from Five Civilized Tribes Museum
Image from Five Civilized Tribes Museum


Event Summary


"In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma."
  • The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects.
    • The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march.


See The Trail of Tears and the Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation, National Park Service

A Brief History of the Trail of Tears, Cherokee Nation

Trail of Tears Map, National Park Service (2005)
Trail of Tears Map, National Park Service (2005)

Multimedia.pngMultimedia Resources


Trail of Tears from Crash Course


Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, National Park Service


primary_sources.PNGPrimary Sources


A Soldier Recalls the Trail of Tears

Two Accounts of Life on the Trail of Tears

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngTeaching Resources


Perspectives on the Trail of Tears from Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History



The Indian Removal Policy

  • First suggested by Thomas Jefferson as the only way to ensure the survival of Indian cultures, the removal policy sought to encourage Native Americans to migrate westward to lands where they could live free from white harassment.
    • In 1825, President James Monroe set before Congress a plan to resettle all eastern Indians on tracts in the West where whites would not be allowed to live.
      • Under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), federal Indian policy emphasized removal. A dispute between the Cherokee nation and the state of Georgia encouraged the shift toward removal.
rotating gif.gifSee United States History I.24 for more on the Indian Removal Policy

John Ross, a Cherokee chief, 1842
John Ross, a Cherokee chief, 1842

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 1.58.11 PM.pngSupreme Court Decisions and Native American Opposition

  • After the Cherokees adopted a constitution asserting sovereignty over their land, the state of Georgia abolished tribal rule and claimed that the Cherokees fell under its jurisdiction.
    • The discovery of gold on Cherokee land triggered a land rush and the Cherokees sued to keep whites from encroaching on their territory.
      • Two important cases, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia in 1831 and Worcester v. Georgia in 1832,
        • The Supreme Court ruled that states could not pass laws conflicting with federal Indian treaties and that the federal government had an obligation to exclude white intruders from Indian lands.
          • Angered, Jackson is said to have exclaimed: "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it."

See United States History I.25 for more on John Marshall and his decision in these cases


Emboldened by the Supreme Court decisions, the Cherokees resisted Jackson's efforts to get them to sell all tribal lands in exchange for new lands in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
  • The federal government bribed a faction of the tribe to leave Georgia in exchange for transportation costs and $5 million, but most Cherokees held out until 1838, when the army evicted them from their land. (Both before and after removal, traditionalists assassinated a number of Cherokees who cooperated with white missionaries and government officials).

primary_sources.PNGOur Hearts Are Sickened: Letter from Chief John Ross of the Cherokee, 1836
  • In this letter, John Ross (1790-1866), the principal leader of the Cherokee Nation, and other Cherokees, petitioned President Van Buren for claims against the government during the removal of Cherokee from western Georgia to Oklahoma. .