This fall marks the 175th anniversary of the Trail of Tears, the brutally forced removal of Cherokees from the southeast to western Indian Territory.
Following the signing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by President Andrew Jackson, a group of twenty-two Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. This treaty was passed by Congress in 1836, giving the government the grounds to institute forced removal of the Cherokees within two years.
Nearly sixteen thousand Cherokees formally protested the legitimacy of this treaty and petitioned against westward removal. An organization of Cherokee women stated the following in a petition to the National Council on May 2, 1817:
“Therefore, children, don’t part with any more of our lands but continue on it and enlarge your farms. Cultivate and raise corn and cotton and your mothers and sisters will make clothing for you which our father the president has recommended to us all. We don’t charge anybody for selling any lands, but we have heard such intentions of our children. But your talks become true at last; it was our desire to forewarn you all not to part with our lands.”
In the summer of 1838 federal troops forced the removal of three detachments of a thousand Cherokees each. Thirteen subsequent detachments headed west to Indian Territory in the winter of 1838-1839, the first leaving on Oct. 1. The journey was eight hundred miles long and took three and a half months to complete.
At least four thousand Cherokees, a fourth of the tribe, died along the Trail of Tears.
The following excerpt is from an interview with Cherokee woman Rebecca Neugin in 1932. Neugin, born Wa-ki, was three or four years old when forced along the Trail of Tears with her parents and nine siblings.
“When the soldiers came to our house my father wanted to fight, but my mother told him that the soldiers would kill him if he did and we surrendered without a fight. They drove us out of our house to join other prisoners in a stockade. After they took us away my mother begged them to let her go back and get some bedding. So they let her go back and she brought what bedding and a few cooking utensils she could carry and had to leave behind all of our other household possessions…. Camp was usually made at some place where water was to be had and when we stopped and prepared to cook our food other emigrants who had been driven from their homes without opportunity to secure cooking utensils came to our camp to use our pots and kettles. There was much sickness among the emigrants and a great many little children died of whooping cough.”
These excerpts and many more are featured in Voices of Cherokee Women, edited by Carolyn Ross Johnston. Voices of Cherokee Women is a compelling collection of first-person accounts by Cherokee women. It includes letters, diaries, newspaper articles, oral histories, ancient myths, and accounts by travelers, traders, and missionaries who encountered the Cherokees from the 16th century to the present.