Why Did the Cherokee Call Their Forced Move the Trail of Tears?

The Trail of Tears refers to the relocation path taken by tens of thousands of Indians when tribes were forcibly removed from their homes. Thousands of Indians died from disease, hunger and abuse during the trip. The Cherokee were the last of five tribes forced to move from their lands.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 gave the government the authority to trade lands held by Indian tribes in the Southeast for land west of the Mississippi River. The Choctaw Tribe was the first to fall victim of the law in 1831 when they were made to travel the journey west on foot. Approximately 17,000 Choctaw Indians made the trek, and estimates place the death toll from the march somewhere between 2,500 and 6,000. When an Arkansas paper interviewed the Choctaw Chief, he referred to the trip as a “trail of tears and death.”

The Seminole, Creek and Chickasaw were the next tribes to be relocated at the hands of the American government. The Creek Tribe watched 3,500 of their family and friends perish during the trip west. In 1835, a group of self-proclaimed Cherokee Leaders signed a treaty with the U.S. Government, agreeing to trade all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River for money and relocation assistance. Because the treaty was negotiated with people who did not represent tribal government, the Cherokee Indians felt betrayed. In 1838, the Cherokee were forced to head west, losing as many as 5,000 brethren along the way.