The Cherokee Response to Removal

Social Education, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

The Cherokee Response to Removal

Grade level 7-12

Handouts for this lesson

* "A Witness Remembers the Removal," by Wahnenauhi (Cherokee), 1889

* 1829 poem, "The Cherokees' Reply"

Lesson overview and objectives

Students learn about the Trail of Tears and Cherokee history in the early 1800s. They discuss various Cherokee responses to removal and research related events and historical figures.

NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies


Teacher Background Information A Brief Cherokee History

The traditional Cherokee way of life required lots of land for trapping, fishing, hunting, and farming, as well as for ceremonies that used wild plants and streams of clear running water. British and European settlers and, later, the U.S. government looked at maps and thought that the Cherokees were using only part of their homeland. For 300 years, soldiers, settlers, missionaries, prospectors, adventurers, travelers, and runaway slaves coveted Cherokee lands, and in 1783, U.S. politicians began to take the "surplus."

Cherokees Adapted to the Dominant Culture

After the Revolutionary War, Cherokees knew that they would have to adapt to Anglo-American culture to survive. Cherokees became prosperous farmers and, because they lived in the South, some even owned slaves. In 1821, Sequoyah, a Cherokee scholar, invented a way to write the Cherokee language. He also taught maW Cherokees to read and write. The Cherokee Phoenix, the first Indian newspaper in North America, was printed in Cherokee and English from 1828-1834. (The Cherokee Phoenix is being published again today as a monthly publication.)

Cherokees Were Forced to Move West

The earliest attempts to remove Native Americans to the West were made by George Washington, who tried to move them from the thirteen colonies to "Indian Territory," in present-day Indiana. When the Louisiana Purchase opened lands west of the Mississippi in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson suggested that the eastern Indians move west. Between 1808 and 1810, a few Cherokees did migrate to Arkansas. Later, in 1828, after prospectors found gold at Dahlonega (the Cherokee word for "yellow" or "gold") in Georgia, the Georgians began confiscating the Cherokees' valuable land. But it was President Andrew Jackson who actually seized Cherokee land for non-Cherokees through the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, forcing the Cherokee removal to the West.

About twenty Cherokees, known as the Treaty Party, signed the Treaty of New Echota, illegally stating that they represented the Cherokees. Official Cherokee leadership questioned their authority; this became the basis for the Cherokee fight against removal. (The treaty was named for New Echota, Georgia, the Cherokee capital, where it was signed.) The treaty transferred all tribal lands east of the Mississippi River to the United States government in exchange for $5 million. Under the treaty, all members of the Cherokee Nation would move to Indian Territory (now in Oklahoma) by 1837. Most Cherokees opposed the Treaty of New Echota. Thousands protested by signing petitions to Congress. The John Ross scroll, which is on exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian, was signed by more than 15,000 Cherokee individuals. But their efforts failed. By 1839, 16,000 Cherokees were removed from their homeland, many along the "Trail of Tears."

Cherokees on the Trail of Tears

Although the majority of the Cherokee Nation refused to abide by the Treaty of New Echota and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1838 and 1839 in the Cherokees' favor, the U.S. War Department used the treaty to force most of the Cherokees to move from the Southeast to Indian Territory in a journey that became known as the "Trail of Tears." Soldiers separated individual Cherokees from their family members and possessions, put them in stockades, and guarded them day and night. …

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