|“||Five thousand [Native Americans] finally consented to be marched westward, but another fifteen thousand clung to their neat farms, schools, and libraries 'of good books.' So General Winfield Scott set about systematically extirpating the rebellious ones. Squads of soldiers descended upon isolated Cherokee farms and at bayonet point marched the families off to what today would be known as concentration camps. ...they were set off on a thousand mile march—called to this day 'the trail of tears'.||„|
|~ Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization|
The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation and ethnic cleansing of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others in the United States, from their homelands to Indian Territory (eastern sections of the present-day state of Oklahoma). The phrase originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831.
Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on route to their destinations. Many died, including 4,000 of the 13,000 relocated Cherokee, intermarried and accompanying European-Americans, and the 2,000 African-American free blacks and slaves owned by the Cherokee they took with them. European Americans and African American freedmen and slaves also participated in the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminole forced relocations.
It was considered to be part of the larger Amerindian Genocide in the United States.
In 1831, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole (sometimes collectively referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes) were living as autonomous nations in what would be called the American Deep South. The process of cultural transformation (proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox) was gaining momentum, especially among the Cherokee and Choctaw. US President Andrew Jackson continued and renewed the political and military effort for the removal of the Native Americans from these lands with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Act was strongly enforced under Jackson's presidency and that of his successor, Martin Van Buren.
In 1831 the Choctaw were the first to be removed, and they became the model for all other removals. After the Choctaw, the Seminole were removed in 1832, the Creek in 1834, then the Chickasaw in 1837, and finally the Cherokee in 1838.After removal, some Native Americans remained in their ancient homelands - the Choctaw are found in Mississippi, the Seminole in Florida, the Creek in Alabama, and the Cherokee in North Carolina. Other groups were rounded up and forced into concentration camps until new land was found for them to settle on.
A limited number of non-native Americans (including African-Americans - usually as slaves) also accompanied the Native American nations on the trek westward .By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans from these southeastern states had been removed from their homelands, thereby opening 25 million acres (100,000 km2) for predominantly white settlements.
The fixed boundaries of these autonomous tribal nations, comprising large areas of the United States, were subject to continual cession and annexation prior to 1830, in part due to pressure from squatters and the threat of military force in the newly declared U.S. territories -- federally administered regions whose boundaries supervened upon the Native treaty claims. As these territories became U.S. states, state governments sought to dissolve the boundaries of the Indian nations within their borders, which were independent of state jurisdiction, and to expropriate the land therein. These pressures were magnified by U.S. population growth and the expansion of slavery in the South.
The latter forced relocations have sometimes been referred to as "death marches", in particular about the Cherokee march across the Midwest in 1838, which occurred on a predominantly land route.
Native Americans who had the means initially provided for their own removal. Contingents that were led by conductors from the U.S. Army included those led by Edward Deas, who was claimed to be a sympathizer for the Cherokee plight.
The largest death toll from the Cherokee forced relocation comes from the period after the May 23, 1838 deadline. This was at the point when the remaining Cherokee were rounded into camps and pressed into oversized detachments, often over 700 in size (larger than the populations of Little Rock or Memphis at that time). Communicable diseases spread quickly through these closely quartered groups, killing many. These contingents were among the last to move, but following the same routes the others had taken; the areas they were going through had been depleted of supplies due to the vast numbers that had gone before them.
The marchers were subject to extortion and violence along the route. In addition, these final contingents were forced to set out during the hottest and coldest months of the year, killing many. Exposure to the elements, disease, and starvation, harassment by local frontiersmen, and insufficient rations similarly killed up to one-third of the Choctaw and other nations on the march.
There exists some debate among historians and the affected tribes as to whether the term "Trail of Tears" should be used to refer to the entire history of forced relocations from the United States east of the Mississippi into Indian Territory (as was the stated U.S. policy) or to the five tribes described above, to the route of the land march specifically, or to specific marches in which the remaining holdouts from each area were rounded up.