The Trail of Tears in U.S. History

The Cherokee are described as a clean people. Cleaner than the settlers and other Indian tribes in the area. They thought water was a holy gift by the Great Spirit, so they went to it often. Ehle describes the Cherokee being quite matriarchal. Cherokee women had more rights than most European women did. She chose who she wanted to marry, the husband had to build the house, yet the property remained hers. She had the right to choose to kill an unwanted child, if the husband killed a child it would be murder. The birth and upbringing of a well-known Cherokee, The Ridge, is described in the narrative to tell of the ordeals the tribe endured. The biggest struggles before the forced removal for the Cherokee people was attempting to protect their territory and adapting to the cultures of the whites.

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The Cherokee had made the decision to side with the British during the war, a mistake that would eventually come back to haunt them. The British had promised the Cherokee that if they won, they would help remove all the Americans from their land and forbid them from returning to it. As we know the British lost and with that so did the Cherokee Nation. Even though President Jefferson had signed the treaty of Hopewell. White settlers kept encroaching on Cherokee land. Ridge had gone raiding with a lot of the other warriors in his village. He became well respected. He did not get along with a chief named Doublehead, who was always very vicious and was easily bribed by the white men for land. As Ridge grew, he started to adapt the white ways a lot more successfully than some of his brethren. He got married and started a plantation that grew crops, had cattle, and he actually had a few slaves as well. A lot of missionaries tried to come into the village and help civilize the people through the word of God. One such missionary group was called the Moravians. They were Germans. They had promised to build churches and a boarding house and school for the children. After taking several years to build their buildings, they only promised to teach 4 kids. Outraged, the tribe voted and outed the Moravians and put in place the Presbyterians. Reverend Blackburn was in charge of the church and had promised to teach more children and to allow the option of teaching Christianity, but explained it was not a requirement for the children or the families.

The mixed-blood Cherokees were more open to the schooling and to adapting the white ways. Doublehead, a full-blood chief, and also the most ill-mannered was against any civilization, although he did accept money from the whites for land, so he can become rich. Because Doublehead was so amiable to the whites, and they preferred to deal with him, he became the one the President wanted to speak to on behalf of the Cherokee Nation. Ridge and other members of the council did not agree with this. Since it was blood law that if any chief or one Cherokee sold off land without the permission of all of the townspeople and the council the consequence was death. Ridge figured that Doublehead would be best dealt with by assassination since he had broken this blood law. Ridge shot Doublehead in the head. Ridge was then put in a higher place within the Cherokee Council for his actions.

There still was a division though between the tribes. Ridge had become the new person that a lot of the whites dealt with. He was rich, dressed like the white man and had a powerful voice with the Cherokee people. On the other hand, was another young up and comer by the name of John Ross. He was a mixed blood with a white father. He could speak English very well and was raised to learn the customs of both sides. He became chief to the Cherokee Nation. He was also very good friends with Ridge. The mixed bloods seemed to follow the word of both Ross and Ridge, but the full-bloods didn’t trust the word of Ridge. They were weary of his actions because they felt like he had assimilated too much. Ridge had sent off his son to a school in Connecticut. John was his name and he ended up becoming a lawyer and marrying a white woman. John did move back and helped his father with the Council. Georgia was started to pressure the Cherokee to leave, they wanted the land they occupied. There was a discovery of gold in the area as well that brought in many white prospectors to the land. With the work of Ross and the Ridge family, the Cherokee Nation created their own constitution. Modeled after the US Constitution, it created guidelines for that nation and its sovereignty and borders. Georgia was not happy about this decision and the Cherokee Nation and Georgia went to court in the matter. Once the Supreme Court got a hold of the petition, the Justice of the Supreme Court decided in the favor of the Cherokee. So, for the time being, they were able to hold onto their land. Andrew Jackson soon became president.

He was elected and was called the People’s President. One of his top issues was the removal of Indians from the East. The Indian Removal Act was the final bill that the Cherokee were dreading. After many years of smaller treaties and deals made with the white men, it was now the President who made the final decision. They were to be given money and supplies to move west of the Mississippi to relocate. Georgia did not follow the Supreme Court decision and beginning a lottery for the Cherokee land. Ridge, Ross, and a few other chiefs travelled to Washington to meet with Jackson to ask him if he would uphold the Supreme Court decision. He declined. He stated that Georgia will do what it wants. So now the decision had to be made. They could either take the money and the supplies and move of their own freewill, or they will be forced by military means from the land and no promises of the conditions.

The Cherokee split even further on this issue, which the whites capitalized on. Ridge’s family, being highly assimilated and wanted to protect their money and standing, tried to convince all the people of the Cherokee Nation that moving to the west was the best decision. Ridge claimed if they wanted their people to survive, then they needed to go with him and move to the west. Ross, on the other hand, disagreed. Like most full-bloods, the land they occupied was sacred land. It was where they believe the Cherokee people started and have always lived. They believed the Great Spirit had placed the Cherokee there. They would not leave the land without a fight. Jackson, in a final attempt to mitigate the move the Cherokee Nation offered 5 million dollars and the supplies for the people to move. Ridge’s family and a few other chiefs thought in an honorable move they would decide for the Nation and sign this treaty. They would make the decision for the survival of their people and agree to move west. Once the rest of the Nation had heard of this sign treaty by only a few of the leaders, they felt utterly betrayed. Ridge’s family and less than 2,000 of the over 16,000 Cherokee decided to move west. Now it was down to the clock, and Ross (who had stayed) and the rest of the Cherokee had to find a way to negate this betrayal of a treaty.

They got almost every Cherokee to sign a petition that the treaty was not signed in their best interest and they wanted to keep their land. The Court never looked at the petition. It was too late. The troops Jackson had sent arrived, and thousands were ripped from their homes. Because they thought that they would be able to stay on their land, most were not prepared to be moved so suddenly. They were only allowed to carry what they could on their backs. At first, thousands upon thousands were sent to a stokehold. They stayed there for months. Corralled like cattle, they slept on hay or just the near frozen muddy ground. Without proper environmental conditions, sickness and exposure killed several thousand before any travelling even begun. They waited there for over 3 months. When the military finally separated the people into groups almost ?? of the Nation was already gone. Each detachment was then taken west on the trip that was over 800 miles long and would take over 3-4 months. The conditions for travelling were not ideal. Along the way several were lost because supplies ran out. Mothers walked miles and miles with their deceased children in their arms.

The dead lay along the pathways. A winter storm would hit and strand thousands to an open area, nowhere to find coverage. Many would die once again from disease and exposure. But along the path many would sing, the Christian songs they were taught. For miles the line of Cherokee sang as they were forced to their new home in Oklahoma, it would be called the Trail of Tears. Now in Oklahoma, Ridge and his family have already set up their plantation in Honey Creek and started anew in this fresh new land. The Ridge family had started setting up a store and schools for the nation. John Ross was one of the last settlers to arrive. He had wanted to set up a meeting with the already established Cherokees and propose they come up with a new Constitution.

The blood law that stated no Cherokee could sell any land without permission by the whole of the tribe was kept, and they held that Major Ridge and his family and the few others that signed the initial treaty were found guilty. Assassination parties were assigned, and John was the first to be pulled from his home and he was stabbed over and over, then they stomped on his body. Major Ridge was traveling to visit a sick slave when a volley of shots hit him. He was shot 5 times in the head and several in his body. John Ross continued to rally for the Cherokee Nation. He attempted to get more money for the Nation and helped rebuild the community.

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The Trail of Tears in U.S. history. (2019, Aug 16). Retrieved December 10, 2022 , from

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