External sources: U.S. Dept of Interior Video History of Cherokee People
Tribes & Maps of the Trail of Tears
Tribes / Nations involved in Trail of Tears
the Five Civilized Tribes (compare / contrast Iroquois Confederacy)
"Civilized" < adopting practices of Western Civilization promoted by George Washington and other Founders so Indians might either peacefully co-exist with or assimilate to American society:
private property (sometimes including slaves; many African American people claim African, European, and American Indian ancestry)
permanent homes (in contrast to seasonal tribal migrations)
agriculture / farming performed by men (not by women as in many traditional Indian cultures)
western-style education incl. literacy
conversion to Christianity
multiparty governance, elections, representative government
Intermarriage between distinct tribes (sometimes forming new tribal identities) + intermarriage with white settlers, particularly frontier Scotch-Irish who settled in Appalachian and Ohio Valley regions in 1700s.
Irony: Even after all these tribes' concessions to meet the dominant culture's demands, the Trail of Tears happened. In contrast to European immigrants' successful assimilation, these Indians tried to assimilate but were punished or robbed by the dominant culture to which they tried to assimilate.
For this and many other reasons, American Indians are thus a minority culture and not an immigrant culture. The Trail of Tears is a migrant experience, but as with African Americans' transport from Africa, it is forced rather than voluntary migration.
Discussion of the Trail of Tears often focuses on the Cherokee. Concentration of the Cherokees may follow from that tribe's focus may follow from Cherokees'
Prominent legal and political battles in Washington and elsewhere centered on Cherokees' claims versus State of Georgia.
Frequent intermarriage with whites on frontier, especially Scotch-Irish. (If white Americans claim Indian descent and you ask them which tribe, frequently you'll hear "Cherokee.")
Maps of Trail of Tears
John Ross /
As Ross's appearance indicates,
genealogically he was 7/8 Scots and 1/8 Cherokee through his mother
Ross's status also raises the peculiar relations between Cherokee and other Indians, and Scotch-Irish settlers of the Appalachian and Ohio Valley regions in the 1700s and beyond.
Scotch-Irish soldiers like Andrew Jackson, who as President enabled the Trail of Tears, were renowned as Indian fighters but also intermarried with Indians.
Photos of Two Women associated with the Trail of Tears
Compare Romantic art (left) vs. un-Romantic reality (right)
Historical facts and complications leading to the Trail of Tears:
Gold fever and land fever drove whites in Georgia to press the U.S. Government to remove the Cherokee Indians from their ancestral lands. (Cf. oil fever today opposing research and remedies for climate change.)
The Supreme Court ruled that Indians' rights to their lands in Georgia were constitutionally guaranteed, but President Andrew Jackson, renowned as an Indian fighter of Scotch-Irish descent, ignored the ruling and proceeded with Indian Removal.
How the Trail of Tears may resemble or differ from the immigrant narrative:
Difference: Forced rather than voluntary migration
Possible limited resemblance: As the "national migration" of an entire people, the Trail of Tears may resemble the "Great Migration" of Pilgrims and Puritans from England to New England in 1600s, the Jews' Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, and African Americans "Great Migration" from the rural, segregated South to the industrial, urban North in the early 1900s.
The Trail of Tears set the Indians involved into a separate and unequal assimilation track. As with African Americans, a distinct form of assimilation took place.
In both cases, minority groups for whom assimilation was denied ended up assimilating with each other.
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; U.S. President 1828-36)
on U.S. currency and, below, in 1845
(note resemblance to John Ross above)
Jackson is President Trump's model as a disruptor who doesn't pretend to good manners or interest in arts or finer points of law.
Jackson built his political base on "the common man" in the U.S. South in conflict with ethnic "others" (in Jackson's case, Indians and African American Slaves; in Trump's case, Mexicans and Muslims.)
After election, Trump visited Jackson's historic home in Tennessee.
Discussion questions on Trail of Tears and Cherokee Memorials:
1. What possible lessons from learning about Trail of Tears?
2. What frustrations?
3. Can potential racial / ethnic divisions be overcome by appeal to "rule of law?" as opposed to "rule of tribal identity?"