The Trail of Tears is the common name for the systematic removal of Cherokee Indians from Tennessee and Georgia to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) in compliance with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 as put into place by President Andrew Jackson. Under that Act, the US government negotiated relocation treaties with various Indian tribes, and some of them moved voluntarily and peaceably. Some Indians also stayed and became American citizens.
Some Cherokee leaders signed a relocation treaty in 1833, and in 1836 the Cherokees were given two years to move voluntarily. In 1838, President Martin Van Buren's administration forced about 17,000 Cherokee Indian to move to Oklahoma. Between 2,000 and 4,000 died on the trip, mostly the elderly and small children due to disease, malnutrition, and fatigue. The Trail of Tears became a national historical site in 1987.
Jackson had expressed the opinion that the relocation was a generous offer to the Indians, and that they would be very much better off with the freedom and autonomy of their new territories. While contemporary liberals say that Jackson defied the US Supreme Court to relocate the Cherokees, in fact the Court never ruled on the matter.
Private John G. Burnett participated in the forced relocation, and wrote about the great suffering that the Cherokees endured.
- The exact number is debated. On the official lists, 13,169 left home and 11,504 arrived in Oklahoma. Russell Thornton et al. The Cherokees: A Population History (University of Nebraska Press, 1992).