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File:Trails of Tears en.png

Routes of southern removals.

Indian removal was a nineteenth century policy of the government of the United States to relocate Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river. The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 26, 1830.


President Thomas Jefferson, promoted assimilated or "civilized". Though Jefferson's plan included assimilation, but "he wanted to get Indians into debt so he could lop off their holdings through land cessions", and this is why he encouraged indigenous peoples to become individual land owners.[1]

In the early 19th century "land exchange" developed and began to be incorporated into land cession treaties. Indigenous nations were coerced and sometimes forced to relinquish land in the east in exchange for land west of the Mississippi River. In 1817, for example, the Cherokee agreed to cede two large tracts of land in the east for land in present-day Arkansas. The process was used in President Andrew Jackson's policy of forced migration in the Indian Removal Act of 1830.[2]

Forced migration

In 1830, some of the "Five Civilized Tribes" — the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee — were still living east of the Mississippi, while others had already been forced west. They were called "civilized" because many tribesmen had adopted various aspects of European-American culture, including Christianity. The Cherokees had a system of writing their own language, developed by Sequoyah, and published a newspaper in Cherokee and English.

In spite of this acculturation, many white settlers and land speculators simply desired the land. Some claimed their presence was a threat to peace and security. Some U.S. states, like Georgia in 1830, passed a law which prohibited whites from living on Native American territory after March 31, 1831 without a license from the state. This law was written to justify removing white missionaries who were helping the Native Americans resist removal.

Missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts urged the Cherokee Nation to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Marshall court ruled that while Native American tribes were sovereign nations (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 1831), state laws had no force on tribal lands (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832).[3]

Indian Removal Act

File:Map Western U.S. Indian Wars Battles and Massacres.jpg

Map of battles and massacres in the Western United States during the Indian extermination wars of the late 1800s.

Under President Andrew Jackson in 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the removal of indigenous peoples by treaty. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek with the Choctaw was the first such removal treaty implemented; while around 7,000 Choctaws ultimately stayed in Mississippi, about 14,000 moved along the Red River. When the Choctaw reached Little Rock, Choctaw chief (thought to be Thomas Harkins or Nitikechi) quoted to the Arkansas Gazette that the removal was a "trail of tears and death."[4] Other treaties, like the dubious Treaty of New Echota with the Cherokee, followed, resulting in the forced removal along the Trail of Tears.

As a result, the five tribes were resettled in the new Indian Territory in modern-day Oklahoma and parts of Kansas. Some indigenous nations more forcefully resisted forced migration. Those few who stayed behind eventually formed tribal groups including the Eastern Band Cherokee, based in North Carolina.

In 1835, the Seminoles refused to leave their lands in Florida, leading to the Second Seminole War. Osceola led the Seminoles in their fight against removal. Based in the Everglades of Florida, Osceola and his band used surprise attacks to defeat the U.S. Army in many battles. In 1837, Osceola was seized by deceit upon the orders of U.S. General T.S. Jesup when Osceola came under a flag of truce to negotiate peace.[5][6] He died in prison. Some traveled deeper into the Everglades, while others moved west. Removal continued out west and numerous wars ensued over land.

Southern Removals

Nation Population east of the Mississippi before removal treaty Removal treaty
(year signed)
Years of major emigration Total number emigrated or forcibly removed Number stayed in Southeast Deaths during removal Deaths from warfare
Choctaw 19,554 [7] + 6000 black slaves Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830) 1831–1836 12,500 7,000 [8] 2,000–4,000+ (Cholera) n/a
Creek 22,700 + 900 black slaves [9] Cusseta (1832) 1834–1837 19,600 [10] ? 3,500 (disease after removal)[11] ? (Second Creek War)
Chickasaw 4,914 + 1,156 black slaves Pontotoc Creek (1832) 1837–1847 over 4,000 hundreds 500–800 n/a
Cherokee 21,500
+ 2,000 black slaves
New Echota (1835) 1836–1838 20,000 + 2,000 slaves 1,000 2,000–8,000 n/a
Seminole 5,000 + fugitive slaves Payne's Landing (1832) 1832–1842 2,833 [12] 250–500 [13] 700 (Second Seminole War)

Many figures have been rounded.

Native American Removal in the North


Tribes north in the Old Northwest were far smaller and more fragmented than the Five Civilized Tribes, and so the treaty and emigration process was more piecemeal. Bands of Shawnees, Ottawas, Potawatomis, Sauks, and Foxes signed treaties and relocated to the "Indian Territory". In 1832, a Sauk chief named Black Hawk led a band of Sauk and Fox back to their lands in Illinois. In the Black Hawk War, the U.S. Army and Illinois militia defeated Black Hawk and his army.[14]

The Iroquois were also supposed to be part of the Indian removal, and the Treaty of Buffalo Creek arranged for them to be removed to land in Wisconsin and Kansas. However, the land company that was to purchase the land for the territories reneged on their deal to purchase the land, and subsequent treaties in 1842 and 1857 gave back most of the Iroquois' reservations untouched. Only the Buffalo Creek Reservation was ever dissolved as part of the removal program; a small portion was purchased back over a century later to build a casino.

See also


  1. William Clark: Indian diplomat Jay Buckley, University Oklahoma Press, 2008, pg 193
  2. Prucha (1994), pp. 146–165.
  3. Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars, page 257.
  4. Chris Watson. "The Choctaw Trail of Tears". Retrieved 2008-04-29.
  7. Foreman, p. 47 n.10 (1830 census).
  8. Several thousand more emigrated West from 1844–49; Foreman, pp. 103–4.
  9. Foreman, p. 111 (1832 census).
  10. Remini, p. 272.
  11. Russell Thornton, "Demography of the Trail of Tears", p.85.
  12. Prucha, p. 233.
  13. Low figure from Prucha, p. 233; high from Wallace, p. 101.
  14. Lewis, James. "The Black Hawk War of 1832," Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University, p. 2D. Retrieved 20 September 2007.


  • Anderson, William L., ed. Cherokee Removal: Before and After. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8203-1482-X.
  • Ehle, John. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday, 1988. ISBN 0-385-23953-X.
  • Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932, 11th printing 1989. ISBN 0-8061-1172-0.
  • Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Volume I. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8032-3668-9.
  • Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. University of California Press, 1994. ISBN 0-520-20895-1.
  • Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars. New York: Viking, 2001. ISBN 0-670-91025-2.
  • Satz, Ronald N. American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era. Originally published Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1975. Republished Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8061-4332-1 (2002 edition).
  • Thornton, Russell. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8061-2074-6.
  • Wallace, Anthony F.C. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. ISBN 0-8090-1552-8 (paperback); ISBN 0-8090-6631-9 (hardback).
  • Zinn, Howard. "A People’s History of the United States: American Beginnings to Reconstruction". Vol. 1. New York: New, 2003. ISBN 978-1-56584-724-8.

External links

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