Driving the Trail of Tears

Cherokee in Exile
  |  Gorp.com
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In the fall of 1838, over 16,000 Cherokee men, women, and children were force marched 800 miles from Georgia to unfamiliar lands in Oklahoma. Exposed to drought, disease, frigid weather, and provided with little clothing, shelter, or food, over 4,000 Cherokee Indians died. The paths that the Cherokee trudged over became known as the Trail of Tears. One hundred sixty years later, the Trail of Tears National Historical Trail commemorates this sad episode in American history.

By following the author's recommended autoroute, and taking advantage of the side trips, you can spend an extended drive hitting many of the historical sites associated with the Trail of Tears, threading you through some of the prettiest scenery in the southeastern United States.

"Many days pass and people die very much."

A survivor of one of the most shameful episodes in American history made this wrenching observation about a brutal forced march perpetrated by the U.S. government against Native Americans. The march was the final act in a little-known land grab by the government that forced the Cherokee Indians from their ancestral lands.

In the early 1800s the European settlement of Georgia was in full swing and settlers were hungry for Cherokee land. On top of this hunger, or more likely because of it, rumors spread through the white population that there was gold to be found on Cherokee land in Georgia. Through trickery and treachery, the government conspired to take these much-coveted ancestral lands from the Cherokee Nation. In 1838, a combination of maneuvering by Congress and the signing of the Echota Treaty by a small minority of Cherokee leaders culminated in the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia.

In the fall of that year, U.S. troops under the command of General Winfield Scott began marching the Cherokee Nation out of Georgia to what is now Oklahoma. They traveled across northern Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas before finally reaching resettlement points in Oklahoma. The roundup began in the late spring of 1838 and the march continued through the winter.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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