Cherokee on the Trail of Tears
Cherokee on the Trail of Tears
Gilcrease Museum


In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act which led to the removal of nearly 46,000 Native Americans from their homes east of the Mississippi River to lands west of Missouri. Some tribes went peacefully knowing that they were no match for the US Army, however some tribes were tricked into signing treaties giving up their land while others were forced to march thousands of miles to their new homes which they were promised would never be taken by white settlers.


  • Students will be able to identify the five main tribes that were moved to the Permanent Indian Frontier.
  • Students will be able to identify and explain the reasons why so many Native Americans died en route to their new homes.
  • Students will be able to describe how well the Native Americans were treated by the US Army during the time period.


White settlers had long been moving onto land that had once been roamed by nomadic Indian tribes. Nomadic tribes moved with the seasons and the migration of the animals that they hunted, those animals were the life blood of the tribes. Animals that were hunted not only provided food, but also clothing, shelter and the tools for everyday life. When the prairie was an open space, the buffalo especially would roam in large groups which allowed the Indians to hunt in large parties and capture many animals at a time. As more and more white settlers came to America, they wanted to move onto the land to farm, which meant that the Indians could no longer roam there. This caused many problems and led to many conflicts between the white settlers and the Indians. By 1830 President Andrew Jackson believed that the Indians needed to all be moved west of the Mississippi River to lands that would be set aside for the Indians alone. There was however some major problems with this idea, the major one being that most of the Indians did not want to move. By the year 1842 the US Army had established a series of forts along what they called the Permanent Indian Frontier, stretching from Fort Snelling in Minnesota to Fort Jesup in Louisiana. These forts were created to keep white settlers off of Indian lands and toe keep peace between the many tribes that would be forced to live in close proximity with each other. Between the years of 1831-1842 nearly 46,000 Native Americans would be moved from their eastern homelands to lands in what is today Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. During these years, some tribes moved on their own and without major problems, while still others had to be removed by the US Army using force. The most infamous of these involved the Cherokee tribe being marched from Georgia to present day Oklahoma. However many of these types of marches took place. The tragedies that befell the Indian tribes were atrocious; some were preventable while others happened whenever large groups of people came together in those days. For example, cholera was a common illness when large groups congregated together because of lack of knowledge about sanitation. However there were other atrocities, such as not enough food or blankets to keep the tribes from freezing to death. Some tribes were not allowed to bring any of their belonging with them which left them at a distinct disadvantage in their ability to care for themselves. This lesson is designed for students to study the emigration of the tribes during Indian Removal as well as to get some understanding of the hardships that the tribes faced.


Materials you will need for this lesson are the associated map activity which shows the location of the Indian tribes before and after removal and the hazard cards which are used to determine who survives and who dies in the reenactment of the journey.


Before you begin: Make copies of the hazard cards that will be handed out. (There are 24 cards with this lesson; however you can change that to whatever number that you need.) Hand out maps of before relocation and after that  show where tribes were marched to. 

Step 1: Introduce the topic of Indian Removal. Discuss why some tribes would voluntarily leave their homeland while others refused. Discuss the Five Civilized tribes and why they may have been called that. Also make sure that students know that there were many more tribes than just those 5. Have students look at the map and talk about why some tribes were given more land area than others. 

Step 2: Ask the students to make a educated guess of how many in the class would not have made it to the final destination. (The amount of hazard cards is slightly off from the actual percentages that would have died en route.) Give each student a random hazard card, but ask them not to look at them yet. Discuss the techniques used by the US Army to get the tribes to march west, make sure to discuss how some tribes were not allowed to take any belongings with them. 

Step 3: There are 2 ways to do this activity:

1. As the teacher continues discussing or reading about the Indian Removal the teacher can randomly call out a hazard card description and those students must either sit on the floor or put their heads on the desk.

2. If you have access to a gym or open area outside you could do this as a kinetic activity. Take students on a walk and talk to them about the tribes, as you walk randomly call out a hazard card. (For example you might say something like "Cholera has struck the camp- if you have a cholera card, please sit down on the floor.") If the student has the hazard card then they have to sit down. Teachers will need to make sure that they call out all the hazard cards by the end except for the survivor cards, those should be the only students still standing at the end of the activity. After all the cards have been called ask the students to look around- many of their classmates will either be sitting on the floor or with their heads down, they represent the number of Indians that would not have survived the trip west. Ask students to think about that number on the grand scale of how many people were displaced form their homes. 

At the conclusion of the activity, have students answer the following questions:

1. Why were Native American tribes being moved west? What was happening to the land they left behind?

2. What types of things happened to the tribes as they marched west?

3. How were the tribes treated during this time frame?        


Students should be able to write at least 3-4 sentences on each of the 3 questions. Teachers are checking for understanding based on the discussions that took place as well as the culminating writing activity.

Park Connections

Fort Scott was created as a part of the Permanent Indian Frontier, the soldiers that were stationed at the fort kept peace between the tribes that had been relocated to this region. Tribes from east of the Mississippi River who had been forcibly moved to this area were promised that this would be "permanent" Indian terrritory. Soldiers at Fort Scott formed a "border patrol" keeping white settlers and Indian tribes seperated.

Prior to the establishment of Fort Scott, a military garrison had been present at Fort Wayne in the heart of Cherokee land. The Cherokee objected to a military presence at this location and Fort Scott was established in part to placate the Cherokee tribe.


There are many excellent books, both fiction and informational text, that would go right along with this lesson.


Cholera, Trail of Tears, Civilized, Treaty, Nomadic,