Unfortunately, the Cherokees did not enjoy prosperous times for long. Gold was discovered on Indian lands in Georgia. Political pressure was exerted by President Andrew Jackson to confiscate Indian lands and remove the Cherokees to the West. Numerous injustices against the Cherokee Nation culminated in the signing of the Treaty of New Echota. Those who signed the treaty did not have the authority to represent the entire Cherokee Nation. Nevertheless, the treaty stood.
The Cherokees were taken from their homes, held in stockades, and forced to move to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Almost 14,000 Cherokees began the trek westward in October of 1838. More than 4,000 died from cold, hunger, and disease during the six-month journey that came to be known as the "Trail of Tears."
Prior to the "Trail of Tears," a small group of Cherokees in western North Carolina had already received permission to be excluded from the move west. Those individuals, often called the Oconaluftee Cherokees, did not live on Cherokee Nation land and considered themselves separate from the Cherokee Nation.
Permission for the Oconaluftee Cherokees to remain in North Carolina had been obtained in part through the efforts of William H. Thomas, a successful business man who had grown up among the Cherokees. For more than 30 years he served as their attorney and adviser. To avoid jeopardizing their special status, the Oconaluftee Cherokees reluctantly assisted in the search for Cherokee Nation Indians who had fled to the mountains to avoid capture.
Among those in hiding was Tsali, who had become a hero to many Cherokees for his resistance to forced removal. Tsali was being sought because of his role in the deaths of several soldiers. To prevent further hardships for the Cherokees still in hiding, Tsali eventually agreed to surrender and face execution. Due in part to Tsali's sacrifice, many of those in hiding were eventually allowed to settle among the Cherokees of western North Carolina. This was to be the beginning of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees.
Today there are about 11,000 members of the Eastern Tribe, most of whom live on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, or the "Qualla Boundary" as it is often called. The communities of Yellowhill, Birdtown, Snowbird, Painttown, Big Cove, and Wolftown are within the 56,000 acre boundary which covers parts of five western North Carolina counties.
Unlike some reservations in the western United states, this one is entirely open to visitors. In fact, the tourism industry has been very profitable. Hotels, motels, restaurants, campgrounds, amusement parks, a casino, and shops flourish in and around the town of Cherokee. Museums here help preserve and interpret Cherokee history and culture. While the people have adopted lifestyles more modern than those of their ancestors, traditional craft skills continue to be passed on to younger generations. The speaking of the Cherokee language has also seen a resurgence in recent years.