American Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park


Hello everyone, my name is Chris Young and I'm one of the Park Rangers here at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Did you know that this park is part of the Trail of Tears, that route that the Cherokee took in 1838, moving from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, being forcibly removed out to Indian Territory in modern day Oklahoma? Well, if you didn't, we're now on the south end of Chickamauga Battlefield. You see the sign right behind me. And this is close to just being outside of the modern day city of Chickamauga, Georgia. And you'll notice also, along this roadway a sign that says, "Trail of Tears Original Route" for the next three miles. If you follow the LaFayette Road, which we're going to do in just a few moments, all the way to Chattanooga, you're going to be following parts of the original route that those Cherokee would have been forcibly taken on. Most of the Cherokee that are coming through here, at least 600 of them that we know of, were removed from Fort Cumming which was south of us right now in LaFayette, Georgia, modern day LaFayette Georgia. But before we get into the Trail of Tears in the 1830's, we need to know a little bit about the Cherokee. They likely moved into the area that was voided after the Mississippian Indians were forced to remove themselves down the watersheds further south and west into modern day Alabama and into southwest Georgia. These Creeks, now as they were known after the Mississippian culture changes into the historic period, we likely believe that they are of Creek ancestry and the Creeks are south of us. The Cherokee will come over the mountains and begin to settle this area up until forced removal in 1838. Prior to the American Revolution though, Cherokee were typically siding with the British. They were trading with the British, they were partnering with the British, while the Creek, south of us and those ancestors of the Mississippians, likely sided more with the French. And this created problems and issues and fractions amongst those two tribes- the Cherokee and the Creek, and so they were at odds most of the time. During the American Revolution and after the Revolution, the Cherokee are still beginning to side with the British. And it's not until after 1793 and the Cherokee War which will be fought after the Revolution, between settlers of the United States and those settlers moving into Tennessee, places like what would become Nashville, and engaging with Cherokee like the famed Cherokee in the Chattanooga area named Dragging Canoe. Once that ends in 1793, the Cherokee will begin making treaties with the United States Government. That's a little bit about the Cherokee prior to removal, but what we're going to do is follow part of that route all the way from here on the south side of Chickamauga Battlefield through Rossville, Georgia, up to Chattanooga Tennessee ,and then across Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, following some of those stories of those Cherokee who were removed. So I want you to go on that journey with us as we drive part of the original route of the Trail of Tears. Our next stop is going to be in Rossville, Georgia at the Historic John Ross House where we'll learn a little bit more about John Ross, his ascent to being principal chief of the Cherokee in 1828 and then his eventual assistance with the removal in 1838. So we'll see you next at the home of John Ross.

Welcome back everyone. We're now standing at John Ross's house in Rossville, Georgia, just north of Chickamauga Battlefield in between Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Tennessee. So I thought we needed to stop by here and talk a little bit about John Ross who was the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation during removal in 1838. John Ross is born in 1790 in Alabama at a place called Turkey Town, and then moves with his family, eventually settling here in Georgia, settling in this little area near a spring. Ross will build this house around 1816 and live here until 1828 when he becomes principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Now Ross is of mixed ancestry, so Ross is able to kind of walk in between both worlds, the Cherokee and the European world, because of Ross's Scottish ancestry and his Cherokee ancestry. So Ross primarily spoke English. He observed English customs, dressed as an American, or as a European. In 1828, he moves to the head of the Coosa near Rome, Georgia. And so that's where Ross is going to spend his time while he's principal chief. But he lives in this house. He likely builds this house and lives here from at least 1816 up until 1828 when he removes down close to modern-day Rome, Georgia. Ross is going to advocate for his people. He's going to negotiate with Congress. He's going to negotiate with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with those agents who are within the Cherokee Nation. He's also going to be very instrumental in making sure that his people, during forced removal, are going to have the necessities that they need to be able to be removed from here in the southeastern United States to Indian Territory in modern day Oklahoma. So I thought it was pertinent that it was very important for us to stop by here to see the home that John Ross lived in prior to ascending to being principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and overseeing that removal in 1838. From here we're going to make our way to Ross's Landing which was named for the Ross family. John Ross and his brother are going to oversee a lucrative business, shipping business, warehouse business, at Ross's Landing on the banks of the Tennessee River, prior to removal. And so that's where Ross's Landing is going to get its name. Ross's Landing by 1839, the year after removal, the Tennessee State Assembly is going to rename Ross's Landing Chattanooga, Tennessee. And so we're on our way to the historic Ross's Landing in Chattanooga and we hope to see you there.

We've just made the trek from Rossville, Georgia and Chief John Ross's historic house up through the corridor to Chattanooga, Tennessee where we're now on the banks of the Tennessee River. Now keep in mind that we traveled on some modern day roads and routes, so that's not the exact route that the Cherokee would have taken during removal in 1838. But this is the area on the banks of the Tennessee River that they would have congregated, that they would have been put in camps to await their removal, their forced removal, to Indian Territory in modern day Oklahoma. This is called The Passage. This is the area that commemorates the removal of those Cherokee from this area and we're right now at that passage at Ross's Landing. So this is the historic site of Ross's Landing that we talked about, those Ross brothers, John Ross and his brother having that wharf, that shipping wharf, and those warehouses, this is near where that would have taken place. so this is known as Ross's Landing up until after removal occurs. Let's talk a little bit about the Cherokee as they're being congregated here, as they're being placed in camps, basically internment camps that are here. Awaiting removal, disease is going to be rampant. So you're taking people from different sections of the Cherokee Nation you're putting them together. As diseases begin to spread there are Cherokee that are going to die. Unfortunately, missionaries that are with the Cherokee that are coming from places like Brainerd Mission, not too far away from here, will tell us about that. There are missionaries who see women that'll be trampled on the side of the road, that have fallen out, that are that are older. We have an account of a missionary who saw a woman give birth on the side of the road. She has only a few moments that she's able to compose herself and take her newly born child and continue her trek from Georgia up here, to Ross's Landing. So it's a very heart breaking situation that's occurring as those Cherokee are being rounded up, and being brought here to the banks of the Tennessee at Ross's Landing. The Cherokee are not the savage society that European Americans believe that they are. Not the society that those even in Congress or those who are advocating in Georgia for the removal of those Cherokee, who want the land that those Cherokee possess. They have created their own language. In the 1820's, a famous Cherokee by the name of Sequoyah comes up with "talking leaves," the Cherokee syllabary, the alphabet. And so the Cherokee are very knowledgeable. They have their own language, their own written language at the time. Almost 90 percent or more of the Cherokee Nation are literate, which is far greater than the white populations of the United States at that time. The Cherokee Nation also has a written constitution based on that of the United States. They have three branches of government like the United States; they have a judiciary they also have an executive and a legislative branch of government. And they also have their own newspaper, the "Cherokee Phoenix," which is being published in New Echota, the Cherokee capital,

in both English and in Cherokee. So we're talking about most Cherokee even being bilingual in that sense, of them being able to read the newspaper in English or in Cherokee. So, they're highly advanced. They're trying to assimilate as much as possible into United States or European society and norms, without giving up too much of their identity. And that is what's leading them to Ross's Landing. The land that the Americans want that the Georgians primarily want, and that the United States has lost some court cases to the Cherokee, and the understanding of what the Cherokee Nation is. Is it a sovereign nation? Is it not a sovereign nation? And that leads us to probably the the most important, or one of the most important, cases of the Cherokee Nation. And that's going to be that of Samuel Worcester. Samuel Worcester's case is going to be referred to as Worcester versus Georgia, and I want us to watch this video to get a little bit of a sense about the Cherokee, the Cherokee Nation, and what happens in this landmark case of Worcester v. Georgia. So let's watch this short video.

The Trail of Tears. The year was 1838, and Native Americans from the southeast were being forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands. Several thousand Cherokees would die along this journey before reaching their new home west of the Mississippi River. But who forced them to leave, and why? Well, let's find out.

At the time of this case, the Cherokee nation owned territory within the borders of North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. But the states wanted this land. Samuel Worcester, a minister from Vermont, was sent as a missionary to live amongst the Cherokee people in New Echota, their national capital. While Worcester helped translate the Bible into their native language, he also advised the Cherokee leaders of their political and legal rights. New Echota was located within the boundaries of the state of Georgia, so the Georgia legislature enacted a law that prohibited white persons from living on Cherokee land without permission from the state. They didn't like the missionaries? The state recognized that Worcester was influential in the Cherokee resistance movement, so they ordered Worcester and his fellow missionaries to leave the state unless they could somehow obtain a license to be there. Right, like that would happen. So, what did the missionaries do? The missionaries refused to apply for a license and refused to leave. So, they were arrested. Wow! The state really didn't like them much, did they? I don't know how personal it was, but they certainly did not like him standing in their way. What happened next, though, was the first step in defining what this case was really about. Worcester's lawyers argued that because he served as a federal postmaster in New Echota, he was in the Cherokee Nation under the authority of the federal government. Clever, so he was released? He was, but then Georgia's governor George R. Gilmer persuaded the U.S. Government to relieve Worcester of his postmaster duties. So, he was arrested again? Yes, along with nine other missionaries who refused to leave the Cherokees. But it wasn't long before Worcester posted bond and was released. For good this time? No. This is starting to sound like bullying. I don't like bullies, but I've learned when you're bullied you can just turn and walk away. So why didn't Worcester just leave the state? Well, he believed in what he was doing. Also, during the time Worcester was being bullied, his daughter became ill and passed away. Oh that's terrible. It was, and when Worcester went home to comfort his wife, the Georgia guard arrested him for the third time. Are you kidding me? For living on Cherokee land? It was against the law. But it sure seemed like the state of Georgia was playing games with him. And they were just getting started. After a temporary release to console his wife, Worcester and the other missionaries were tried, convicted, and sentenced to hard labor for four years

in the Georgia penitentiary. But the missionaries appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. I love those guys! What did the Supreme Court say? Well, before I tell you their decision, let's back up a little bit and fill in some other historic details you should probably know. Okay. In 1827, the Cherokees established their own constitutional government. By doing so, they were not only restructuring their government, but also declaring that they were a sovereign nation and could not be removed without their consent. The Georgia legislature responded by annexing the Cherokee lands. Wait, what does it mean to annex their land? They took it legally. They also abolished their government, courts, and laws. Wow! They also created a standard process for seizing the Cherokee land and distributing it to the State of Georgia's white citizens. Could they do that? Well, they tried. Representatives from Georgia and the other southern states pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress in 1830. What was that? The Indian Removal Act gave U.S. President Andrew Jackson the authority to negotiate removal treaties with Native Americans. And did he? Did he what? Did Andrew Jackson negotiate a removal treaty with the Native Americans? Yes, he did. In 1835, after the Supreme Court struck down Georgia's new laws. Wait. So the President of the United States ignored the Supreme Court? Well, let's just say he didn't enforce their decision. Which was? Why don't we let Supreme Court Justice Marshall tell you in his own words. The Cherokee Nation is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force. He also wrote that the Indian Nations were distinct, independent, political communities retaining their original natural rights. Then, he pointed to several treaties where the United States had acknowledged this point. Acknowledged what? The Cherokee Indians constituted a nation holding distinct sovereign powers. In English, please. The state of Georgia had no jurisdiction over the Cherokee Nation. Even though they were located within the state borders? Exactly. So, what happened next? Georgia ignored the Supreme Court's ruling, refused to release the missionaries, and continued to press the federal government to remove the Cherokees. And President Jackson did nothing to enforce the decision? Nope. In fact, President Jackson summarized his position in a letter to Brigadier General John Coffee. The decision of the Supreme Court has fell stillborn, and they find it cannot coerce Georgia to yield its mandate. In other words, we're not helping. Exactly, except he did negotiate the removal treaty with the Cherokees I mentioned earlier. Which led to the Trail of Tears? Yes, because the Cherokees were reluctant to leave their homeland, the U.S. Army had to forcibly remove and march them to their new territory in present-day Oklahoma. And what happened to Worcester? He and the other missionaries accepted a pardon from Georgia's new governor Wilson Lumpkin, who was receiving intense criticism for the imprisonment of the missionaries. In exchange for their pardon, the missionaries abandoned their Cherokee campaign and were released from prison in 1833. So, their mission failed? Well, not exactly. Despite the dismal aftermath, the decision of the court became the foundation for the principle of tribal sovereignty in the 20th century. I see. The Supreme Court's decision became a powerful declaration used by the Indian nations to defend themselves against state and local encroachments on their tribal lands. It also reminded the federal government that the tribe's dependence on the United States for protection meant that the federal government has moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust when it deals with the Indian tribes. Cool! What case should we learn about next? It's up to them. Welcome back everyone. So ,in the case Worcester v. Georgia, the Nation should have been protected. John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the United States

Supreme Court rendered the verdict of the court, which should have protected the Cherokee Nation. However, the executive, Andrew Jackson, the President of the United States at that time, did not enforce the Supreme Court's ruling and basically Georgia was able to ride roughshod over the Cherokee Nation, resulting in the United States Army coming in to oversee the Cherokee removal. And much of that is going to happen right here at Ross's Landing. Several groups of Cherokee will be removed by the Tennessee River on boats. Those who are not able to be removed on the Tennessee River are going to have to go over land. And so what we're going to do now is we're going to follow a portion of several of those overland routes that will take us across on the north side of the Tennessee River, and they're going to take us across Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, another site that is preserved by Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. And we're going to travel on a portion of the Brown's Ferry Road that would have led those Cherokee down to another site on the Tennessee River where they would have crossed on a ferry boat, making their trek west into that unknown territory that was known as Indian Land, modern day Oklahoma. So we'll hope to see you next at the Brown's Ferry Federal Road tract on Moccasin Bend.

Hello again, everyone. So we've finally made it to our ending point. Unfortunately, it's not the end for the Cherokee story. This is as far as we get to go on Moccasin Bend. So we have

followed the Cherokee from Ross's Landing, those that were not able to go on the water routes, they're going to be at least two groups that come across the neck of Moccasin Bend. And one will come in June of 1838, that will be one of the forced removal parties. And then in October of 1838, we have a treaty party, one of the last treaty parties that will be taken out to the western section of the United States to Indian Territory across the neck of Moccasin Bend. So what you'll see is we're following close to the same route as those two groups of Cherokee did in 1838. Going across the Tennessee River, not being able to use the modern roads that we did in 1838, the Cherokee that would have come this direction would have followed closer to the riverbank. But, very closely to the view that you got as we were walking along what we call the Brown's Ferry Federal Road, you followed the route of those two Cherokee parties that would have come across. The sections that are filmed as original route sections underneath us would have been the Brown's Ferry Road trace and so just a few feet below our own feet, we would have if we had been here in 1838, been walking on that road that those Cherokee traversed that year. This is going to be very near where the terminus of Brown's Ferry, on this bank, on the eastern bank, is located. It's going to be just to your left, my right, just a little ways down. But, that ferry boat would have taken those Cherokee, small groups at a time, across to the terminus across the Tennessee River. You'll see just across from us that gap that's in the little ridge line there. Raccoon Mountain is the mountain beyond that that you see through the gap. So those Cherokee would have crossed the Tennessee river on those boats. They would have gone through the gap, and then they would have been taken down what's now Brown's Ferry Road to my left heading south to be able to hit the Kelly's Ferry Road now and then begin that trek down the river that direction. So I want you to think about something though. I want you to think about what you can see from here. There's not much that you can see beyond that gap. So think about having to give everything up, having to leave everything behind. Because that's what these Cherokee are being forced to do. Everything that you know, everything that you have known your entire life- the home that you grew up in, the yard that you played in, the woods that you walked through- all of that being given up at the point of a sharp bayonet on the end of a gun. Being forced into camps at places like Ross's Landing against your will, and having to face disease, starvation, death of family members. Then being put on boats, destination unknown. Or being ferried across to the Tennessee River, walking across the peninsula now known as Moccasin Bend to near this point, and then being taken across the Tennessee River to that gap, not knowing what's on the other side of it, not knowing where the end point is for you. It's hard having to give everything up,

having to leave everything behind that you know.

I want us to think about that as we finish up this trek, this journey that we've been on from the south portion of Chickamauga Battlefield where we started, along a three-mile stretch of the original route of the Trail of Tears, to John Ross's house that those Cherokee would have walked by, their principal Cherokee chief's house on their way to Ross's Landing, maybe taking a glance at it for one last time, the place that their chief had built,

to Ross's Landing, to Moccasin Bend, traversing portions of the Tennessee River and the overland routes, the cold, the bitterness. Out of around 14,000 Cherokee who made up that nation in 1838, approximately 4,000 will lose their lives on what they call the "nuna dawa sunni," the trail where we cried.

We hope you've learned a little bit about Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park's connection with the Trail of Tears, that you've learned a little bit about the turmoil that those Cherokee families went through, not only in their own lives but in trying to defend their way of life in the court systems of the United States, and the outcome that came from that. Through all of the tears, through all of the tragedy, I want to remind you what the Cherokee remind us today. That they're here. That they're vibrant. That they're still with us. That the nation was not stamped out by Georgia, by settlers, by the U.S. Government and the military, but that they thrive as a people, and that they're still here.

We hope that you'll come and experience some of these places for yourself, walk the ground, contemplate what they went through in 1838, and we hope to see you out here soon.


This program focuses on the 1838 US government-backed forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee.


32 minutes, 39 seconds



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