Lesson Plan

The Trail of Tears in Middle Tennessee

Photograph of an official Trail of Tears “Original Route” sign along Old Nashville Highway in Murfreesboro, TN.
Old Nashville Highway is part of the original route of the Trail of Tears.

Stones River National Battlefield

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Grade Level:
Fifth Grade-General
Anthropology, Geography, Government, Immigration, Law, Military and Wartime History, Pioneer America, Westward Expansion, Wilderness
120 minutes
Group Size:
60 or more
National/State Standards:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7


This program will provide a first-hand opportunity for students to walk the original Trail of Tears at Stones River National Battlefield, learn why the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed, and the role native Tennessean Andrew Jackson played in the brutal relocation of over 15,000 people.


The forced Cherokee removal began in May 1838 with the last detachment reaching the Oklahoma Territory on March 24, 1839. A total of nine detachments of men, women, and children, under the supervision of Principal Chief John Ross, traveled along the roads, back roads, and through the town squares of middle Tennessee for several grueling months.

Five of these detachments used the Nashville Pike, now called Old Nashville Highway, that divides Stones River National Battlefield. Twenty four years before the Battle of Stones River, another great tragedy in American history was unfolding along the roads of Murfreesboro, Nashville, McMinnville, and many other middle Tennessee cities, though the story begins long before then.

Classwork prior to visiting Stones River National Battlefield should include studies on the numerous treaties signed by the colonies, United States, and the Cherokee people dating back to the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals in 1775. A list of relevant treaties and links to useful literature is provided below.

At Stones River National Battlefield students will gather at the visitor center for a brief orientation about the history of the park and a summary of the day's activities. Restrooms and water are available if needed. Students will then travel by bus to the General Bragg Headquarters pavilion about a mile south on Old Nashville Highway. At the pavilion a ranger will discuss the history of Native Americans in middle Tennessee, the events that led up to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Supreme Court decision regarding Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, the role President Andrew Jackson played in the decision to relocate the Native Americans, and the specific route of the Trail of Tears.

Students, using primary documents, will discuss why they think the Native Americans were removed, if they would have done things differently, what alternatives the United States had, and what lessons they have learned from studying the Trail of Tears.

The students will then proceed north on the greenway adjacent to Old Nashville Highway, stopping at old tollbooth site for meaningful interpretation. Students will continue walking to Tour Stop 1, then Tour Stop 3, then return to the visitor center for lunch, bookstore visit, restrooms, etc. The entire program should not take more than two hours from the time the students leave the visitor center to the time they return.

Additional Resources

National Park Service Trail of Tears lesson Plan


Treaty of Sycamore Shoals 1775


The Transylvania Land Company


Indian Removal Act 1830


Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia 1831


Treaty of New Echota 1835


Last updated: April 14, 2015