[Said Leahy,] "Ms. Warren's great-great-great grandfather was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January, 1837." Leahy details the terrible toll the Trail of Tears took on Cherokee families, then demands Warren admit she's a fake Native American -- and "a direct descendant of a Tennessee Militiaman who apparently rounded up the ancestors of those who truly have Cherokee heritage."
A resolution of formal apology for ''a long history of official depradations and ill-conceived policies'' has been quietly cleared for a Senate vote, with proponents predicting passage. Tribal leaders have been offering mixed reactions of wariness (''words on paper'') and approval somewhat short of delight (''a good first step''). True, no federal reparations or claim settlements are at stake. But the rhetoric of the resolution pulls few punches about the genocidal wounds American Indians suffered in being uprooted for the New World. The Trail of Tears, the Long Walk, the Wounded Knee Massacre and other travails are specified in the resolution
"I am a full blood Cherokee Indian born in Going-Lake District, Indian Territory, Cherokee Nation, March 10, 1854, and raised there. My father, Dun-Ev-Nall Alexander was born in Georgia and was driven West during the immigration. All the Indians were gathered up or rounded up by Federal soldiers and put in pens and guarded until ready for the move; they were gathered up by the "Clans" and left their gardens and crops, and some of the old homes of the Cherokee are still standing in Georgia. The last group that was rounded up revolted; the leader gave the signal to revolt and all turned on the guards and took their guns away and murdered the guards and they made for hide aways in the mountains. That is why the Indians are back in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. They never were found or hunted much," [says Jobe Alexander, from Oklahoma.]
"The food on the Trail of Tears was very bad and very scarce and the Indians would go for two of three days without water, which they would get just when they came to a creek or river as there were no wells to get water from. There were no roads to travel over, as the country was just a wilderness. The men and women would go ahead of the wagons and cut the timber out of the way with axes," [says Lilian Anderson, on the life story of her grandfather, Washington Lee, a Cherokee Indian.]
Unlike the "Trail of Tears" that took place in a single, dreadful moment, in 1838, in which several thousand Cherokee people were sent on a death march to the West, the removals of the Seminole people from Florida began earlier and lasted 20 years longer. Just like that other event, however, the toll in human suffering was profound and the stain on the honor of a great nation, the United States, can never be erased.
The Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminoles signed treaties agreeing to leave their homes in the southeast and move west. Their travels were marked by outbreaks of cholera, inadequate supplies, bitter cold, and death from starvation and exhaustion. The Cherokees' march was a forced one under the direction of the United States army, and it came to be known as the "Trail of Tears" or, in their own term, "The Place Where They Cried."
By the 1830s, pressure to open interior lands for settlement and resource development was intrinsically a part of Jackson's America. Tennessean Andrew Jackson was a strong proponent of Indian removal. As a military leader in the early 1800s, Jackson had defeated factions of the Creek and Seminole nations in the Southeast, and between 1814 and 1824 he was instrumental in negotiating numerous treaties with southern tribes to exchange their eastern lands for lands in the west. In 1828 Jackson was elected president of the United States. In this powerful position, Jackson successfully pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress in May 1830, which initiated the formal removal of Native Americans from the Southeastern United States. The Act was to “provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.”
From 1814 to 1824, Jackson was instrumental in negotiating nine out of eleven treaties which divested the southern tribes of their eastern lands in exchange for lands in the west. The tribes agreed to the treaties for strategic reasons. They wanted to appease the government in the hopes of retaining some of their land, and they wanted to protect themselves from white harassment. As a result of the treaties, the United States gained control over three-quarters of Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina. This was a period of voluntary Indian migration, however, and only a small number of Creeks, Cherokee and Choctaws actually moved to the new lands.
Early in the 19th century, while the rapidly-growing United States expanded into the lower South, white settlers faced what they considered an obstacle. This area was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw and Seminole nations. These Indian nations, in the view of the settlers and many other white Americans, were standing in the way of progress. Eager for land to raise cotton, the settlers pressured the federal government to acquire Indian territory.
The removal of American Indian tribes from lands east of the Mississippi River to what is now the state of Oklahoma is one of the tragic episodes in American history. Early treaties signed by American agents and representatives of Indian tribes guaranteed peace and the integrity of Indian territories, primarily to assure that the lucrative fur trade would continue without interruption. American settlers' hunger for Indian land, however, led to violent conflict in many cases, and succeeding treaties generally compelled tribes to cede large areas to the United States government.
The history of The Trail of Tears is one of the most difficult and complex chapters in the American experience. It reveals national character and political policy at their worst, yet it also illuminates the strength of tribal people to survive against all odds, including the turbulence of Jacksonian democracy. Within this epic, the resilience of Native Americans, combined with acts of courage by both Indians and whites, prevented the complete annihilation of cultures overwhelmed by the demands of land hungry states, settlers, and speculators.