From the Trail of Tears to Reservation. The Cherokee Tribe as a Minority from 1800 until Today

Seminar Paper, 2018

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Free online reading

Table of contents

1. "A Cherokee Prayer" by Spiritwind Wood

2. From Trail of Tears to reservation
2.1 The Cherokee removal
2.1.1 Indian Removal Act
2.1.2 Trail of Tears
2.1.3 Reports of contemporary witnesses
2.2 The Cherokees from 1850 until today
2.2.1 In reservations
2.2.2 In the cities

3. Hope for change

4. Bibliography

5. Table of Figures

1. "A Cherokee Prayer" by Spiritwind Wood

Due to copyright reasons, the poem was deleted by editorial staff.

The work, "A Cherokee Prayer" by Spiritwind Wood, describes the experiences of the Cherokee tribe in the time of their resettlement by the European settlers. This time was terrible for the Cherokees and this poem clearly demonstrates this.

The author mentions the "pain" which the Cherokees had to endure during this period. This means not only the physical pain, but also the psychological pain in losing one's own country and relatives, as well as the pain caused by discrimination and humiliation.

To overcome this "pain", the Cherokees prayed for "strength" and a "guide" to a spiritual force they called "the great spirit". This shows the desperate and helpless situation in which they were trapped.

The Cherokees felt like "convicts" and "abandoned from society", although they were such an innocent and generous tribe (Arens 100).

Their world, in which they "once walked so free", was simply wrested from them.

Passages such as "rivers turned red" or "another one dies" also show how many tribal members cruelly lost their lives due to the relocation.

The Cherokee Tribe still represents a minority in the US and it is questionable which position they have in american society today.

2. From Trail of Tears to reservation

After many of the Cherokees lost their lives on the Trail of Tears, they were displaced from their original habitat and accommodated in reservations. This was a long and painful process for the Cherokee Tribe.

2.1 The Cherokee removal

The Cherokee Tribe suffered heavily under the European immigrants, although they adapted to the European way of life better than any other Indian nation (cf. Mattioli 158f).

Despite their efforts to adapt and to live peacefully with the European settlers, in keeping with the core values of their culture, such as sense of community and self-sacrifice, the Europeans showed no mercy in implementing their relocation plan (cf. Mattioli 157).

2.1.1 Indian Removal Act

Jefferson and Monroe, previous US Presidents, recommended a relocation, despite civilization successes (cf. Arens 104). The new US President Jackson therefore enforced the relocation in 1830 from the southern Appalachians to the Indian territory, after two years earlier, gold had been found in the Cherokee region (cf. Mattioli 160).

The Cherokee territory contained parts of the present North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama (cf. Arens 101).

The "Indian Removal Act" concerned all the Indian nations of the East, especially the five civilized nations of the Southeast: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and the Seminole (cf. Arens 104). The Cherokees successfully sued against this law in two trials: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia (cf. Mattioli 161f).

However, President Jackson was able to convince a few Cherokees to relocate for compensation of five million dollars (cf. ibid.). Jackson signed the contract, although it was concluded against the will of the Cherokee majority and it was ratified by one vote majority in the congress (cf. Arens 104).

2.1.2 Trail of Tears

On 23 May 1838 about 18,000 Cherokees had to leave their territory (cf. Mattioli 164). 2,000 of them left their lands voluntarily and a few hundred were able to escape to the Appalachians (cf. ibid.). But a 7,000-man army forced the majority to relocate with armed force (cf. Arens 104). There was not even time to pack the bare essentials, looters robbed the empty houses in front of the eyes of the soldiers and also set the farms on fire (cf. Mattioli 164).

The Indians were interned for five months in 31 palisade forts and had to sleep on the bare ground (cf. ibid.). The sanitary conditions were terrible and so many Cherokees died from measles, whooping cough and dysentery (cf. Arens 104). In addition brutal guards sold cheap liquor to the inmates, deprived them of their last belongings and also raped their women (cf. Mattioli 165).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Routes of the relocation

The suffering marches of the "Trail of Tears" also called "Nunna daul Tsuny" led over 16 routes (cf. Mattioli 165). In the first march, the Cherokees were exposed to the sweltering summer heat and in the last one to the biting winter cold (cf. ibid.). The "Trail of Tears" was more than 1,600 kilometers long and took three months (cf. ibid.). The Cherokees were already weakened from the time in the camps and almost all had to walk (cf. ibid.). They all suffered from hunger, illness, exhaustion and lack of medical care (cf. ibid.). About 4,000 of them lost their lives on this journey (cf. Arens 104). In addition, about half of the Cherokee Tribe had already been extinguished by around 1,700 introduced diseases, such as smallpox epidemics (cf. Mattioli 158).

The beginning in the new home was quite hard in the first few years, because practically everything was missing (cf. Mattioli 165).

A soldier from Georgia once said that he fought during the Civil War and saw many men shot to pieces or butchered by the thousands, but the resettlement of the Cherokees was the cruelest he had ever seen (cf. Mattioli 165f).

John P. Bowes summarizes:

[M]ost Americans believed that both the Indians and their way of life were destined to disappear. With the removal legislation, government officials fave the Indians a choice of fates. They could adopt a lifestyle more similar to white Americans and stay where they were, or they could give up their eastern lands and move west of the Mississippi River. Either way, the Indian presence would be removed from the eastern territories. (9f)

2.1.3 Reports of contemporary witnesses

Reports of contemporary witnesses testify the cruel events of the Cherokee Removal, especially the "Trail of Tears".

In an interview, Mary Cobb Agnew said that her grandparents were part of the resettlement of the Cherokee Nation (cf. Montiero). According to her, the Cherokees had protested to the bitter end, but if they had not left their houses, the white men would have killed their cattle and hogs and would have burned their houses (cf. ibid.). They only brought a few things and were driven like cattle (cf. ibid.). Many of the Cherokees died enroute and many other died of dysentery waiting to cross the Mississippi River (cf. ibid.). In the winter they all suffered from cold and hunger (cf. ibid.).

Washington Lee, grandfather of Lilian Anderson, lost his family on the "Trail of Tears" and never saw them any more (cf. ibid.). As reported by him the food was very bad and scarce, usually cornbread or roasted green corn (cf. ibid.). The Cherokees had to go for two or three days without water; only if they came to a river they could drink water (cf. ibid.). The sister of Andersons grandmother had three small children including one who could not walk (cf. ibid.). She tied the little child on her back with an old shawl (cf. ibid.). All of her children died during the walk (cf. ibid.).

Effie Oakes Fleming told the story of her grandmother regarding the "Trail of Tears" (cf. ibid.). If babies could not be carried, the drivers of the ox wagons just took them and swung them against a tree to kill them (cf. ibid.). They were left at the road side and would not have been buried (cf. ibid.). She was only eight years old and lived in constant fear that the same would happen to her baby brother (cf. ibid.). Therefore she carried him even though she almost had no energy (cf. ibid.).

Another eyewitness is Susie Beck, mother of Joanna nee McGhee Jones (cf. ibid.). When she was only about twelve years old, she was forced to leave the Cherokee territory (cf. ibid.). She told her daughter,that before they left their homes the white settlers had acquired their property (cf. ibid.). Susi Beck often said "Some day you will be taxed out of your homes here just as we were." (cf. ibid.).

Also Wallace Cook narrated the heroic story of his grandfather Emeithle Harjo (cf. ibid.). He witnessed a dilapidated boat full of Indians sinking in the Mississippi River and swam almost all night saving the women and children (cf. ibid.).

A further eyewitness from the "Trail of Tears" is Aggie Silk, grandmother of Rachel Dodge (cf. ibid.). Silk reported, that many of the Cherokees had chills and fever from exposure, change of country and that they did not have enough to eat (cf. ibid.). In addition the Indian doctors could not find the herbs they were used to for helping the sick people (cf. ibid.).

Melissa Bird, another contemporary witness, reported that the Indians had to hold religious services and were told of old Jerusalem by the white settlers (cf. ibid.).

Sallie Farney, grandmother of Mary Hill, was also amongst the displaced Indians (cf. ibid.). Even before the march started, there was an awful silence, which showed the heartaches and sorrow at being taken from their homes and being seperated from loved ones (cf. ibid.). There was no time for proper burying of the dead tribal members (cf. ibid.). They were only placed between two logs and quickly covered with shrubs, some were shoved under the thickets and some were not even buried but left by the wayside (cf. ibid.). When horses died or the Indians could not pull the heavy wagons filled with their belongings any further, they were forced to abandon them (cf. ibid.).

According to Nannie Buchanan Pierce's grandmother, the "Trail of Tears" is the darkest blot on American history (cf. ibid.). She often told her it was too horrible to talk about and it only brought back sad memories (cf. ibid.).

J.W. Stephens grandfather once told him, that he walked the "Trail of Tears" barefoot and often left bloody footprints in the snow (cf. ibid.).

During a further interview, Elizabeth Watts told the story of her grandparents who were also forced to relocate (cf. ibid.). The white men destroyed their crops, killed their cattle and burned their houses (cf. ibid.). They even robbed their dead's graves to get their jewelry and other trinkets (cf. ibid.). Watts' grandparents said the trail was more than tears. It was death, sorrow, hunger, exposure and humiliation (cf. ibid.).

2.2 The Cherokees from 1850 until today

When the Europeans settled in America, the Cherokees had to give up a lot and many of them had to give their lives. Even today they are a minority and still suffer from discrimination and disadvantage. In his report, Les B. Witbeck argues that "American Indian adults are thought to experience significant depressive symptoms at rates several times higher than adults in the general population" (Witbeck et al. 400). Many researchers have argued that depressive symptoms are associated with conflicts between American Indian traditional cultural values, practices and beliefs and those of the majority culture (cf. ibid.). The results of this research indicate that discrimination is strongly associated with depressive symptoms among American Indian adults and that engaging in traditional practices is negatively related to depressive symptoms (cf. ibid.).

2.2.1 In reservations

In the second half of the 19th century the West was opened for white colonization and the Indians were forced to relocate into reservations (cf. Arens 114). The aim was to provide more land to the white settlers and to protect the tribes from encroachment (cf. Arens 113f).

On the positive side the tribes received more responsibility from the American government than before (cf. Arens 113).

Unfortunately the reservations were too small for the nomadic way of life of the Indians (cf. ibid.). Therefore the government only distributed rations to those who adapted to the white lifestyle, which means for example learning agriculture or mechanical skills (cf. ibid.).

In 1887 a law was passed, the so-called "Dawes Act", which assigned land to every Indian (cf. ibid.). After 25 years of appropriate use the land would have become their property and they would have acquired American citizenship (cf. ibid.). Alas, this did not work because agriculture was a female activity in most tribes (cf. Arens 101). Also reservation land not distributed to Indians was held in trust by the government and leased or sold to white people (cf. ibid). By 1934 the Indian territory shrunk from 559500km² to 194200km² (cf. ibid).

In 1919 Indian veterans received American citizenship and five years later it was awarded to all Indian people (cf. ibid). In the course of time, the government also began to set up schools in reservations (cf. ibid.).

After the Second World War there was a redirection of the Indian policy (cf. Arens 115). Those reservations, which were considered as suficiently developed to exist without federal funds, were dissolved (cf. ibid.). Indians in reservations were encouraged to move to the cities because they would allegedly find work there and would no longer be a burden on the state (cf. ibid.).

The economic development after the dissolution of the reservations was so catastrophic that the government no longer actively pursued the termination (cf. ibid.).

2.2.2 In the cities

Many Indians live in the area of the pub and entertainment district (cf. Hovens 169). For Indian prisoners a large amount of crime is due to alcohol offences (cf. Hovens 162f). The arrest often has to do with intoxication in public, arousal of public annoyance, violation of the regulations on serving or even selling and acquiring spirits (cf. Hovens 166).

The most arrests of urban Indians take place in the pub and red light districts, where social problems condense and deviations from the norm find "ecological" niches (cf. Hovens 177). All available statistics show that Indians often come into conflict with the law (cf. Hovens 165).

In 1960, the rate of Indian arrests in the US was seven times higher than the national average, three times higher than that of Afro-Americans and eight times higher than that of the white people (cf. ibid.).

Apart from alcohol offences, Indians are most often charged with property and personal offences (cf. Hovens 166). Rape and murder are comparatively rare (cf. ibid.).

In cities, however, far more crimes are committed than in rural areas and the rate of arrests of urban Indians is 25 times higher than that of tribal members in the rural milieu (cf. Hovens 170). In rural areas, fifty percent of all arrests are related to alcohol offences, in urban areas there were even around eighty percent (cf. ibid.).

In general the number of arrests in the urban area also exceeds that of the reservation residents by ten times (cf. ibid.). It becomes clear that with increasing acquis, the propensity for criminal acts decreases (cf. Hovens 171).

In the US, the indigenous people after their submission have to conform to the system of the dominant society and any offence will therefore have criminal consequences (cf. Hovens 172).

"Equal opportunities" are key words in the question of whether Indians are disadvantaged (Hovens 173). "Equal opportunities", in this context, means the socially structured and institutionally legitimized access to aims and values that the socially cultural framework dictates (cf. ibid.). For some groups, due to their origin, education, economic potential or development opportunities, this is easier than for others, which explains why crime is more pronounced in the lower social classes (cf. ibid.).

The main reason for criminal acts among Indians is the social disadvantage which keeps the indigenous population from maintaining their "opportunity" (cf. ibid.). Increasing pressure to integrate strengthens Indian identity as well and leads to a return to traditional values (cf. Hovens 174). Especially younger, educated and more acculturated Indians leave the local reservations to move to the cities (cf. Hovens 175).

Nevertheless, the level of education and ability of these migrants are usually below the minimum requirements of many jobs and unemployment is therefore widespread (cf. ibid.). In addition anti-Indian resentments of employers complicate the search for employment (cf. ibid.).

Some members of the indigenous population tend to break the law if they are unable to achieve socially oriented aims (cf. ibid.). Drive for success forms a central behavioral pursuit in our society (cf. ibid). This gap between expectation and real use of opportunity promotes anomie, the failure of members of one’s own group and reduces the hope of escaping even the vicious circle (cf. Hovens 176). Alienation quickly develops, coupled with the feeling of powerlessness and the conviction, that social targets can only be achieved by illegal behavior (cf. ibid.). Many Indians cannot accept the gap between requirement and reality and therefore react self-destructively with e.g. alcoholism or suicide (cf. ibid.).

The relationship between the police and the Indian minority has recently become increasingly tense in the city, this is mainly due to the strengthened ethnic consciousness of the indigenous population (cf. Hovens 177). The confrontation between law enforcement and Indians can also often take violent traits and this situation is similar to the one in ghettos of Blacks, Puerto Ricans or Chicanos (cf. ibid.).

The feeling of beeing dicriminated against is compounded by the fact that Indians usually live in lower class neighborhoods or slums, where police surveillance is most noticeable (cf. ibid.). Often just the presence of an Indian triggers stricter surveillance (cf. ibid.).

Indians have been legally diadvantaged at all times and white people do not judge indictments against Indians in the jury by the same standards they use for Euro-Americans, although equal treatment is guaranteed by law in the US (cf. Hovens 179f).

The subordinated socio-economic position of the Indians curtails the possibilities of their social influence, a circumstance that is not taken into account in court (cf. Hovens 179).

In addition the tribes lived and live with the fear that the state will renounce their responsibility for the reservations (cf. Hovens 179f).

Native Americans seek advice from native courtworkers, if they can (cf. Hovens 180). A recurring problem is the lack of willingness of legal advicers to delve into the social background of the defendants and to develop efficient defense strategies (cf. Hovens 181). Even with the payment of deposits, the Indians are disadvantaged because they often do not have the funds for this (cf. ibid.) Therefore they have to wait for their trial behind bars and thus they have no possibility to prepare their case with a lawyer (cf. ibid.).

Justice, consequently, is buyable (cf. ibid.).

Many indigenous people also shy away from making use of welfare services (cf. Hovens 182). But if they are forced to attend the social welfare office, they will be faced with hostility (cf. ibid.). Prejudices, the number of incomplete or unclear files and work overload bring trouble (cf. ibid.).

Country towns are germ cells in which prejudice and discrimination continue to grow, but discrimination in the courtrooms is also the order of the day in big cities, where different ethnic groups live side by side (cf. Hovens 186).

3. Hope for change

Unfortunately, the social position of the Cherokee Nation has barely improved up to now. Constant discrimination is still evident in various situations. A good example of this is discrimination in the workplace (cf. Brewer). Approximately a third of Native Americans claim they have faced discrimination when seeking jobs, getting promotions or earning equal income (cf. ibid.).

A few more also say they experienced slurs or negative comments due to their race (cf. ibid.).

Howie Echo-Hawk, a bartender from Seattle also came into contact with this kind of discrimination (cf. ibid.). His manager told him to get a respectable haircut, because in his opinion Echo-Hawk's traditional Indian hairstyle was not acceptable (cf. ibid.). A couple months later he was ill and had to take some time off (cf. ibid.).

"When I finally came back to work, one of the managers there told me: 'That's what happens when you Indians get your firewater,'" he said (cf. ibid.).

Nearly two-thirds of Native Americans living in majority Native areas claim the availability of local jobs is worse than in other places (cf. ibid.). About the same number also say that Native Americans get less money than white people for equal work (cf. ibid.).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 3: Percent of Native Americans saying they have ever been personally discriminated against in each situation because they are Native

Diane Kelly, the executive director for career services for the Cherokee Nation, reports that one of her main jobs was to protect tribal members against workplace discrimination, when she started in her office 40 years ago (cf. ibid.). According to Kelly many of the Cherokees were working in part-time jobs, in seasonal-type work and normally were not maintained (cf. ibid.).

But there is hope for change (cf. ibid.). Currently, the Cherokee Nation employs more than 11,000 people, not including contract work with Native-owned businesses (cf. ibid.). By federal support, Kelly helped to create one of the largest tribal employment offices in the country (cf. ibid.). The tribe is trying to abolish employment barriers by scholarships, education and job training programs (cf. ibid.). A few tribes such as the Cherokee Nation are not only providing jobs for their tribal members, but they are also strenghting the economy in their regions (cf. ibid.). In Oklahoma the annual economic impact of the Cherokees amounts to more than $2 billion (cf. ibid.).

To sum up, considering all of the mentioned aspects, it is true that discrimination against the Cherokees in the US is still the order of the day and they still represent a minority, but their situation is on the way to recovery.

4. Bibliography

Arens, Werner.Die Indianer Nordamerikas: Geschichte, Kultur, Religion. München: C. H. Beck, 2004.

Bowes, John P. and Paul C. Rosier.The Trail of Tears: Removal in the South.New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2007.

Brewer, Graham Lee. "As Native Americans Face Job Discrimination: A Tribe Works To Employ Its Own."National Public Radio. 2017. 10 November 2018. <>.

Hovens, Pieter. "Zwischen Normabweichung und Anpassung: Indianer in der Stadt."Indianische Realität: Nordamerikanische Indianer in der Gegenwart.Ed. Wolfgang Lindig. München: dtv, 1994. 162-94.

Mattioli, Aram.Verlorene Welten: eine Geschichte der Indianer Nordamerikas 1700-1910. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2017.

Montiero, Lorrie. "Family Stories from the Trail of Tears."Indian-Pioneer History Collection. Little Rock: American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center, 2004.

Perdue, Theda and Michael D. Green.The Cherokee Removal: a Brief History with Documents. 1995. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005.

Spiritwind Wood, Kelly. "A Cherokee Prayer."Hello Poetry. 1998. 28 October 2018. <>.

Whitbeck, Les B. "Perceived Discrimination, Traditional Practices, and Depressive Symptoms among American Indians in the Upper Midwest."Journal of Health and Social Behavior.Eds. Barbara J. McMorris, Dan R. Hoyt, Jerry D. Stubben and Teresa LaFromboise. Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association, 2002. 400-18.

5. Table of Figures

Figure 1: Routes of the relocation

Rademacher, Cay "Vertreibung, 1838 auf dem Pfad der Tränen. "Der Wilde Westen08.14 (2014): 53.

Figure 3: Percent of Native Americans saying they have ever been personally discriminated against in each situation because they are Native

Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of Native Americans.n.p. NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2017.


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From the Trail of Tears to Reservation. The Cherokee Tribe as a Minority from 1800 until Today
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Jasmin Fuchs (Author), 2018, From the Trail of Tears to Reservation. The Cherokee Tribe as a Minority from 1800 until Today, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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