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Summary of “Trail of Tears” by John Ehle Essay

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Updated: Oct 10th, 2021

This analysis by John Ehle is about the rise and fall of the Cherokee nation resulting from the forced removal of the Cherokees who were Native Americans from their ancestral lands in Georgia to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). It is referred to as the Cherokee Trail of Tears where from the start to the end it approximately led to the deaths of 4,000 Cherokees. In their language, this forceful relocation is known as “Nunna daujl Isunyi” meaning “the Trail Where They Cried”. During this time the U.S government embarked on a mission to remove Native American groups hence the Cherokees were not the only affected group by this injustice of forced emigration. The trail of tears is in another context used to refer to similar events done to Indian people and more specifically among the Five Civilized Tribes (Ehle, 1988, p.19).

The Cherokee Trail of Tears was a result of the implementation of the treaty of New Echota which was an agreement provided for in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Under this act, the signed treaty entailed the exchange of Native American land in the east for other lands to the west of the Mississippi River. This was a controversial issue among the Cherokees and was strongly opposed by their prominent statesmen and vast numbers of the Cherokees. The invasion by the U.S government on these lands started in 1828 after it was discovered that the land was rich in gold resulting in the first gold rush in U.S history. The discovery of gold deposits in Georgia led to a crisis and fuelled the ever-increasing tensions between Georgia and the Cherokee nation (Ehle, 1988, p.75).

The Cherokee land became of great interest to a greater majority with people trespassing on it and this consequently mounted pressure on the Georgia government to undertake the promises as it was required under the compact of 1802. Now the issue being of major concern to many ended up in U.S supreme court as Georgia attempted to make their state laws control Cherokee tribal lands. The matter was hotly debated in congress and the court ruled that Georgia could not control Cherokee territory in any way because only the national governments had the power to interfere with the Indian affairs. The tension between Georgia and the Cherokee was to the benefit of President Jackson who capitalized on the issue by mounting pressure on the Cherokees to agree to sign a treaty for their removal (Ehle, 1988, p.106).

The population in the U.S was rapidly expanding and this further created more problems and tensions among the Native American tribes settled within the borders of many states. State governments were against the idea of Indian tribes attaining the status of independence and sovereign powers as long as they settled within state boundaries. However Indian tribes opposed the idea to relocate and were not prepared either to give up their already established identities. Under the compact of 1802, Georgia surrendered the western lands it owned to the national government on an agreement that the government on the other hand will sign treaties to remove the Indian tribes occupying lands within Georgia. This could eventually make Georgia have full control over all the land within its borders (Ehle, 1988, p.153).

The Cherokee refused to move out of their ancestral tribal lands which crossed the boundaries of Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. They consolidated their occupancy by establishing a capital at New Echota and the adopting a written constitution that declared the Cherokee nation as a sovereign and an independent nation. The ancestral lands of the Cherokee were considered to be of great value to them because upon these lands there could be developments of rail and road communications hence their reason for remaining adamant of any relocation (Ehle, 1988, p.194).

In 1832 after the re-election of Jackson some of the Cherokee leaders who had opposed the removal entered into talks with the government. Under the leadership of Major Ridge, son John and nephews Boudinot, Watie talks commenced because they believed that it was to the benefit of the Cherokee to have favorable terms from the government before other issues such as state governments, white squatters and violence made the situation more chaotic. However, the majority of the Cherokee people and their principal Chief John Ross were still adamant and remained strongly opposed to the plan of removal (Ehle, 1988, p.203).

There was intense political lobbying and in 1835 the government and the Cherokee representatives being Major Ridge and Boudinot signed the Treaty of New Echota but when it was brought to Chief Ross he refused to sign as expected. This treaty was considered by many as illegal and no one of the Cherokee Council signed the document. Under this treaty, the people were supposed to give up all their land east of the Mississippi and occupants to move to the west. There were protests all over with the Cherokee National Council together with Chief Ross terming the document as illegal but despite the outrage, Congress ratified it on May 1836 after it surprisingly won by just a single vote. Some people left for the west while a considerable number remained in the south but as per the terms of the treaty, they were given two years to leave (Ehle, 1988, p.221).

Voluntary removal deadline approached and forcible removal operation was too startled by General Winfield Scott. In command of about 7,000 soldiers, he arrived at New Echota, and on May 26 1838 operations began in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama where people were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. People were not given time to pack their properties, were removed from homes at gunpoint, others were separated from their families and gathered in camps. At this point the journey to unfamiliar land begun where the majority was to travel on foot or with the help of horse, wagon, and boat for a distance of about 1,200 miles (Ehle, 1988, p.280).

This came to be known as the Trail of Tears because of the suffering, deaths which characterized the journey. It represented the saddest episodes of the removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands. In the camps deaths were reported caused by diseases, other illnesses, colds, starvation, and also those on the Trail also died as a result of difficulties encountered along the way. It is estimated that from the start to the finish of the Trail of Tears about 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives. People who were removed finally settled in Oklahoma and developed to a strong nation since then with its population rebounding (Ehle, 1988, p.353).

John Ehle in this book is trying to convince readers to learn more of the past injustices committed by some groups, states against the weak, defenseless, minority, and powerless. This action by the U.S of the removal is one of the most regrettable episodes in American history. It indicates the ill-conceived policies, settler behaviors of expanding horizons, and colonialism among the so-called world powers (Ehle, 1988, p.367).

The Cherokee people were treated as slaves who were not equal with other men, had no fundamental rights such as those to own property and the right to live. In this analysis, the reader is made to believe that in the past many people have suffered from the injustices committed by those considered powerful. It’s therefore of a great lesson to know what happened, how it happened so as we can prevent it from happening any other time in the future. The travesties, tragedies, difficulties, white man’s lust, injustices on the Cherokee nation can never evade the wrath of condemnation from generation to generation putting on the spotlight how this led to social, economical, and political problems (Ehle, 1988, p.385).

The author has successfully succeeded in putting across his objective. Anyone who reads this story can not stop condemning these injustices done on poor, defenseless humanity who are even denied what their creator endowed them with. However, according to my view, his analysis was biased against the U.S government. This is because it talks more of the injustices, unfairness, and illegalities on the side of the government not giving the good the government could have done during this time. For instance, the government could have had other plans after the removal such as compensating the affected and using the revenue from the gold mines for the growth of the economy (Ehle,1988, p.420).

List of references

Ehle, J (1988), The Rise and Fall of The Cherokee Nation, Newyork Doubleday

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