Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review: We the People: The Trail of Tears

We the People: The Trail of Tears, By: Michael Burgan, Compass Point Books, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2001.

The relationship between the U.S. government and the native Americans who first inhabited this land is one of great sorrow to our country.  In no story is this relationship more prominent than in the “Trail of Tears” or “the trail where the cried” translated from the Cherokee.  They had participated in the revolutionary war, as well as the French Indian War.  They were one of the so-called five civilized tribes.  The Cherokee had negotiated several treaties with the U.S.  Each subsequent treaty took more and more land.  However this was not enough, and the United States passed  The Indian Removal Act, setting the goal of removing the eastern tribes.  Chief John Ross opposed removal, but he was undercut  by a smaller group of Cherokee lead by Major Ridge.  President Andrew Jackson was a key proponent of the removal of the Indians.  They negotiated a treaty for the removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma.   They ratified this when only a few Cherokee were present, even though the majority of Cherokee opposed removal.  Ross wrote to congress, “We are stripped of every attribute of freedom….We are deprived of membership in the human family!”  
The first to leave left by barge and on waterways.  Those who came after traveled by land, taking several routes through Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee.  The trip was about 800 miles.
General Winfield Scott enforced the removal, supported by 7000 troops as well as many local militia.  General Scott tried to treat the forced evacuees with respect, but the militia did not.  17,000  were forced from their traditional homes.  4,000 died on the trail due to conditions, starvation, disease.  The concluding statement of the author, “ Many American Indians suffered because of U.S. government policies.  The Trail of Tears remains the most tragic reminder of the violence and broken promises that the U.S. government used to force Indians off their own land.   

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