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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: Trail of Tears

By Tom Morrow

The removal of the Cherokee Nation from their native lands in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama was one of the saddest episodes in American history.

President Andrew Jackson gets much of the blame, but he is only the historical face on this Indian removal from the South to the Middle Southwest. In the late 1830s, Congress passed the “Indian Removal Act.” The Cherokees, which notably had the only written language and considered by the white man to be the most civilized among the Native Americans, fought the constitutionality of the legislation, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court. The effort failed, and in 1838, the Federal government began removing the Cherokees to the “Indian Territory” in what is today Oklahoma.

President Jackson ordered Gen. Winfield Scott to lead 7,000 troops, removing the Indians from their native lands. The Cherokees were promised money, livestock, and various provisions and tools. Some of the Indians refused to go and took off to hide in the mountains of North Carolina, the swamps of Georgia, and other places too inhospitable for white men. Others were allowed to stay by taking U.S. citizenship, but in the winter of 1838-39, 15,000 Cherokees were marched some 1,000 miles through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas into the forbidding Indian Territory.

Many of the Cherokees walked the entire distance without footwear and skimpy clothing. Losses were estimated at more than 4,000. They died mostly from disease, exposure, exhaustion, and hunger.
Once they arrived many of the government’s promises went unfulfilled, as was the case with other Indian nations across the continent. But the Cherokee and many other Native American nations got some solace in that oil was discovered on their lands in Oklahoma. Of course, the Whites wanted it back, but that didn’t happen in many cases. Today, most Native Americans are getting a portion of sweet revenge through their reservation casinos. Slowly but surely they are getting a return on their losses, thousands of dollars at a time.
That sad “removal” of the Cherokees has mostly been forgotten by Americans and all but lost in our history, but not by the Native Americans. History labels this episode the “Trail of Tears,” but the Cherokees call it the “Trail Where They Cried.”

Historic Memory — In September 1955 — Rather than make him a martyr through trial and punishment, long-time Argentinean dictator Juan Peron was sent in exile to Paraguay by the military. Peron had been hiding out on a Paraguayan gunboat anchored in Buenos Aires harbor after a four-day old revolution ousted him from power.
Also in September 1955, teen idol James Dean was killed in a car crash shortly after he had finished filming the epic movie “Giant.” His Porsche Spider careened off the highway as he traveled north on Highway 101 near Paso Robles.

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