Indian Removal Timeline

May 6,
Treaty of Washington
This treaty addressed members of the Cherokee nation west of the Mississippi, guaranteeing them seven million acres of land and a “perpetual outlet” west as far “as the sovereignty of the United States,” extends. Such agreements set the stage for the justification of mass removal.

…it is further agreed, on the part of the United States, that to each Head of a Cherokee family now residing within the chartered limits of Georgia, or of either of the States, East of the Mississippi, who may desire to remove West, shall be given, on enrolling himself for emigration, a good Rifle, a Blanket, and Kettle, and five pounds of Tobacco: (and to each member of his family one Blanket,) also, a just compensation for the property he may abandon, to be assessed by persons to be appointed by the President of the United States. The cost of the emigration of all such shall also be borne by the United States, and good and suitable ways opened, and provisions procured for their comfort, accommodation, and support, by the way, and provisions for twelve months after their arrival…

Dec. 20, 1828 The state of Georgia, fearful that the United States would not affect (as a matter of Federal policy) the removal of the Cherokee Nation tribal band from their historic lands in Georgia; enacted a series of laws which stripped the Cherokee of their rights under the laws of the state, with the intention to force the Cherokee to leave the state. The Georgia legislature annulled the Cherokee constitution and ordered seizure of their lands.
January, 1829 John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation tribal band, led a delegation to Washington in to resolve disputes over the non-payment of annuities to the Cherokee, and to seek Federal sustainment of the boundary between the territory of the state of Georgia and the Cherokee Nation’s historic tribal lands within that state. Rather than lead the delegation into futile negotiations with President Jackson, Ross wrote an immediate memorial to Congress, completely forgoing the customary correspondence and petitions with the President.
April, 1829 John H. Eaton, secretary of war, informed John Ross that President Jackson would support the right of Georgia to extend her laws over the Cherokee Nation
late 1829 North Georgia is flooded by thousands of prospectors lusting for gold. Niles’ Registerreported in the spring of 1830 that there were four thousand miners working along Yahoola Creek alone. A writer in the Cherokee newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, said,

Our neighbors who regard no law, or pay no respect to the laws of humanity, are now reaping a plentiful harvest by the law of Georgia, which declares that no Indian shall be a party in any court created by the laws or constitution of that state. These neighbors come over the line, and take the cattle belonging to the Cherokees. The Cherokees go in pursuit of their property, but all that they can effect is, to see their cattle snugly kept in the lots of these robbers. We are an abused people. If we can receive no redress, we can feel deeply the injustice done to our rights.

Cherokee Phoenix and Indians’ Advocate, Wednesday, May 27, 1829

Jan. 1, 1830 With a force of some 30 Cherokee and the permission of federal government, Major Ridge evicts whites who have illegally settled Cherokee land along the Georgia-Alabama border about 30 miles southwest of present-day Rome, Georgia. The act infuriates Georgia politicians.
May 28, 1830 Indian Removal Act
Authorized the federal government to negotiate treaties with eastern tribes exchanging their lands for land in the West. All costs of migration and financial aid to assist resettlement are provided by the government.
Mar. 18, 1831 Supreme Court Case: Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia
Chief Justice John Marshall declared that “the Indian territory is admitted to compose a part of the United States,” and affirmed that the tribes were “domestic dependent nations” and “their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” Marshall denies Indians the right to court protection because they are not subject to the laws of the Constitution. He says that each Indian tribe is “a distinct political entity…capable of managing its own affairs.”
1831-1832 Choctaw RemovalAlexis De Tocqueville was visiting Memphis when the Choctaw arrived on their way west. He wrote:

” The wounded, the sick, newborn babies, and the old men on the point of death…I saw them embark to cross the great river and the sight will never fade from my memory. Neither sob nor complaint rose from that silent assembly. Their afflictions were of long standing, and they felt them to be irremediable.”

Read more about the Choctaw removal:

Mar. 3,
Supreme Court Case: Worcester v. Georgia
Supreme Court ruled that the federal government, not the states, has jurisdiction over Indian territories. The case concerned a missionary living among the Cherokees, Samuel A. Worcester, who was jailed for refusing to comply with a Georgia law requiring all whites residing on Indian land to swear an oath of allegiance to the state. In ruling against Georgia’s actions, Chief Justice John Marshall writes that Indian tribes must be treated “as nations” by the national government and that state laws “can have no force” on their territories. Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation was entitled to federal protection over those of the state laws of Georgia.The Court ruled “the Indian nation was a “distinct community in which the laws of Georgia can have no force” and into which Georgians could not enter without the permission of the Cherokees themselves or in conformity with treaties. Defying the court, Georgia kept Worcester in jail, and President Andrew Jackson, when asked to correct the situation, says, “The Chief Justice has made his ruling; now let him enforce it.”An outraged President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the ruling. Instead, Jackson used the funding from his newly created Indian Removal Act of 1830 to forcibly remove the recalcitrant tribes.
1832 Removal of Chickasaws & Creeks
1833 The Choctaw complete their forced removal to the West under army guard.
1834 Congress restructures the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the Department of Indian Affairs, expanding the agency’s responsibilities to include both regulating trade with the tribes, as before, and administering the Indian lands of the West.
1835-1836 The Treaty of New Echota was made by a small contingent of Cherokees led by Major Ridge against the wishes of the majority of the tribe and its leader, Chief John Ross. They give up their lands in Georgia for territory in present-day Oklahoma.Read more about Major Ridge:
1836 Texas wins independence from Mexico.
Texans assert that Indians have no right to possession of Texan land.
May 17, 1838 General Scott addresses his troops regarding the removal of remaining Cherokee Indians residing in the Southeast.
1838 Trail of Tears begins
U.S. president Martin Van Buren orders the U.S. Army into the Cherokee Nation. The army rounded up as many Cherokees as they could into temporary stockades and subsequently marched the captives, led by John Ross, to the Indian Territory. Under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe made their trek to the dry plains across the Mississippi – over 800 miles to the Oklahoma Territory. Scholars estimate that 4,000-5,000 Cherokees, including Ross’s wife, Quatie, died on this “trail where they cried,” commonly known as the Trail of Tears.
1839 Cherokee Act of Union
In response to their unfavorable treaties with the United states, along with the forced removal form their land, the Cherokee nations of the East and West united.
1851 Indian Appropriations Act consolidates western tribes on agricultural reservations to enable westward migration of non-Indians and to facilitate the transcontinental railroad.

The dedication of the wealthy mixed blood (1/8 Cherokee blood), John Ross supported the Cherokee Indians throughout his life. In the 1820’s, John Ross planned legal motions to prevent the Indian forced removal and organized the Cherokee tribe as a “nation” including the formulation of the Cherokee Nation Constitution. He held the first and only title of elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation and the position of Principal Chief of the Cherokee New Nation in 1828 until his death in 1866.

John Ross relentlessly fought on the behalf of the Cherokee People  legally with fervor and acumen. The year of 1828 marks the chain of events that would lead to the tragic historical event that transformed the Cherokee People forever. gold was found in Georgia on Cherokee land and the white settlers wanted it. Andrew Jackson the president at the time desperately wanted to expand territories west and appease the settlers greed. He worked in conjunction with the State of  Georgia  when it forcibly denounced the Cherokee as a sovereign government, disregarding their land rights. John Ross petitioned the motion as “unlawful” and won by the U.S. Supreme Court rule. President Andrew Jackson challenged the U.S. Supreme Court  to enforce their decision as he proceeded to force-ably appease new settlers to expand into the west and attempt to annihilate the entire Cherokee Nation.

andrew jackson

Source: Andrew Jackson as the Great Father. 1835. Native American History at Clements Library. William L. Clements Library. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

President Andrew Jackson had a conflicted complex relationship with the Cherokee Indians.Cherokee Regiments led him to victory at Horseshoe Bend in 1814, they unhesitatingly joined him again 1818 to punish the Seminole Indians in Florida. Jackson negotiated more Indian treaties with the Cherokee  than any other figure between 1814-1824, repeatedly strong arming them into submission to steal their land and dismiss any and all agreements U.S. had made. In addition, he adopted a native orphaned boy and raised him as his own son. When settlers trespassed on Indian land despite former agreements with the government, they discovered gold. This was pivotal moment that led to the Trail of Tears, Indian forced removal from their territory.

The Choctaw were the first tribe expelled by the U.S. Army in 1831. They made the journey to Indian territory on foot (some “bound in chains and marched double file,” one historian writes) and without any food, supplies or other help from the government.

John Ross was not favored by President Jackson as they had previously teamed up in battle. Despite personal differences, Ross believed the president would be fair and just and that he would be held accountable for his ludicrous demands and illegal trappings. The Cherokee Indians were divided within their tribe about the forced removal demand. this fracture in the social structure of the tribe began crumbling the once unified group. The Cherokee People that believed to fight was futile formed a “Treaty Party”. The Treaty Party was convinced to sign the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835, demanding the Cherokee to leave within 3 years thereafter.

Trail of Tears Cherokee Family being removed by soldiers.

Trail of Tears Cherokee Family being removed by soldiers.

“”We are overwhelmed! Our hearts are sickened, our utterance is paralyzed, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed, by the audacious practices of unprincipled men, who have managed their stratagems with so much dexterity as to impose on the Government of the United States, in the face of our earnest, solemn, and reiterated protestations. . .”

–John Ross, 1836

Neither Ross nor the council approved it, but the Federal government regarded the treaty as valid.John Ross stood firm against the U.S. Government in solidarity to his people. He rallied 16,000 signatures from the tribe to denounce the illegal but honored treaty signing away the Cherokee land. As the forcible removal of the Indians progressed, John Ross never abandoned the Cherokee. He was forced to leave his lavish home in Georgia to follow a trail to Oklahoma during bitter conditions and lost his wife along that path. His words are hauntingly reflective of the suffering.

The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died.

As the year 1838 approached, only 2000 Cherokee Indians had left the tribal land. New President Martin Van Buren sent a fleet of 7000 soldiers to remove the Cherokee Indians with brutal force. Using bayonets, the soldiers mass attacked the Cherokee pushing them into stockades and allowing the white settlers to ransack their homes and vandalize their property while they watched in fear and dismay. The Cherokee were hurried to grab whatever they could in the chaos and start moving on one of many “trails” 1200 miles towards Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

“She could only carry her dying child in her arms a few miles farther, and then, she must stop in a stranger-land and consign her much loved babe to the cold ground, and in that without pomp or ceremony, and pass on with the multitude.”

The Cherokee had to leave with whatever clothing they had on their back with no time to prepare for the bitter conditions of the journey. Many took their horses and blankets, but they were ill prepared for the harsh and deadly conditions the fall of .1838. The Mississippi River was frozen over and conditions paralyzed the Cherokee tribe with bitter cold. Exposed to teh harsh elements with little if any supplies or garments to protect them. Many starts and stops along the way made the journey very long and arduous march, as the food supplies dwindled.  Diseases spread rampantly in the wet and cold conditions. Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation all claimed the lives over almost 5,000 Cherokee Indians. Many died along the river as they waited to start marching again due to the unforgiving, frozen landscape.

“Long time we travel on way to new land. People feel bad when they leave old nation. Women cry and make sad wails. Children cry and make men cry, and all look sad like when friends die, but they say nothing and just put heads down and keep go towards West. Many days pass and people die very much. We bury close by Trail.”


In 1907, Oklahoma became a state and Indian territory was gone for good.


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