The Trail of Tears

Monday, September 16th, 2019

An Expression of Emotion

Unlike that of a new-born baby, tears in a later stage of life are above all an expression of emotion. Whether their cause is tragic or delightful, crying is such a raw bodily function so intrinsically linked to our feelings that we cannot help but do it – hence the phrase ‘burst into tears’. Looking at emotion is so useful to historians because of its use in illustrating the impact that certain events had on people. This has been taking literally when it comes to discussion on the ‘Trail of Tears’.

The Trail of Tears

This title refers to the systematic removal of Native Americans from their original homelands, under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, to areas designated as Indian territory. The Natives were marched from the southeast of the United States, across the nation up into the northwest. Discovery of gold in these original zones were the driving force of the removal of the Native peoples, with the United States government being the main principals of the movement, adding to their overall goal of subduing the Native American way of life, in favour of the establishment of their own ideals over the country, a process called Manifest Destiny. This discovery of gold led to a ‘gold rush’ in Georgia, where thousands would flock in order to participate in the potential riches of mining gold, which presented itself as a problem to these hopefuls, who were met with opposition from the Natives to excavating the land. The worst period of the Trail of Tears was as a result of this discovery and lasted for around two decades, and saw the removal of a number of large Native American tribes, including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee nations. This system of organized removal finds the origins of its name in the horrific conditions of the treacherous march. Starvation and disease were common elements faced by the newly made refugees on the 800 mile journey west, and ultimately culminated in the death of 4,000 Cherokee alone. The end result of the Trail of Tears was the successful removal of 100,000 Natives from areas of the western United States of which the government was able to sell 100 million acres of land, benefitting them greatly.

Hearing or reading the term ‘Trail of Tears’, even without context, builds pictures of a journey of great emotion. Sadly, for the Natives whose very nature of their life was destroyed by this act, the ‘trail’ speaks of great anguish for their people and sparks a real turning point in their history. Without a doubt it is easy to tell the emotions of those who suffered during this period and the impact that it had on them.

To find out more about the history of tears listen to our podcast!

By Louie Kehoe

Further Reading:

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