In the early nineteenth century, white Americans began illegally encroaching on autonomous Indigenous peoples’ lands in the Southern United States as state governments began stripping their rights. After winning the presidency promising to open up the West for white settlement, President Andrew Jackson encouraged Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act. The act was signed into law on May 28, 1830, and authorized the president to negotiate with Indigenous tribes for their removal to federal-owned lands in the West. This legislation paved the way for a period of genocide in the United States’ history, the Trail of Tears.
The Trail of Tears was the forced relocation of several Eastern Woodlands Tribes, particularly the Cherokee, to so-called “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s. In 1831, the government started forcing the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee to travel to the West mostly on foot and with inadequate supplies, food, and water. One of the most devastating relocations occurred from 1838 to 1839 after the government authorized armed forces under General Winfield Scott to relocate the Cherokee to present-day Oklahoma. Nine of the thirteen Cherokee groups crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri during harsh winter weather conditions and freezing temperatures. Over 4,000 Cherokee died, and many others became sick or starved on this nearly 1,000-mile journey. Those who made it to their intended destination arrived with few belongings and in poor health.
This photograph was taken in Crawford County and depicts a small portion of the Northern Route, one of the three main overland trails during the 1838-1839 relocation. The Trail of Tears also crossed Barry, Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Christian, Crawford, Dent, Greene, Iron, Laclede, Madison, Ozark, Phelps, Pulaski, Reynolds, Ripley, Saint Francois, Scott, Stone, Texas, Wayne, Webster, Wright, and Washington counties.
Subject: Trail of Tears
Contributing Institution: Erin Whitson
Rights: Image Courtesy Erin Whitson
County: Crawford County
Photographer: Erin Whitson
Photograph Date: 2018