Choctaw Trail of Tears
On the 28th of May 1830, the president at the time, Andrew Jackson, signed into effect a now controversial law. This law was the Indian Removal Act which allowed the removal of Native Americans from their homes to lands west of the Mississippi River. One tribe who was forcefully removed from their homes was the Choctaw Indian peoples of Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. When the United States government made them leave their homes, they had to give up almost 11 million acres of land.
It was decided that it would be easiest to move the Choctaws in groups of 3 with the first attempt starting on November 1st 1831(Greenwood, 1). The Choctaw Indians were moved from their homes to the plains of modern day Oklahoma but this trip was so harsh that it was later coined the Trail of Tears. They had two weeks to prepare for the journey to come, so many gathered their crops, gathered their belongings, and sell their property so they would be able to get to the ferry points on the 1st (Greenwood, 4). They were told not to bring their livestock because they would be provided with livestock once they got to the promised, Choctaw Nation in the West (Greenwood, 4).
One plan was if the Indians wanted, they could walk and they would be provided with ten dollars’ worth of gold, a brand new rifle, and three months’ worth of rifle ammunition and gun powder(Greenwood, 5).. Also, along the way, they would have a guide and would be provided with food (Greenwood, 5). Approximately 300 of them saw this plan as a great idea, but the weather became unbearable (Greenwood, 5). The plan for everyone else was to be moved by wagon from the Memphis area to their destination (Greenwood, 2). This didn’t go as planned. A horrific rain storm came in when they planned to leave (Greenwood, 7). Instead, the people in charge of being sure everyone left decided that they should move by steamboat (Greenwood, 8). The problem with that plan became apparent; the U.S. government had cancelled their order to buy more steamboats (Greenwood, 8). After waiting for more, they were able to round up two passenger boats, and three cargo boats (Greenwood, 8). This wasn’t nearly enough for the sheer amount of people they needed to move. To make matters worse, before they were able to set sail, one of the larger ships caught fire and wasn’t able to leave harbor (Greenwood, 9).
Another major problem was the cold. As a result of waiting until November to start the removal, and the need to wait for the boats, the crew was not able to start the journey until around middle of the month (Greenwood, 11). A blizzard struck, and froze over parts of the river and this made it impassable for the remaining large ship, and it made the journey difficult for the others (Greenwood, 12 & 14). A military post just outside of Mississippi only had about sixty tents to lend to the more than 2000 natives who at this point were forced to walk (Greenwood, 12). Also, many of the Indians were wearing very little clothing and most of the children were wearing none at all (Greenwood, 12). They were lacking provisions, cold, and hungry and they were only 60 miles away from where they started (Greenwood, 11). One option for the natives was to buy food from those who called the area their home, but seeing the rising demand for food, raised the prices by as much as four times as much as standard prices (Greenwood, 19). The freezing weather remained for six days straight and it took eight for more government provided wagons to arrive. Many of the soldiers and the Choctaws froze to death or died of Pneumonia (Greenwood, 14)
The lack of transportation only allowed for the very young children and very sick to ride in the wagons, and everyone else had to walk (Greenwood, 12). Finally, after five months and over two hundred miles, everyone who survived the passage in the 1st removal was at their new home (Greenwood, 22). Only about two-thirds of them made it (Greenwood, 22).
Just before the 2nd removal began, an outbreak of cholera hit Vicksburg, and the citizens of the town trying to get away from the outbreak spread the disease to the Indians waiting to leave (Greenwood, 23). No records were kept of how many of the Choctaw died in the outbreak because when they died, they were put in a pile and their bodies were burned in order to control the spreading of the disease (Greenwood, 24). Many of the same problems that the first envoy faced were faced by those in the second, and approximately 3000 of them made it to their destination (Greenwood, 28)
In the 3rd removal, the crew learned from their mistakes, and didn’t have to worry as much about the sheer numbers so the journey went much more smoothly than the first (Greenwood, 29). Only about 1,000 Choctaw Indians left from Vicksburg and almost all of them made it safely to their new home (Greenwood, 29).
Finally, after three years of relocation, numerous deaths, and an immeasurable amount of pain and suffering, the United States got what it wanted and the entire native Choctaw Indian tribe was out of its original home and into a foreign land. Today, almost 85,000 Choctaw Indians live in Oklahoma.
- Greenwood, Len. (March, 1995) Trail of Tears from Mississippi Walked by Our Ancestors. Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvna School of Choctaw Language. Retrieved from www.choctawschool.com/home-side-menu/history/trail-of-tears-from-mississippi-walked-by-our-ancestors.aspx.
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