Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Cherokee Nation in the 1820s

Cherokee culture thrived for thousands of years in the southeastern United States before European contact. When the Europeans settlers arrived, the Indians they encountered, including the Cherokee, assisted them with food and supplies. The Cherokees taught the early settlers how to hunt, fish, and farm in their new environment. They introduced them to crops such as corn, squash, and potatoes; and taught them how to use herbal medicines for illnesses.

By the 1820s, many Cherokees had adopted some of the cultural patterns of the white settlers as well. The settlers introduced new crops and farming techniques. Some Cherokee farms grew into small plantations, worked by African slaves. Cherokees built gristmills, sawmills, and blacksmith shops. They encouraged missionaries to set up schools to educate their children in the English language. They used a syllabary (characters representing syllables) developed by Sequoyah (a Cherokee) to encourage literacy as well. In the midst of the many changes that followed contact with the Europeans, the Cherokee worked to retain their cultural identity operating "on a basis of harmony, consensus, and community with a distaste for hierarchy and individual power."

Two leaders played central roles in the destiny of the Cherokee. Both had fought alongside Andrew Jackson in a war against a faction of the Creek Nation which became known as the Creek War (1813-1814). Both had used what they learned from the whites to become slave holders and rich men. Both were descended from Anglo-Americans who moved into Indian territory to trade and ended up marrying Indian women and having families. Both were fiercely committed to the welfare of the Cherokee people.

Major Ridge and John Ross shared a vision of a strong Cherokee Nation that could maintain its separate culture and still coexist with its white neighbors. In 1825, they worked together to create a new national capitol for their tribe, at New Echota in Georgia. In 1827, they proposed a written constitution, which was adopted by the Cherokee National Council, modeled on the constitution of the United States. Both men were powerful speakers and well able to articulate their opposition to the constant pressure from settlers and the federal government to relocate to the west. Ridge had first made a name for himself opposing a Cherokee proposal for removal in 1807. In 1824 John Ross, on a delegation to Washington, D.C. wrote:

We appeal to the magnanimity of the American Congress for justice, and the protection of the rights, liberties, and lives, of the Cherokee people. We claim it from the United States, by the strongest obligations, which imposes it upon them by treaties; and we expect it from them under that memorable declaration, "that all men are created equal."

Not all tribal elders or tribal members approved of the ways in which many in the tribe had adopted white cultural practices and they sought refuge from white interference by moving into what is now northwestern Arkansas. In the 1820s, the numbers of Cherokees moving to Arkansas territory increased. Others spoke out on the dangers of Cherokee participation in Christian churches, and schools, and predicted an end to traditional practices. They believed that these accommodations to white culture would weaken the tribe's hold on the land.

Even as Major Ridge and John Ross were planning for the future of New Echota and an educated, well-governed tribe, the state of Georgia increased its pressure on the federal government to release Cherokee lands for white settlement. Some settlers did not wait for approval. They simply moved in and began surveying and claiming territory for themselves. A popular song in Georgia at the time included this refrain:

All I ask in this creation
Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation
Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation.

Discussion Questions for Reading 1

1. In what ways did the Cherokees adopt aspects of white culture? What did they do to protect Cherokee culture?

2. What did Major Ridge and John Ross have in common? What were their plans for the Cherokee Nation? Do you think these changes would protect the tribe's land? Why or why not?

3. Why did some Cherokees oppose these changes? If you were a Cherokee, which group do you think you would agree with? Why?

4. Why do you think John Ross, who was only one-eighth Cherokee and who was raised and educated in the white community, might have identified so strongly with his Indian heritage?

5. Read John Ross's letter to Congress carefully. What is its tone and what points does he make? Even though he was a slave holder, he appeals to the words of the Declaration of Independence. Do you think this strengthens his argument? Do you think it is an effective appeal? Why or why not?

Visual Evidence
Photo 1: Major Ridge House. [photo 1] with link to larger version of photo.
The Ridge House is located in Rome, Georgia, near New Echota, the Cherokee national capital. The two windows to the left of the front door were part of the earliest part of this house, a log cabin of two rooms separated by an open breezeway. By the time of the relocation, Major Ridge had enlarged the cabin into a fine house, with eight rooms, 30 glass windows, four brick fireplaces, and paneling in the parlor. The two one-story wings were added in the 20th century.

Discussion Questions for Photo 1

1. This house was part of a 223-acre plantation farmed by about 30 slaves. The property also included a ferry, a store, and a toll road, all sources of considerable wealth. In what ways does the house demonstrate that Major Ridge was a rich man? Do you think that was the impression he intended to create?

2. Can you see any features that might indicate that this house was built by a Cherokee? In what ways do you think the design of the house reflects Ridge's attitudes towards accommodation to white society?

Visual Evidence

Photo 2: John Ross House.[photo 2] with link to larger version of photo.

(National Park Service)

This log house is located in Rossville, Georgia, on the Georgia-Tennessee border near Chattanooga. It consists of two rooms on each floor separated by a central breezeway, now enclosed, and was built in the 1790s by John Ross's grandfather. Ross lived here with his grandparents as a boy and the house later served as a headquarters for the enterprises that made him a rich man. The property also included a large farm, worked by slaves. Ross also owned a supply depot and warehouse at Ross's Landing (now in Chattanooga).

Discussion Questions for Photo 2

1. Before it was enlarged, Major Ridge's house probably looked much like this house. Does the Ross house look like the home of a rich man?

2. In 1826, Ross moved to a large plantation near Rome, Georgia, only about a mile from Major Ridge. Why do you suppose he moved there?

3. In 1832, Ross returned from a trip to Washington to find that his plantation had been taken over by Georgia whites who had won it in the lottery for Cherokee land. He moved back into this house, where he stayed until removal. How do you think he would have felt returning to his old home under these circumstances?

Historical Evidence

This lesson on the Trail of Tears uses a wide variety of historical evidence. Review the readings and visual materials and make a list of the kinds of evidence presented in the lesson (historical quotations, oral histories, illustrations, photographs, etc.)
DIRECTIONS: Work in groups and as a group select four pieces of evidence.

For each piece of evidence, list 1) what kind of evidence it is (speech, letter, map, photograph, etc.), 2) when it was created, 3) what facts it contains, 3) what other kinds of information it provides, 4) why it was created, and 5) what it adds to your understanding of the Cherokee experience and the Trail of Tears.

Evidence #1

Evidence #2

Evidence #3

Evidence #4






DIRECTIONS: Read the letter below, and then answer the questions at the bottom.
Letter from Chief John Ross, "To the Senate and House of Representatives"

[Red Clay Council Ground, Cherokee Nation, September 28, 1836]

With a view to bringing our troubles to a close, a delegation was appointed on the 23rd of October, 1835, by the General Council of the (Cherokee) nation, clothed with full powers to enter into arrangements with the Government of the United States, for the final adjustment of all our existing difficulties. The delegation failing to effect an arrangement with the United States commissioner, then in the (Cherokee) nation, proceeded, agreeably to their instructions in that case, to Washington City, for the purpose of negotiating a treaty with the authorities of the United States.

After the departure of the Delegation, a contract was made by the Rev. John F. Schermerhorn, and certain individual Cherokees, purporting to be a "treaty, concluded at New Echota, in the State of Georgia, on the 29th day of December, 1835, by General William Carroll and John F. Schermerhorn, commissioners on the part of the United States, and the chiefs, headmen, and people of the Cherokee tribes of Indians." A spurious Delegation, in violation of a special injunction of the general council of the nation, proceeded to Washington City with this pretended treaty, and by false and fraudulent representations supplanted in the favor of the Government the legal and accredited Delegation of the Cherokee people, and obtained for this instrument, after making important alterations in its provisions, the recognition of the United States Government. And now it is presented to us as a treaty, ratified by the Senate, and approved by the President [Andrew Jackson], and our acquiescence in its requirements demanded, under the sanction of the displeasure of the United States, and the threat of summary compulsion, in case of refusal. It comes to us, not through our legitimate authorities, the known and usual medium of communication between the Government of the United States and our nation, but through the agency of a complication of powers, civil and military.

By the stipulations of this instrument, our property may be plundered before our eyes; violence may be committed on our persons; even our lives may be taken away, and there is none to regard our complaints. We are denationalized; we are disfranchised. We are deprived of membership in the human family! We have neither land nor home, nor resting place that can be called our own.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are three complaints Chief John Ross has about how the Cherokee are being treated?

  1. Create three arguments to go against the complaints you listed in question 3).

DIRECTIONS: In as much detail as possible, describe what you see in Figures 1 and 2 below.

  1. Compare Figure 1 with Figure 2 and highlight for me THREE of the biggest differences.



Watch the video from and then answer the following questions:

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Thomas Jefferson see the relationship between Native Americans and White Americans?

  1. Who came along and changed how White Americans saw Native Americans? After this change, how did White Americans then view Native Americans?

  1. When told of the signing of a treaty removing the Native Americans from their lands, what did many Native Americans do? Why?

  1. What did the Native Americans lose once White American soldiers came onto their lands?


  1. Read the data provided below and come up with THREE conclusions on what the data means.

The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others in the United States, from their homelands to Indian Territory (eastern sections of the present-day state of Oklahoma). The phrase originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831. Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation en route to their destinations. Many died, including 4,000 of the 15,000 relocated Cherokee.

In 1831 the Choctaw were the first to be removed, and they became the model for all other removals. After the Choctaw, the Seminole were removed in 1832, the Creek in 1834, then the Chickasaw in 1837, and finally the Cherokee in 1838. After removal, some Native Americans remained in their ancient homelands - the Choctaw are found in Mississippi, the Seminole in Florida, the Creek in Alabama, and the Cherokee in North Carolina. A limited number of non-native Americans (including African-Americans - usually as slaves) also accompanied the Native American nations on the trek westward. By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans from these southeastern states had been removed from their homelands thereby opening 25 million acres for predominantly white settlement.

In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the thousand-mile march with scant clothing and most on foot without shoes or moccasins. The march began in Red Clay, Tennessee, the location of the last Eastern capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee were given used blankets from a hospital in Tennessee where an epidemic of small pox had broken out. Because of the diseases, the Indians were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the way; many times this meant traveling much farther to go around them.

After crossing Tennessee and Kentucky, they arrived in Southern Illinois at Golconda about the 3rd of December 1838. Here the starving Indians were charged a dollar a head (equal to $21.83 today) to cross the river on "Berry's Ferry" which typically charged twelve cents, equal to $2.62 today. They were not allowed passage until the ferry had serviced all others wishing to cross and were forced to take shelter under "Mantle Rock," a shelter bluff on the Kentucky side, until "Berry had nothing better to do". Many died huddled together at Mantle Rock waiting to cross. Several Cherokee were murdered by locals. The killers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government through the courthouse in Vienna, suing the government for $35 a head (equal to $763.88 today) to bury the murdered Cherokee.

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