Into the Cruel Woods (Part 2 of 3)
On May 1838, 7,000 US soldiers entered the Cherokee lands in Georgia and forced the Native Americans from their homes. The men were led to the stockades, arrested while working in the fields for no other crime than being born a Native American.
The women and children were corralled into wagons with whatever belongings they had on them at the time. Very few had blankets with them for the cold and rainy nights ahead. Many were not given time to put on shoes and had to walk barefoot for the length of the journey. Grieving parents were not even given time to bury their dead properly.
Under orders from General Winfield Scott, the Cherokee were pushed along the trail at a merciless pace, only stopping when their “escorts” allowed it. Many of the soldiers, 3,000 in fact were volunteers. Many of them sympathized with the natives’ plight and some even tried to stop the numerous beatings and mistreatment of the natives along the way. But they were quickly punished by their superiors and locked in stockades for their compassion.
Death was a regular occurrence on the trail, and it wasn’t unusual to lose 20 Cherokee in a single night to pneumonia and mistreatment. Very few of them had ample protection against the elements, so the old and very young tended to die first. Many mothers gave up their blankets for their children, allowing the little ones to make it through the journey when their parents did not.
By November, the procession of soldiers and natives had only reached about halfway to their destination. They were met by terrible sleet and snowstorms that killed off Cherokee by droves. They were buried in unmarked, shallow graves far from their homes and families.
In March of 1839, after almost a year of riding in wagons, walking across dirt trails and knowing nothing but suffering for as long as they could remember, the remaining two thirds of the Cherokee arrived at their new lands. They weren’t greeted by ready-built structures and new homes to live in. The vast, open land lay before them, untamed and as tough as any they had encountered yet.
Many of those that arrived in the new Indian Territory were children whose parents had perished along the way. They were homeless and without families, and they had to find someone to care for them or try to fend for themselves. Even though their relocation was over, the journey for survival had just begun. Many of them would not survive the following months in this new land, as there was no food prepared for them and growing crops was an uncertain prospect in these wild lands.
This Trail of Tears and the mistreatment of the Cherokee were all approved by Andrew Jackson. He openly defied the Supreme Court to make it happen, but was still using the Indian Removal Act as his reasoning for the forced relocation.
This law was, of course, intentionally misused during the Trail of Tears, and its concession for assistance with migration became an excuse for armed soldiers to force the Native Americans out and march them to their destination, harassing and hurrying them along at every opportunity, pushing the old and feeble harder than they could tolerate and making the journey as miserable as possible for the Cherokee.