‘Destroying the savage’ on the Trail of Tears

More than 4,000 Cherokee died during a forced march to the government reservation

I fought through the civil war and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew. — A volunteer soldier from Georgia who participated in the removal.

President Andrew Jackson’s obsession — Get rid of the savages!


“Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage, doom him to weakness and decay.” — President Andrew Jackson, 1829


The forcible removal of Native Americans began with a bogus treaty signed in New Echota, Georgia, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, on December 29, 1835.

The treaty that ceded all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River to the United States was signed by a minority party of Cherokee elites behind the back of the Principal Chief, John Ross. It had not been approved by the Cherokee National Council nor signed by Ross.

Yet it became the legal basis for the removal of the Cherokee people from their ancestral homeland in the South.

Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross, known as the Moses of his people, the son of a Scottish father and a Cherokee mother, served as chief longer (1828–1866) than any other person.


Before the renegade signing of the treaty, the Cherokee had created a democratic government and demonstrated to the U.S. government they could assimilate into American culture and the two nations could live together. But the federal government did everything it could to undermine their efforts.



Jackson’s obsession to get rid of Native Americans began a decade before his presidency. It was his first order of business when he took office in 1829.

In 1830 he signed the Indian Removal Act that led to the forced relocation of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes from Georgia and surrounding states.

The military actions ordered by Jackson and continued under his successor Martin Van Buren were strongly opposed by Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett.

But to no avail. The U.S. government succeeded in the removal and death from exposure, disease and starvation of thousands of Native Americans.

Header photo: The Trail of Tears, painting by Robert Lindneux, 1942