In the early 1800’s, America’s population was booming and people were moving west. Westward expansion came mostly at the expense of the Native Americans, who were often forced to move from their native lands.
In the state of Georgia, the population increased 600 percent in the matter of 40 years. As a result, many of its native tribes were pushed out. The Cherokee Indians, of western Georgia, had managed to keep their land until gold was discovered in their territory in 1828. In 1830, however, President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act. The Cherokees fought the law, and it was overturned by Chief Justice John Marshall two years later.
Just three years later, however, in 1835, the Treaty of New Echota was signed. The “treaty” was not authorized by the Cherokee Nation, but rather, a small group of Cherokee radicals led by John Ridge. Under the “treaty”, the Cherokee were to leave Georgia and the government would compensate them at a price determined to be about 5 percent of the value of the land. The majority of the Cherokee Nation would never have agreed to the “treaty”, but the U.S. government ratified it anyway. John Ridge was thus seen as a traitor by the Cherokees and would later pay with his life. The Georgia government then staged a “land lottery” in which Cherokee land was divided into 160 equal portions. The plots were sold to anyone who had $4.00 and had won a chance to own land.
In 1838, General Winfield Scott and 7,000 troops invaded Cherokee land. Men, women, and children were forced to walk westward from Georgia nearly 1,000 miles with minimal facilities and food, to reservations set up for them in Oklahoma. Cherokee Chief, John Ross, eventually was able to convince Winfield Scott that his people should lead the tribe west. Scott agreed and Ross divided the people into smaller groups so they could forage for food on their own. Although Ross may have saved countless lives, nearly 4,000 Native Americans died walking this Trail of Tears.