Indian Removal

From Academic Kids

Indian Removal refers to the nineteenth century policy of the government of the United States to relocate American Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river. The policy was made official with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, although the pattern of reluctant westward migration of Native Americans had been established much earlier. Indian removal was accomplished in a variety of ways, including warfare, treaty, purchase of Indian land, and ultimately by forced march. The most well-known of these Indian removals was the Trail of Tears, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Cherokee Indians.



Since the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, America's policy had been to allow Indians to remain east of the Mississippi as long as they became assimilated or "civilized." They were to settle in one place, farm the land, divide communal land into private property, and adopt democracy.

Removal of the "Five Civilized Tribes"

In 1830, the so-called "Five Civilized Tribes" — the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee — were still living east of the Mississippi. They were called "civilized" because many tribesmen had adopted various aspects of European-American culture, including Christianity. The Cherokees had a system of writing their own language, developed by Sequoyah, and published a newspaper in Cherokee and English.

In spite of this acculturation, the position of the tribes was not secure. Some felt the presense of the tribes was a threat to peace and security, since many Native Americans had fought against the United States in previous wars, often armed by foreign nations such as Great Britain and Spain. Other white settlers and land speculators simply desired the land that was occupied by the tribes.

Accordingly, governments of the various U.S. states desired that all tribal lands within their boundaries be placed under state jurisdiction. In 1830, Georgia passed a law which prohibited whites from living on Indian territory after March 31, 1831 without a license from the state. This law was written to justify removing white missionaries who were helping the Indians resist removal. Indian removal opponent Jeremiah Evarts urged the Cherokee nation to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Marshall court ruled that while Indian tribes were not sovereign nations (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 1831), state laws had no force on tribal lands (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832). President Andrew Jackson is often quoted as having responded to the court by defiantly proclaiming, "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!" Jackson did not actually say this, though he made no effort to protect the tribes from state governments.1

Andrew Jackson and other candidates of the new Democratic Party had made Indian Removal a major goal in the campaign of 1828. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and President Jackson signed it into law. The Removal Act provided for the government to negotiate removal treaties with the various tribes. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek with the Choctaw was the first such removal treaty implemented; while around 7,000 Choctaws ultimately stayed in Mississippi, about 14,000 moved along the Red River. Other treaties, like the dubious Treaty of New Echota with the Cherokee, followed, resulting in the Trail of Tears.

As a result, the five tribes were resettled in the new Indian Territory in modern-day Oklahoma and parts of Kansas. Some Indians eluded removal, while those who lived on individually owned land (rather than tribal domains) were not subject to removal. Those who stayed behind eventually formed tribal groups including the Eastern Band Cherokee, based in North Carolina.

In 1835, the Seminoles refused to leave Florida, leading to the Second Seminole War. The most important leader in the war was Osceola, who led the Seminoles in their fight against removal. Hiding in the Everglades of Florida, Osceola and his band used surprise attacks to defeat the U.S. Army in many battles. In 1837, Osceola was tricked into capture when he came to negotiate peace during a truce. He died in prison. The Seminoles continued to fight. Some traveled deeper into the Everglades, while others moved west. The Second Seminole War ended in 1842, when the United States won.

Other removals

Some tribes north of the Ohio River also resisted relocation. The Shawnee, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, and Fox were removed to the Indian Territory. In 1832, a Sauk chief named Black Hawk led a band of Sauk and Fox back to their lands in Illinois. In the Black Hawk War, the U.S. Army and Illinois militia defeated Black Hawk and his army.

In 1835, almost 15,000 Creeks were forcibly moved from Alabama and Georgia to the Canadian River Indian Territory.

The majority of the Chicksaw tribe was deported to Indian Territory in the 1830s.

See also


Note 1: Remini, page 257.


  • Ehle, John. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
  • Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars. New York: Viking, 2001.

External links


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