Like so many other Indigenous groups, Cherokees have lived in what is now the United States for thousands of years. But by the 1800s, White settlers had taken over most Native lands on the East Coast and were pushing west.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. The goal was to force Indigenous groups in the Southeastern U.S. to move west of the Mississippi River.
At that time, the heart of the Cherokee Nation was in the state of Georgia. Cherokees had made several treaties in which the U.S. government recognized them as their own country. They did not believe the U.S. had the right to make them move. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Cherokees’ favor.
But in the end, that victory didn’t matter. In 1838, U.S. Army soldiers burst into Cherokees’ homes and herded them like animals into camps. More than 16,000 Cherokees had no choice but to abandon the homeland of their ancestors.
Soon they were forced to march more than 900 miles to present-day Oklahoma. Along the way, about 4,000 Cherokees died from starvation, disease, and exposure to the bitter cold.
Members of four other Native nations were forced to follow their own Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. In all, about 100,000 Indigenous people were forced off their land in the Southeast during the 1830s.