A Summary of “The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears”

Like most Indian Nations, the Cherokee were systematically subjugated, robbed, dispossessed and finally forced out of their ancestral homelands. The only difference between the Cherokee Nation and other Nations is that they were more assimilated to the dominant white culture and thus left behind a large body of written records, from newspaper publications to court documents. As the Cherokee did seem to assimilate and played by the fickle rules set down by white Americans, their treatment, broken promises and ultimate expulsion from the east by the government was a deeper betrayal than that experienced by other Nations. Many Cherokees were educated, owned businesses and plantations, operated a newspaper, had a formal government and participated vigorously in the American legal system all the while were promised protection from intrusions and acknowledged tribal rights. The case of the Cherokee Nation proves that the American government of the nineteenth century would not be content with Indian “civilization” but would accept nothing less than removal or extermination, and in doing so betrays its own uniquely American ideals.
The concept of “civilizing” Indians may have existed prior to the earliest years of the nineteenth century, but in 1804 Thomas Jefferson and several of his cabinet embraced it as a method of dealing with the Indians that still remained in the east. To a considerable extent the Cherokee absorbed certain facets of the white Americans. Missionaries, while not necessarily as successful as they would have liked in the matter of Indian conversions, spread their knowledge of math, reading, writing, farming and housekeeping. Several Cherokee like Elias Boudinot and John Ridge so excelled in formalized learning that they went on to boarding school at Cornwall, married respectable white women and held prestigious positions within the Cherokee Nation. In spite of the talents and level of “civilization” of Ridge and Boudin…


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