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During the early 1800s, the United States government conducted a campaign of American Indian removal, moving them from their ancestral lands in the east to territories west of the Mississippi River. One of the most brutal campaigns began on May 26, 1838, when federal troops evicted thousands of Cherokee from their homes and forced them to travel a thousand miles to official reservation land in eastern Oklahoma. They traveled through extreme heat and later bitter cold with little food or water. An estimated 4,000 tribal members died on the journey from disease, exposure, exhaustion, or starvation. The ordeal became known among the Cherokee as “The Trail of Tears” and “The Trail Where They Cried,” and it ranks today as one of the most shameful episodes in American history.
Additional information about the events before, during, and after American Indian removal, including biographies of the key players and related primary source documents, can be found in Defining Moments: American Indian Removal and the Trail to Wounded Knee.