How Many People Died on the Trail of Tears?

March 20, 2024

The forced relocation of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole people from their ancestral homelands in Southeast America to Oklahoma is one of the darkest episodes in American history. The Trail of Tears is commonly taught in classrooms as a singular event, but it actually was an ongoing series of events resulting from a variety of actions taken by federal, state and tribal actors.

The story begins with President Andrew Jackson's 1830 Indian Removal Act. It was passed by Congress by a slim margin and gave the Cherokee two years to relocate. They resisted by every means possible and even sent a peacemaker, Junaluska, to Washington to plead their case but was unsuccessful. The military rounded up the Cherokee and put them into stockades. Then they marched over a thousand miles to Indian territory (present day Oklahoma). Along the way, thousands of Cherokee died from exposure, malnutrition, and other complications of the trek which was later known as the Trail of Tears.

The National Park Service’s Trail of Tears National Historic Trail identifies and interprets the physical route, roundup sites, dispersion locations, and associated burial grounds for the Cherokee who were relocated during the Trail of Tears. Many of the people who survived this trek had a strong desire to keep their culture alive and established communities in Oklahoma which are still in existence today. These tribes were not frontier savages but rather sophisticated people with written language, thriving economy and political systems that reflected their needs.


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