Now listen to Tecumseh, the great Shawnee warrior-leader, a few years later: "We gave them forest-clad mountains, valleys full of game. In return they gave us … rum and trinkets and a grave."
By the 1830s, not even John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, could protect the Cherokees' rights to their land, although he tried. In his written opinion in a famous court case, Marshall said: "The Cherokee nation … is a distinct community, occupying its own territory … in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves ."
The Supreme Court said that "the Indians have a present right of possession." In other words, it was unconstitutional to push the Indians from their land. The Cherokees had won the right to their own land. Only it didn't matterbecause the presidentAndrew Jackson (and his successor, Martin Van Buren)refused to enforce the law. Our American system of checks and balances failed. It was a shameful moment in United States history.
A missionary named Evan Jones was an eyewitness to the removal. He wrote: "The Cherokees are nearly all prisoners. They have been dragged from their houses … [which] [are] left a prey to plunderers, who, like hungry wolves, follow in the train of the captors."
It was called the Trail of Tears. And it was a trail, a long trail west that the Indians were forced to walk. As they went, they wept. They didn't want to leave their homes, their farms, their hunting grounds, the land of their fathers and mothers. Evan Jones continued, "Females, who have habituated to comforts and comparative affluence, are driven on foot before the bayonets of brutal men ."
"It may be regarded as certain that not a foot of land will ever be taken from the Indians without their consent." Thomas Jefferson wrote those words in 1786. Forty-four years later, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was the law of the land. By 1840 most Indians in the eastern half of the United States had been driven west of the Mississippi .