Trail of Tears, Indian
Architect Richard Thornton is a member of an alliance of Creek, Choctaw and
Seminole scholars, who over the past seven years have been intensely studying
the heritage of the Muskogean peoples. Much of their activities have involved
re-examination of the archives of the early Spanish, English and French
exploration of the Southeastern United States. We have asked Richard to provide
AccessGenealogy with some of his work. As we add to these articles we will
also be providing a question and answer section for the reader to ask questions
The Indian Removal Acts of 1830 and
1832 required many Native Americans living in the
Southeast and Midwest to relocate from their homelands
to either what is now Oklahoma or Kansas. The term was
first used by the Choctaws in 1832. Somewhere between
2,500 and 6,000 Choctaws died in route. Despite
association of the term with the Cherokee Removal, the
Choctaws lost the most people and the highest percentage
of people during the Indian Removals.
All Native Americans in the Southeast were not required
to relocate to the Indian Territory. Some states, such
as South Carolina and Virginia, did not request that
their Indians be removed. Native Americans living
outside the boundaries of tribally owned lands legally
were not required to move, but often were gathered up
anyway by soldiers. The treaties with the Choctaws,
Creeks and Cherokees allowed tribal members to remain,
if they agreed to be citizens of the states where they
lived. Census records suggest that an equal number of
Creeks (25,000) tried initially to stay in Georgia as
those Creeks in Alabama, who were forcibly removed to
the Indian Territory. At that time, the Creeks were the
largest Native American tribe.
The last use of Federal troops to forcibly remove Native
Americans in the Southeast occurred in 1843 when
soldiers attacked peaceful Hitchiti-Creek and Yuchi farm
villages, in the Altamaha River Basin of southeastern
Georgia. They were supposedly citizens of Georgia and
not subject to the treaties made with the
Muskogee-Creeks, but lived on lands that plantation
owners desired. They were deported first to For
Mitchell, AL and then to Oklahoma.
Up until the Civil War, state militias and sheriff
posse’s intermittently attacked and deported Native
American communities in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
The last military action against Southeastern Native
Americans under formal government direction occurred in
the early 1860s when the Georgia militia attacked
Talassee-Creek farmers, who had established new farms on
the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. They were driven back
into the swamp.
Such actions ended when the Confederacy declared members
of the “Five Civilized Tribes” to be full citizens of
the Confederacy. Native Americans were not made full
citizens of the United States until 1922. Until when
Jimmy Carter became governor of Georgia in the early
1970s, there were state laws on the books that refused
Native Americans the right to vote, own real estate,
attend public school or testify in court. The times,
they have changed!
How did Native Americans get to
The conditions that these people traveled under and how
they traveled varied considerably. Many did walk all the
way. That is a fact. Those that walked suffered terribly
and were far more likely to die on the way. Numerous
wealthy Choctaws, Creeks and Cherokees left for Oklahoma
ahead of the main parties and rode in covered wagons or
even fine carriages to their new homes. Large numbers of
Choctaws and Creeks were taken as close as possible to
the Indian Territory by steamboats, then had to walk the
rest of the way. However, several hundred Creeks died
when their steamboat exploded. Large numbers of
Cherokees were transported by barges and flatboats to
Arkansas, then had to walk the rest of the way. The
majority of Cherokees were provided wagons to ride in,
but often the horses died or there was not enough space
for everyone, so many had to walk anyway.
What did the survivors live in?
By the 1830s, when the majority of tribes were forced
west, most of their members were living in log houses.
However, some tribes in the Upper Midwest did have a
tradition of living in teepees during the winter. They
might have temporarily lived in teepees, when they first
arrived in Kansas or Oklahoma. However, judging from the
location of the reader’s grandparents’ house, her
ancestors were Creeks. Most Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws
and Cherokees temporarily lived in tents or lean-to
sheds, and then built crude log huts as soon as
possible. Some of these first log houses consisted of
manmade caves with crude log walls on one side. The
survivors later built larger, tighter log houses with
dressed logs. Some of the Native American log houses
were large and two stories tall, as had been their homes
in the East.
Credit: Richard Thornton
Since the reader’s heritage is apparently Creek, she will be
interested in this additional information. The Creeks were accustomed to living
near streams or rivers. That is how they got their name. Many built their first
log homes next to rivers and streams, not realizing that Oklahoma was subject to
massive floods. Perhaps one of the reasons that her ancestors had to move after
to getting to Oklahoma was the problem of flooding. However, there was also much
turmoil during the American Civil War, in which a third of the Creeks died;
mostly from starvation in Union concentration camps. Also, pro-Union and
pro-Confederate families often had to move to get away from the enemy faction.
Original settlement locations
The best place to get information on the names and original settlement locations
of Creek ancestors is the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Cultural Preservation Office
or perhaps the tribal museum. It is located in Okmulgee, OK within the tribe’s
office complex. Most of the other Native American tribes in Oklahoma and Kansas
have similar agencies that can help citizens of their tribe.
Allotment farms and the second “Trail of Tears”
The second “Trail of Tears” that the reader’s grandfather described PROBABLY
refers to the forced relocation required of many Oklahoma Native Americans just
prior to Oklahoma becoming a state. The Dawes Act of 1887 & 1891 first required
all members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” to register on the rolls of their
tribe. There are many thousands of Oklahomans today who are legitimately Native
Americans, but whose ancestors smelled “a rat coming,” and refused to register
on tribal rolls. Most of their descendants can not now be enrolled in Federal
recognized tribes because of this, but they also didn’t have their farms taken.
All lands owned communally by the tribe were then subdivided into relatively
small tracts. Families and individuals were then assigned these tracts, while
the surplus lands were distributed to Caucasian families either by lotteries or
“land rushes.” Families often were assigned tracts of land other than what they
had lived on for 60 years. They were forced to, go on a second Trail of Tears to
another tract of land; build new homes, fences and barns.
The Dawes Act allotments were almost as destructive to the Five Southeastern
Tribes as the original Trail of Tears and the Civil War; in particular for the
Creeks, who occupied lands in east-central Oklahoma. Some Creek families had to
travel over 100 miles to reach raw tracts of land, where they had start all over
again. In many cases they were abandoning long established orchards and improved
pastures. Being master farmers, the Creek survivors of the Trail of Tears had
naturally chosen the best lands to establish new farms in the Indian Territory.
It was not unusual for previously successful Indian farmers to be assigned
tracts that were unsuited for agriculture.
It took until the late 20th century for the Southeastern tribes located in
Oklahoma to significantly recover economically from the effects of the “second
Trail of Tears.” From 1905 until the 1970s, most did not even have tribal
governments, since the Dawes Act also gave the federal government possession of
their public buildings.
Notes About this Material
Source: Richard Thornton, an alliance of Muskogean scholars, professors and
professionals. Copyright Richard Thornton, Blairsville, GA, 2010. Used here with