The map shows the routes of the five southeastern tribes that were forced to leave their homelands in the Southeast and live in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. A surprising number of Americans opposed Indian removal. (The first bill in Congress passed by only 103 votes to 97.) But the demand for new lands was high, and former Army officers such as Andrew Jackson used their experiences as Indian fighters to gain political popularity and get elected to office.

Map by National Geographic Society

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  • On March 28, 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, beginning the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans in what became known as the Trail of Tears.
    Not all members of Congress supported the Indian Removal Act. Tennessee Rep. Davey Crockett was a vocal opponent, for instance. Native Americans opposed removal from their ancestral lands, resulting in a long series of battles with local white settlers. But the forced relocation proved popular with voters. It freed more than 25 million acres of fertile, lucrative farmland to mostly white settlement in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. 
    More than 46,000 Native Americans were forced—sometimes by the U.S. military—to abandon their homes and relocate to “Indian Territory” that eventually became the state of Oklahoma. More than 4,000 died on the journey—of disease, starvation, and exposure to extreme weather
    Today, the Trail of Tears is a National Historic Trail stretching from Tennessee to Oklahoma. It specifically chronicles the removal of the Cherokee in 1838-1839, the largest contingent on the Trail of Tears.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandon Verb

    to desert or leave entirely.

    ancestral Adjective

    having to do with ancestors or historical background.

    chronicle Verb

    to report.

    civilize Verb

    to bring out of a savage or uneducated state.

    Congress Noun

    legislative branch of the government, responsible for making laws. The U.S. Congress has two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    contingent Noun

    small, designated part of a larger group.

    disease Noun

    harmful condition of a body part or organ.

    eventually Adverb

    at some point in the future.

    extreme weather Noun

    rare and severe events in the Earth's atmosphere, such as heat waves or powerful cyclones.

    farmland Noun

    area used for agriculture.

    fertile Adjective

    able to produce crops or sustain agriculture.

    forced relocation Noun

    migration of people from one place to another, as ordered by the government or international authority.

    impact Noun

    meaning or effect.

    lucrative Adjective

    profitable or money-making.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    Native American Noun

    person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

    starvation Noun

    dying from lack of food.

    tribe Noun

    community made of one or several family groups sharing a common culture.