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    Indigenous Peoples Day: A look at the removal of tribes in the 1830s
    • October 7, 2023

    Removed from home

    October 9 is Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day.

    Most Native American tribes rejected the idea of removal during the U.S. expansion westward, and they tried every strategy they could to avoid it. Some nations refused to leave, and some fought to keep their lands.

    Removal from 1830–1862

    The expansion of the U.S. settlement from the eastern Appalachian range to the west led to the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. It forced all eastern tribal nations to move to new homelands west of the Mississippi River.

    Lawmakers were deeply divided over the Indian Removal Act. The U.S. Senate vote was 28 to 19 in favor. The vote in the House of Representatives was even closer, 102 to 97. President Andrew Jackson signed the measure into law May 28, 1830.

    Legendary frontiersman and Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett opposed the Indian Removal Act, declaring that his decision would “not make me ashamed in the Day of Judgment.”

    The Indian Removal Act did not order the involuntary removal of any Native Americans, but the act allowed Jackson’s administration to freely persuade, bribe and threaten tribal leaders to sign removal treaties. The act granted Native Americans financial and material assistance to relocate to a new homeland and stated the tribes would live under U.S. protection.

    The Five Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw) purchased new lands in present-day Oklahoma, but some relocated farther north. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 led to renewed White settlement in these territories, and the immigrant nations located there were soon under pressure to move on. Texas forced out all remaining tribal nations in 1859. The Civil War ended the removals temporarily.

    Mark Hirsh, a historian for the National Museum of the American Indian, had this to say about the Removal Act: “American Indians continued the fight to keep their lands. But from about 1830 to 1850, the U.S. government used treaties, fraud, intimidation and violence to remove about 100,000 American Indians west of the Mississippi. Thousands of Native men, women and children died on the difficult trek to a strange new land that became known as Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma).

    “The tragedy and darkness of American Indian removal should not hide the remarkable story that followed. After resettling in Indian Territory, Native peoples rebuilt their lives and cultures and continued their struggle for self-government under their own laws on their new lands in the West … Their thoughts and actions reveal much about human strength in the face of adversity — a universal issue that is as relevant today as it was in the 1800s.”

    The final period, 1867–1892

    The end of the Civil War allowed another surge of American settlement into the West, and again tribal nations were pressured onto reservations in the Indian Territory. In 1867 many living in Kansas and Nebraska received new reservations via the Omnibus Treaty, while the Plains nations accepted reservations via the Medicine Lodge Treaty. The last people to receive a reservation were Geronimo and his fellow Chiricahua prisoners of war.

    Between 1776 and 1887, the U.S. seized more than 1.5 billion acres from Native Americans by treaty and executive order.

    You can learn more at the Oklahoma Historical Society here.

    An online lesson about the American Indian removal is on the National Museum of the American Indian here.


    Sources: National Museum of the American Indian; Sam Hilliard, Louisiana State University; Southern Illinois University Cartographic Laboratory; U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; National Park Service; National Archives; U.S. Census Bureau; Oklahoma Historical Society

    ​ Orange County Register