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Indian Removal Act: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jonathan Crocker
The Indian Removal Act was a law passed by Congress in 1830. Iit allowed the president to set aside land west of the Mississippi (mostly in modern-day Oklahoma) for Indian reservations and also to make treaties with the individual nations, exchanging their land for land in these new reservations.

Background

Can you imagine being forced from your home because others thought they could make better use of your land? Because of the Indian Removal Act, tens of thousands of Native Americans from five tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee, and Muskogee-Creek) were forced to move from their homes in the southeast U.S. to new reservations (lands set aside for Native Americans). Some went peacefully, some were forced to move, and others fought to keep their land.

Native Americans have lived in North America for tens of thousands of years. But once Europeans began colonizing (moving in and setting up governments) in North America, more people began to immigrate. As the United States became a country and population grew, colonists wanted more land, especially for farming.

Andrew Jackson
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President Andrew Jackson believed that exchanging tribal lands for lands farther west was the tribes' best option. He thought that settlers would eventually take their land anyway, whereas the new lands would be theirs forever. Jackson had previously fought some of these tribes in the Creek War and the First Seminole War.

The Indian Removal Act

The Indian Removal Act gave the president authority to make reservations west of the Mississippi River and to make treaties (formal agreements) with tribes. It promised payment for improvements they'd already added to the land (such as buildings), that the new lands would belong to the tribes forever, and that the president would arrange assistance in the moving process.

Enforcement

The Choctaw were the first to sign a treaty and began moving from their lands (mostly in Mississippi) in 1831. Of nearly 20,000 people, several thousand died of cholera during the move.

The Choctaw Trail of Tears
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The Muskogee-Creek signed a treaty in 1832 and began moving in 1834; 3,500 died from disease soon afterward. Some tried staying on their land in Alabama, but settlers began moving in and some found ways to cheat them out of their land. This resulted in violence: the Second Creek War. Those that had remained in Alabama were then removed by force.

Most of the Seminole tribe (in Florida) refused to leave, resulting in the Second Seminole War. Many Seminole fought the U.S. Army until their leader (Osceola) was captured, dying in prison. Some Seminole moved west while others moved farther south.

Tuko-see-mathla, Seminole fighter
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