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The Trail of Tears Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the Trail of Tears, a sad occurrence in the history of America. We'll discuss the background of the Trail of Tears, the journey that it entailed and the toll it took on Native Americans.

What Is the Trail of Tears?

Today, we'll hear a sad but true story from America's history: that of the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears refers to a deadly journey that Native Americans were forced to take during a series of relocations in the late 1830s.

During the journey from Native American lands in the Southeast to an area designated by the Americans as the Indian Territory, many, many Native Americans died of disease, starvation and harsh conditions.

Background of the Trail of Tears

The Trail of Tears occurred when America was still young. There weren't many settlements in the country in the 1830s, and Native Americans--especially the Cherokee Indians--lived on many of them.

The new American settlers wanted to live where the Cherokee lived because the land was good for growing cotton and other crops. And when gold was discovered in Georgia, the Americans became determined to take the land for themselves. So, the settlers decided it was time to kick the Native Americans out.

With that, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This law allowed Jackson to give the Native Americans the Indian Territory, located west of the Mississippi River in what is now the state of Oklahoma, in exchange for the tribal lands they called home.

President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

Some Native Americans left without a fight, while others tried to stay and peacefully resisted the relocation, even defending their case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court decided that Cherokee should be allowed to stay on their land. Unfortunately, Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court, and in 1838, he ordered U.S. Army troops to remove the Cherokee.

A Dangerous Journey

American soldiers forced out those who resisted, making them leave their homes and tribal land behind. All they could bring with were the belongings they were able to carry on the long trip.

Map of the Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears

Cherokee tribal lands included parts of many eastern states, such as Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama. From here, the Native Americans had to travel along a series of trails to reach the Indian Territory. The journey was about 1,000 miles long, and while some took boats, many had to walk the whole way along the Trail of Tears.

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