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Ironically, Army officials sent to the reservation to protect whites from a Cherokee uprising ended up trying to protect the Cherokee from the whites. By the time of removal, only 2,000 Cherokee had prepared for the move. Military force would be needed.

The Trail of Tears

Troops were sent onto the Cherokee's land. Historian James Mooney described the operation with a bitter romantic veracity. The soldiers were sent to:

search out with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in the coves or by the sides of mountain streams, to seize and bring in as prisoners all the occupants, however or wherever they might be found. Families at dinner were startled by the sudden gleaming of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows and oaths along the weary miles of trail that led to the stockade. Men were seized in their fields or going along the road, women were taken from their wheels and children from their play. In many cases, on turning for one last look as they crossed the ridge, they saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage.62

This "lawless rabble" hunted through houses for valuables, pillaged graves for expensive sacraments buried with the dead, burned property, and stole cattle and other livestock. "A Georgia volunteer, afterward a colonel in the Confederate service, said "I fought through the civil war and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."63

Resistance was scattered and infrequent. Where it flared up violence followed. At least one soldier and a number of Cherokees were killed. Hundreds fled to the mountains. The Cherokee, as well as their slaves, were rounded up in what can be aptly described as concentration camp conditions. Late in the fall, after the sickly season, the Trail of Tears began.

Roughly 13,000 Cherokee began the forced march. Some 9,000 made the trip. Historians agree that 4,000 Cherokee died as a direct result of the Trail of Tears. Food was scarce, the winter came on, and rations were not nutritional. The march was long and disastrous.

 


62. Mooney, 124.
63. Ibid., 127.
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