January 24, 2017. The Trail of Tears

January 26, 2017. The Mexican-American War

  • *DeLay, Brian, “Independent Indians and the U.S.-Mexican War,” The American Historical Review, 112:1 (February 2007): 35-68
  • Garcia, John. “Print Culture and Popular History in the Era of the U.S.-Mexican War.”Common-place.org. 17, no. 1 (). http://common-place.org/book/print-culture-and-popular-history-in-the-era-of-the-u-s-mexican-war/

In-Class Music Exercise (We will discuss these songs in class together. I am putting them here so you can watch them again later if you’d like). 

The Mormon Tabernacle Singers “Come Come Ye Saints” (Written by William Clayton 1846, Recorded 2012).

The Staples Singers “This May Be The Last Time” (19th century spiritual, recorded 1958).

The Rolling Stones “The Last Time” Live, 1965 (Jagger/ Richards, 1965).

Weekly Assignment: Class Debate on Indian Policy & Removal 

In class Tuesday 1/24/2017 we will be holding a policy debate on the Civilized Tribes. We will primarily be focused on the tensions between May 28, 1830 with the passage of the Indian Removal Act (a copy of it begins at the bottom of this page) and the forced removal which concluded by 1838-1840. While you do not need to write out what you will say before hand, you should be prepared to give an opening statement on your position, you should be prepared to rebuttal, and give a closing statement.

To begin, watch this documentary “Trail of Tears” from the PBS We Shall Remain series. It gives the best overview of the civilizing process, the factions within the Cherokee Nation, the legal and Supreme Court process of petitioning removal, motivations from the Democratic Party to support removal, and removal’s subsequent militarization. In the comments section on this page, write out some of your thoughts and responses to this documentary and how it portrays Indian Removal.

Team One: Chief John Ross and the pro-Cherokee unity faction. The Cherokee Nation under the leadership of Chief John Ross are against any land cession or relocation. To develop Chief John Ross’ arguments, please check out the following document: “Our Hearts are Sickened”: Letter from Chief John Ross (1836),

Team Two: Major & John Ridge: You will be defending the position of the Ridge Family and the Cherokee allied with them that entered into The Treaty of New Echota. This was a treaty made by a small contingent of Cherokees led by the Ridge Family against the wishes of the majority of the Cherokee Tribe and its elected leader, Chief John Ross. In the Treaty of New Echota, they surrendered lands in Georgia territory in present-day Oklahoma.

Team Three: You will be representing the viewpoint of President Andrew Jackson (elected in 1828) and the Democratic Party. To get a sense of his logic,  If you’d like to read the entire address in context, here is a copy. You can also read a letter he wrote and published directly to the Cherokee before he was elected President, if you’d like to get a sense of his change over time.

Team Four: You will be representing white American missionaries and their understanding of Native Americans. You will primarily be collecting information from The Letters & Journals of Narcissa Whitman, 1836-1847, but can also use this letter from missionaries in Ohio about Cherokee religion.

Additional Resources for Indian Policy Debate

Chief John Ross House in Rossville, Georgia. This was the home of Cherokee Nation leader John Ross from 1830-1838. It also operated as a slave plantation.


Looking Ahead: “Three Troublesome Children,” The Wasp, December 1881 (San Francisco) “China Question,” “Mormon Question,” “Indian Question.”


"The Three Troublesome Children"
“The Three Troublesome Children”
Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).

6 responses to “Empire of Dirt: History of the US West: Week 3: Trail of Tears & Mexican-American War

  1. Week Three
    Things I learned from this video: Sequoia accomplished an amazing thing when he developed a written form of the Cherokee language without knowing how to write in any other language! The class system within the Cherokee Nation was very complex and included slave ownership. I thought the
    most poignant quote from the video came from part one: “Christians had been
    cast out of their own Garden of Eden, but the Cherokee lived in their Eden.” I
    recognized many similarities in the approach of the US towards the Cherokee, “teach
    them to be Anglo” and force them to give up their own way of life, just like
    here in California under the mission system. And, of course, it mirrored how even those who became anglicized were not accepted as anything other than inferior. It would be interesting to learn more about the missionaries who were forced to, or refused to sign oaths of allegiance. What kind of a mess was
    the US government under Jackson that allowed the state of Georgia to ignore a
    Supreme Court ruling! These are just some of the thoughts I had while watching
    the video.

  2. It was interesting to learn about the figures and events involved in the days leading up to the removal of the Cherokee from their native homeland. It brought great sadness to see this nation simply be ignored and essentially not be considered good enough to co-exist with the Anglos. Even if they learned the way of the white man, as sometimes natives would tell their children, they weren’t treated as equals. For example, with the treaties that were already in place recognizing Cherokee land, the US government under Jackson (and by default the white people) ignored the treaties. From my previous classes that would touch on Colonial-Native American relations and/or American-Native American relationships, one of the reasons as to why whites thought that the land in North America was up for anyone to take over was because no legal document existed to legally state that a certain tribe had the legal right to it. In this documentary, we see that the Cherokee has legal documents stating their sovereignty over the specified land; documents that the American government simply decided not to uphold. Thus, even though natives may become aware and or become accustomed to the way of the whites, it does not mean that whites will uphold their end of the bargain.

    What also stood out to me was how the Cherokee Nation went from not having a written language to within a few years having one and becoming literate in their newly created language. That was pretty interesting.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the We Shall Remain documentary. In part one, there is a figure that shows the size of the Cherokee nation prior to its downfall. It is breathtaking to comprehend that the nation once had amounts of land that rivaled some states at the time. One of my favorite anecdotes from the documentary had to with John Ross as a young boy. One day when his father gave him a new suit to wear, he was ridiculed by his Cherokee companions so badly that he decided to change out of his clothing. The anecdote shows John Ross’ proudness of his cherokee heritage. Overall, the documentary encapsulates the difficulties that many faced on the trail of tears. For example, the later half of the documentary details the conditions one had to endure such as the long winters. People on the trip were trapped between a frozen Mississippi river and another frozen river behind them to sit in snow and ice hastening their deaths. On top of this, resources grew scarce and many people decided to inflate the prices of necessary goods.

  4. This was actually my second time watching this documentary and it still hit me with a wave of numerous emotions I couldn’t quite place right away. I have to be honest that one of the themes that stood out to me the most was that of “civilization” and its construction by the Anglo-Americans. Part one outlines how there was a program called “civilization” that was meant to teach the natives on “hot to live a life that Anglo-Americans thought was a civilized life.” I found that concept of what it means to be civilized to be extremely hypocritical in such a painful way because of the rampant violence and suffering the befell the Cherokee people leading up and during their removal and during their trek on what would become known as the Trail of Tears.

    i feel another strong theme that was prevalent was that of the fragility of what it means for the American government to, for lack of a better phrase, keep their word. By the end, I feel the documentary did a good job of depicting the difficulties of working through negotiations and debates between these nations and also of depicting the pain and suffering that ultimately was a result of the lack of propriety and civility from the American people and government.

  5. I particularly enjoyed this documentary because it seeks to portray the Cherokee perspective, rather than the largely American-dominated viewpoint that is commonly taught. I was unaware of the extent to which the American government sought to “civilize” the Cherokees through cultural erasure and deliberate racial mixing. I find it particularly incredible, especially given the circumstances, that Sequoia managed to create a written form of the Cherokee language. It is also indicative of how hard the Cherokee people fought to maintain their autonomous culture, despite continuous land encroachment from Americans.

    Ultimately, I am shocked at how the legal system failed the Cherokee people. It is clear that settlers did not respect the terms of the Cherokee’s legal documents. In my opinion, the fact that a Supreme Court ruling could be deliberately ignored in favor of Georgia state sovereignty speaks to much deeper tensions between federal and state powers in the South. It is a true tragedy that the Cherokee were not afforded the legal protections of the “civilized” society that white Americans so desperately tried to force them to join. Indian removal, and this documentary, truly highlights our country’s capacity for depravity and also the human consequences of political failures.

  6. I found a few aspects of the documentary useful to help my understanding of the interactions between the Native Americans and the Americans. In particular, I noticed that American hegemony took place early on in Cherokee territory. Missionaries were allowed access into the tribe where they taught the Cherokee how to eat, dress, and pray the European way. This initial exposure proves to be the most dangerous threat to the longevity of the Cherokee. For instance, since the white man came, the tribe started to form stark class divisions (something not really seen in the Cherokee before). In addition, both John Ross and John Ridge were slave owners. I mean, kind of ironic that they are fighting for their rights while they are enslaving people.

    Furthermore, the whole adoption of the Southern planter lifestyle infiltrated the Cherokee tribe. Cherokee men were educated by the white man and were taking after his ways. In some regard this helped them because now the tribe had legitimate legal representatives to fight against the intruding American government. But on the other hand, generations of Cherokee were growing up and getting educated outside of the tribe’s influence. Many married white women and strayed from their traditional roots. Ultimately, the influence of a U.S. eventually led to death and destruction for the entire Cherokee tribe. They were pulled away from their traditional roots with each generation, given terrible deals with the U.S. government, and silenced when horrible atrocities were committed against them.

Leave a Reply