Why Did Cherokees Move West?: And Other Questions About the Trail of Tears (Six Questions of American History)

Why Did Cherokees Move West?: And Other Questions About the Trail of Tears (Six Questions of American History)

By: Judith Pinkerton Josephson
Publisher: Lerner Classroom
Publication Date: August 2010
ISBN: 978-0761361251
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: September 2010

The Cherokee people had been on the North American continent long before explorers started to come to the Americas in the 1400s. The Cherokees were located in the Appalachian Mountains and “called themselves Tsa-lagi, meaning the Principal (first of main) People.” They believed that their creator, the Great Spirit, had created this land especially for them and they would live there forever. They were an agricultural tribe, but the men were primarily “warriors, hunters, and fishers.” The Cherokees were closely tied to nature and had ceremonies to represent such things as the thirteen phases of the moon.

Their society included “seven large families, or clans.” In their many villages each had a council house which was their most important building. Their lives had remained unchanged for centuries until the arrival of the white man, an arrival that brought great change to the Cherokee tribes. One of the more unfortunate changes was the arrival of serious diseases that brought death to many. The newcomers quest for gold and other natural resources led to fighting and several treaties came into effect between 1721 and 1777, treaties in which the Cherokee “gave up almost half of their hunting grounds.” There were so many treaties that eventually these false promises on “paper that rustled” were called “talking leaves . . . [that] blew away when no longer useful.”

The white man’s attempt at civilizing the Cherokee only made them band more closely together. The Cherokee Nation was forged in 1817 and their capital was New Echota in the state of Georgia. The Nation was in turmoil as the white man continued to push to capture their lands. They began to fight back, but they were clearly outnumbered. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and within eight years hundreds of men, women, and children were forced to walk 1,000 miles to a new territory in Oklahoma. It was on this trail, the Trail of Tears, that many lost their lives as they walked away from the very land that the Creator had intended for them.

This book is an excellent overview of the Cherokee Nation and why they were forced to leave Georgia for Oklahoma. This clear, concise and well-written history tries to keep as close as possible to the facts and dismisses legend. For example, The Robert Lindneux painting, shown on the cover, shows the Cherokee people on horseback or in wagons. The author clearly states, in response to the fallacy, that, “In reality, most Cherokees had to walk the entire way.” There is a lot of history, we see portraits of many people (Cherokee and white), and learn a lot about their culture and lifestyle. I especially liked the sidebars which were “written” on notebook pages. These added many interesting historical vignettes including what the Cherokee’s constitution’s mission statement was, how some people escaped the roundup, and what they wore for clothing. There is a lot of information in this book that could easily lead to a stepping stone for a school report. There are photographs, art reproductions, and maps throughout the book. In the back of the book is an explanation of John G. Burnett’s report (primary source material), a writing exercise, a timeline, an index, and additional recommended book and website resources.

Quill says: This is an excellent book in which the young student can learn about the place of the Cherokee Nation in our history.

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