Perspectives on the Trail of Tears

by Elizabeth Berlin Taylor

Introduction

In this lesson, student groups will design and create a poster containing facts about the Trail of Tears as well as a collage and concluding statement expressing the group’s feelings about the event. 

Background

The Trail of Tears was the result of Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal in the Southeastern United States. While Jackson’s designs on Indian territory east of the Mississippi River involved Indian nations such as the Cherokees, Seminoles, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks, as well as others from approximately 1814 until 1840, “the Trail of Tears” refers to the forced march of Cherokees from Georgia to Oklahoma from 1838 to 1839. This episode, legitimized by the disputed Treaty of New Echota, resulted in thousands of deaths and the removal of the Cherokee Nation from its ancestral homelands. 

Materials

Maps

Painting

Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Essential Question

What incidents led to the Trail of Tears and what is your perspective of this event?

Objectives

  1. Students will be able to read and understand primary and secondary documents that are germane to the events and points of view of the Trail of Tears.
  2. Students will be able to communicate data about the Trail of Tears on a poster.
  3. Students will be able to create a collage and a statement that captures the group’s feelings about the Trail of Tears.

Motivation

Ask students the question: “Does the United States government have the right to make you move out of your house? Why or why not?” After students spend about two minutes writing responses to these questions, ask them to share their answers and respond to each other. As a follow-up question, ask students what they would do if they were required to move by their government.

Procedure

  1. Introduce background information on the Trail of Tears via a very brief lecture or discussion.
  2. Project the maps of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia, 1830, and the Cherokee Removal Routes. Discuss the distance that the Cherokees walked and conditions they endured. If you have access to computer technology, have students investigate the interactive map of the Trail of Tears to understand how long the march was and would be today.
  3. Project The Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux. Have students discuss what is happening in the painting and how its subjects are depicted.
  4. Divide the class into groups of four and distribute an information packet to each group. The packet should contain four copies of the two secondary sources and one copy of each primary source. It would be most effective to keep the materials in a folder.
  5. Ask students to read the secondary sources individually. Then as a group, have students write one paragraph that responds to the question, “What was the Trail of Tears?”
  6. Next, ask each student in the group to read one of the primary sources and complete the “Who, What, Where, and When” worksheet. Group members should then share information from their documents with the group.
  7. Conclude this day’s class by asking for volunteers to explain the events and share their perceptions of the Trail of Tears.

Day Two

Ask students to return to their groups and review the information they discovered in the previous class period. Hand out the Perspectives on the Trail of Tears poster template to each group. Ask students to answer the following questions in the corners of the poster:

  1. What was the Trail of Tears? 
  2. Who was removed (and from where were they removed)? Where did they resettle? 
  3. What was John Ross’s opinion of Indian Removal? 
  4. What was Andrew Jackson’s opinion of Indian Removal? 

In the center of the poster, have students create a collage showing how the group feels about the Trail of Tears. Underneath the collage, the group should write a one-sentence statement explaining their feelings about the Trail of Tears.

Closure

After they complete their work, debrief students on the material they have learned. Pose the concluding question: “Could another removal of an ethnic group happen in the present-day United States?”

Extension

Students may research the experiences of other Indian nations subjected to removal as a result of Andrew Jackson’s policies and write a short essay explaining their research.

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