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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Trail of tears

At the dawn of the 19th century, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Cree, Seminole and other American Indian nations occupied much of the southeastern United States from Virginia down through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Most had adopted European ways and were farmers and tradespeople.

Their land was coveted by the rapidly growing white population. Although several federal treaties guaranteed their right to the land, by 1830 a series of state and federal laws and Supreme Court decisions had stripped the American Indians of all legal entitlements. In 1838, thousands of them were forcibly removed by water and land to the Indian Territories west of the Mississippi — the infamous Trail of Tears.

Several Moravian missionaries from Springplace, Ga. — clergy and lay — made the trek on foot with the Cherokee. Some missionaries died, but the survivors began a mission for the Cherokee community in Oaks, Okla., that today includes the ELCA's Oaks Indian Center. There is no official count of how many men, women and children died on the trail. Estimates range from hundreds to thousands.



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