Christine A. Elmore
Crammed into Stockades
After being forcibly removed from their home, the Cherokee were herded in May of 1838, into cramped, dirty, makeshift stockades—small enclosed forts used as prisons—to wait amidst much tedium and suffering, until their trek on foot, in wagons or on flatboats began. As Smith tells us in his aforementioned book, “If the roundup was an exercise in humiliation, the camps were a clinic in the dangers of death” (p. 210). Amidst the sweltering heat of the summer, diseases like dysentery, measles and whooping cough spread to epidemic proportions within these holding camps. Between 2,000 and 2,500 Cherokee died in these camps before heading West (ibid., p. 211).
The Trail of Tears Begins
In June of that same year the first Cherokees left these ‘detention camps’ for the Indian Territory and were loaded onto flatboats to cross rivers. The summer heat and disease took a huge toll on the Cherokee and their leaders persuaded General Winfield Scott to delay the rest of the removal until autumn. And so the removal resumed in October and from then on most Cherokee traveled primarily by land. Thirteen detachments of about 1,000 each plus 645 wagons carrying the sick and aged departed southeastern Tennessee. Winter came quickly and by the time the Cherokee crossed the Mississippi River many had died due to lack of food and warmth. Disease and an unusually harsh winter that year killed many during the march, particularly the very young and the very old. During the march itself for those long months, it is estimated that another 1600 died and once they arrived in Indian Territory, thousands more died as a result of exposure and disease. As Smith contends, “Most scholars estimate that a grand total of at least four thousand died as a direct result of removal—one fourth of the entire Cherokee Nation at the time . . . Such devastating mortality exceeded even the tragic experiences of most other tribes forcibly removed during that era (ibid., p. 236).
It is important to note that during the first half of the 19
century over 100,000 Native Americans were removed to land west of the Mississippi from their homelands in the East. In addition to the Cherokee many were members of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’: the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, the Creeks and the Seminoles. Vicki Rozema recounts in her book,
Voices From the Trail of Tears
, that as a result of the Indian removal policy, the Choctaws lost 15% of their population, and the Creeks and Seminoles suffered a 50% mortality rate (p. 41).
Introducing the Trail of Tears to the Class
The teacher will read portions of Laura Fischer’s book, ‘Life on the Trail of Tears’ specifically pages 10-23, to the class as their initial introduction to the historical event. The text is simplified but accurate and the photos vividly portray what is being described. During this reading the teacher will regularly pause for questions that the students might have.
Following this, in the days ahead, the teacher will show a number of ‘youtube’ videos of the Trail of Tears to further concretize the students’ understanding of the event and of the inhumane treatment, unforgiving weather conditions and profound sadness that characterize this forced migration. The first video, made by the U.S. Dept. of Interior, called ‘Trail of Tears: National Historic Trail’ is a 26-minute presentation that incorporates reenactments of events leading up to and including the Trail of Tears. To convey authenticity, the Cherokee actors actually speak in their language and subtitles in English are provided.
The second ‘youtube’ video is entitled ‘Trail of Tears-Music for the Native American Flute and features flute music that accompanies the slides of famous paintings portraying this event. There is no commentary or narration employed which makes it ideal as a vehicle to promote thought and appeals to viewers on an emotional level. During this viewing the teacher will regularly pause so that students can examine the paintings in more detail. The analyzing techniques laid out in Lesson Plan 2 will be used with these paintings as well. The third video, entitled ‘Trail of Tears Slideshow’ by Mercedes and Kim, features paintings, photos of historic sites, and book covers on the subject and is accompanied by a beautiful song called the Cherokee morning song.
These videos are very powerful and are certain to evoke emotion and rich discussions in class. During these viewings the teacher will periodically pause the video and read aloud passages from Alex W. Beater’s book entitled
Only the Names Remain
, specifically the last chapter, ‘The Soldiers Come. This reading and other first-person accounts taken from Joseph Bruchac’s book,
On this Long Journey: The Journal of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy, The Trail of Tears, 1838
will help the students feel that they are real participants in the event. There is a particularly moving account in Stanley Hoig’s book,
Night of the Cruel Moon
reported in the
on April 7, 1929 from an unidentified source (p. 120) that the teacher will read aloud to the class. I have abbreviated and simplified this passage for the benefit of young students. It reads:
For a long time we travel on the way to a new land. People feel bad when they leave the Old Nation. Women cry, children cry and men cry. They say nothing and just put their heads down and keep on going west. People sometimes say I look like I never smile, never laugh. No, I used to smile and laugh long ago but no man has any laughter left after he has marched over the long trail from the Old Nation to the new country in the west. For a long time now I live in the hills and many good people live close by but most of the time I am thinking of the Old Nation and wonder how big the mountain looks in the springtime and how the boys and young men used to swim in the big river and go on hunts in the great valley. Then I remember the march on the long trail and my heart feels heavy and sad. Maybe someday we will understand why the Cherokees had to suffer on the trail to the new country.
It is the documented, eyewitness voices of the people actually walking the Trail of Tears that so effectively place one immediately inside the event, experiencing it as if it were happening in the moment. But there are also the voices of our contemporary lives (whether speaking quietly or shouting in rage) in art, music and poetry, who are attempting to honor and memorialize those figures from the past, that will help to fill out the full picture of the students’ experience of the event.
Accounts From Characters in Historical Fiction
Historical fiction presents a story in the past often during a significant time period and is based on real historical events. An anchor chart detailing the elements in this genre will include:
is a form of fiction
is based on historical events
has authentic settings
has characters are who portrayed in a realistic manner
has some characters who may be actual people from history but the story is fictional
has an artistic mix of fiction and historical fact
One of the merits of using historical fiction, as Terry Lindquist, teacher and author of an article entitled ‘Why and How I Teach With Historical Fiction’ (on the Scholastic website) maintains, is that “it hammers home everyday details…each deposit of information provides a richer understanding of the period.” In the next part of this section the teacher will use two historical fiction books that recount life on the Trail of Tears, referring to many events that the students have learned about in previous sections of this unit. These books,
The Trail On Which They Wept: The Story of a Cherokee Girl
by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler and
by Cornelia Cornelissen feature young, courageous Cherokee girls as main characters. As these stories are read aloud in class, the teacher will use a graphic organizer provided by ReadWorks.org that will aid them in drawing conclusions from historical fiction by using 3 components: background knowledge, information from the text and personal experience in order to draw inferences about the text.
Information from the text
Response journals are a very effective way for students to reflect on what has been read. While reading and discussing these stories, students will look at the historical events that affect the main characters and try to relate to how they must feel and how they react to the events happening around them. Students will identify character traits they possess by looking at their words and actions. The two main characters are similar in a number of ways and so we will use a Venn diagram in our interactive history notebooks to compare the challenges they face on the trail. Some additional questions that students can write about in these response journals are:
Predict what you think will have next in the story.
Why did the character behave in the way she did? How would you have behaved?
How did this event in the story make you feel? Does it remind you of anything that happened in your life?
Describe what kind of person the character is. Give an example from the story as evidence to support your ideas.
Artistic Response to the Trail of Tears
In this section students will be looking at artistic expressions of The Trail of Tears in the form of poetry and paintings. As each painting is viewed on the interactive whiteboard, the teacher will read portions of two poems, one entitled
A Trail of Tears
by Debra Robertson and found on the www.firstpeople.us website and the other entitled
Cherokee Trail of Tears
by Barbara LaBarbera and found on the www.spiritisup.com website. The paintings that the students will view include:
The Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux, 1942
“Forced Move (Trail of Tears)” by Max D. Standley
“Arrival in Indian Territory (Trail of Tears)” by Max D. Standley
“On the Trail of Tears (Trail of Tears)” by Max D. Standley
The Trail of Tears by Max D. Standley
Nightfall on the Trail of Tears (Trail of Tears) by Max D. Standley
The Trail of Tears by Jereme Peabody
Shadow of the Owl by John Guthrie
Morning Tears by John Guthrie
The Trail of Tears by John Pace
The Trail of Tears by Granger
“Tail of Tears” by Jerome Tiger
This tying together of two types of artistic expression will allow students to be drawn in at different levels as they analyze the paintings and poems presented. Poems and paintings allow a more personal inside view much different from the more impersonal view taken by a historian as he/she relays historical events. It is important to present this section of the unit after enough historical context for The Trail Of Tears has been provided for the students. In this way young learners will be able to better appreciate the richness of both the visual and verbal texts and be able to interpret the intent of the artist and his/her messages about the issues.
After the students have been involved in the analysis of poetry and paintings they have the opportunity to write a poem of their own in response to some aspect of the Trail of Tears. The structure they will use is called an “I Am’ Poem and Lesson Plan 3 will offer a step by step account of how to teach it.