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In this new volume in The Penguin Library of American Indian History, two expert historians shed light on one of the most disturbing events in our national past, the forced relocation of the Cherokee people from their traditional homeland in the southern Appalachians. The Trail of Tears was the outcome of a long debate over whether Indians could be “civilized.” As the demand for land by white settlers increased, the policy of trying to assimilate Native Americans, begun under President Washington, gave way to a policy of Indian removal.
Here we meet the architects of removal like Thomas Jefferson, who as early as 1809 urged Cherokees to relocate out West, and many of the resisters, including the Cherokee statesman John Ridge, who paid with his life. The ordinary victims are here, too, leaving their corn in the fields and sometimes dinner on the table when the troops came. Along with stories of hardship and catastrophe on the way to Oklahoma, we learn about the new lives people began when they arrived. Within a few years, the Cherokee Nation opened public schools and published a bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Advocate. It is through their efforts to survive and rebuild that we are able to recreate their tragic history today.
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