On this dayMay 28, 1830

Indian Removal Act Forces Indigenous Peoples to Migrate West

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian 

On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to grant land west of the Mississippi River in exchange for the lands of the American Indian tribes living primarily in the southeastern U.S. President Jackson’s message to Congress stated a double goal of the Indian Removal Act: freeing more land in southern states like Alabama and Mississippi, while also separating Native American people from “immediate contact with settlements of whites” in the hopes that they will one day “cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”

Although the act referred specifically to those “tribes and nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside” and President Jackson described the removal as a “happy consummation” of the government’s “benevolent policy” toward Indigenous people, the legislation led to the brutal forced migration of thousands of Muscogee (Creek), Chocktaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Cherokee people to present-day Oklahoma. The journey came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Numerous reports described epidemic illness, devastating exposure to the elements, and high rates of death along the migration paths. One eyewitness account published in the Arkansas Gazette stated, “No portion of American history can furnish a parallel of the misery and suffering at present endured by the emigrating Creeks.”

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