Community Projects:
Voices of the Trail


By Mimi Dyer

The Cherokee Nation called themselves the "Principal People." They traveled from the Great Lakes Region and eventually owned more than 40,000 square miles in the southern Appalachians. By 1650 they had a population estimated at 22,500. Like other Native Americans of the Southeast, they had a network of towns headed by chiefs. They were mainly farmers who lived in log homes and practiced religion.

After 1800 the Cherokees began to take on more of the White culture. They set up a government like that of the United States, wore European-looking clothes, and farmed like the white man. Cherokee culture continued to improve with the invention of the Cherokee alphabet by Sequoyah in 1821. This system, in which each character represents a syllable, encouraged many Cherokee to learn to read and write. By using this system, they were able to distribute their constitution, increase the number of Cherokee converted to Christianity, and publish the only Native American newspaper, "The Cherokee Phoenix." They built their capitol at New Echota, Georgia. However, more and more white settlers began pouring into the rich farmland of the Cherokee. They saw how beautiful and bountiful the land was, and they wanted it. Also, in 1828 gold was discovered in north Georgia's Cherokee territory. For these two reasons the United States government made the decision to take the Cherokee land and give it to the white settlers.

The Treaty of New Echota in 1835, gave President Andrew Jackson the legal document he needed to remove the Cherokee. Beginning in 1838 the United States took men, women, and children from their land, herded them into forts with almost no food or sanitation, then forced them to march a thousand miles. Although some made part of the trip by boat, they too were in terrible physical condition. Because so many died during the first removal, Cherokee Chief John Ross requested that the government let him lead the tribe west. He organized the Cherokee into smaller groups so they could find food more easily. His plan worked and thus he saved many lives. However, about 4000 Cherokee died as a result of the removal. The route they traveled and the journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears."

The dramatic reading written by 9th grade honors students at Kennesaw Mountain High School is based on a novel of The Trail of Tears. This novel, Pushing the Bear, was written by Diane Glancy, a Cherokee descendant. She hoped that the story would remain alive if she told it through a series of voices. We think she was right. We can imagine the Cherokee as they traveled from their beloved homes all around the Southeast on their way to Indian Territory.

The main characters are Maritole and Knowbowtee, husband and wife who were forced to leave their farm taking only their baby daughter and a few pots and blankets. You will hear them three times on their journey. Their parents are also on the Trail with them, along with neighbors and friends. They meet other Cherokee from around the region who have been rounded up by the white soldiers. Together they walk the thousand miles in the middle of winter to their new home.
Here then are "Voices of the Trail."



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