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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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by William L. Anderson and Ruth Y. Wetmore, 2006.
Additional research provided by John L. Bell.

See also: John Ross

Part i: Overview; Part ii: Cherokee origins and first European contact; Part iii: Disease, destruction, and the loss of Cherokee land; Part iv: Revolutionary War, Cherokee defeat and additional land cessions; Part v: Trail of Tears and the creation of the Eastern Band of Cherokees; Part vi: Federal recognition and the fight for Cherokee rights; Part vii: Modern-day Cherokee life and culture; Part viii: References and additional resources

Part v: The Trail of Tears and the Creation of the Eastern Band of Cherokees

In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, setting the stage for the forced removal of the Cherokee and the infamous Trail of Tears. In 1835, a small, unauthorized group of about 100 Cherokee leaders (known as the Treaty Party) signed the Treaty of New Echota (Georgia), giving away all remaining Cherokee territory in the Southeast in exchange for land in northeastern Oklahoma. Principal Cherokee Chief John Ross collected more than 15,000 signatures, representing almost the entire Cherokee Nation, on a petition requesting the U.S. Senate to withhold ratification of this illicit treaty. The Senate, however, approved the treaty by a margin of one vote in 1836. The treaty gave the Cherokee people two years to vacate their mountain homeland and go west to Oklahoma.

By May 1838, few Cherokees were prepared to move, so President Martin Van Buren, who had succeeded Jackson in 1837, dispatched federal soldiers commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott to round up Cherokees in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama and place them in various internment camps and stockades. The horrible conditions facing his people at these poorly planned facilities led Ross to appeal to the president for a delay in the removal until fall, when water and game would be more plentiful. Van Buren agreed, and between October 1838 and March 1839, the Cherokee moved west. The journey was mismanaged; there was a shortage of supplies; and the troops rushed the Indians onward, refusing to allow them to minister to their sick or bury their dead. Of the approximately 15,000 who began the trek, an estimated 4,000 perished.

Approximately 300 to 400 Cherokees remained in North Carolina, hiding in the mountains. One of their leaders, Tsali, was captured and executed for killing two federal soldiers pursuing him and his family, but some of his followers and other Cherokees (who had possibly aided in Tsali's capture) were allowed to remain. Between removal of the Cherokee Nation in 1838 and the end of the Civil War, many Cherokees gave their money to William Holland Thomas, their agent and later their only white chief, to purchase land for them. Thomas acquired many of the tracts that would make up the modern-day Qualla Boundary, the official name of the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. These Cherokees—together with the hundreds who had hidden in the mountains, who already legally owned land through the Treaty of 1817, or who had escaped the Trail of Tears and returned--formed the nucleus of what would become the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.





Keep reading > Part vi: Federal recognition and the fight for Cherokee rights keep reading

Image credits:

"Map of Trail of Tears National Historic Trail," 2009. National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior. Online at:

U. S. Census Office. "Map of the Qualla Indian Reserve (Boundary) N.C.," 1890. ID: MC.183.C522.1876t. North Carolina Maps. Online at:,1055



I was in public school between 1964-1975 and took Oklahoma history. I learned about The Trail of Tears in Church. I will never forget it. Never a chapter about “Black WallStreet” and I am so very upset about it. What happened to Native Americans was horrifying. I’m glad I went to church back then or I wouldn’t know. Never ever heard anything about GreenWood in Tulsa. I’m so pissed. I hope I’m not offending anyone with this. I live in Norman, Oklahoma . Not a nice city


I walked the trail of tears with my mom


Are you descended from George Blair (1789-1887)? He was relocated from the Eastern Nation of Cherokees in 1838, and was the son of my 4X great-grandfather, James Hayes Blair and Sarah Sa-Lee Yonaguska.


I am a descendant can you contact me.


My grandfather i think my mom and auntie always said he was my 7th great grandpa. He escaped the trail of tears and built a home in birdtown i still from time to time visit that homestead...anyway i was needing help finding out his name and information. My 9 yr old is writing a essay about Indians and i cant find anything about my gpa to save my life... Oh he had 7 white wives also


Dear Promise,

Thank you for your question! I am forwarding your inquiry to our library's Reference Team for further assistance. A staff member from our library should be reaching out to you soon.

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library




I am researching the cherokees who hid in the Appalachian mountains rather than go along with the other cherokees who were forced on the trail of tears. My research is crucial to a story I am writing and I have ancestors who often want explanations to the these peoples who remained, sometimes thriving in the NC mountains. Any information will fill in the gaps for us and consequently allow me to write the story/book which I can self publish and pass on to the Cherokee relations still living in the Appalachian mountains with whom I am in contact. I do not intend to sell it to them. This is a gift for family. Please advise and if it is no trouble connect me with resources. Thank you, Beth Ann Pollock


Louiza C (Bell) Russell was my great great great grandmother. According to her obituary, her husband (Elisha Bell) was shot in the back in 1840 by “bushwhackers.” He died in her arms as the men burned her home to the ground. As they rode away on horseback she shouted after them words indicating they were northern whites. Her photo is available online in her native dress. Google her name and a lot will come up. She died in Arkansas at the age of 99. As a young child I spent many Sunday afternoons with Louiza’s granddaughters Verba and Martha (Mattie) Setser (my great great aunts) in Ventura, CA.
Their mother, Nancy Perlonia Jane (Russell) Setser, was eleven when her died feom the bullet wound.


Dear Beth,

Thank you so very much for your question! Getting started with genealogy can seem really challenging but we have resources to help you get started with your quest.

Here is a link to our getting started page:

Here are a few additional resources:

Roots Mooc:

Please feel free to contact us at if you have questions about getting started or would like a one on one consultation through our Book a Librarian service:

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library

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