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Teaching Guide: Exploring Cherokee Removal

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Examine the map of the land surrendered by the Cherokee Nation. What does this map show? Formulate a hypothesis to explain why Cherokee lands shrink over time. Could there be more than one cause of the tribe’s loss of land?
  2. Use Governor John Sevier’s letter to warriors, Governor Joseph McMinn’s speech to the Cherokee Council, and the letter from President Andrew Jackson to the Cherokee Nation to summarize the arguments made by representatives of the United States in support of Cherokee removal.
  3. Read the letter from Cherokee chiefs to Governor Joseph McMinn, the excerpt of a letter from John Ridge to Wilson Lumpkin, and the excerpt from the “Memorial and Protest of the Cherokee Nation.” What arguments did Cherokee people make against their removal? Were these arguments compelling? Why do you think that John Ridge favored Cherokee removal when most of his fellow Cherokee opposed it?
  4. Examine the photograph of John Ross, the photograph of a spinning wheel, and the compilation of population and personal property statistics. What do these sources tell us about Cherokee life in the period prior to the Trail of Tears?
  5. Consider the excerpt from the Treaty of New Echota, the letter describing the removal of the Ross Party, and the message from Brigadier General John E. Wool. What are some words or phrases that convey what the Cherokee might have experienced on their forced journey to Indian Territory?

Classroom activities

  1. Ask students to use the map of lands surrendered by the Cherokee, the map of Texas and Indian Territory, and two sources of their choice to write a diary entry (200 to 400 words) from the perspective of a Cherokee who has been forced from their homeland.
  2. Ask students to collect and consider examples in which the US government used eminent domain or other powers to force people from their homes—for example, the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority or Japanese Internment. What sorts of factors are involved in various cases? How do these compare and contrast to factors involved in Cherokee removal? How do the power imbalances involved in the Cherokee removal continue to operate?

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