The Trail of Tears and the Roundup of N.C. Cherokees

A Cherokee chief with his wife and daughter, circa 1920-1940.  Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On June 12, 1838, Gen. Winfield Scott ordered troops to begin rounding up Cherokee Indians for internment at Fort Butler near what is now Murphy and eventual forced relocation to Oklahoma.

The order was part of a larger effort led by Scott at the behest of President Martin Van Buren to remove the Cherokee from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina as authorized under the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Scott was personally involved in the action in southwestern North Carolina because the Army believed the area was most likely to be a center of conflict.

After a week, the troops had arrested more than two-thirds of the local Cherokee population and, by early July, nearly 2,500 Cherokee were in custody. Those and approximately 12,500 others would ultimately make the journey westward on the Trail of Tears between October 1838 and March 1839, while about 300 or 400 Cherokees hid out in North Carolina, laying the foundation for the purchase of the Qualla Boundary property and the establishment of North Carolina’s Cherokee Reservation.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee was not formally granted freedom to live in North Carolina until 1866, and was not recognized as a separate entity from the Cherokee living in Oklahoma until 1868.

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