What to know
Learn the Trail of Tears history, as you follow the Arkansas Trail of Tears, along which Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole Indians traveled in the 1830s. Following the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, long-held desires for the lands of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians came to fruition with the federal Indian Removal Act of 1830. This act allowed the forcible removal of the five tribes to new lands in the Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma). All five tribes passed through Arkansas, and many of the territory's most prominent figures made substantial fortunes from removal. In 1830, the Choctaw were the first of the five major Southeast tribes to agree to a removal treaty, emigrating in three official waves in 1831, 1832, and 1833. Fraud involved in Choctaw allotments resulted in the issuance in 1842 of so-called Choctaw Scrip, which speculators could trade to buy land in Arkansas and three other states. Some Muscogee (Creek) bands began moving west in 1827 after the tribe was forced out of Georgia. Those emigrating after an 1832 treaty ceded Creek land in Alabama were among the most destitute and most numerous traveling through Arkansas. Most had to walk, some in chains as prisoners of war, and their journeys in 1834, 1836, and 1837 were made more miserable by the negligence of private contractors. After agreeing to a final session in 1832, the Chickasaw Nation negotiated its own removal in 1837–38, hoping to avoid the problems suffered by earlier emigrants. A small group of Florida Indians signed a removal treaty in 1833, but most resisted emigration, sparking the so-called Second Seminole War (1835–1842), one of the most expensive in U.S. history. Cherokee leaders fought removal in the courts and in Congress, contesting Georgia laws and an unauthorized 1835 treaty. Unable to elude expulsion, the Cherokee Nation organized its own removal in 1838–39. Hundreds of members of each of the tribes died of hardship and disease on the long trek to Indian Territory, and many more died of hardship in their new land. The removal of the southeastern tribes is memorialized as the "Trail of Tears."