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Lesson Plans - Indian v. American Life: Indian Removal and Cherokee Trail of Tears

NAME OF LESSON: Indian v. American Life: Indian Removal and Cherokee Trail of Tears

about 160 minutes


Linda Barry           

The Peopling of America: Immigration and Migration

SALEM in History Topic Addressed:

“The Vanishing Indian”: Removal, Relocation, Reservations and Representation in the 19th century.

Lesson Summary | Frameworks | Essential Question(s) | Lesson Objectives
Historical Background Essay | Materials List and Pre-Arrangements/Preparations Needed
Vocabulary | Lesson Activities | Student Product or Performance
Assessment Criteria | Possible Modifications | Possible Extension Activities
Cross Curricular/Interdisciplinary Links/Activities | Sources and Resources
Additional Resources for Students and Teachers



Native Encampment depicts both American citizens’ and Native Americans’ culture in the mid 1800s.  It shows Native Americans participating in a traditional encampment in contrast with a developed American town.

In this lesson, students will learn about the causes and effects of the United States’ expansion West.  Students will gain an understanding of the American drive to move West, to expand geographically, economically and nationally and the consequences of Manifest Destiny.  In particular, they will consider Westward Expansion from a Native American perspective.

Students will work in flexible grouping to analyze primary and secondary resources.  To understand Westward Expansion, specifically Indian Removal, the Cherokee Trail of Tears and Manifest Destiny, students will complete the following activities:  Students will analyze the painting, Native Encampment, plot events on a timeline, complete a map, read text and return to the painting, “Native Encampment.”   Students will work together to develop an in-depth understanding of the relationship between Native American and American history in the 1800s.

(Although the Indians depicted in this painting are from New England and it is set in the 1840s, the painting is a useful image for students to build upon as they think about the general differences between Native Americans and American citizens living on the same land.  As the class learns about Indian Removal in the Southeast and the plight of the Cherokees, they can refer to the image and discussion of Native Encampment.)

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Ropes, Joseph, Native Encampment at Salem, painting, oil on canvas, 1840, Peabody Essex Museum.

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Lesson:  What were the causes and effects of the United States’ expansion West in the 1800s? (Unit:  How did American identities change during the 1800s, socially, politically, economically, and morally?  What legacies were left to us?)

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Students will learn that the Native American way of life and the expanding United States/ American way of life were often in contrast with one another.  Students will identify evidence in a painting that demonstrates a division between the two cultures.  Then, students will draw upon this knowledge to scaffold learning about Indian Removal and Westward expansion: Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, Andrew Jackson, Indian Removal Act, Cherokee Trail of Tears.


Students will be able to analyze a primary source as a tool for learning about United States expansion and growth in the 1800’s.  Students will be able to make connections from Salem (local) to the United States (national) events.  Students will begin to develop an understanding of the cause and effect relationship between Native Americans and United States citizens/government.

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US History I, The Revolution through Reconstruction, 1763-1877


The Formation and Framework of American Democracy and Political Democratization, Westward Expansion, and Diplomatic Development, 1790-1860


USI. 16- Describe the evolution of the role of the federal government, including public services, taxation, economic policy, foreign policy and common defense.

USI.22- Summarize the major policies and political developments that took place during the presidencies of George Washington (1789-1797), John Adams (1797-1801), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

USI.26- Describe the causes, courses, and consequences of America’s westward expansion and its growing diplomatic assertiveness.  Use a map of North America to trace America’s expansion to the Civil War, including the location of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. (a. War of 1812)



  • Growth and spread of free markets and industrial economics (trade, US expansion, RR)
  • Birth, growth and decline of civilizations
  • Effects of geography on the history of civilization and nations


Spiral Back to:

USI.22 – Summarize the major policies and political developments that took place during the presidencies of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson.

     d. Louisiana Purchase

Main Idea:

US1.24 – Describe the election of 1828, the importance of Jacksonian democracy, and Jackson’s actions as President.

     c. Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal

US1.26 – Describe the causes, courses, and consequences of America’s westward expansion and its growing diplomatic assertiveness.  Use a map of North America to trace America’s expansion to the Civil War, including the location of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.

     a-j, especially d. Cherokee Trail of Tears and f. Manifest Destiny

Leading into:

US1.26 – Explain the importance of the Transportation Revolution of the 19th century (…railroads), including the stimulus it provided to the growth of a market economy.


GRADE(S) AND SUBJECT(S): Grade 8 History and Social Science


7. Show connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and ideas and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments.

8. Interpret the past from within its own historical context rather than in terms of present day norms and values.

Additional skills:

1. Apply skills of prekindergarden to grade 7.

3. Interpret and construct timelines that show how events and eras in various parts of the world are related to one another.

6. Distinguish between long and short-term cause and effect relationships.

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Indians v. Americans

Indian and American relations were often tension-filled, from the earliest colonial contact on, but tensions and conflicts increased beginning with the earliest date of the new republic, and well into the 1800s.  Colonial /Indian relationships were commercial, and economically, immensely important to Europeans.1  The Fur Trade, and other trade, like the sale of metals for utensils, made up the business relations between Indians and Europeans prior to 1754.1

Relationships became political between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.  Indians were fighting for and against European settlers in America.  With the birth of the new nation and the Treaty of Paris 1783, land disputes became a major factor in clashes between Indians and Americans.  For example, the Northwest Ordinance organized government in “areas north of the Ohio River and East of the Mississippi.”  This land would be used to “pay off veterans with land grants in Ohio and to sell off other public lands to hungrily waiting land companies.” 2  Already, there were discrepancies among Indian nations and the United States, England and other European nations over whose land it was to give away, sell or cede with a treaty.

Americans began to move west and extend the United States borders throughout the first half of the 1800s.   With the increase in land mass came an increase in tensions and conflicts between Americans and Indians (both between individual settlers and Indians and between the US government and Indian leaders).  Over the next half century, the United States fought Indians for land, entered into and broke treaties with Indians for land and forcefully took from Indians land.  This was Americans’ “Manifest Destiny,” a time when Americans felt it was their right and duty to stretch the boarders or the United States and settle the land from sea to shining sea.

Indian Removal Act

Though some Americans supported the rights of the Indians under American law and moral justice, by the mid 1800s there was a focus in the federal congress on the Southeastern Indians such as the Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Cherokees, especially those in Georgia.  The “problem” was that whites wanted the land that Indians had been living on for many years.  There were two simultaneous mindsets among Americans regarding how to address the desire for land:  Indian Removal and Indian Reform.  Both focused on civilizing the savage.  In fact, according to Jackson and removal supporters, removal could simultaneously reform Indians.  Indian Removal according to Jackson would “retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them to gradually, under the protection of the government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized and Christian community.” 3

By the mid 1800s, the concept of Manifest Destiny and the Americans’ duty to cultivate the land into productive agriculture was the reigning American mindset.  Indians were considered savage hunters who needed to be civilized or moved, colonized, west of the Mississippi River.4  Even though many Indians were adapting to American “civilized” lifestyles encouraged by the United States as well as their own leaders, eventually removal won over reform.  Although there were cultural differences between Americans and Indians, which certainly contributed to misunderstandings and disturbing treatment, Indian removal is at its core economic.  Removal meant land acquisition for the United States.  Land meant money.  Americans looked to gain financially as both individuals and as a nation.  Some examples of economic benefits to Americans include:  land used to pay off debts to veterans of the Revolution, expansion of cotton production which was in high demand from Great Britain, land speculators.  The Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830.

Cherokee Trail of Tears

The goal of Indian Removal was to move the Indians off of the fertile lands of southeastern United States and into Indian Territory, Oklahoma.  Some Indian groups cooperated with the new terms of the Removal Act, while others resisted.  One such resisting group, the Cherokees, became the subject of the Trail of Tears, a black mark on American history.  The Cherokees spent much of the time between passage of the act and 1838 maintaining their lifestyle embedded in southeastern America, appealing to American leaders, including the Supreme Court of the United States.  Removing power from their chiefs, stealing from their land and ignoring Indians’ rights under United States law, finally defeated the Cherokees.  For example, Indians were denied the right to bring suit, vote and testify in court, while the “federal government refused to intervene.”

Despite their efforts to be recognized and protected by American laws, the Cherokee were eventually moved.  The federal government set a deadline for removal.  “The military was prepared to use force and it did… The process was swift and brutal.” 6  Cherokees were rounded up and kept in concentration camp like conditions before eventually being marched to Oklahoma.  “Between 20 and 25% of the Eastern Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears.” The Constitution and American democracy failed the Cherokee.

1. Wallace, Anthony F.C., The Long, Bitter Trail, Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993: 22-23.

2.  Wallace 27

3. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration,  “Transcripts of President Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress ‘On Indian Removal’ (1830).

4. Wallace 68  

5. Wallace 74 

6. Wallace 93 

7. Wallace 94

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  • Essential Question should be posted in the classroom throughout all activities.
  • Activity 1 Native Encampment– Native American Encampment painting, list of Guiding Questions, Chart paper or other  material for class and groups to record discussions
  • Activity 2 Text Reading – Text (3 levels), graphic organizer and/or notepaper
  • Activity 3 Timeline- construction paper or oak tag, markers, ruler, list of events to plot
  • Activity 4 Map – Blank map of the United States, colored pencils, class map or atlas for reference, list of land and routes to outline, color and label on map
  • Activity 5 Native Encampment – Class/student created notes from Activity 1 posted in the room, Native Encampment painting, additional Guiding Questions, chart paper for students to display their visual projects (notes, illustrations, webs…).


  • Students have already studied: The development of the US Constitution/democracy.
  • Students are currently studying: The growth of the new nation (1800s)
  • Students have learned about and continue to learn about: Manifest Destiny, Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark Expedition, Jefferson’s Agrarian dream of Americans becoming self-sufficient farmers, families moving west by wagon train. 
  • Students have created: Web page presentations teaching each other about other land acquisition and events including Oregon Territory, Mexican Cession, Purchase of Florida, and the Gadsden Purchase, Mormon Trail, the Gold Rush

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Manifest Destiny            Indian Removal              agriculture                savage

civilized                          immigration                    migration                  emigration

technology                      plantation                        ranch                        agriculture

frontier settler                 Indian                              Native American     American citizen

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Using the guiding questions below, teachers and students examine the painting in a variety of groupings. 


  • Teacher lead whole group observation period:
  • Teacher lists student observation on the board and together students and teacher decide the best way to organize information.
  • Teacher discloses information about the painting – painted ca.1840, title is Native Encampment at Salem. 
  • Teacher divides students into small groups and posts goals:  Using this painting about the Indians who annually came to Salem, find evidence about Indian culture compared to American goals.  (Later, discuss whether or not the local scene depicted in “Native Encampment” accurately depicts the national scene, compare and contrast).   

Small groups:

  • Students break into small groups and discuss their findings focusing on Interpretation Questions teacher listed on the board.

Whole class wrap up:

  • Each group shares interpretation and discusses findings.
  • Students examine possible argument questions together.



  • What do you see?
  • List people, objects, landforms, colors, size…
  • What is the layout (where are the objects)?
  • What is in the center of the picture?
  • What is on the periphery (at the edges)?


  • Explain the differences between the left bank and the right bank of the river.
  • What do you think the Indians are doing in the picture?
  • Why do you think some objects are large and others are small?
  • What does this tell you about their importance?
  • Think about what you have already learned about Native Americans.  What does the      painting tell you about “who’s who” in America (political leaders, culture, roles of people…)?
  • Can you tell which season is depicted in the painting?  Is this a metaphor? Explain.
  • Can you make any predictions about the future of this Native American tradition in Salem?


  • What connections can you make about Indians and American relations in the 1800s and people moving West after the Lewis and Clark Expedition?
  • What connections can you make about Indian and American relations in the 1800s and Jefferson’s Agrarian dream?
  • How do you think the problems / conflicts and resolved between the two cultures?


Students will read with a partner a passage from one of three texts (a., b. or c.) about Andrew Jackson, the Indian Removal Act and the Cherokee resistance culminating in the Cherokee Trail of Tears.  Students will each complete an accompanying graphic organizer for two column notes to clearly determine the main ideas in each section of the reading.  Allow time at the end of the activity for class to summarize the story of Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears using two column notes.  Differentiated text: 

a. Modified read: “Moving the Native Americans”

b. Middle level: “Native Americans Lose their Homelands”

c. Most challenging: “Tragedy for Native Americans”


Spiraling back, accessing prior knowledge, students will plot each event on a timeline.  (The timeline will remain with students in their binders for future reference.) Events to be included are aligned with the MA Frameworks and are as follows:Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark Expedition, War of 1812, Purchase of Florida 1819, Monroe Doctrine 1823, Indian Removal Act 1830, Cherokee Trail of Tears 1838, Annexation of Texas 1845, Oregon Territory 1846, Mexican War/Cession 1848, Gold Rush 1849, Gadsden Purchase 1854. 

Students will need to reflect on the essential question.  Consider- How did Manifest Destiny affect the Native Americans?


Students will color and label a map of the growth of the United States in the 1800s as well as the routes of travel by explorers and migrants settling the West.  Finally they will compare this map to the routes traveled by Native Americans during Indian Removal (Atlas of American History).


Native Encampment – revisit

Return to the primary source and revisit the questions.  Look at original notes and discuss new ideas students discovered about Native Americans and Americans in the 1800s.  Also, add to the guiding questions, argument list the following.  Students will prepare a visual answer to share with the class:

Look at the technology in the painting.  What inventions might lead to change in America?  For whom is this change a benefit?  Why?

Discuss the relationships among technological growth, transportation, industry, United States government, Native American policy and Western settlement.

Visual presentation: Again, students will think about the essential question.  They will use the discussion information from Activity 5 (which will build upon previous 4 activities) especially the last questions and prepare a visual presentation of their ideas.  Teacher will guide students to build upon background knowledge about transportation and make text (and painting) to world connections:  How is transportation important in students’ lives?  How was transportation important for the western settlers in the 1800s? Discuss the effects the railroad had on the Indians.  Students will be asked to make specific connections from their primary source discussion to the Cherokee Trail of Tears, Indian Removal and/or Native Americans.  Students will prepare and present visuals as a group.  Visual presentations can include notes neatly organized, a student-made cause and effect web, illustration, collage...  Group members will then present their ideas and connections to the class.


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Students will need to actively participate in whole class and small group activities, contributing to group analysis of painting in Activity 1.  After completing all 5 activities, students will participate in a small group project.  Each student must take an active role in either preparation or presentation of the information students prepare (regarding the essential question and the final argument question in Activity 5).

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  • Activity 1 - Much of the primary source activity lesson is assessed by teacher observation, listening to student responses and questions raised by students.  
  • Activity 2 – Students will be assessed on their two column notes – completely filled in, main ideas written in student’s own language.
  • Activity 3 – Students will be assessed on their timeline – all events are plotted correctly, notes are accurate and craftsmanship is good.
  • Activity 4 – Students will be assessed on their maps – all information neatly and accurately included on map.
  • Activity 5 – Again, much of the primary source activity lesson is assessed by teacher observation, listening to student responses and questions raised by students.  Visual presentation will be assessed with a rubric and differentiated for individual students.  Criteria might include: 1. Each group must develop a topic sentence for their visual or the oral presentation demonstrating their understanding of Manifest Destiny and its affect on the Native Americans.  2. Incorporate at least 3 facts from prior lessons including discussion.   3. Good craftsmanship (neat, clear, appropriate spacing, no spelling mistakes, well planned…).  Some groups may focus on Americans’ desire for more land and Manifest Destiny while others may focus on the technology which enabled Americans to move West more easily. All groups should demonstrate an understanding that the American goals were in conflict with Indian life.

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  • Activity 1 – Additional guidance by teacher. (teacher becomes a member of the group rather than leading when possible so discussion is still student based).  Teacher modeling.
  • Activity 2 –Teacher read aloud.  Visuals. Additional graphic organizers. 
  • Activity 3- Provide copies of the list for students.  Encourage the use of pictures to accompany facts on timeline.  Scramble the events with dates attached.  Students practice sequence by resorting events into chronological order.  Teacher provides timeline with years and line already drawn.
  • Activity 4 –Provide students with page numbers from the atlas.  Small group with teacher support.  Provide student with map that already has physical features shown. 
  • Activity 5 – Differentiated groups.  Graphic organizer for each of the 5 topics in the new guiding question.

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  • Activity 1 – Ask students to use computers to find other pictures of Indians in the 1800s.  Compare and contrast images.  Students create a guiding question.
  • Activity 2 –  Text is differentiated. Students could find some primary source material such as transcripts of Jackson’s Message to Congress “On Indian Removal,” or other sources.
  • Activity 3- Allow students to research events on-line and share new information with classmates.  Scramble the events. Students guess / predict the order of events, then use notes and resources to find the actual dates and resort the events into chronological order.
  • Activity 4 – Students can research using modern maps and atlases to find important cities that developed along migration routes or as a result of expansion (such as Salt Lake City…)
  • Activity 5 –Differentiated groups.  Explore other technology from the 1800s which enabled American economy and therefore also affected the future of Native Americans.) 
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This lesson connects with art, language arts and science and technology .

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Ropes, Joseph, “Native Encampment at Salem,” painting, oil on canvas, 1840, Peabody Essex Museum. Salem in History web site

“This painting depicts a group of Native people, probably Penobscot, in their summer encampment on the outskirts of Salem.  In this and other coastal towns, groups of Natives visited annually to make and sell baskets and other wares.  In the background in the Beverly-Salem railroad bridge, and on the tracks is a wood-burning engine of a type last used in 1842.”

This painting is at the center of the lesson because it allows students to think about the contrast in American and Indian culture.  Students can look at the painting with teacher guidance and guiding questions as a microcosm of both cultures. 


Chamot, Anna Uhl, Language Development Through Content, America: After Independence, Reading, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1987, p34-35. 

(Activity 2- text b. “Native Americans Lose their Homelands”)  This section of America: After Independence includes a brief description of the Indian Removal Act and a copy of the Trail of Tears painting.  The book also includes activities using maps, charts and graphs to compliment reading content.  Each section includes some relevant vocabulary as well.

Davidson, Stoff. The American Nation. Needham: Prentice Hall, 2005, p371-373.

(Activity 2- text c. “Tragedy for Native Americans”)  This text incorporates social studies content with cross-curricular skills included in the MA Frameworks such as determining fact from opinion, identifying patterns, identifying supporting details, vocabulary, and sequencing.  This section extends beyond the consequences of Indian Removal for the Cherokees.  It also includes economic and political events of the 1830s

Duran, Gusman, Shefelbin, Access, American History, Wilmington: Great Source Education Group, Houghton Mifflin, 2003, p122-123.

(Activity 2- text a. “Moving the Native Americans”)  Access, American History is an interdisciplinary text designed to develop language skills through the content area (series includes other subjects such as math, science…).  The text incorporates vocabulary skills, and geography skills as well.  It is written specifically for English Language Learners but is useful for teaching Students with Special Education services and students with reading levels below grade level.

Atlas of American History. Skoike: Rand McNally, 2003.

The atlas is divided into sections chronologically and thematically.  Each section has several maps, but also includes a timeline of people, events and literature for each section, photos and charts as well.  Each map is easy to read and is accompanied by a short caption below.


“Native Encampment” from Salem in History web site:

In addition to “Native Encampment,” the Salem in History website is a useful tool for finding other primary sources organized by theme and teacher created lesson plans.


Wallace, Anthony F.C., The Long, Bitter Trail, Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York:  Hilland Wang, 1993: 22.

Wallace explains Indian and European/American relations from the earliest interaction.  He quickly moves into the early Republic and the American desire for more land.  Eventually Wallace describes Jackson’s actions and relationships with Cherokees and other Indians as well as with US political leaders opposed to Native Americans claims to land and rights.  Finally Wallace discusses the consequences removal. 

“Transcripts of President Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress ‘On Indian Removal’ (1830). U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 

This document is a transcript of Jackson’s message to Congress.  He is arguing in favor of the Indian Removal Act.  He makes his argument for the Act by pointing out the benefits both for Americans and for the well being of Native Americans too.

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Transcripts of Jackson’s message to Congress “On Indian Removal” Jackdaw No. A2

Video: Dances with Wolves (students reflect upon Native American ideas of land ownership and culture contrasted with American ideas)

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