Since human beings first wandered out of Africa 60,000 years ago humanity has filled up most of the inhabitable places on the globe. The search for a better life beyond the horizon often motivated the migration of large groups of people, but in other cases, large groups of people have been compelled to move by force. What follows are the ten largest forced migrations in human history.
In 1830 President Andrew Jackson facilitated the passage of the Indian Removal Act, a law which empowered the U.S. government to relocate any Native Americans living in what is now the eastern United States to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The destination chosen for the “Five Civilized Tribes,” (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminoles) were reservations in Oklahoma, what was then called Indian Territory. While this displacement was legitimated by treaties signed by members of each of the tribes, the signatories to these treaties were not necessarily the recognized leaders of the tribes.
10. Indian Removal – 60,000 People Displaced
The first tribe to be subjected to removal was the Choctaw, who had agreed to cede their lands in 1830. Though the U.S. government provided wagons and steamboats for the migration, intense cold and flooding along with poor provisions led to a heavy death toll on what one Choctaw Chief called a “trail of tears and death.”
Of the 17,000 Choctaw who attempted the journey at least 2,500 died. The Cherokee, too, would travel this Trail of Tears. Though 2,000 Cherokee relocated to Oklahoma of their own accord when the remaining 16,000 refused to leave President Martin Van Buren ordered their forcible removal in 1838. A quarter of them died.
The Chickasaw fared better than the other tribes, receiving $3,000,000 for voluntarily abandoning their homeland in 1837. The Muscogee and Seminoles, though, chose to fight rather than submit to removal. Following Muscogee raids on settlements, the U.S. army confronted the Muscogee in the Creek War of 1836. The defeat of the Muscogee in this war resulted in the expulsion of 15,000 to Oklahoma in treks that resulted in a death rate similar to that of the Cherokee.
The Seminoles were more successful in defending themselves. They fought for seven years in the Second Seminole War. Most of the Seminole tribe would be removed during the war, but a few managed to hold out and remain.