The American Indians found themselves forced off their lands primarily by the policies of the Federal Government; which either ignored violations of treaties made with the Indians or openly repudiated them. The first such incident was when Andrew Jackson refused to protect the Cherokee Indians in Georgia, even though Chief Justice John Marshall had declared them a "dependent foreign nation" in Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia. As a result of Jackson's inaction, the Cherokee were forced to move to Oklahoma, an area with which they were wholly unfamiliar.
The fate of the Cherokee was an indication of things to come for all Indians. With the advent of the railroads, the discovery of gold, and increased settlement, lands previously promised to the Indians was taken from them with abandon. They responded in the only fashion they knew, by waging war against those who encroached on their property. Sadly, they were frequently unable to cooperate with each other, and this fact, together with the absence of modern weapons, were almost uniformly defeated. Only one major battle, the Battle of Little Bighorn Creek in Montana, was a major Indian victory. Eventually, they were forced to give up fighting and move to lands "reserved" for them, the beginning of the reservation system.
The sad end of a once proud culture was expressed eloquently by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians:
I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead.
It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are--perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.
Early in the 19th century, while the rapidly-growing United States expanded into the lower South, white settlers faced what they considered an obstacle. This area was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw and Seminole nations. These Indian nations, in the view of the settlers and many other white Americans, were standing in the way of progress. Eager for land to raise cotton, the settlers pressured the federal government to acquire Indian territory.
Andrew Jackson, from Tennessee, was a forceful proponent of Indian removal. In 1814 he commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a faction of the Creek nation. In their defeat, the Creeks lost 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama. The U.S. acquired more land in 1818 when, spurred in part by the motivation to punish the Seminoles for their practice of harboring fugitive slaves, Jackson's troops invaded Spanish Florida.
From 1814 to 1824, Jackson was instrumental in negotiating nine out of eleven treaties which divested the southern tribes of their eastern lands in exchange for lands in the west. The tribes agreed to the treaties for strategic reasons. They wanted to appease the government in the hopes of retaining some of their land, and they wanted to protect themselves from white harassment. As a result of the treaties, the United States gained control over three-quarters of Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina. This was a period of voluntary Indian migration, however, and only a small number of Creeks, Cherokee and Choctaws actually moved to the new lands.