In his 1829 inaugural address, President Andrew Jackson set forth a policy to relocate eastern Indians. In 1830 it was endorsed when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, and from then till 1850, about 100,000 American Indians living from Michigan to Louisiana and Florida moved west, driven by the U.S. Army. Conditions were brutal from the beginning, as an estimated 3500 Creeks died in Alabama alone, being transported in chains from their homeland. In December of 1835, the U.S. Government coerced a small group of Cherokee to sign the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded all Cherokee territory east of the Mississippi to the U.S. More than 15,000 Cherokee protested the illegal treaty, and yet it was ratified in May, 1836 by the U.S. Senate by one vote. In May, 1838, federal troops and state militias began the roundup of the Cherokee into "Cherokee removal forts". In spite of warnings to troops to treat the Cherokee kindly, the roundup proved harrowing. Families were separated, the elderly and ill forced out at gunpoint, people given only moments to collect cherished possessions. White looters followed, ransacking homesteads as Cherokees were led away. Conditions at these stockades were horrible. Food intended for the tribe was sold to locals. What little the Cherokees had brought with them was stolen and sold. Men were beaten daily, and the women and children repeatedly violated. Over the winter, 17,000 Cherokee were force-marched westward. Two-thirds of the ill-equipped Indians were trapped between the icebound Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during January. By March, 1839, all the survivors had arrived in the west. Over 4000 had died, nearly a fifth of the Cherokee population, from hunger, exposure, and disease. About 1000 Cherokee escaped during the removal. They were pursued but never captured, and they gained recognition in 1866, establishing their tribal government in North Carolina. They are known as the Eastern Band. This composition celebrates their escape.
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