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The deadline for Cherokees to leave their land voluntarily was on May 23, 1838. President Martin van Buren sent General Winfield Scott to lead the forcible removal. On May 26th the operation began. 7,000 soldiers forced Cherokees to leave their land. All Cherokees, who lived until this moment in their land, had to leave now. They went to the new Indian territory. This was what now is Oklahoma and Arkansas.
About 17,000 Cherokees and 2,000 of their slaves had to move to their new land. Within three weeks, they were all forced into camps. They travelled in groups of 1000 to 3000 people on three main routes: they started in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Guntersville, Alabama; and Charleston, Tennessee. From there they started their trip to a new Indian territory. Most Cherokees had to walk by foot; others, wealthy men, could use wagons. There were also about 660 wagons provided by the Federal government. The trip was about 1,200 miles long. During the trip, many had problems with diseases and the winter weather. There are different numbers of how many died. Some say 2,000 and others say 6,000, but most say 4,000 people died. About half of them died in camps, and the other half during the trip. It is said that many Cherokees sang a Cherokee version of the song Amazing Grace, which became a kind of anthem for the Cherokee nation.
There were different routes the Cherokees took. Some were by land and others by water. Some boats were destroyed, which was a danger on water routes. On the ground, people had to walk through mud and slush and it was harder walking on land.
This route was taken by three groups, in total 2,800 Cherokees. The first group left on June 6 and reached the Indian territory after 13 days. All groups started at Ross's Landing at the Tennessee River. They used boats to travel to the Ohio River. They then took this river southward, which took them to the Mississippi River. From there they moved through the Arkansas River westwards. They arrived near Fort Coffee. The second and third group had a lot of problems with diseases, so their trip took longer.
All others took land routes. They traveled in groups with a size of 700-1,600 people, all led by conductors chosen by John Ross, except for those, who signed the Treaty of New Enchota. They were led by United States soldiers. They usually took the southern route, and John Ross' groups the northern route. Both sides used already existing "roads". The most Cherokees took the northern route. The route lead through central Tennessee, southwestern Kentucky, and southern Illinois. The groups crossed the Mississippi in the north of Cape Giraudoux in Missouri, then traveled through southern Missouri and west of Arkansas. Many died because of diseases, lack of water and bad road conditions. All land routes usually ended near Westville, Oklahoma. There were many more different land routes only taken by few people. Through their trip, Cherokees had problems with illnesses. Because they were in large groups, they each other easily.