Trail of Tears

Cherokee, 1840s

Let’s listen again with our eyes closed and imagine this song back when it was sung on the Trail of Tear. Who is singing it? What are they doing? What are they feeling and thinking? Where are they?  

Put yourself in the picture. What season is it? What's the weather like? What can you see in the distance? What can you smell? What other sounds can you hear? Where are you headed? What do you carry with you? How far do you have to travel? How do you feel leaving home? What thoughts are going through your head? What are others saying?

Open your eyes. Write a paragraph or draw a picture describing the experience you imagined.


"Guide Me, Jehovah" performed by Walker Calhoun on Where the Ravens Roost, Mountain Heritage Center [MHC-1], © 1991. Available on iTunes and Spotify.

Walker Calhoun (1918–2012), was a member of the Eastern Band Cherokees, descended from those who escaped the "Trail of Tears" by fleeing to the mountains of North Carolina. Although Cherokees were discouraged from preserving traditional language, music, and dances, which were considered pagan, Walker successfully preserved many of the ceremonials. He was drawn to music at a young age and learned the traditional dances from his uncle, Will West Long, a medicine man and leader of the dance from 1904 until his death in 1947. Working with members of his own family, Walker formed the Raven Rock Singers to preserve the ancient Cherokee songs and dances.

Walker Calhoun translated the title of this song as "Guide Me Jehovah" and said that it was sung "all the way on the march."

View the lyrics for "Trail of Tears."

The Cherokee, once the largest nation in the South, lived throughout the vast area of what is now Kentucky, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. While others referred to them as "Cherokee" ("people who speak another language"), they called themselves "Ani Yunwiya" ("the principal people").

The forced removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma between 1838 and 1839 has become known as "The Trail of Tears" or, in Cherokee, "Nunna daul Tsuny" ("The Trail Where They Cried"). Even though Chief John Ross took over organizing the removal, losses were great and by the end of the journey about 4,000 had died.

Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux in 1942.

"Trail of Tears" by Robert Lindneux, 1942.

Many accounts of the "Trail of Tears" mention that the song "Amazing Grace" was also sung often. What about "Amazing Grace" would appeal to people in the removed Cherokee's circumstances? Write another verse to "Amazing Grace" dealing specifically with the "Trail of Tears."

Compare this song to:

"Amazing Grace" (this unit)

"Sun Dance Song" (Unit 5)

"Marching Down Freedom's Road" (Unit 7)