The Trail of Tears


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Cars travel along Illinois 146 near Anna, Ill. on the Trail of Tears Auto Tour Route. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

In the winter of 1838, an astonishing sight could be seen in the eastern United States. Over the mountains and through the valleys and great forests, a stream of Cherokee people, fifteen thousand of them, were slowly making their way west. This was the Trail of Tears, the great Cherokee removal -- a move on the political chessboard of the young United States that was to have long-felt repercussions.

The Cherokee were an independent nation, but in the great game of the building of America, they were disposable. Cheated out of their lands in the east, the Cherokee were forced to relocate a thousand miles to the west, in Indian Territory, beyond the Mississippi. Their long march through the bitter winter of 1838 took a dreadful toll: as many as four thousand died on that march - of exposure, disease, sickness, heartbreak. The whole episode is a great human tragedy -- a betrayal of ideas, both American and Cherokee. And it ripples down to our own time.

Documentary maker Philip Coulter traveled along the Trail of Tears, asking questions about how such a thing could happen, looking at how the past shapes the present, and what the Trail's legacy is today. On our program this week, we present episode one of The Trail of Tears, an exploration of the background of the Cherokee removal. 

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Listen to And The Winner Is...episode that originally aired on January 10, 2012

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Listen to And The Winner Is...episode that aired on January 17, 2012

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