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Trail of Tears / Jerome Tiger


Trail of Tears captures the trauma and hardship endured by Muscogee peoples when they were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States and relocated and confined to Indian Territory (later known as Oklahoma). After President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the federal government used lethal force to drive citizens of the Muscogee Nation from their homes. Of the estimated fifteen thousand Muscogee who were removed in 1836, thirty-five hundred lost their lives.

This somber painting depicts Muscogee men, women, and children on the Trail of Tears in harsh winter conditions.1 The elderly are using walking sticks, and several figures are mounted on horseback. Centered is a mourning husband holding his recently deceased wife as snow blows over the knoll, illustrated by thin white linework. Two young girls, likely the woman’s daughters, are crying, with the youngest holding her face in her hands. The emotive painting narrates visceral, collective memories of the devastation and brutality experienced under the Indian Removal Act.

The term Trail of Tears came from the phrase “Trail of Tears and Death,” which was used to describe the Choctaw removal from the Deep South to lands west of the Mississippi (Indian Territory) in 1831–33. It came to represent the forced relocation in the 1830s under the Indian Removal Act of all Indigenous tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Nations, among others) from their ancestral homes in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama to Indian Territory.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

This text was developed from an interview with artist Dana Tiger, daughter of Jerome Tiger, by Jordan Poorman Cocker, April 21, 2021

1 A drawing by Jerome Tiger on this subject, Family on the Trail of Tears (13.1995), is also in the Gilcrease collection.

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Trail of Tears
Jerome Tiger (Artist)
Native American; Muscogee (Creek), Seminole
graphite and tempera on mat board
Landscape; single-sided1.832-1.842mmcream colored mat board
Credit Line: 
A Gift of Lindsay L. and Rosalie P. Alexander
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
TL1999.6.16; 0227.1961; TL1999.6.16; 29747
Not On View

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