Why Did the U.S. Forest Service Rip Up a Stretch of the Trail of Tears?

In the summer of 2015 it was discovered that a nearly mile-long portion of the historic Trail of Tears in Tennessee had been demolished, replaced with nearly three dozen berms (artificial raised land barriers) and three large trenches known as “tank traps.”

Speaking on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, one of five Native American populations marched along various stretches of the Trail of Tears, Shiela Bird was unable to avoid shedding tears while addressing the destruction.

Jeff Ruch, the executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, describes the act as “one [of] the most blatant official desecrations of a sacred site in modern American history.”

Who was responsible for the shockingly wanton demolition of the Trail of Tears? Though it had been a mystery to the public, new revelations show that the U.S. Forest Service was behind the action.

In 2014 an unnamed Forest Service employee authorized contractors to be paid $28,500 to reshape a stretch of the Trail; the intent, supposedly, being to deter off-road vehicles and curb erosion.

What is particularly troubling was that not only did the U.S. Forest Service not own this land, located within the Cherokee National Forest near Fort Armistead, at the time, but that the work done was strictly prohibited by federal laws that include the National Environmental Policy Act.

In an act of baffling logical gymnastics, the fact that the U.S. Forest Service did not own this stretch of land was used as justification by the authorizing employee as reason to not comply with the NEP Act.

The U.S. Forest Service has refused to identify the ranger, though they did note that she retired early last year after working for 35 years.

This information has only come to light as a result of documents released by Jeff Ruch’s Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. He has not minced words over this “debacle,” describing it as “jaw-dropping incompetence mixed with abject dereliction of duty coated in an impenetrable mantle of bureaucratic self-preservation.”

Apparently demolition of the Trail of Tears went unknown to many Forest Service officials, who, after the demolition, had held meetings with Cherokee representatives to discuss the future of the Trail after the agency acquired it in mid-2015.

Most Americans are likely aware of the Trail of Tears. The name does not describe a single trail, but rather a series of paths used to march dozens of thousands of Native Americans quite literally at gunpoint to the west of the Mississippi River under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.

An enormous number of Native Americans perished in the forced migration due to starvation, exposure and disease. The removal of the Cherokee Nation alone claimed as many as 6,000 lives.

Even though this act of genocide, among the most shameful periods in U.S. history, occurred over 150 years ago, the insults and pain inflicted upon the devastated Native American peoples have not ceased.

This can be seen in modern times not only in Tennessee but in North Dakota as well, where thousands of Native Americans and sympathizers have gathered to protest the destruction of sacred lands in order to erect a new pipeline.

Worse, these protesters have come under physical attack by privately hired strong arms – individuals who incredibly have not been investigated or arrested. (On the other hand, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who spray painted construction equipment, and journalist Amy Goodman have warrants out for their arrest).

Whose side are U.S. authorities on? Clearly, not that of the Native American people who’ve suffered abuse at their hands for centuries past and continue to endure it today.

Photo Credit: Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons


heather g.
heather gabout a year ago

This is shockingly insensitive, but unfortunately doesn't surprise me about US authorities. There must be a route to take to get justice in this case. There must be laws to back up their claims. Other tribal leaders will help them - but they must continue to pursue justice..
Canada also has a Trail of Tears as remembrance for all the First Nation women who were killed. These people are treated with a lot of disrespect.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

This is an example of complete overreach! This is why we need a much smaller government!

Pablo B.
.about a year ago


Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine Aabout a year ago

How horrible. what is with people? The forest service should have to provide her name. She should be held responsible, as well as the anyone who authorized her to do this.

Peggy B.
Peggy Babout a year ago


Peggy B.
Peggy Babout a year ago


Wendi M.
Wendi Mabout a year ago


natasha salgado
Past Member about a year ago

All around shameful. Stupid

Freya S.
Freya Sabout a year ago

We are destroying the world.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.