The price of Cherokee removal

Document Type



Published in: Explorations in Economic History, vol. 49, no 4, 2012.


In this paper, we estimate the social costs and income transfers of Cherokee removal, i.e., “The Trail of Tears.” Our cost estimates provide several new insights into this extensively studied topic. First, our estimate of the number of removal-related fatalities is considerably lower than the commonly accepted figure of 4000. Second, the uncompensated value of ceded Cherokee land in the southeast was the largest cost borne by the Cherokees, followed in magnitude by the value of lost agricultural output due to removal. Third, American taxpayers paid for roughly 44% of the total social costs of removal. Also, the cost burden of Cherokee removal, as a share of 1 year's GDP, was greater for the Cherokees than the cost burden of any major war for the American population.