Broken Treaties



To help reduce tension and conflicts between Indians and settlers, Europeans and the settlers negotiated and signed several treaties with the tribes who lived in the Americas. In Tennessee there were 11 treaties signed between 1770 and 1835. From the first treaty, the Treaty of Lochabar, which only ceded a small sliver of land in Sullivan County, to the last one, the Treaty of New Echota, Indian tribes lost all their land in Tennessee. This exercise helps students understand through a time line.

Guiding Question:

  • How and why did the area claimed by Native Americans in what is now Tennessee change from 1763 to 1835?

Objectives:  Students will 

  • Trace the reduction in “Indian Land” from 1763 to 1835 in what is now Tennessee.
  • Compare and contrast specific treaties in terms of “what the Native Americans got from the treaty” and “what the Native Americans gave up”.
  • Summarize the reasons why treaties were repeatedly broken.


    Have students summarize what Indians gave up and got from the treaties they signed. Have them list and briefly explain reasons why the treaties failed.


   SESSION 1:A living timeline
  1. Explain that the class will be creating a timeline for the time period 1763 to 1835 for the area that is now Tennessee.
  2. Explain that the timeline begins with 1763 because the 1763 Proclamation Line, set by British King George III, restricted white settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. (So all of what is now Tennessee was considered to be Indian Land.) 
  3. Explain that the timeline ends with 1835 because The 1835 Treaty of New Echota gave up all the remaining Cherokee land in Tennessee in exchange for land in Oklahoma. (The treaty gave a two-year time limit for the Cherokees to move. The resistance to this move by the rest of the Cherokees, led by John Ross, resulted in the forced removal of Cherokees from Tennessee, an event called the Trail of Tears.)
  4. Involve students in marking a timeline on the floor around the room, in a hallway, or along the sidewalk. (Start with 1763 and go to 1835. Use masking tape or let each “floor tile” or “sidewalk square” represent a certain length of time.)
  5. Pass out the Treaty Timeline strips to 11 students.
  6. Have the students arrange themselves in order along the timeline.
  7. Have each student read aloud the information on their strip.
  8. As the students read, project the maps (or let the student hold up a laminated copy) to allow students to visualize the dramatic progressive “shrinkage” of Indian Lands during this time period.
    SESSION 2:  Why the treaties failed
  1. Have students complete the handout on “What the Indians Gave Up” and “What the Indians Got” using the Treaty handout.
  2. Use the KEY to check students’ answers. (Point out that in many cases, the Indians “gave up” claim to land they really did not live on or even control.)
  3. Lead a class discussion of reasons the treaties were repeatedly broken. (The leaders who signed the treaties could not enforce them. There wasn’t a way to control the flow of settlers into Indian areas since the border was so long. Land speculators encouraged settlers to move west by selling them cheap land. The terms of the treaties were unfair or unrealistic. A lot of Indian land was hunting land and not settled by Indian tribes, so it was easy for settlers to find land with no one around to defend it.)


  • Provide students with a copy of one of the treaties. Have them evaluate it and make suggestions as to specific weaknesses/shortcomings. (fairness, enforceability)
  • Assign students to assume the roles of various participants in one of the treaties and have them role-play the negotiations.
  • Have students add other key events to the Timeline for this time period. (Independence from England, Tennessee statehood, Trail of Tears.)
  • Have students research the people who played important parts in the negotiating of these treaties.
  • Have students research the consequences of the various treaties. (formation of specific TN counties and/or towns, loss of land by specific people such as Nancy Ward)


Treaties Entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture -
Info on the 1819 Treaty -        


Tennessee Grade 8 Social Studies Standards:
  • Identify cultures that contributed to the development of the United States (i.e., Native American, African, British, Scottish, Irish, and German).
  • Examine the expansion of settlers into Tennessee.
  • Discuss why the Proclamation Line did not deter western expansion of colonials.
  • Examine the events that led to the systematic removal of Native Americans within Tennessee and the subsequent Trail of Tears. 
  • Differentiate between a primary and secondary source. 
  • Read a timeline and order events of the past.
  • Interpret maps, timelines, and charts that illustrate key elements of history (i.e., expansion, economics, politics, and society). 

National History Standards: K-12 Historical Thinking Standards

STANDARD 1: United States territorial expansion between 1801 and 1861, and how it affected relations with external powers and Native Americans.

STANDARD 1B: The student understands federal and state Indian policy and the strategies for survival forged by Native Americans.
Therefore, the student is able to
Analyze the impact of removal and resettlement on the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. [Appreciate historical perspectives]

STANDARD 1: The student thinks chronologically
Therefore, the student is able to
  1. Distinguish between past, present, and future time.
  2. Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story
  3. Establish temporal order in constructing their [students'] own historical narratives
  4. Measure and calculate calendar time
  5. Interpret data presented in timelines