“Trail of Tears” by John Denver

A never forgotten though rarely spoken of aspect of American history is how the European conquerors treated the native population that they found there. And that is because most commonly such individuals were treated like utter cr*p

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for John Denver's Trail of Tears at Lyrics.org.

This includes forced relocations, where for instance you may find certain American cities or states named after Native American tribes or terminology, yet virtually no Native Americans presently being therein.

Trail of Tears

One of the best known human rights abuses that were perpetrated against these people is commonly referred to as the Trail of Tears. This is when the American government, led by President Andrew Jackson, proceeded to sack a number of tribes in the southeastern United States from their land, instead sending them to the Western side of the Mississippi. 

And no, this is not the American government we know today, i.e. one that is more compelled to take the mistreatment of non-Whites more seriously. So it’s not like they made sure these people arrived at their forced destination safely. In fact many were imprisoned beforehand and died therein. 

John Denver’s “Trail of Tears”

And it is this events which John Denver, who was conscious from his youth, is notably remembering in this song.

But the first verse also illustrates that the Native Americans were subject to more atrocities than mentioned above. Basically, war was declared on them because they were no longer ‘welcome in their own homeland anymore’.

The second verse then shifts to the victims of the titular atrocity actually being in transit. Their practiced lifestyle has been completely uprooted. And in its place you have the natives engaged in an endeavor where their population declined with every single mile.  

And indeed people were literally dying on the Trail of Tears, somewhere to the tune of 4,000 individuals in total. Actually this is mainly how the event earned such a designation in the first place.


The chorus is the first time John Denver alludes to this all being brought about by the Whiteman / US government, as personified by Andrew Jackson. He also notes how Jackson went on to become an American hero, even being enshrined on the “$20 bill”

Lyrics for "Trail of Tears"

But of course the natives who he violated will not perceive him or his ambitions in such a manner. So this particular passage reads like a classic case of the oppressor and the oppressed viewing the same event differently.

Wounded Knee

But then of course, Native Americans in other parts of the continental United States have suffered comparable injustices also. For instance, Denver references Wounded Knee, a locality in South Dakota where hundreds of natives were massacred by the US Army in 1890. 

Rapid City

Prior to that he also mentions Rapid City, another territory in South Dakota. This is also a place where Native Americans were displaced, largely being the victims of treaties the Whiteman “almost uniformly ignored” once the United States began expanding west. 

Indeed concerning Rapid City, there is still related beef going on there to this day. And the way the narrator depicts the entirety of the situation is as one whereas the Native Americans were defeated to the point whereas certain aspects of the past are even embarrassing. But at the same time, they are doing what they can to preserve their ancestral identity.

In Conclusion

So conclusively, most simply put what it appears John Denver is saying is that the United States did expand and became greater alright – but at the expense of the lives of the natives. And being that this is part of America’s living history, the matter has yet to be resolved. Or put differently, the US government is still mistreating Native Americans, even in the present.

“Trail of Tears” Facts

Artist(s): John Denver
Writing: Roger Cook authored this track alongside Allen Reynolds and Randy Handley
Production: Roger Nichols
Release: June 1 of 1985
Album/EP: “Dreamland Express”

Was “Trail of Tears” a single release?


"Trail of Tears"

“Dreamland Express”

Trail of Tears appears on the 1985 John Denver album Dreamland Express. The song was the fifth song on the side of two sections of the album.

Dreamland Express was the 18th album of the American singer and songwriter John Denver. It was released through RCA Records and produced by executive producers Milton Okun and Roger Nichols. The album is a combination of the soft rock and country music genres.

According to Denver, the subject of the album was about falling in love again. Most of the songs on the album are love songs and have some romantic lyrics in them. However, although the album was released by and in Denver, he only contributed to four of the 11-track album. The lyrics appear to be talking about a person falling in love with someone in those four songs. To date, songs from the album are played as classic love songs at ceremonies across the globe. The album also featured legendary musicians like Stevie Wonder, Roger Cook, Allen Reynolds, and Roy Orbison.

It peaked at number 90 on the Billboard 200 chart and reached number 71 on the Australian album chart.

The Notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830 that inspired “Trail of Tears”

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was one of the ways by which the United States government took the lands of Indians. Before the law was passed, the government used several other means to displace the Indians from their lands.

On the 28th of May, 1830, President Andrew Jackson authorized this act by signing a law that allowed Indian lands within existing state borders to be taken in exchange for other lands at the west coast of Mississippi.

The reason for the Indian Removal Act was because of throat-thirsty American land seekers who wanted the lands close to the Southern coast.

Since the Indians were occupying the land at the time, they implored the federal government to remove them. The Cherokees, the indigenous people of the South were one of the tribes that occupied the land.

The initial plan to exchange their lands for that of the Americans was strongly opposed by the Indians. Between 1838 and 1839, the American government resorted to forcefully taking out the Indians and moving them to the West.

This led to a protest march by the Cherokees against the government. The Indians were badly victimized during this protest. About 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives.

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