Re­mem­ber the re­moval

Chero­kee bike riders stop lo­cally, fol­low­ing foot­steps of an­ces­tors.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - LAU­RINDA JOENKS

On Dec. 23, 1837, a group of 356 Chero­kee In­di­ans stopped in a field that now is part of Pea Ridge Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park. They had trav­eled the Trail of Tears from Ge­or­gia, headed for their new lands in In­dian Ter­ri­tory.

An­other group of Chero­kees did the same June 20, 180 years later, as they fol­lowed the foot­steps of their an­ces­tors in the Re­mem­ber the Re­moval bi­cy­cle ride, trac­ing the north­ern route of the Trail of Tears. Twenty cy­clists, ages 17 to 50, trav­eled 950 miles over three weeks, start­ing in New Echota, Ga., and fin­ish­ing in Tahle­quah, Okla., the cap­i­tal city of to­day’s Chero­kee Na­tion.

IN­DIAN RE­MOVAL

With the pas­sage of the In­dian Re­moval Act of 1830, the United States gov­ern­ment forcibly moved thou­sands of Amer­i­can In­di­ans from their an­ces­tral lands in the

South­east to new homes in In­dian Ter­ri­tory (present-day Ok­la­homa). Trav­el­ing by ex­ist­ing roads and by rivers, many groups left in the fall, hop­ing to avoid the disease and heat of sum­mer travel. They in­stead faced treach­er­ous win­ter weather.

“Hun­dreds died dur­ing the or­deal — re­mem­bered to­day as the Trail of Tears,” reads the U.S. Na­tional Park Ser­vice web­site about the Trail of Tears Na­tional His­toric Trail.

“For many of the Na­tive Amer­i­cans, es­pe­cially the very young and the very old, the Trail of Tears was a death march,” adds a nar­ra­tive by the Arkansas His­toric Preser­va­tion Pro­gram.

“The Chero­kee Re­moval — the most fa­mous fea­ture of which was the Trail of Tears — could be cyn­i­cally said to have had its be­gin­nings with the first con­tact be­tween the Euro­peans and the na­tive peo­ples of this land,” the AHHP in­for­ma­tion con­tin­ues. “One could choose at will any date of con­tact and get a sense of things to come. Quite sim­ply, Na­tive Amer­i­cans had what the new­com­ers wanted — land.”

“De­spite the hard­ships of the jour­ney, the peo­ple of the five tribes of the South­east es­tab­lished new lives in the West,” reads the park ser­vice web­site. “They stand now as sov­er­eign na­tions, proudly pre­serv­ing cul­tural tra­di­tions, while adapt­ing to the chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tury.”

In­dian re­moval pro­duced fierce and bit­ter de­bate, ac­cord­ing to the park ser­vice web­site. Sup­port­ers claimed it was a “benev­o­lent ac­tion to save the tribes east of the Mis­sis­sippi River from be­ing over­whelmed and lost in the on­slaught of an ex­pand­ing Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion. Op­po­nents de­cried its in­hu­man­ity and the tragic con­se­quences it would have for the In­dian peo­ples. One thing was cer­tain; re­moval freed mil­lions of acres of de­sired In­dian lands for use by white set­tlers.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment forcibly re­moved ap­prox­i­mately 12,000 Chero­kee, 21,000 Musco­gee (Creek), 9,000 Choctaw, 6,000 Chick­a­saw and 4,000 Semi­nole, the park ser­vice noted.

PEA RIDGE

The re­mem­brance ride stops each year at the Pea Ridge bat­tle­field park be­cause land in the park was part of the Trail of Tears, said park su­per­in­ten­dent Kevin Eads. He shared the story of the Chero­kee in the park with the mem­bers of the Re­mem­ber the Re­moval ride.

Three miles of the cur­rent tour road through the park was built on a 19th cen­tury road bed

tra­versed by the Trail of Tears, as well as the But­ter­field Over­land Ex­press and ar­mies of both the North and South dur­ing the Civil War. By 1860, North­west Arkansas’ first telegraph wire was strung along the road, leav­ing the road with the name “Telegraph Road” or “Wire Road.”

This Bright­wa­ter seg­ment of the Spring­field, Mo., to Fayet­teville road is listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and is part of the Trail of Tears Na­tional His­toric Trail. Through the park area, the trail ran from north of the cur­rent Elkhorn Tav­ern build­ing south to the site of the fed­eral trenches along Lit­tle Sugar Creek, Eads said.

“The Trail of Tears Na­tional His­toric Trail com­mem­o­rates the tragic ex­pe­ri­ence of the Chero­kee peo­ple, who were forcibly re­moved by the United States gov­ern­ment in 18381839 from their home­lands in the eastern United States to new homes hun­dreds of miles to the west,” reads the Arkansas His­toric Preser­va­tion Pro­gram in­for­ma­tion.

“Eleven (of 17) dif­fer­ent con­tin­gents of the Trail of Tears went through the park — 10,000 of 16,000 peo­ple to­tal (on the Trail of Tears),” Eads said.

The first recorded group of 356 Chero­kees was led by B.B. Can­non, ar­riv­ing in the park area on Dec. 23, 1837. And Can­non kept a jour­nal of the pas­sage, not­ing 15 deaths along the trail, Eads said.

A jour­nal en­try of Dec. 23, 1837, ref­er­ences “Red­dick” (ac­tu­ally Rud­dick, a farmer in the area whose field was later the site of the de­ci­sive skir­mish of the Union vic­tory at the Bat­tle of Pea Ridge). This gives the first ev­i­dence of the group hav­ing come through North­west Arkansas, reads the AHHP in­for­ma­tion:

“Buried Rain­frog’s daugh­ter (Lucy Red­stick’s child). Marched at 8 o’c A.M. halted at Red­dix 3 oc

P.M. En­camped and is­sued beef, corn and fod­der. 10 miles to­day.”

And dur­ing that de­ci­sive Civil War bat­tle, two Con­fed­er­ate Chero­kee com­pa­nies, the 1st and 2nd Chero­kee mili­tia ri­fles, fought at Fos­ter’s Field and Round Moun­tain, Eads told the riders as they toured the park.

“Dur­ing that part of the bat­tle, they were able to push the Union troops back,” he said.

CON­NECT­ING TO THE PAST

J.D. Arch of North Carolina, 50, the vet­eran ser­vices of­fi­cer of the Eastern Band of the Chero­kee tribe, joined the Re­mem­ber the Re­moval ride for the sec­ond time. He said his fam­ily did not travel on the Trail of Tears.

“Most of my an­ces­tors had ed­u­ca­tion and power among the peo­ple, so they were not in­cluded. They stayed be­hind,” Arch said.

He told the story of one man with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment who would write passes ex­emp them from re­moval for those Chero­kee who were “con­tribut­ing to the com­mu­nity. Once he re­al­ized the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was go­ing to move them, he wrote all the Chero­kees passes,” Arch said.

The Re­mem­ber the Re­moval ride started in New Echota, Ga., be­cause it was the last known Chero­kee town, Arch said. The Chero­kee peo­ple were bilin­gual. They had their own gov­ern­ment, news­pa­per and trades.

“On turn­ing for one last look as they crossed the ridge, [the cap­tives] saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rab­ble that fol­lowed on the heels of the sol­diers to loot and pil­lage,” reads the AHHP in­for­ma­tion. “So keen were these out­laws on that scene, that in some in­stances, they were driv­ing off the cat­tle and other stock of the In­di­ans al­most be­fore the sol­diers had fairly started the own­ers in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.”

The new set­tlers tried to de­stroy the Chero­kee prop­erty be­cause the In­di­ans had many more ad­van­tages than the peo­ple around them, Arch said.

Many peo­ple think of the Trail of Tears as some­thing of a by­gone time. “It’s eas­ier to down­play how hor­rific it was,” Arch said.

But the ride helped him con­nect with the peo­ple who trav­eled the Trail of Tears. He said he con­nected in thought, spirit, ac­tion, mo­ti­va­tion, in­spi­ra­tion, ded­i­ca­tion and more.

“Once you con­nect, it’s hard to make it dis­ap­pear,” he said. “When the fam­ily is all talk­ing about it, it is hard to dis­place, but my fam­ily didn’t talk about it.”

In Brian Bar­low’s home, the Trail of Tears was “some­thing that was kind of dis­cussed in the house some­times,” he said.

Bar­low, 22, of Tahle­quah, also works part time for the Univer­sity of Arkansas School of Law in Fayet­teville.

“My mo­ti­va­tion was go­ing home, be­ing wel­comed by fam­ily,” Bar­low ex­plained of his ride. But when his an­ces­tors got to Tahle­quah, “they were just as lost as when they left

home [in Ge­or­gia].

“That changes how you look at the trail. I can’t imag­ine what it would have been like.

“The point for me was cross­ing into Ok­la­homa and rec­og­niz­ing the land­scape,” he said. “That was a re­lief they didn’t have. The last 60 miles looked like the pre­vi­ous 900 miles. And they were still los­ing peo­ple.”

PROGRESS

The Re­mem­ber the Re­moval ride can be life chang­ing. Sky­lar Vann of Lo­cust Grove, Okla., 23, a stu­dent at North­east­ern State Univer­sity in Tahle­quah, noted his skills in work­ing with oth­ers in a team.

The group showed Bar­low the con­nec­tion be­tween all Chero­kee peo­ple. Some among the group dis­cov­ered they were seventh cousins.

“It’s a new fam­ily,” he said. “We’re not very far apart from each other. The con­nec­tions are closer than we thought. And in 20

years, we’ll still be con­nected.”

“I’m real proud of our progress,” Bar­low con­tin­ued, speak­ing of the peo­ple of the na­tion. “I’m proud we’re still here be­cause we sur­vived. We didn’t see the Chero­kee Na­tion wear away.

“The peo­ple who trav­eled the Trail of Tears de­serve our re­spect. You can’t walk thou­sands of miles and not be Chero­kee. Know­ing even a frac­tion of what it takes to walk the

Trail, we de­serve to en­joy what our an­ces­tors sac­ri­ficed.

“Keep your eyes open. You will see big changes com­ing up,” con­cluded Bar­low, ex­plain­ing to­mor­row’s lead­ers of the tribe might come from the young mem­bers of this or other rides. “We’ll be set­ting new stan­dards.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUT­THOFF

Chero­kee In­di­ans trav­el­ing the Trail of Tears stopped in 1839 on land that now is part of the Pea Ridge Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park. A group of Chero­kee bicyclists tak­ing part in the Re­mem­ber the Re­moval ride last month stopped there, too. Three miles of the mil­i­tary park’s tour road were built on a road bed that served the Trail of Tears, and the cy­clists fol­lowed the trek of their an­ces­tors.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUT­THOFF

Kevin Eads, su­per­in­ten­dent of Pea Ridge Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park, shares the his­tory of Chero­kee In­di­ans within the park site and at the Bat­tle of Pea Ridge with bicyclists on the Re­mem­ber the Re­moval tour. Eleven con­tin­gents of the Trail of Tears trav­eled through the park area in 1839, and jour­nals record nights spent in Rud­dick’s and Lewis Pratt’s fields 1839. Two Chero­kee ri­fle units fought for the Con­fed­er­acy dur­ing the bat­tle in 1862.

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