|English: Elizabeth "Betsy" Brown She was a Cherokee Indian and was on the Trail of Tears. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
- Guest Post -
Our Mississippi River Hills - The Cherokee Trail of Tears
In the coming months in this space we want to begin the exploration and celebration of this wonderful, scenic land and culture we call the Mississippi River Hills. It extends from Jefferson County in Missouri and Monroe County in Illinois on the north to Iron County and the beautiful Arcadia Valley in the west, down to the edge of the bottoms in northern Scott County. Whether you've lived here all your life, have recently moved here; or are perhaps just visiting, much of what it has to offer may be unknown to you. In fact, unfortunately, what it has to offer: its history, heritage, foods and scenic beauty often metaphorically or otherwise remain hidden just over the next hill, tucked into a lost hollow, or along a forgotten back road.
It’s time to explore those back roads. And this week our exploration will begin a long way east of here, in the heart of the Southern Appalachians of the Carolinas, Tennessee and northern Georgia where for centuries more than 25,000 native Americans we Europeans labeled the Cherokee raised their families and flourished on their tribal lands. Even after the coming of European settlers, the Cherokee co-existed peacefully, many taking on European dress and manners and adopting European agrarian culture. But with the settlement of more and more Europeans, the discovery of precious metals and demand for more land for European settlers, in 1828 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act with the intent of moving the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and other eastern tribes to what came to be called “Indian Territory” in present day Oklahoma. The Cherokee fought removal in the courts and were vindicated in 1832 when the Supreme Court found in their favor. But President Andrew Jackson openly dismissed the ruling and vowed to continue with the eviction process. The government was able to essentially bribe a few Cherokee leaders to sign what was called “The Treaty of New Echota” in 1835 stipulating that all Cherokee would evacuate to “the Indian Territories” within a 2 year period ending in the spring of 1838. Most Cherokee refused to recognize the treaty and very few chose to move voluntarily so as of that spring, General Winfield Scott and 7,000 troops moved onto Cherokee lands and began to remove them, literally at bayonet point. The army packed the first contingents of hundreds upon hundreds of men, women and children onto flatboats where they were shipped down the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and up the Arkansas River to the Indian Territories with significant loss of life due to overcrowding
Cherokee leader John Ross then petitioned General Scott to allow the remaining groups to “control their own removal” and subsequent groups of approximately 1,000 men, women and children each were forced to take on an 8 month trek of 800 miles by foot, horse and wagon, starting in the area of Chattanooga, Tn. to the Indian Territory. While some groups traveled a southern route which took them across the Mississippi at Memphis and then across Arkansas to “the Territory”, a number of groups took a northern route through Nashville, Hopkinsville, Ky. Anna-Jonesboro and then across the Mississippi at the present day Trail of Tears State Park just south of the Procter and Gamble Plant in northern Cape Girardeau County. From that point they diverged, some groups going northwestward toward Rolla, others westward toward Springfield, Mo. and others southwest to Batesville, Ar. And then west. All in all, approximately 16,000 Cherokee people were forced from their homes. As many as 4,000 men, women and children did not complete the journey and lie in unmarked graves all along the route. But, 17 different groups arrived to start a new life in the Indian Territory and several thousand passed through our Mississippi River Hills along their “Trail of Tears”.
This Saturday (4/5/2014) at 1:00 pm. at Mary Jane’s Restaurant, just off the Courthouse Square in Perryville, the Mississippi River Hills History/Culture Fest will be exploring that traumatic and historic Cherokee Trail of Tears with the assistance of noted historian and Cherokee Indian Chief Paul (White Eagle) Smith. We’ll have artifacts, exhibits and hands on materials to help everyone understand more about Cherokee life and the disruption and horror which was “Their Trail of Tears” in 1838 and 1839 and how they overcame it.
And, starting at 5 pm. we’ll have a Farmer’s Market with produce from area producers, art and craft exhibits, a Cruise In sponsored by the Perryville Downtown Revitalization group, live music and a celebration of the scenic back roads of our beloved Mississippi River Hills.