There were numerous paths which the US Army used to remove Indian tribes from their reservations east of the Mississippi River to new reservations in the Territory of Oklahoma. The Choctaw, Creek, Seminole and other tribes were removed. But, the worst plight belongs to the Cherokee in which of the 23,000 who started, 4,000 die along the way. That’s 1 person in every 6 die. Theirs is the Trail of Tears. Some of its various overland and water routes are shown in this map.

WHAT WE SAW: After visiting the old Cherokee capital at New Echota GA (34.541302, -84.907606), we drove US Hwy 64 across southern Tennessee to visit my cousins in Adamsville TN. There are many sites marked as part of the Bell’s Route of the Trail of Tears along this highway. In all, I was seriously underwhelmed. Like many Americans, I claim Cherokee ancestors. I have traced my ancestry back 7 generations to Dave Weaver who is in the 1835 census with his wife and their three sons. He and they were on the Trail of Tears. I am related through his granddaughter Thursy Ann Weaver who was born in OK. My mother knew the healing plants of the Yam Clan. She had been taught by her half Cherokee grandmother. I am fifth generation off-rez, and do not share in the Cherokee story. But out of genealogic interest, we stopped at many of the Trail markers. I was stunned by the pride taken by the locals at having the Trail pass through their area!? This was a shameful part of America history when the US President used the US Army in defiance of the US Supreme Court, and many people died as a consequence.

Powderhorn Campground

Powderhorn Campground office

WHERE WE STAYED: We stayed a week at the Powderhorn Campground (36.2187452, -87.217894). It is on Powdermill Hill Road south of US-64. between LAWRENCEBURG and PULASKI, TN. The campground is a quiet small, open place with some trees. 20 RV sites mostly flat gravel with water, electrical and sewer, 16 are pull-thru. There are also 6 cabins and a tent camping meadow. Many campers are permanent residents. There is a church and a small store. 931-762-0678

Powderhorn Campground site overview

A Trail To Remember

If I were king, I’d establish a modern ‘Trail Of Tears‘, at least 1000 miles long, by ownership and easement, mostly through forests and fields, and where reasonable along parts of one of the three original land routes. It would avoid paved roads. It might include a ferry crossing of a river. High school and college back packers could complete it during their 90-day summer vacation at a leisurely pace of 11 miles a day.

There is a wagon tour in the summer, with personnel to prepare hot breakfast and evening meals and to care for the mules and with sanitation facilities at each overnight stop. This summer tour is non-authentic for those who want to support the program and trail, but without the discomfort or tattoo of the winter tour. This tour would travel the length of the trail and back, and be available in 6-day increments. There would be shirts, caps, mugs, spoons, patches, stickers, pins, collectables, and crafts by members of the Nation for their purchase.

There is an annual 16-day hardship tour package for those guests who want to authentically experience the tragedy. Guests walk, or ride in covered wagons each drawn by two mules, or ride their own horse. This annual tour starts at dawn on the last Saturday in December regardless of weather or holiday and runs through the least developed section of the Trail. Authenticity prohibits all modern comforts in the possession of a guest. Prohibited are most post-1838 invented items, such as any electrical, electronic, solar, chemical, nuclear or plastic device; rifles, pistols, automatic weapons, cell phones, cameras, recording devices, credit cards, flashlights, matches, markers, ballpoint pens, Velcro, most dolls and toys and games, tampons, cosmetics and similar items, sheet plastic and plasticized fabrics. But not prohibited are smooth-bore rifles and post-1838 sanitary napkins, buttons, zippers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, erasers on pencils, journals, plastic sides on pocket knives and similar items. Authenticity encourages wool, cotton and leather clothing, and permits other modern fabrics in muted colors appropriate for the period in blankets and sleeping bags. The wearing of feathers or beadwork is discouraged.
Authenticity extends to squat defecation in a hole dug by the guest behind a bush, or in a latrine dug by a soldier at camp behind a single tarp wall, or at night in a chamber pot in each wagon; and to urination as they see fit, where they see fit. Women guests and employees are advised to wear long skirts, no underwear and hightop shoes as the women did in 1838 on the Trail to modestly perform these bodily functions without exposing their skin to the cold weather or curious eyes. Men are advised to wear long coats, not jackets, for the same reason.
Each person on the tour is given a leather bracelet tied to their left wrist with the name, in both Cherokee and English, of a Cherokee of the same gender who completed the Trail. This is to remind the guest that no matter how hard they think it gets for them, this Cherokee endured to the far end of the Trail. Guests who complete the winter tour may keep the bracelet.
In an ironic reversal of race, Members of the Cherokee Nation are employed to dress authentically as Union soldiers, and not as Indian scouts for the army. They portray the soldiers, and conduct the tour. Two guests (total 4) are assigned to care for each mule that pulls their wagon. Riders must care for their horse. One guest from each wagon is assigned to help prepare the scant community meals over the evening campfires, the only heat available on the tour. Occasionally, to supplement the meager government rations, a guide goes to ‘hunt’ and out of sight ‘shoots’ a ‘hawk’ or other bird (a skinned, gutted, headless, whole chicken), or shoots a ‘opossum or raccoon’ (a skinned, gutted, headless, whole rabbit) and brings it to the cooks. An actress/guest is employed to ‘die’ two or three days before the end of the tour, and the actual local coroner enlisted to investigate the ‘death’ and collect the body as the wagons pull out. There would be limited liability and ‘do not resuscitate’ agreements, in case the actress’ performance is unnecessary.
Each evening upon stopping and at midday rest, a soldier lays an arrow sign on the ground at the edge of camp. This arrow points to a path leading to a hidden vehicle and driver who will take anyone away from the tour without shame or dishonor, the only remark is that they took a different trail. They must surrender their bracelet to the driver to be driven away. Those guests and employees who have completed a winter tour have their bracelet tied to their right wrist in a final ceremony. Their name and the bracelet name of the Cherokee they honored is kept in a journal. And each man and woman, if willing, receives a small, unobtrusive tattoo on the exposed side of the index finger of their right hand between the second and third knuckles. Multiple tours do not get multiple tattoos. The tattoo is a 2 cm long arrow which has a knapped head and feathers. It points to their heart – a heart that cries when pierced with remembrance of the hardships of their winter walk and of that long ago winter walk.

It can happen, with His help.

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