This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Trail of the Tears, the forced removal of the Cherokee people and other tribes from their homelands in the Southeast to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River, which later became part of Oklahoma.
Out of the 15,000 Cherokee who endured the forced migration west after the Treaty of 1835, it is estimated that several thousand died along the way or in internment camps. The Cherokees call the removal "Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi," which means “the place where they cried.” Today, it is known as the Trail of Tears.
President Andrew Jackson’s biographer, Robert Remini, wrote this of the experience for the Cherokee people:
“Men were seized in the fields; women were taken from their wheels and children from their play. As they turned for one last glimpse of their homes they frequently saw them in flames, set ablaze by the lawless rabble that followed the soldiers, scavenging what they could. These outlaws stole the cattle and other livestock and even desecrated graves in their search for silver pendants and other valuables.”
This tragic event will be remembered with special events and exhibits throughout East Tennessee during 2013.
A memorial service will be held at the New Echota historic site in Calhoun, Ga., on May 18 at 2 p.m. to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the removal of the Cherokee people from the Southeast, which began in May 1838. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until the forced removal in 1838.
“The May 18 service will be a memorial to those Cherokee who lost their lives during the Trail of Tears, but also a service to honor and remember their Cherokee descendants,” New Echota site manager David Gomez said. “Despite the terrible ordeal experienced during the removal from their eastern homeland, the Cherokee people have endured and prospered today as a vital part of our country.”
Presenters will include Cherokee tribal representatives and Trail of Tears Association President Jack Baker, a Cherokee Nation tribal councilor. The memorial service is free and open to the public. However, regular admission applies to the museum tour. For more information, click here.
On Oct. 26 and 27, the National Park Service will officially open the historic Federal Road Trail at Moccasin Bend National Park in Chattanooga. The Federal Road was the route across Moccasin Bend that Cherokees walked during their forced removal from the region in 1838.
Special interpretive tours will be provided during the official opening ceremony. For more information, click here.
On Oct. 28, the Tennessee Aquarium will host a lecture by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
Other Trail of Tears sites within the area will also commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Trail of the Tears:
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tenn., is dedicated to Sequoyah, a Cherokee leader who developed a writing system for the Cherokee that enabled thousands of them to become literate; much of the Bible and numerous hymns to be translated into Cherokee; and the publication of a newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. The Trail of Tears will be the theme of the museum’s lecture series throughout the year and its fall festival.
Red Clay State Historic Park near Cleveland, Tenn., marks the last location of the Cherokee councils before the Trail of Tears. It was here that Chief John Ross and 15,000 Cherokees rejected the proposed treaty with the U.S. government. The park features replicas of Cherokee buildings; a video about the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears; and the Cherokee Days of Recognition, featuring Cherokee dancers, storytellers and more, held annually on the first weekend of August.
The Trail of Tears began at Charleston (Fort Cass) on the Hiwassee River north of Cleveland, Tenn. Cherokee Removal Memorial Park at Blythe Ferry features an interpretive center and a granite wall that documents significant events of the Cherokee people. The floor of the amphitheater depicts the different routes taken by the Cherokee Nation on their journey west.
The path now known as the Unicoi Turnpike Trail predates written history, connecting the Tennessee Overhill Region to Georgia and the Atlantic coasts. During the removal, it was used to transport more than 3,000 Cherokee from Fort Butler at Murphy, N.C., over the mountains to Coker Creek, Tenn., and on to Fort Cass at Charleston, Tenn. A free trail map interprets the places, events and people during several historical periods, including the Trail of Tears.
The Chief Vann House in Chatsworth, Ga., was built in 1804 by James Vann, a Cherokee Indian leader and wealthy businessman who established the largest and most prosperous plantation in the Cherokee Nation. The family lost their elegant home in the 1830s, but the house survives as Georgia’s best-preserved historical Cherokee home.
In Knoxville, the Museum of East Tennessee History’s signature exhibit, Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee, includes the Cherokee Nation in the interpretation of the history and culture of East Tennessee during the past 250 years, including the Trail of Tears. The Frank H. McClung Museum features a permanent exhibit on archaeology and the native peoples of Tennessee from 10,000 B.C. to the present. This exhibit showcases the results of more than 65 years of research by University of Tennessee archaeologists in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority in preparation for flooding the reservoirs along the Tennessee River and its tributaries, as well as a video, “We Endure: The Journey of the Cherokee,” tracing the history of the Cherokee throughout time.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist living on Walden’s Ridge, whose writing interests include conservation, outdoor travel and sustainable living. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.