More than 16,000 Cherokee Indians were forced from their land in the southeast during the 1830s as part of the Indian Removal Act. They weren’t the only tribe affected. The Creek – among others – were removed from their homeland during the time, all because state and federal governments determined the land in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas to be more valuable to the non-Indian. Thousands of Native Americans died of disease and starvation during what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
The Cherokee forced migration made its way to the Cape Girardeau area during the winter of 1838-39. A group of Native Americans became “trapped” in the area after the Mississippi River froze and they were unable to continue the trek with fellow tribe members. Unfortunately, this was not known to government officials, who had sent their food, water and other supplies ahead for the next rest area. One person is known to have died that winter in the Cape area.
Missouri honors the memory of the Cherokee and other tribes at the Trail of Tears State Park. The park is located in the actual area where the Cherokee stayed during the 1,200-mile forced march.
The visitors center has a fantastic exhibit that pulls no punches in describing one of the worst periods of American history. I find more and more places are actually telling the stories involving ethnic groups through history than glossing over like we likely learned in school during our childhoods.
If you visit the park, take in the short movie. It features Native American actors in reenacting the events that lead to the Indian Removal Act and the forced move to Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi (Oklahoma).
The center offers exhibits on the area’s natural resources, as well. They highlight the water and vegetation in the area, as well as animals native to the region.
The park offers camping, fishing, swimming, boating and picnicking among hiking about 10 miles worth of trails. The trails are natural, so they can be affected by weather. I wanted to hike at least a couple of miles, but the park employee advised that with the hilly routes water can settle at the bottom and create issues. It had rained, so the trails were muddy, so we decided to skip the hike.
We drove to the Mississippi River overlook. It’s located a top a bluff and offers a beautiful view of the area.
On our way, we stopped at another spot and took in a different view of the area. Trees stand tall and offered glimpse of the Mississippi River. It was beautiful and peaceful. I felt like I could stay there all day.
We eventually made our way to the overlook. It was truly a beautiful view!
We watched a barge making its way up river. Farther up river, we saw another one making its way southward. It made me think that it has to be a long trip from Louisiana to Minnesota.
After spending 10-15 minutes taking in some great views, we moved along.
We were told at the visitors center that the lower road in the park actually covered part of the Trail of Tears. A national historic trail sign marks the way.
We visited the monument to the only person known to have died in the area during that 1838-39 winter stay. Nancy Bushyhead Walker Hildebrand was the sister of Rev. Jesse Bushyhead, a well-respected Cherokee minister. It was originally believed she was his daughter, but history bore out the facts.
She is buried in the park, but all identifying marks of her gravesite were removed years ago in order to protect her remains from would-be grave robbers or “archaeologists.”
As for recreational activities, we checked out the small lake, which can be used for swimming, boating and fishing. The swimming area is roped off, and is about six feet deep at its deepest point. It was a rainy day, so no one was on the lake.
Not all camping spots include electricity. People can check with the visitors center for availability and location.
The park would be a great place to spend a day or more (if camping). I would like to go back and check out some of the hiking trails.
Entrance to Trail of Tears State Park is free.
For more information on the Trail of Tears Park, please check out http://mostateparks.com/park/trail-tears-state-park.
For more information on the Trail of Tears, please check out a variety of websites, including http://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/trail-of-tears and http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/TrailofTears.aspx.