Robin Roberts, photographer and horse woman, had discovered the Story Cemetery in the Shawnee National Forrest some years ago while attending the Nine Day Trail Ride. More recently, she found a new marker where before only the Civil War marker of Ephriam Story had been among the 50 or more graves there--almost all with just a sandstone marker as so many old graveyards have. The new marker was for Ephriam’s wife Caroline (Williford) Story and along with her dates was this: “TSI-TSA-LA-GI (I am Cherokee.)”
Robin began a search to solve the mystery of what descendant of Ephriam and Caroline had added the marker for Caroline. (We assumed it was placed by a descendant.)
Evelyn Hogg, the wife of Vernon Hogg, who is the great grandson of Ephriam and Caroline, was kind enough to write a letter and send a great deal of Trail of Tears information to Robin including the family story that Caroline and her younger sister Mary Williford had indeed been left behind on the Trail of Tears. (Mary's name was Benton when she married, and she died in a nursing home in Indiana.)
Vernon had put up signs pointing to the Story Cemetery around 1999, and at that time there was only Ephriam’s marker. Some three or four years ago they discovered the new marker. Like Robin, they were pleased by it, but had no idea who had put it up.
Among the information Mrs. Hogg sent was the indenture of Caroline and Mary Williford, who at ages 7 and 9 in 1846 were indentured to different families until they were 18. Mrs. Hogg had this indenture record thanks to the work of Ed Annable.
Robin had shared by email beautiful photographs that she had taken of the cemetery and tombstones, and I was fascinated by this story of two little girls left behind on the Trail of Tears. She has continued searching for more descendants and has been corresponding with them.
Just as we had conjectured, Robin was able to confirm today that the two sisters’ parents had died as a result of the Trail of Tears and that a family in Pope County had taken them in. Was this family named Williford? Or was that the original Cherokee family name? Why were the girls indentured in 1846? Did the family who had taken them in die?
As information was passed back and forth among a group of us, new information kept popping up that added new questions to the old ones. So I have deliberately only told you a bit of the story. I hope someday Robin can answer all the mysteries for us and that we will have a complete story of the Williford family members who dropped off the Trail of Tears in 1839.
Maybe by then the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will have a location for an accessible archive for the public. The TOTA is in the process of collecting the heartbreaking stories of broken families left behind in Southern Illinois as Cherokee were forced to relocate in Oklahoma.
If you have any information on the Story family or any other Cherokee left in our region because of the Trail of Tears, please contact anyone in the Illinois Chapter of TOTA, so we can add your information to the archives.
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