Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring Breaks and the Western Part of the Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois

Spring breaks have started for our grandchildren. Samuel like all the kids here in Williamson County has been off school this week. And so has Geri Ann down in Georgia, which allowed her to go with her mother to see Erin play softball in Boca Raton. Her sister Tara, husband Bryan, and the two little boys also took a vacation there. Leslie was in Puerto Rico with her church group since Belmont was having spring break.

The Eilers up at Freeport will be off next week, so Jeannie is bringing Cecelie thorough here on their way to visit Les at Belmont while Elijah goes to Mount Rushmore and that region with his high school choir performing most of Showtime at various venues. They’ll be well rehearsed when they get back to perform at Freeport. Trent and Brianna will be off that week also and are going to Florida to see their Grandma Dot.

I wanted to grab some time with Samuel while he was on vacation, so we planned a day trip down to Union County to see the western part of the Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois. We first stopped at the Trail of Tears rest stop on Interstate 57. Oddly, that rest stop has pictures of Cairo but no mention of the Trail of Tears. Our Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association finally got permission to place brochures there—something Sandy Boaz, Illinois TOTA president, had tried to do for years but wasn’t allowed. But the brochures were all taken the day Sam and I stopped by. We obtained an Illinois road map there, and Sam was able to follow our journey to the west where we were to cross the Mississippi River.

The Trail of Tears rest stop is actually on top of the trail. When I-57 was built, that spot on the highway goes over a short tunnel on the road beneath it, where the Cherokee actually walked. To see that, Sam and I exited I-57 less than a mile down the highway and were on State Route 146, Illinois Designated TOT highway and also the National Park Service’s TOT auto route.

Next we took the first country road to the right and were driving through beautiful rural land, which has been built up with many fine homes in recent years. Soon we were down below I-57 and drove through the tunnel and down the actual Trail. It was chilly enough that we weren’t tempted to get out and hike, and we turned around and went back to the cemetery where Southern Illinois University Carbondale geologist Harvey Henson and his students have located at least 19 graves in the area that oral tradition had always indicated the Cherokee had buried their dead during the bitter cold of December 1838 and January 1839.

Since there had been perhaps as many as 3,000 camping there at one time and more before and after those weeks, it is a sign of land owner George Hileman’s kindness that there were so few deaths. He allowed them to cut down the woods to obtain firewood for warmth, and he sold them corn meal from his grist meal for sustenance to go with the wild game they foraged. He approved their graves in his pasture where he and his wife had buried two small children a few years earlier. Later he was to donate land for the church established there, and he donated more land for the cemetery.

Sandy Boaz, a descendant of Hileman, has been searching for what roads went from Camp Ground over to Jonesboro in the first half of the 19th Century. As a favor, she recently was helping someone with their genealogy questions, and serendipitously found some good hints about the road, which she intends to investigate. She has often talked about Dog Walk Road, and since Sam and I were not on schedule, we decided not to return to Route 146 but to leave on the Camp Ground Road going west until we came to Dog Walk, which we took over to the Lick Creek Road and finally back to Route 146. It took a little longer than it should have since I have no sense of direction, and I turned in the wrong direction on the familiar Lick Creek Road. I turned around when I noticed on the dash we were headed east. On 146 in Anna, we soon were passing the Trail of Tears Junction, the elaborate gas and more station owned by Ron and Deb Charles, who both descended from Cherokee families around Elco.

We were hungry by then, and we stopped at the Country Cupboard, more often called The Potato Barn, created in the old Goddard Feed Store, where county farmers always headed to buy garden seed, tools, and bib overalls as well as feed. As always, the food there was absolutely delicious. I had a bowl of creamy potato soup and a Reuben while Sam had a shrimp basket. I should have ordered either soup or a sandwich since both turned out to be over-sized. I had fun explaining to Sam the complicated family connections to the Bridgeman daughters who own the restaurant now. His great Grandma Ada’s Aunt Ollie Bridgeman is seen holding Sam’s mother in the first baby photo we have of Katherine. Part of the pleasure of going to the Potato Barn is wandering around looking at the antiques and artifacts, so we took time for that before we got back on the Trail.

We left Anna by Heacock Street and down Boettner Hill, and I was able to tell Sam how folks used to block off traffic on a few nights when the snow made that hill a perfect place for sledding. I took him out to the Old Fair Grounds, where Lincoln and Douglas gave one of their 1858 debates while running for the Senate. Sam enjoyed the new statues there of the two famous debaters.

And then it was up to the Jonesboro Square, where the bank stands on the storehouse site of Winstead Davie. Behind the store was his and Anna (Willard) Davie’s home, where the Davies invited Rev. Jesse Bushyhead and his pregnant wife Eliza and another “chief” and his wife and baby to stay with them. The name for this second so-called chief has been confusing, but I am convinced this was native preacher Rev. Stephen Foreman and his wife Sarah and baby boy Jeremiah Evarts Foreman. Darrel Dexter tells us that Davie applied for a license to keep boarders the very day that little Jeremiah was born, and Davie family tradition tells of the Cherokee baby and parents who stayed with them.

On the west side of Davie’s store on the other side of the road from the Old Fair
Grounds was where Davie’s brother-in-law and competitor William Willard had his store. Sadly William never married but died of tuberculosis at age 31 in 1843. His two brothers, Elijah and Willis, ran the two ferries near Willard’s Landing on the Mississippi River. (Some folks still called the Landing by its earlier name—Green’s Landing.)

Sam and I drove down Cook Avenue past the school , and I showed Sam where I grew up. Then we drove as far as the road went to the top of Bauer’s Hill where some Cherokee crossed over and down to the other side to camp at the southern end of Dutch Creek. We came back and got back on Route 146, now also called Willard’s Ferry Road.

Because of the swamps in The Bottoms by the river, the Cherokee were backed up in the Dutch Creek-Clear Creek area. Perhaps as many as 5,000 or more were waiting for the ice floes to melt or float away. We turned at the Lockard Chapel sign onto Berryville Road and explored one of the many routes some of the 11,000 took. As usual I got lost and took a wrong turn before we reached Hamburg Hill and Atwood Tower, but eventually we were back on Route 146 and continued to the village of Ware.

Directly west of Ware was the road that took early travelers to Willard’s Landing, where there was a storehouse and some homes to greet the boats bringing merchandise from Pennsylvania for Davie and Willard’s Jonesboro stores. (The eastern boats came down the Ohio River to Cairo and then up the Mississippi.) Since the river has changed and been changed so radically by levies and flood control since 1838, we have never discovered any residue of Willard’s Landing.. Several Cherokee detachments crossed here including Jesse Bushyhead and his wife Eliza Wilkerson Bushyhead, who gave birth on January 3, 1839, to Eliza Missouri Bushyhead at what is now called Moccasins Springs. There Bushyhead’s sister Nancy Bushyhead Walker Hildebrand died and was buried.

We drove on south now on Route 146 past Ware Baptist Church, where Sam’s mother was enrolled in Sunday School as an infant, We continued on the TOT Auto Route past the fine goose-hunting and corn-growing farms there in The Bottoms. At Reynoldsville, we noted the road crossing called The Old Cape Road, but we kept on the new highway to the Flea Market, where the Route 146 turns back west to cross the bridge to Missouri. In Cape Girardeau, we enjoyed the beautiful murals on the river flood walls u before we turned to go back across the stunning Bill Emerson Bridge into Illinois.

We did take the Old Cape Road on our way back to Jonesboro because no doubt some of the Cherokee detachments went to the ferries at Hamburg Landing through there. Either there or further south, some Cherokee found themselves crossing on the Smith Ferry and going to Cape Girardeau. We got Sam back to his house, so he could get to bed early for the spring vacation trip his dad had planned for him on Friday to Saint Louis sites.

Yesterday I went to Sam’s last Upward basketball game and found out that son-in-law Brian and daughter Brianna had come down late the night before from Lake Saint Louis to their camper up at Wayside Farm. So in between watching softball games for Georgia and Texas A&M, Gerald and I had Samuel with his new puppy Scooter and Brianna .with Fifi to play here at the farm on Saturday afternoon.

That was a good diversion because Gerald is still at a painfully red and quite ugly stage of his skin peel treatment and has been reluctant to get off the farm much. He did take neighbor Scott to Carbondale to catch a train, but they went through the drive-in for breakfast rather than going inside. We hope by his birthday next Sunday, he will have skin as soft as a baby’s. Reckon?

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