Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dogwood Time on the Trail of Tears

Weather was perfect yesterday as fifteen of us filled the Rend Lake College van to travel river to river on the Trail of Tears and then up to Silkwood Inn, the home of one of the most famous of the those who dropped on the Trail here in Illinois.

Whereas the Cherokee experienced a white landscape of ice and snow during the winter of 1838-39, we traveled with the spring beauty of snowy white dogwood filling the woods. Pink dogwood, redbud, and blue-purple sweet Williams were blooming the entire journey in yards and roadside. Road edges also held an abundance of may flowers, which always please me with their umbrella-like circle of leaves.

On our way to Golconda, we stopped at the Vienna park. While some viewed the poem on the totem pole put up in honor of the Trail, others of us spent as much time as we could in the visitor’s center for the Tunnel Hill trail with its fascinating railroad collection.

Back on the van we experienced the tiniest inconvenience as highway workers were repairing the bridge and highway through the cypress swamp. We had to wait a few minutes for our turn on the one-lane available, but we did not have to stop and build a corduroy road as the Cherokee and many early pioneers did.

We sat on top of the Ohio River levy at Golconda and imagined the influx of 11,000 or so weary walking travelers stopping in Kentucky to wait to come slowly over on the steam ferry that Mr. Berry had there charging them a $1 a head. (I deliberately chose to say “a head” rather than “per person” because these folks were treated much more like cattle than like people.) Many Cherokee were frightened of water travel. We don’t know which detachment saw the steam boat explosion that killed one white and one Cherokee on a return trip to pick up another load in Kentucky, but I am sure that incident did not reassure them of their safely. We continued on down beside the river past the remains of the old lock and dam system and the former houses there for the Corps of Engineers employees.

We enjoyed the many beautiful old Victorian houses that make Golconda so pretty as we drove to the 1840 Buel House. There I told the story passed down by Mrs. Buel, who in a previous home was cooking pumpkin and was shocked when a couple of the hungry Cherokee were enticed by the aroma and came calling. Not able to speak English, they still communicated their hunger and she fed them the pumpkin.

Rev. Daniel Butrick in his journal did not experience the hospitality that some of the 25 or 30 homes may have shown. He was in Richard Taylor’s detachment—one of the last. Not only were they greeted by curses abounding in this rough little river town, but after they passed Golconda and prepared for camping by chopping wood for the night’s fire, they were chased off. Even worse, this same thing happened a second time. By the third camp site on government land, it was too dark and late to chop wood for a fire. With so much of the game already hunted and supplies used up because of the unexpected delay between the rivers where ice floes stopped river traffic, the last detachments probably suffered the greatest scarcities.

Our van riders were given GPS directions written by Joe Crabb that would take them on a beautiful summer drive on the original routes just south of Route 146. There the Theopolis Scott family and the John Farmer family sat on their porches and watched the thousands of exhausted Cherokee trek by. We pointed out Hound Ridge Road that leads to the Joe Crabb farm where the detachments used the rock bottom ford to get across Sugar Creek. Joe’s farm is the second site to be certified in Illinois by the National Park Service and the National Trail of Tears Association.

We stopped next at the delicious smelling Chocolate Factory for a rest room break and a chance to indulge in an selection of candies in all shapes and sizes. I had never been there before, but had to be impressed with chocolate shaped for all different professions and hobbies. I resisted the temptation to buy the sweet treat for myself but was able to buy a birthday greeting in chocolate for Katherine’s birthday this Sunday. It even has colorful musical notes on it for our musical daughter.

On through Vienna and West Vienna (Boles), we looked out at various Trail sites and I told as many TOT stories as the shake and noise of the van allowed. We stopped beside the road where the old Bridges Tavern once stood before it burned in the 1930s. The tavern was a large two-story home used as the family home and an inn for early pioneer travelers. We pointed out the barn which has inside the log structure of the Bridges Store, where the Cherokee bought the forbidden illegal whiskey that caused so much grief when the drunken ones fought and hollered through the night disturbing the rest the tired walkers craved. This log building is the only known extant building on the Illinois Trail of Tears.

Stopping next at the first certified site in Illinois, we visited Camp Ground Cemetery where the old Trail is quite visible just north of the church house (which wasn’t there in 1838). The cemetery wasn’t there either although the George Hileman family, which had secured the title to the long-standing camp ground and built their home there, had lost two children and buried them in the field. The Hilemans not only sold corn meal from their grist meal to the hungry Indians but also allowed them to chop down the trees there for fire and warmth. Oral tradition had made it clear when the cemetery was added to the church that one hillside was not to be used for new graves because that was where the Cherokee had been allowed to bury their dead during that awful cold winter stay. SIUC’s Harvey Henson and his students have verified nineteen unmarked graves in that area using non-invasive technology.

We moved on to Anna, which also was not there in 1838, and we stopped for lunch at
Country Cupboard in The Potato Barn. I love to go there and know that my husband came here as a little boy with his father to buy seed, feed, and overalls. The display of artifacts always makes me wish I had the money and the place to put at least one or two of the many antiques that capture my fancy.

We’d been given a menu early on the van, and so many choices made our mouths water and the task of deciding difficult. Lori Ragsdale, RLC Community Education Director and our van driver, had called in our orders. Thus, our table and food was waiting for us. Everyone’s food was fantastic, according to all the comments I heard on the van afterwards. Then when we thought it could get no better, we were allowed to choose pie for dessert. My blackberry cobbler was perfect. Cindy Pickel and Lisa Hartline, who share the Godwin family tree with my husband, have done an outstanding job of offering a destination where memorable meals await.

We next stopped at the Jonesboro Square in front of the bank where Winstead Davie’s store house once stood. We had to point out the way to the Old Fairgrounds where Lincoln and Douglas debated, of course. And then on around the square and down 127 South near the extinct Flaughtown to the Old Cape Road, one of the many routes taken by the 11 detachments. The rural spring scenery was peaceful and lovely. We passed the sign leading to Ron and Deb Charles’ Trail of Tears lodge and restaurant (open on Friday and Saturday nights) and on past Lyerla Lake and finally to Reynoldsville and Route 146 again. (This south-bound stretch of Route 146 towards Cape is also Route 3 coming down from Chester.)

With the Mississippi River hidden by levies and trees although we could also see the trees over on the Missouri side, we traversed beside the river north and stopped at Ware. Here on Route 146 is where the Willard’s Ferry Landing Road would go a short distance west to the Mississippi River landing in 1838 and east through swampy land back to Jonesboro.

We had one more stop to make on this old Willard’s Landing Road, and that was in the Clear Creek, Dug Hill, and Dutch Creek area where 3000 or 4000 were stranded at the same time the later detachments were stranded at Camp Ground and all the way back to Golconda.

We were on a tight schedule to make Silkwood Inn at Mulkeytown by 4 o’clock. But Lori had it figured perfectly as she drove us up Route 127 to Murphysboro for another quick afternoon break. Right on time we reached Priscilla’s home where she lived with Brazilla and Mahala Silkwood after she was rescued from slavery on the Trail of Tears. We were sorry Barbara Spencer was prevented by illness from meeting us at the Inn, but her husband Gail graciously met us and had the Inn open for us to tour.

It is always shocking to see how small the Inn is to have provided a home at various times to 16 orphans. Fortunately the Silkwoods’ hearts were as big necessary when the next orphan came along. The descendants of the orphans and the descendants of Priscilla’s hollyhocks make our region richer yet today.

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