Fifty or so of us gathered at the south Arena parking lot at Southern Illinois University Carbondale yesterday morning for the once-in-a-lifetime tour from there through western Union County on Trail of Tears routes and over the Mississippi River to Moccasin Springs where some of the Cherokee arrived on the two ferries near Willard’s Landing.
First, Sandy Boaz met us at Camp Ground Cemetery to share the story she had been told from childhood about the Cherokee who camped there. Her ancestor George Hileman owned the land that early pioneers and native folk had long camped on because of its closeness to the Lusk Trail, the grove of trees, and the presence of three springs. The Hilemans had not yet donated the land for a church and cemetery. But they had buried two children there on a hillside, and they allowed the Cherokee to bury their dead also. They also allowed the freezing ill clad Cherokee to cut the timber for heat. That likely is why there were not more deaths at that site.
After the fire burned out, the Cherokee were able to dig the thawed earth for graves as opposed to having to leave loved ones on the frozen ground topped with branches to keep the predators temporarily away. Harvey Henson explained how his SIUC students had used various non-invasive means to discover evidence of graves exactly where oral tradition had said the Cherokee were buried. Sandy had been told as a child to respect the gravesites and not to walk there. The Camp Ground Cumberland Presbyterian Church has continued to honor those grave sites for almost two centuries. With typical hospitality, they opened their doors yesterday for our tour groups to use their rest rooms.
Sandy has discovered evidence of the Trail going down Camp Ground Road and Murphy School Road, but we are uncertain how the Trail ended up at Jonesboro since Anna and Route 146 were not in existence in 1838. On the Jonesboro Square, Harvey and I pointed out to our respective buses where Winstead Davie’s store house had been and his and Anna’s home behind it where some Cherokee leaders boarded with them.
We pointed down towards Cook Avenue where some detachments went past the present school and up over Bauers and Pansy Hill and down past the present Lockard Chapel Church, through the Shawnee National Forest area, over steep Hamburg Hill on a road no longer there. This took them on to Hamburg Landing on the Mississippi River, which I feel certain has the sandbar that Rev. Daniel Butrick recorded in his diary. One ferry took them to the sandbar, and another ferry came over from Bainbridge, Missouri, to take them the rest of the way.
However, instead of going down Route 146 and Willards Ferry Road to Ware as some of the eleven TOT detachments did, we drove around the Square and down Route 127. The early industrial center of Flaughtown was two miles south of Jonesboro, and Christian Flaugh ground corn meal for the Indians at his mill. We took beautiful Old Cape Road through the country just as some of the Cherokee did. The fall coloration has begun, and we enjoyed that beauty though those trees were bare when the Cherokee walked there.
At U-Be-Dam Holler, we drove over the narrow bridges and onto Ron and Deb Charles’ family farm, which has the Trail of Tears Lodge for horse lovers and mushroom hunters who return again and again to stay there. A former barn, the Lodge has a restaurant with down-home decor on the first floor. We were given the opportunity to visit in the second-floor loft where a great room is beautifully decorated with soft carpeting and comfortable couches. The hay fork on its original track is far overhead. (Steps from that room lead to a third floor apartment, where Deb and Ron live.) After that, we were served a fantastic fish dinner with homemade dessert that is available to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. Deb graciously shared with us their Cherokee heritage and why they wanted to honor those who marched the Trail.
Back on the buses, we drove through Reynoldsville and again onto Route 146 (also called Route 3 now) going south as some Cherokee probably did since there was a Smith Ferry near Cape Girardeau. We crossed the wonder of the new bridge at Cape, drove past the murals at riverside depicting Missouri history and onto the Missouri Trail of Tears State Park. (http://www.mostateparks.com/trailoftears.htm ) We were envious that Illinois does not such an interpretive site. Here we saw artifacts including a pioneer wagon, glassed displays with explanatory text, and an opportunity to view the brand new National Park Service video on the Trail of Tears. It is the best I have ever seen. Before we climbed back on the buses, a woman with Cherokee heritage prepared us to see the Bushyhead Memorial. She laughingly but firmly told us that the Princess Otahki myth was bogus, and that the memorial gravesite actually marks the death of Jesse Bushyhead’s sister Nancy Bushyhead Walker Hildebrand and the others who died in the cold at Moccasin Springs. Gratefully Jesse Bushyhead’s wife Eliza safely gave birth here to baby Eliza Missouri, who grew up to be a great educational leader in Indian Territory.
After viewing the Memorial, we drove up through high hilly forests to the Overlook and walked down to stand in awe of the mighty Mississippi looking back over to Illinois where Willard’s Landing once was. I heard more than one say that view was worth the trip over.
The day was growing cooler and it was time to head back across the river. We returned to Jonesboro taking Route 146 past the Clear Creek/Dug Hill/Dutch Creek area, where thousands camped in 1838 waiting for the ice floes on the Mississippi River to leave so the ferries could operate again. George Morgan and Willis Willard both had mills there to grind corn meal and flour for them. Willard’s steam driven mill also produced lumber to floor some of the more fortunate ones’ tents. Others slept on the bare ground. Hunters went as far over as the present-day Illinois Trail of Tears State Park to find the scant game left after the hungry hordes were stranded so long. Traveling on to the Arena parking lot, we departed the buses and said goodbye to newly made friends and headed for our homes.
Today was another beautiful autumn day, and the children in our Preschool Class sang about Zacheus and I told them his story—one of my favorites. We talked about trees and fall and went outside to see some of the fallen leaves. They looked up one of the trees and imagined Zacheus up there wanting to see Jesus. By the time worship service was over, the children and I were hungry even though they had a snack, and they were eager to go down to the playground and pavilion and eat the wonderful fish, potatoes, and hush puppies that the cook crew kindly volunteered to prepare for us. Supplemented with many veggies and two tables of desserts provided by the congregation, we had a fall feast.
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