Sunday, February 06, 2011

An Exhilarating Day on the Trail of Tears

Snow covered the ground when I woke up this Saturday morning, and it was still snowing. I’d been reviewing my own research this week on the Trail of Tears through the western side of Union County and had so looked forward to an informal forum that our president of the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears had planned for the board of directors today. Several of us were getting together with some local experts she’d invited to share maps and information and try to find the routes the Cherokees took to get from Jonesboro to the Mississippi River in the winter of 1838-39. Seeing the snow, I just knew I might get a phone call cancelling the event, and if I didn’t, I wondered if I would be wise to drive.

This group was to meet at the Trail of Tears Lodge and resort in You Be Dam Holler (never sure how to spell that or its sister holler I Be Dam Holler). If you have ever been there, you know why I might be afraid to drive there on slick roads. But our president Sandy Boaz is brave and not inclined to give up on a project as proven by her 20 plus years’ work to get Camp Ground Cemetery certified as a Trail of Tears site. Gerald said he would take me in the truck, and we saw three cars in the ditch on the way to town. He called Sandy for me to make sure we were meeting, and she was already almost to the lodge in the holler getting ready to help Deb Charles set up coffee and rolls for us.

Ron and Deb Charles are both descended from early Cherokee, who lived at Elco, and their ranch and resort is located on what some of us believe is one of the many routes the Cherokee took as the 11,000 or so spread out and sought passable roads over to the Mississippi River. The resort caters to horse people, and the restaurant is open on weekends. It is wise to get reservations since road advice is valuable. The lodge is in a converted old barn, one of my favorite places, and Ron and Charles have living quarters upstairs. Deb helped get the National Trail of Tears Association started as well as our Illinois chapter.

The drive down Interstate 57 was beautiful with snow-laden cedars lining the bluffs, and of course the road into Fair City and You Be Dam Holler and across the bridge into the lodge is always picturesque. There are two ways to get here, and fortunately Gerald chose the safer one since one of our group got into a ditch using the other way.

The day was spent pouring over old maps, listening to information by Mark Wagner, an archeologist from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and hearing information and experiences of his wife Mary McCorvie and Heather Carey, both of whom work for the Shawnee National Forrest. We spent a lot of time asking questions and pumping Joe Frick who lives on his ancestor’s farm on one of the routes to Hamburg Hill. His ancestor was given land for his service in the Revolutionary War, and the family has remained on that land since 1813. Joe knows these hills and hollows probably as well as anyone can, and his help was invaluable. Jon Musgrave has just come onto our board of directors (as I have gone off), and he was able to not only share copies of several maps from the last century showing old roads no longer there but he projected maps on a screen large enough for all to see at once and discuss together. Jon’s very broad history knowledge of our entire region is always astounding as evidenced by his many books and his extraordinary Illinois history website.

We worked well into the afternoon, stopping only to get a bowl of great chili or potato soup and other good things Deb prepared for us. We returned to the table to talk and continuing working as we ate. Gerald, who grew up in these bottoms, came to pick me up and got in on some of the summation of the day’s exploration. By the time we left, we were able to go back to Jonesboro on the Old Cape Road, which the sun and 34 degree temperature had melted off to be safe.

Driving with forests on either side of the road in some places and onto Route 127 is always pleasing to me as is entering Jonesboro going past my friend Lynn’s girlhood home with her grandparents and the memories that road stirs up. Gerald checked to make sure neither of his brothers were having coffee at the Anna McDonalds, so we kept going.

In Marion, we visited with Katherine, and she and I watched the sad ending o the SIUC basketball game while Gerald and Sam went to Menards for Gerald to buy a wood stove to take the chill off the larger open area of his shop. The electric heater in the closed portion doesn’t help out there in these temperatures. They came back with a pizza and we had supper together before returning to Woodsong to unwind and reflect on a great winter day.

No comments: