Our final camping trip for 2021 found us at Trail of Tears, a Missouri State Park located near Cape Girardeau. In addition to being a state park, the area is also a National Historic Trail as it is the location where the Cherokee crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri and then camped while waiting for others to catch up before continuing on the “relocation” route to what is now Oklahoma.
The road we drove to the campground is the actual historic trail; it is the same path taken by the Cherokee as they walked the hundreds of miles to their new home. Like us, the Cherokee camped in the land now designated as the state park. But unlike us, the Cherokee did not have a choice. And they certainly didn’t have a travel trailer with heat and a way to cook meals. They barely had utensils to cook what little food they had. Most of their possessions had to be left as they were rounded up for the great removal. The Cherokee would not return to the home they left. On our last day before we headed back to our home, we cut our ebike riding short because it was windy and cold. I couldn’t help but think of the Cherokee who had to suffer through the cold, not just coolness of fall, but the bitter, biting, harsh cold of winter.
Of course, I knew the story of the “Trail of Tears” before our visit, but I learned much during our time at the park. The following facts were new to me and left an impression:
The discovery of gold in Georgia, on the Cherokee land, was a contributing factor to the eventual creation and ratification of the Indian Removal Act. Once gold was discovered, the Cherokee were arrested for panning for gold on their own land.
The Cherokee asked for federal protection, and eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee.
In Marshall’s 1832 ruling in favor of the Cherokee, he concluded that Georgia was in error in arrests of missionaires and Cherokees. Marshall further ruled that the state laws of Georgia, when applied to Indian matters, must give way to Federal laws.Missouri Trail of Tears State Park Visitor Center
President Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court’s decision:
When the Cherokee nation appealed for federal protection during the Georgia gold rush, Jackson sent troops to protect Cherokee interests. He later acceded to Georgia’s contention that the Cherokees were subject to Georgia law, and federal troops were replaced by Georgia Guard throughout Cherokee Nation.
Arrests of missionaires and Cherokee gold prospectors by the Georgia Guard led to Cherokee legal appeals to the United States Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in favor of the Cherokees. It was rumored that when he heard Marshall’s decision, Jackson remarked “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”Missouri Trail of Tears State Park Visitor Center
Many were against the Indian Removal Act, including the Inspector General of the Army.
General John Ellis Wool, Inspector General of the Army, was first assigned to lead the round up. But in 1837, he requested that he be relieved of the duty of enforcing the Treaty of New Echota: “The whole scene since I have been in this country has been a heartrending one…The white men…like vultures, are watching, ready to pounce upon their prey and strip them of everything they have…” He was replaced by General Winfield Scott in 1838 and the roundup began.Missouri Trail of Tears State Park Visitor Center
I could not write about our visit to Trail of Tears State Park without first acknowledging the history and the suffering this park honors. The park’s mission to tell the “Trail of Tears” story and honor the memory of it has been carried out in my mind and in my heart. Another part of the Missouri state park’s mission is to give visitors the chance to explore and enjoy Missouri’s natural features. And oh, how we did. This park is beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Our activities and the specifics will be the subject of my next, happier post.