Trail of Tears water route sign dedicated at Fort Massac
An interpretive sign about the water route used during the Trail of Tears is unveiled on Oct. 12 at the Fort Massac State Park near Metropolis, Illinois, by Illinois Trail of Tears Association Chapter Vice President Heather Carey, left, Illinois TOTA Chapter President Sandy Boaz, Fort Massac State Park Superintendent Chris McGinnis, National TOTA President Jack Baker and National Park Service National Trails Office Superintendent Aaron Mahr. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
On Oct. 12, members of the nine Trail of Tears Association chapters and National Park Service staff gathered on the bank of the Ohio River at Fort Massac State Park near Metropolis, Illinois, to dedicate a wayside exhibit or sign that explains the removal of Cherokee people by the water route. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The artwork used on the National Park Service sign at Fort Massac State Park was done by Cherokee artist Sam Watts-Scott of Rocky Mountain, Oklahoma. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
At the time of the forced removal of Cherokee people in 1838 and 1839, Fort Massac, which was constructed in 1794, lay in ruins. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
National Trail of Tears Association President Jack Baker speaks before unveiling a wayside sign at Fort Massac State Park near the Ohio River in Illinois. Standing next to him is Illinois Trail of Tears Association Chapter President Sandy Boaz, who helped get the interpretive sign placed at the river. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
METROPOLIS, Ill. – During the summer of 1838, the first groups of Cherokee people being forcibly removed to Indian Territory were being transported by boat on a river route.
The roundup phase of the removal began in May 1838 as Cherokees from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama were forced from their homes and herded to forts and holding areas. After the first three detachments of Cherokees were organized, they were moved west via the river that took them northwest up the Tennessee River to the Ohio River. The steamboats then connected to the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers to go west. Many Cherokees used the Arkansas River to travel west across Arkansas to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
On Oct. 12, members of the nine Trail of Tears Association chapters and National Park Service officials gathered on the bank of the Ohio River at Fort Massac State Park to dedicate a wayside exhibit that explains the removal of Cherokee people by the water route.
“This is the kind of site that draws you back,” NPS National Trails Office Superintendent Aaron Mahr said of Fort Massac. “The Cherokee did not stop here, but they passed by here on the river as they were traveling west. One of the great things about this is the view itself and the sense you get, the feeling you get, when you’re standing here by the river. You get a feeling of the landscape and understanding what it means to travel on a river, understanding the breadth of the landscape, understanding the lay of the land. It helps you to transpose back and start to feel what it was like traveling on the river 181 years ago. To have this type of experience in this historical setting is really something unique, and it’s something to be cherished that we still have the ability to come and visit sites like this.”
Mahr said the site is one that draws people wanting to learn about history, people using the site for recreation and people putting their boats in the river at site’s boat ramp. “This gives us the opportunity to touch different types of users. People who come to learn about Fort Massac, community members who use this place and put in the water will learn about the Trail of Tears when they come here, so it just enhances their experience when they’re visiting for whatever reason.”
Heather Carey, Illinois TOTA Chapter vice president, thanked Fort Massac officials for installing the two exhibits, the NPS for designing the sign and the TOTA for gathering the information.
“We’re excited about bringing this water route to the forefront and helping people learn about the water route. It isn’t quite as well-known as the overland route,” Carey said.
National TOTA President Jack Baker also thanked the Illinois TOTA Chapter, the NPS and Fort Massac officials for their work getting the sign installed.
He said the first three detachments of Cherokees moved west were sent by water and all three went by Fort Massac. “The first detachment was Lt. (Edward) Deas’ and in that detachment, I always think of my fifth-great grandmother Katie North. She was around 60 years old, and she was taken along with her father, William North, who had been described a few months before as being upwards of 100 years old and had been completely blind for the last 25 years. When she was taken from her family, she was separated from her grown children because they came later on the land route. There’s an account in the Chattanooga Public Library of interviews of people that were involved in the removal. There’s an account from a Mr. Carter that says, ‘There was an old man North, who had been married to a Cherokee lady and was completely blind. The soldiers became so upset because he was giving them so much trouble that they threw him in the river and drowned him.’”
Baker said he always thinks of his grandmother North when he thinks of the removal’s water route. “I want to remember her. She would be amazed that we are remembering her 181 years later. She’s still be remembered and what she endured. I think we owe a great debt to those people who came on the trail and the ones who came by here because they are the ones who survived and re-established the Cherokee Nation in the west. Because of their endurance, we have a very strong Cherokee Nation with 370,000 citizens.”