TOTA dedicates interpretive markers in Webbers Falls
People attending an Oct. 15 ceremony to dedicate three interpretive markers in Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, read a marker that provides information about the Old Setters, the first known Cherokee settlers in the area. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A marker titled “really a beautiful fall” provides a firsthand account of the falls in 1828. The falls near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, spanned nearly the width of the Arkansas River and were about “three or four feet in height.” WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“The Last Detachment” marker states that the last forced removal detachment came up the Arkansas River to where it meets the Illinois River. There, Cherokee people disembarked at the Illinois River’s mouth and made their way to Tahlequah by foot and wagon where they disbanded. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The “Old Settlers, New Homeland” marker provides information about the Cherokee people who moved to Arkansas and then to Indian Territory in the 1820s before the forced removals. Chief Walter Webber established a trading post at Webbers Falls on the Arkansas River. The marker also provides an 1895 map of the Cherokee Nation to show where Tahlequah, Fort Gibson and Fort Smith, Arkansas, were in relation to Webbers Falls. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. – Trail of Tears Association and National Park Service officials, as well as Cherokee Nation citizens and guests, gathered Oct. 15 on the Arkansas River bank to dedicate three interpretive Trail of Tears markers.
The ceremony kicked off the 22nd annual Trail of Tears Conference & Symposium held Oct. 16-18 in Pocola.
“We are marking the place where the last (forced removal) detachments who came on the Trail of Tears stopped on the water. They were supposed to go to Fort Gibson, but the water was too high. There was a set of falls out there on the river that stopped boat traffic a lot of the year anyway,” TOTA Executive Director Troy Wayne Poteete said. “Records say they got to Webbers Falls (and stopped) at the mouth of the Illinois (River), and we know it’s just around that corner (on the Arkansas River). The boats got that far.”
“The Last Detachment” marker states the last forced removal detachment came up the Arkansas River, and Cherokee people disembarked at the Illinois River’s mouth in March 1839 and made their way to Tahlequah where they disbanded.
Poteete said TOTA volunteers along Cherokee removal routes work with the NPS to mark routes to tell the removal story of the Cherokee people in 1838-39. He said markers like the ones placed in Webbers Falls commemorate the removal and show that Cherokee people are “tenacious, resilient, resourceful” and “survivors.”
“We’re still here,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”
Aaron Mahr, NPS National Trails Intermountain Region superintendent, attended the ceremony to thank the people involved in creating the markers and placing them in Webbers Falls. “It’s just nice to see this fellowship and this type of support for such an important event. Troy is being a little modest. Troy was also a very important part of this and helping us tell the story and convey the story the Cherokee wanted to see told here and that the city supported also.”
Mahr also thanked NPS employee Carol Clark for “putting the markers together” that tell “a well-rounded story.”
“You see three little signs here and you might think that’s an easy thing to do, but it really isn’t because it means a lot of people coming together, talking about the story, identifying the story and what they want to tell the public, what they want to tell children who come here to learn and to stand in the footsteps of the original (Cherokee) settlers that were here back in the 1820s and 1830s,” he said.
Mahr said one marker offers an opportunity to show what the river looked like 150 years ago.
The “really a beautiful fall” marker provides a firsthand account of the falls in 1828. The falls spanned nearly across the whole of the Arkansas River and were about “three or four feet in height.” They were covered by water when the river was expanded to create a navigation channel for boat traffic.
“I want to express my appreciation for all the people involved in this project, particularly the city of Webbers Falls and the National Park Service,” TOTA President Jack Baker said. “It’s fitting that we have the markers here. It’s not only the site where the last detachment came in and moved on to Tahlequah, but it also tells about the Old (Cherokee) Settlers who were already here and founded the city of Webbers Falls. It’s also significant because this is the place where we started rebuilding the Cherokee Nation.”
He said the Cherokees who were forced to Indian Territory in 1838-39 and the Old Settlers came to an agreement, an Act of Union, in August 1839, which paved the way for a new CN Constitution that was approved in September 1839.
“It is interesting that we came together. We did rebuild our nation and our nation still exists today, and it’s thriving,” Baker said. “I’m glad to see our Cherokee citizens here today as well as guests from around the country.”
The marker titled “Old Settlers, New Homeland” provides information about the Cherokee people who moved to Arkansas and then to Indian Territory in the 1820s before the removals. Chief Walter Webber established a trading post at Webbers Falls. The marker also provides an 1895 map of the CN to show how Tahlequah, Fort Gibson and Fort Smith, Arkansas, were in relation to Webbers Falls.
TOTA has chapters in the nine states in which the Cherokee Trail of Tears passed: Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
“Their purpose is to back up and help the National Park Service carry out their congressional mandate, and that mandate is to mark the forced removal routes of the Cherokee Nation,” Poteete said. “We weren’t the only tribe removed, but ours was the most publicized, and it was the largest and biggest mess probably of all the removals, so that’s the one Congress decided to mark.”
He said TOTA also tells the removals of the other four Southeastern tribes that were removed in the early 1800s: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek).