Ceremony held in Fort Smith for Cherokee emigrants
On April 28, a wagon-wheel wreath was placed by National Park Service interpretive markers along the Arkansas River at the Fort Smith National Historic Site in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The wreath commemorates the April 28, 1838, crossing of the river by a Cherokee detachment from Waterloo, Alabama. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Historian Dusty Helbling, of Ozark, Arkansas, talks about the Cherokee detachment that crossed the Arkansas River (background) on April 28, 1838, at Fort Smith. The detachment, from Waterloo, Alabama, traveled mostly by river until about 40 miles east of Fort Smith when it transitioned to wagons to finish its 23-day journey. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A National Park Service interpretive maker that tells the Cherokee Trail of Tears story sits along markers for the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) nations near the confluence of the Poteau and Arkansas rivers in Fort Smith, Arkansas. A wreath was placed at the site on April 28 to commemorate the April 28, 1838, crossing of the river by a Cherokee detachment from Waterloo, Alabama. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
FORT SMITH, Ark. – A ceremony was held on April 28 at the confluence of the Poteau and Arkansas rivers at the Fort Smith National Historic Site to commemorate the crossing of a group of Cherokees who left from Alabama 180 years ago.
“It was exactly 180 years ago to this hour (approximately 10 a.m.) that they arrived at the Arkansas River to cross and go into Indian Territory. I’m really pleased that we were able to do this,” historian Dusty Helbling, who organized the ceremony, said.
For the observance, Helbling commissioned the building of wagon-wheel wreath with the date of April 28, 1838, attached to the wheel.
Helbling has researched Cherokee detachments that traveled through Arkansas during the forced removals that occurred in 1838-39. For the detachment that left by boat on April 5, 1838, from Waterloo, Alabama, he used Army records, which allowed him to pinpoint the time and date the detachment traveled through Fort Smith and then into Indian Territory.
Lt. Edward Deas led the detachment. From Alabama, the detachment traveled up the Tennessee River to the Ohio River and then traveled down the Mississippi River to the Arkansas River. The group, numbering 250 people, then traveled up the Arkansas River on April 20 until it became impassable because of low-water levels near present-day Ozark. Ozark is about 40 miles east of Fort Smith.
Lt. Deas procured wagons pulled by oxen and mules for the people, and the detachment continued west.
“The party reached Fort Smith to day (April 28) about 10 a.m. and the crossing of the river was immediately commenced and continued without interruption until dark, when more than half of the Wagons and nearly all of the people were got over and encamped on the Cherokee side of the River,” Deas wrote in his journal. “The ferry is not a very good. The Boat being too small.”
Once together, the detachment traveled about 25 miles into Indian Territory, stopping along Sallisaw Creek about 4 miles north of present-day Sallisaw at a place known as McCoy in what is now Sequoyah County.