Tribal removal stories shared at TOTA conference

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
11/01/2018 01:30 PM
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Tribal people and Trail of Tears Association members gathered Oct. 26-29 in Decatur, Alabama, for the 23rd annual Trail of Tears Association conference. Decatur is a trailhead site where Cherokee and other tribes traveled through during the forced removal of tribal people in the 1830s. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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President of the Alabama Trail of Tears Chapter Shannon Keith welcomes attendees to the 23rd annual Trail of Tears Conference in Decatur, Alabama. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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This interpretive panel located at Rhodes Ferry Park in Decatur, Alabama, tells part of the story of Cherokee people traveling the Tennessee River in 1837-38 who had to disembark from boats in Decatur before the river became impassable or too shallow at Muscle Shoals. The people were moved by way of the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad to Tuscumbia Landing where the Tennessee River deepened and the Cherokee could again use boats to move up the river. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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During the forced removal of Cherokee people in the 1830s, some were moved along the Tennessee River to the Mississippi River and then to the Arkansas River to Indian Territory. Three Cherokee groups moved through Decatur, Alabama, where this interpretive marker is located, including one led by the Cherokee leader Major Ridge, who is pictured on the panel. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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During the forced removal of Cherokee people in the 1830s, boats carried people up the Tennessee River to the Mississippi River and then to the Arkansas River to Indian Territory. Three Cherokee groups moved through Decatur, Alabama, including one led by the Cherokee leader Major Ridge who led 471 people. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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Cherokee people traveling the Tennessee River in 1837-38 had to disembark from boats in Decatur, Alabama, before the river became impassable or too shallow at Muscle Shoals. The people were moved by way of the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad to Tuscumbia Landing where the Tennessee River deepened and the Cherokee could again use boats to move up the river. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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Tuscumbia Landing on the Tennessee River is located near Sheffield, Alabama. During the forced removals in 1837-38, Cherokee people traveling the river disembarked from boats in Decatur, Alabama, before the river became impassable or too shallow at Muscle Shoals and were moved by train to Tuscumbia Landing where they were again placed on boats. Rock walls and brick ruins once part of the boat landings are still visible near the waterfront at Tuscumbia Landing. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
DECATUR, Ala. – The stories of tribal people who were removed from Alabama and surrounding states were shared Oct. 26-29 at the 23rd annual Trail of Tears Association conference.

The conference began at the Rhodes Ferry Park Pavilion. However, rain and cool weather prevented a walking tour that traces the route of the three groups of Cherokee that were forced to go around the rapid water, known as the Muscle Shoals, by railroad.

The tour follows their path from disembarking at the Tennessee River until they left Decatur on trains and includes six witness structures across the city.

“We’re so excited to have the Cherokee Nation members, the Creek Nation, the Choctaw Nation and members of the Eastern Band (of Cherokee Indians). We’re excited to introduce a piece of history in north Alabama along the trail route this weekend that maybe not everyone has learned about,” Alabama Trail of Tears Chapter President Shannon Keith said.

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said the city’s historical society, led by retired judge David Breland, had worked with Keith for a year to prepare for the conference.

“Judge Breland and Shannon worked on this along with leadership from the (Cherokee) Nation, and now here we are,” Bowling said.

Bowling said the Tennessee River, as it flows by Decatur, is at its widest point and served as the trailhead for Cherokees who lived in northern Alabama and were moved west in 1837-38. He said the new Trail of Tears signage and interpretive markers at Rhodes Ferry Park are a result of efforts by Breland and the National Park Service, which oversees the nation’s trails systems.

After a reception, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. spoke to attendees.

“I think what you do is important. I think it’s not only important to the Cherokee Nation and the other tribes that were impacted by removal, but folks, it’s important to the United States. Congress, in 1987, had the good sense to designate the trails. They made a promise at that time that the nation would not forget, and they had the good sense in the years that followed to put that promise into your hands because you all could execute it far better than the government of the United States,” he said.

He said the TOTA’s work with the NPS to locate and mark Trail of Tears trails and campsites has been “a tremendous partnership.”

“But we have to keep it strong. That’s the reason the Cherokee Nation has increased funding to what you all do. We ought to be helping you. The Cherokee Nation can’t possibly be everywhere, and we don’t profess the expertise that’s in this room, but we know good partners when we see them,” Hoskin said. “Money helps, that’s for sure, but I think building relationships is even better.”

On Oct. 27, attendees boarded buses to travel about 40 miles to Sheffield, Alabama, to visit Tuscumbia Landing. Guides discussed the site’s history, its previous transportation system and the Indian detachments that traveled through the area.

During the 1837-38 removals, Cherokee people traveling the Tennessee River disembarked from boats in Decatur, Alabama, before the river became impassable or too shallow at Muscle Shoals and were moved by way of the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad to Tuscumbia Landing where the Tennessee River deepened and the Cherokee could again use boats to move upriver.

Rock walls and brick ruins, once part of the boat landings at Tuscumbia Landing, are still visible near the waterfront on the Tennessee River. The 2,300 Cherokees who moved west during those two years moved with the Ridge, Deas and Whiteley parties.

Keith said there are plans to improve parking at Tuscumbia Landing, the road leading to it and add interpretive signage.

Muscogee (Creek) and Choctaw groups also passed by Decatur and used Tuscumbia Landing, and historians shared their removal stories.

The next TOTA conference will be held in October in Paducah, Kentucky. The conference site rotates among the nine TOTA member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He e ...
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He e ...

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