Walk held to commemorate river crossing during Trail of Tears
People walk toward the Tennessee River on Nov. 10 where hundreds of Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) people crossed the river on boats to begin their journey west during the forced removals or Trail of Tears. JOY MONTGOMERY
About 50 people joined Cherokee Nation citizen Mildred Taylor of Marble City, Oklahoma, left, Doris Trevino and Muscogee (Creek) citizen Melba Checote Eads, right, to commemorate the crossing of the Tennessee River by the Hildebrand detachment at Blythe Ferry on Nov. 10, 1838. The detachment was the largest detachment that traveled the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears with 1,766 people. JOY MONTGOMERY
Mildred Taylor of Marble City, Oklahoma, left, and Muscogee (Creek) citizen Melba Checote Eads, speak to the crowd after placing wreaths in honor of their ancestors who crossed the Tennessee River at Blythe Ferry in November 1838. DEBBIE MOORE
Historic events involving Cherokee people are a part of Meigs County near the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers in Birchwood, Tennessee. This marker is also near Blythe Ferry that carried thousands of Cherokee people across the Tennessee River to begin their journey west during the Trail of Tears. JOY MONTGOMERY
BIRCHWOOD, Tenn. – The Tennessee Trail of Tears Association hosted a commemorative walk on Nov. 10 at the Blythe Ferry Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood.
About 50 people walked in cold weather to remember those who crossed the Tennessee River at the ferry during the forced removal of Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) people in 1838. The Tennessee Trail of Tears Association organized the walk.
“We were paying a special tribute to the Hildebrand Detachment since it passed through the Blythe’s Ferry Landing exactly 180 years ago. In 2016, a commemorative walk was held in November to remember the removal and dedicate some signage,” said Tennessee TOTA member, Debbie Moore. “We had a great turnout, but I think our crowd would have been better if the weather had been nicer. But, this was a reminder to all the participants that those who walked the Trail of Tears in 1838 suffered. Personally, I think the beautiful songs sang, the words spoken, the music played and the walk was a time of reflection for all the participants.”
The Hildebrand Detachment was the largest detachment that crossed the river and traveled the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears with 1,766 people. Led by Peter Hildebrand, it left from stockades located between Charleston and Cleveland, Tennessee, for Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, on Oct. 23, 1838. The detachment arrived at Woodall Farm near present-day Westville, March 24, 1839, with 1,311 people.
“I had family with this group. My 89-year-old (four greats) grandmother made the trip. It was 38 degrees and windy while we were walking, so I got a feel of what they went through. Except we all had on good shoes, coats and hoods,” said Cherokee Nation citizen, Mildred Choate of Marble City, Oklahoma. “I felt very honored when Debbie Moore asked me to carry the Cherokee wreath. Melba (Checote Eads) carried one for the Creeks. It was such an emotional day for me.”
Choate’s ancestor Ned Sanders is listed on the muster roll for the Hildebrand Detachment, and she is the direct descendant of Ned’s brother John Sanders.
The Cherokee Removal Memorial Park at the Blythe Ferry site was dedicated in 2005. The memorial park is part of a project that includes a visitor center, which was built and opened in May 2009. The 2,400-square-foot memorial has a seven-point star to represent the seven Cherokee clans and seven stone panels with the names of Cherokee people who crossed the Tennessee River using the ferry, which operated on the Tennessee River in Meigs County from 1809 until 1838.
It took almost two days for the Hildebrand detachment to be ferried across the river by four boats beginning on Nov. 10, 1838. Nine other Cherokee detachments crossed at Blythe’s Ferry and were led by Hair Conrad, Elijah Hicks, Jesse Bushyhead, John Benge, Situwakee, Old Field, Moses Daniel, Choowalooka and George Hicks.
Today, the ferry site is situated along the eastern bank of the Chickamauga Lake enclosure of the Tennessee River, just south of the mouth of the Hiwassee River. It was once an important river crossing on the “Great Road” between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Approximately, 9,000 Cherokees and 300 Creeks who had been imprisoned in stockades in Bradley County, a few miles to the east of the ferry, were moved across the river.
“Many people here have an interest in the Cherokee past in the area. There is a love and respect that is there, and events like these give people a chance to express it and to learn of the area’s past,” said Tennessee TOTA member and historian Joy Montgomery. “I am surprised at how many people are surprised or do not know of Blythe Ferry or its history living in its immediate surrounding area. The memorial there and the names inscribed on them serve as a reminder of all those who lived and passed through there.”
Montgomery added there are many more stories of Cherokee people and history that can be told from that part of Tennessee.
“There is so much rich history and stories there to be told, not only of those who crossed, but of those who lived in the area including Black Fox, Pathkiller, Bushyhead, Charles Hicks, Doublehead and the Chickamauga (group). A portion of these stories are related in first person through letters and primary accounts by the Cherokee prior to the creation of the Cherokee syllabary,” she said.
The stories are not well known locally, and the Cherokee Memorial Removal Park focuses primarily on the period of removal.
“I hope someday there can be a place in the area where people can go to learn more about the lives of the people who lived here,” Montgomery said.