Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
By Larry Hightower
It Started with the Roundups
I believe that the Trail of Tears journeys did not begin with a detachment or end with the arrival of the last group. For many, it began with roundups. Perhaps, with their final looks back to what had been their homes, they saw an inferno, or perhaps they saw settlers rushing in to claim the homes and everything they had been forced to leave behind. For those who survived the journey, there must have been inconsolable grief for the beloved who did not survive the interment and the rigorous journey over hard roads and bitter weather. The red dirt prairie must have been a stark contrast to the rich verdant land from which they had been expelled.
Above: Cave Spring
My Awareness Begins
I believe that our lives are journeys. I have my own Trail of Tears journey, though it fortunately lacks the trauma and tragedy of those generations ago. I have now reached the three-quarters mark on the way to becoming a centenarian. My life has been far richer, far longer than I expected, or frankly deserved.
Maybe I should set a bit of background. In 1853, my great-great-grandparents bought one hundred and twenty acre farm in what is now Laclede County, Missouri. My maternal grandparents lived there when I was a boy. There was a cave on the farm and the hill above it dominated the landscape. The valley to the north of the cave had ditches that ran east to west. In the childhood imaginations of myself, my sister and my cousins, those ditches were our forts, schools, or houses. That farm was special to me. When ownership fell to my parents and its future was in question, I knew it needed, to stay in the family.
Above: The Location of General Land Office (GLO) Plat Township 32 North, Range 15 West of the 6th Principal Meridian. The NPS Trail of Tears routes are show in blue.
Above: Two Routes Overlaid Upon the General Land Office Plat Township 32 North, Range 15 West of the 6th Principal Meridian.
An Encounter with a Local Historian
My Trail of Tears journey began about six years ago I got a call from Mark Spangler, who identified himself as the historian in Laclede County, Missouri, and a board member of the Missouri Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association. Mark told me that the land had historic roots as it was an integral part of the northern route of the Trail of Tears.
A Post Office in a Cave?
I had heard through family lore that the cave had once been a United States Post Office and general store. Mark verified that the general store, operated by Mr. Abriel Park, sold provisions to at least one of the first Trail of Tears detachments in 1837. Although there were some minor deviations in the route, it is believed that a dozen or more of the detachments would have walked through the valley alongside the cave hill. Only in hindsight do I know that the ditches that ran perpendicular to the slope of the hill were caused by the ruts of thousands of wagons, horses and foot traffic along what was then the main road from Saint Louis to Springfield and beyond.
Above: Two members of the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association document the cave site.
Preserving the Site
Ironically, one of the remnants of my past is a photograph of a great-great grandfather. On the back is a hand written notation, “full blooded Cherokee”. Subsequently I have submitted an inquiry to the Cherokee Nation Genealogy Center and the response was negative. I have no native heritage to claim, no special accomplishment to boast and would be uninvolved and unaware save for a purchase of a farm that was part of my personal life story. Inadvertently, this farm, and my miniscule role in the Trail of Tears story demands responsibility of me. I have submitted an application as a certified site with the National Park Service Trails System office so that the story may be added to the growing knowledge and trail awareness. I can do no less. I wish I could do more—more in recognition of those who suffered–those who died along the aptly named Trail of Tears.
If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.com