The Undiscovered Story

By | September 22, 2022

Re-Discovering the Trail of Tears in Missouri

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The Snelson Brinker Cabin Site After the Fire

Telling the Story of the Cherokee Tribe on the Trail of Tears in Missouri with Geographic Information Systems

Let’s talk about how a team of Missourians are sharing the Undiscovered Story of the Cherokee Tribe on the Trail of Tears in Missouri. I’m Chris Dunn, the GIS Guy on the team. For me, this project started sometime in 2019.

Our Origin Story

In 2019 Dr. Bill Ambrose and Steve Belko, Ph.D. some how found me. They thought Geographic Information Systems (GIS) could be a good tool to organize the Missouri Trail of Tears Association’s work. They had been talking to mappers around Missouri, looking for someone to begin mapping their research and discoveries. I knew very little about the Trail of Tears back then. But, work had been going on for decades prior to my joining the team in 2019. They finally contacted a geography professor at Missouri State Extension. She referred them on to me. There are not a lot of private GIS firms. Most GIS techs work for a government agency where they are not allowed to take on this sort of project.

Archeological Excavation on the Trail of Tears
Volunteers and Professionals Doing Archaeological Field Work

I started mapping, cataloging, and archiving their data. Our hope was that someday we would have a public portal to share their work with the world. From 2019 until 2020, the Missouri Humanities Council (MHC), the (National) Trail of Tears Association, and Dr. Ambrose personally financed years of GIS work on this project. While the funding mix has changed since the early days, the goal has always been to tell the story accurately. That’s why I named this post the Undiscovered Story. We have completed so much work already. But you can’t see it, yet! This web portal is a start. We are going to present decades of work by the Missouri Trail of Tears Association’s members. We hope you will find to be in a user-friendly format.

Our Audience

We have designed this or several different types of users. We are sharing found documents which academics researching the Trail of Tears may find sufficiently authoritative for their use. There will be stories that inform and educate the public about the Cherokee’s forced relocation as they crossed Missouri. We’ll also tie those events with related contemporaneous Missouri historical events and people. Finally, we’ll use the GIS to put all of these things into a geographic perspective. We want you to use our maps at home and when you travel. We want to fuel your personal exploration of the Trail of Tears in Missouri.

Telling A Forgotten Story

My job is to organize this information. But, I need to ensure that thee Cherokee Tribe, the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Associations, and our other team member’s work is fairly presented. I won’t get everything right, and I won’t get every bit of research they have accumulated poste here overnight. But this site will grow steadily, and thus will always be something of a work in progress.

Join Us

Do you find this work interesting and worthy of your support? If so, please consider joining the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. To join click here. You can even volunteer to help with the field work. That’s where the real fun is.

3D Diorama Along the Trail of Tears

By William Ambrose

On the western side of the state of Missouri, the Trail of Tears is generally the Springfield to St. Louis Road.  The General Land Office (GLO) surveyors, those earliest government surveyors who surveyed the unsettled frontier lands ahead of any land sales, were required to draw the existing roads on the township plats beginning at about the time they surveyed the western half of Missouri.  The Springfield to St. Louis Road was pre-historic – it was a trace on the ground from Springfield to St. Louis used by Native Americans for travel for trade and hunting long before Americans arrived in the state.  The GLOs were the building blocks of President Jefferson’s rectilinear survey system, known as the Public Land Survey System, created by the Land Ordinance of 1785, a federal law. The system was laid out in 6-mile-by-6-mile squares, each square being known by its north-south “Township” number and its east-west “Range” number. 


By William Ambrose

From 1837 to 1839, the Federal Government forcibly removed 17,000 Cherokees from their centuries-old homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Alabama.  The Cherokee families were rounded up at gunpoint by Federal troops, held prisoner in detention camps, divided up into detachments of about 1000 people, and then forced to walk the 1000 miles to “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma. Approximately 4000 died during that process. 

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2 thoughts on “The Undiscovered Story

  1. Bill Ambrose

    Busy with 4 sessions of Trail of Tears information and interpretation today. Been demonstrating the website to everyone that will listen. Got to talk to 30 at once last hour. Everyone is impressed. Thx. Bill

  2. Bill Ambrose

    Went on a field trip to the origination site of the Cherokee people yesterday. Kituwah by name. Represented and located now by the remnant of the ceremonial mound near the town where this Annual Conference of the Trail of Tears Association is meeting this year. Cherokee, North Carolina

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