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‘Trail of Tears’ signage OK’d

A request asking that signage be placed along a St. Francois County road to recognize it as a part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was approved by the county commission at its Tuesday morning meeting held at the courthouse annex in Farmington.

Deloris Gray Wood, president of the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, had appeared before the commission at its previous meeting seeking permission for Old Fredericktown Road to be marked as part of the infamous trail.

It was along the Trail of Tears that thousands of Native Americans lost their lives while being relocated by force from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States to an area designated as Indian Territory.

Addressing the commissioners, Gray Wood said, “The Old Fredericktown Road is the only county road that is part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. I’m here as a facilitator for the commission and road and bridge department to work with the National Park Service and Historic Trails in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to get the Old Fredericktown Road marked.

“In the past they’ve provided the signage which is made by the Department of Corrections. Once the signs are shipped in, what is asked of the county is that it provide the hardware and installation. Once they are installed, they belong to the county. You’re already on the Trail of Tears Historic Trail, so whether you mark the trail or not, you’re on it and Farmington is mentioned several times.”

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher noted at the May 29 meeting that because Gray Wood’s request hadn’t appeared on the meeting agenda, the county commission would not be able to act on it that day but would vote on it the following week.

The story of the Trail of Tears is considered by most historians to be a particularly ignoble period in America’s history.

According to the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, in the 1600s about 25,000 Cherokee lived on lands stretching from the Ohio River to northern Georgia, but European diseases devastated the Cherokee throughout the 1700s. By 1819, Americans’ thirst for land had whittled away Cherokee lands — down to 10 percent of their original territory.

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson became the first president to publicly support removing Indians from their homes, and for the next 25 years, eastern tribes were forced west. Some of the Cherokee — known as the “Old Settlers” — moved west on their own to distance themselves from the American republic.

Following Andrew Jackson’s election as president in 1828, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, providing “for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.” At the same time, the state of Georgia — home to the Cherokee — passed legislation barring them from conducting tribal business, testifying against whites and mining for gold.

The Cherokee Nation, having produced leaders well versed in the ways of the U.S. legal system, fought back. In Worcester v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled in 1832 that the Cherokee held sovereign land rights. President Jackson openly dismissed the ruling, leaving the Cherokee with a dwindling number of options.

Twenty tribal members — led by Major Ridge and acting without the Cherokee government’s authority — signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. The treaty set the conditions for removal: In exchange for $5 million, the tribe would relocate to Indian Territory. Although most of the Cherokee protested the agreement, Congress made it law by May 1836. The treaty gave the Cherokee two years to move voluntarily.

Most Cherokee refused to recognize the treaty, and few had moved by the deadline it imposed. In the spring of 1838, 7,000 soldiers under Gen. Winfield Scott moved against the Cherokee Nation. The removal effort started in Georgia where Cherokee families were uprooted and driven — sometimes at bayonet point — to “round-up” camps. They were then gathered in larger removal camps.

In June, the army loaded Cherokee onto flatboats that traveled the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers to Indian Territory. The first boat reached its destination within 13 days, but desertions and fatalities plagued the next two groups. Diseases raged through the cramped, poorly supplied boats.

Principal Chief John Ross petitioned General Scott to allow the Cherokee to control their own removal. Ross organized detachments of about 1,000 each and the Cherokee traveled by foot, horse and wagon for 800 miles, taking up to eight months to reach Indian Territory — present day Oklahoma.

Despite prearranged supply points, they suffered terribly during the hard winter. Of the estimated 15,000 Cherokee forced from their homes, many hundreds died in the camps or on the journey. Weak and traumatized, 17 detachments of Cherokee arrived in Indian Territory between 1838 and 1839.

In December 2014, a “standing room only” crowd in an Iron County Courthouse courtroom attended a ceremony at which signs were unveiled marking three miles of the Trail of Tears that run through the county.

“The Old Fredericktown Road is the only county road that is part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.” — Deloris Gray Wood, president, Missouri Chapter of the Trails of Tears Association

Members of the St. Francois County Commission and county road and bridge department supervisors are pictured with Deloris Gray Wood, president of the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. She appeared before the commission last week seeking permission for Old Fredericktown Road to be marked as part of the infamous Trail of Tears.

Members of the St. Francois County Commission and county road and bridge department supervisors are pictured with Deloris Gray Wood, president of the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. She appeared before the commission last week seeking permission for Old Fredericktown Road to be marked as part of the infamous Trail of Tears.

Deloris Gray Wood, president of the Missouri Chapter of the Trails of Tears Association, appears before the St. Francois County Commission at its May 29 meeting seeking permission for Old Fredericktown Road to be designated as part of the infamous Trail of Tears on which thousands of Native Americans lost their lives. The commission approved her request at this week's meeting.

Deloris Gray Wood, president of the Missouri Chapter of the Trails of Tears Association, appears before the St. Francois County Commission at its May 29 meeting seeking permission for Old Fredericktown Road to be designated as part of the infamous Trail of Tears on which thousands of Native Americans lost their lives. The commission approved her request at this week’s meeting.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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