A group of nine remarkable individuals have taken on the task of symbolically returning home by riding the Trail of Tears backwards on horseback from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to Cherokee, North Carolina.
The group consists of riders and support crew where every member is needed to ensure the safety and passage of the daily riders and seven horses.
Their path has taken them through Fredericktown where they created their base camp for a few days at the Lion's Club Rodeo Grounds as they continue their journey toward Cape Girardeau.
Pastor Len Crow, of Ontario, Canada, has many years of experience when it comes to mission rides. He created the group Ride for Missions in 1996.
"Horses have been a big part of our family for 43 years," Crow said. "I am just thankful I am able to use my horses because they are dear to our heart and it is something that can be used to help someone else."
Crow said the ride is more than a way to raise awareness of the events 180 years ago but also to raise money for two of the American Indian Tribes, the White Mountain Apache in Arizona and the Crow Reservation in Montana.
"What we hope this will accomplish, yes to raise awareness, but also we are hoping to raise 60 thousand dollars, 30 for the Crow and 30 for the Apache," Crow said. "Not just to give the money to the tribe but there are two ministries that are established there and their intention is to teach trades to the young men so they can get a job."
Crow said right now it is common for the young men of the tribes to have little to no skills or education and the money would be use to help educate them in electrical, plumbing and carpentry skills, preparing them for better jobs in order to care for their families.
"This isn't a joy ride, there's obstacles. We can't just go on down the field and a lot of it isn't mowed and there's glass hidden underneath so we have to go slow," Rider Tina Mae Weber said. "It's a whole experience behind it but it's a piece of cake compared to what they (Native Americans) did. They were barefooted. They had one set of clothes. When they got wet they were wet, they didn't get to change their clothes and then it was January. It was cold weather and we have had this hot weather."
Weber said she is honored to ride along the trail that her Cherokee ancestors had to walk.
"It's always been in my heart to do this," Weber said. "This ride has a purpose and there is a mission behind it. I've always wanted to ride the Trails of Tears."
Weber said she wants to bring awareness to the Trail of Tears and the suffering that took place 180 years ago so that it is never forgotten and to prevent anything from happening like it again.
Crow explained that the Native Americans did not live in teepees or wigwams during the time of the Trail of Tears, from 1832 to 1838, but members of the larger tribes had actually adapted to live in homes like everyone else.
"They lived in homes like everyone else, wood structures and they had cotton plantations," Crow said. "They wanted to live just like the Europeans because that was what they were told to do."
Crow said the Native Americans were caught off guard when the Americans turned on them.
"What happened was they found gold on the Indian land and the Indians had become very successful cotton plantation farmers and they were envious and the people in that area wanted that land," Crow said. "So they put pressure on a president by the name of Andrew Jackson who initiated the Indian Removal Act of 1830."
Crow said the removal began by asking the Indians to go peacefully on their own and were given a certain amount of time to leave their homes and head to Oklahoma.
"Of course many didn't want to do that," Crow said. "But after a while the pressure became greater on the government so they used pacification by force. They (authorities) came into their (Native American) homes at gunpoint and forced the people out of their homes."
Crow said the Native Americans were unaware that the soldiers were coming and they were moved to a place called Red Clay in Tennessee for months before they began their journey to Oklahoma.
"When they did start the march it was winter time and many of them had no shoes, they had very little in the way of blankets or clothing even, because they could only carry what was in their arms when they left their homes," Crow said. "When they started traveling, of course, disease became rampant. The food supplies that were supposed to be given to them, because of the delay of weather and everything, the food supplies got tainted and a lot of the time pork would spoil but would be given out anyways."
Crow said the young were the first to die shortly followed by the elderly and many stories have been told by the survivors of the cruel behavior of the soldiers pushing the march forward.
"It was a sad time and they were done so wrong," Weber said. "Over greed they took this beautiful ground and put them in barren ground."
Crow said the gospel helped give those on the trail faith and strength to continue on.
Crow and the entire crew has sacrificed time, money and in some cases business and jobs to go on this journey but it is clear that every member believes they are exactly where they need to be.
Crow said they have met many kind families along the way and that the use of the rodeo grounds was a blessing.
"There is an element inside every person that wants really to help others," Crow said. "It's the same when it comes to being a pastor. I know that inside the heart of every individual is a desire to worship something."
Crow said there are a lot of times where it would be easy to quit but that he remembers those who need his help and it drives him to continue on.
Find Ride for Missions on Facebook for ride updates as well as information how to make donations to the cause.