More than 175 years ago, thousands of American Indians were forced to travel on foot from Georgia to Oklahoma during a tragic event in U.S. history now known as “The Trail of Tears.”
On Friday, twenty Cherokee Indians will be traveling through Missouri and stopping in Waynesville as a part of an annual 950-mile bicycle race called Remember the Removal.
An estimated 4,000 of the approximately 16,000 Cherokee Indians died of exposure, starvation and disease during the removal, known as the Trail of Tears, according to the Associated Press.
“It’s one of those infamous, but important, chapters in American history we should never forget,” Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman said. Hardman is also a former high school history teacher. “This event helps us remember.”
The AP reported that the annual ride began 30 years ago to give Cherokee students a glimpse of what their ancestors faced in the late 1830s.
“The riders are working hard to ensure the memory of their ancestors is not forgotten,” Hardman said. “They are very proud of their heritage”
Riders are making stops at museums, grave sites, and other historic sites along the way, accompanied by Cherokee Nation tribal council member and Trail of Tears historian Jack Baker.
The Trail of Tears site in Laughlin Park will be one of those historic sites. The site was certified a national historic site in 2006.
Hardman said that the group has stopped in Waynesville for the past three years. Last year, a part of the Trail of Tears exhibit had just been constructed when the riders were in town. The City’s Trail of Tears exhibit will be completed in the next year.
“This project has been about eight years in the making and we are excited to show it to the riders next year,” Hardman said. “This is a very important part of Waynesville’s history.”
According to the City of Waynesville’s website, several well-known historic diaries documented the Cherokees activity in Waynesville and along the Roubidoux in 1837 during the Trail of Tears.
The ride follows the northern route of the Trail of Tears. It began in New Echota, Georgia, and is to end June 19 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
These riders will live out an exceptional experience over the next three weeks that will bond them forever,” Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in an interview with the AP.
“It is physically demanding and can be emotionally draining, but completing the trip will be a spiritual reward in and of itself. Just as our ancestors were 175 years ago, these young Cherokee people will be responsible for each other on this journey,” Baker added.
The riders will cross Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before ending the journey in eastern Oklahoma.
The riders are expected to be in Laughlin Park during lunchtime on Friday. Hopper’s will be providing lunch for the group.