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The Cherokee called it "The Trail Where They Cried." In the 1830s, thousands of Cherokee men, women, and children were herded by federal forces from their ancestral homeland in the Southeastern United States to Indian Territory in eastern Oklahoma. Forced by the military to travel by foot, wagon, and horse along overland and water routes during horrible weather conditions, over 4,000 of them perished from exposure, starvation, and disease. Hundreds of Cherokee died in Southern Illinois where they were trapped between the frozen Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during the frigid winter of 1838-39.
In the summer of 2009 -- 171 years after this tragic story in our nation's history – team of eight young Cherokee students, their chaperones, and the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chad Corntassel Smith, retraced the steps of their ancestors as part of the Remember the Removal bicycling team. Their journey, which began in Georgia and concluded in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, took them through Southern Illinois where original portions of the Trail of Tears are still visible.
WSIU InFocus filmed the bicycling team as they traveled from Golconda, Illinois on the Ohio River to west of Dixon Springs, en route to their next destination at Trail of Tears State Park in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Producers Jak Tichenor and David Kidd talk with Joe Crabb of rural Grantsburg, who hosted dinner for the team when they stopped at his farm to view an original portion of the trail on the Crabb/Abbott Farm, now a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. WSIU also talked with Chief Chad Corntassel Smith about the trail and the purpose of the bicycling trip, as well as riders Jerrad Dry and Sarah Holcomb, who share what the experience has taught them about their Cherokee identity and their tribe's history.
Update: A new team of young Cherokee bicyclists repeated the journey during the summer of 2010. Learn more about this year's riders and trip.
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