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Cherokee storyteller Robert Lewis travels the country to share ancient creation myths and other stories that he has collected from the rich oral traditions of our native peoples. He's an enormously popular speaker because of his exuberant style of storytelling and has become a favorite part of Native American Heritage Month at SIU Carbondale. During a visit to Southern Illinois last fall, Lewis gained new insights of his own into a story that is deeply personal to the Cherokee people who were forced out of their ancestral homelands in the southeastern part of the United States on what is now called the Trail of Tears.
During the winter months of 1838 and 1839, an estimated 16,000 Cherokees were forced by the U.S. government to relocate their families from their homes, farms, and communities in Georgia to their final destination in Indian Territory, an area that later became Oklahoma. More than four thousand Cherokees died along the trail because of the winter weather, lack of food, exhaustion, and illness. Many of the deaths occurred here in Southern Illinois where the Cherokees were trapped between the frozen Ohio and Mississippi Rivers that winter. During his visit, Lewis retraced parts of the Trail with local members of the [ www.nationaltota.org ]National Trail of Tears Association beginning with the city of Golconda where the Cherokees first entered the state and ending with the Campground Church Cemetery near Anna where several of the Cherokee travelers are believed to have been buried that terrible winter. Lewis has traveled many parts of the Trail during his lifetime, but not the parts that run through Southern Illinois, which are considered among the longest and best-preserved parts of the Cherokees’ original route. This full-length feature story includes a rare look at the Trail through parts of the Shawnee National Forest that are not easily reached by foot or vehicle.
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