In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, providing “for an exchange of lands with Indians residing in any states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.” This act changed the Cherokee Nation forever. Their leaders fought against this act but by 1832 they were running out of options.
One by one, sometimes in chains, tribes were removed. The Choctaw, the Muscogee Creeks, the Chickasaw, the Seminoles were all forced from their homelands and moved to Indian Territory-now known as Oklahoma.
In 1835, acting outside the authority of the Cherokee government, 20 tribal members, led by Major Ridge, signed the Treaty of New Echota. The conditions for removal were set: In exchange for $5 million the tribe would relocate to Indian Territory. Though the majority of Cherokee protested the agreement it was enacted into law by Congress in 1836. The treaty gave the Cherokee two years to voluntarily move.
Not surprisingly, most Cherokee refused to recognize the Treaty of New Echota. Few had moved at the end of the two year period. In 1838 General Winfield Scott and 7,000 soldiers, began a removal effort in Georgia. Cherokee families were uprooted and driven-sometimes at bayonet point to removal camps. In June of that year Cherokee were loaded by the Army onto flatboats and moved to Indian Territory. The first boat completed the journey in 13 days. Desertions and fatalities plagued the next two groups and the poorly supplied boats were ravaged by disease.
To save his people, Principal Chief John Ross petitioned General Scott to let the Cherokee 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. Two of these detachments camped at Roubidoux Spring in Waynesville- in December 1837 and March 1839. Details of these camps were recorded by Dr. W.I. Morrow, Reverend Daniel S. Butrick, and B.B. Cannon in their journals and diaries.
The Cherokee suffered terribly during the hard winters. 15,000 Cherokee were forced from their homes and many hundreds died on the journey. Seventeen detachments of Cherokee arrived in Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839 and the tribe members began rebuilding their lives. Today the Cherokee and other removed tribes endure as vigorous Indian nations.
The City of Waynesville and the Downtown Beautification Committee applied for, and received, certification as a site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and in October of 2006, a Certification Ceremony was held in Laughlin Park, on the banks of the Roubidoux Creek. The National Park Service was represented by Aaron Mahr, who presented the certificate, and the Missouri Trail of Tears Association was represented by Deloris Wood. Laughlin Park is one of only seven certified sites in Missouri. Two others- Maramec Spring Park and Snelson-Brinker Cabin are only 45 miles from Laughlin Park. Certified sites can also be found in Pilot Knob, Springfield, Cassville, and Jackson.
On June 19th, 2015 The City of Waynesville, in conjunction with National Park Service, Trail of Tears Association, and Pulaski County Tourism Bureau will unveil seven Trail of Tears Wayside Exhibits. The exhibits begin at Roubidoux Spring and are located along the mile long walking path that follows the Roubidoux River. The event will begin at 9:00 a.m., rain or shine. The public is cordially invited and encouraged to attend. A reception, provided by Vidie’s Catering will follow. Honored guests will include the Cherokee Remember The Removal Riders.
Information in this article is via National Park Service Trail of Tears brochure. To learn more visit: http://www.nps.gov/trte/index.htm