Legislation May Bring New Attention to Trail of Tears

By Bill Poovey
Associated Press
Friday, November 24, 2006

CHATTANOOGA -- Standing in a cabin in the woods, Cherokee descendant Alva Crowe plays a flute made of river cane for kindergarten students on a field trip to the Trail of Tears.

The youngsters' visit coincided with their lesson about Native Americans, and how they shared with white settlers almost four centuries ago to begin this nation's tradition of Thanksgiving.

While history of the Trail of Tears receives much less attention than the Thanksgiving story, a bill recently approved by Congress is aimed at changing that.

Crowe -- wearing a shirt with tassels, jeans and moccasins -- holds up animal furs and tells the youngsters about hunting, at one point lifting a hollow cane tube to his lips and blowing a feathered dart through it and into a wall target. That gets applause from the children and their parents.

Cleata Townsend, also a Cherokee descendant, works with Crowe at the Chattanooga Audubon Society's Audubon Acres, an official stop on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which winds through nine states. She said the visiting youngsters "don't have a clue" about the forced removal of a civilization in the late 1830s.

"They all think we lived in tepees. That's the one thing they see in movies," Townsend said as she led students along a creekside trail, pointing to trees and describing how they can be used to make canoes and medicines. "The parents are not any better, and you would think they would be."

A bill approved by Congress calls for a federal study to better define the routes taken when more than 15,000 members of the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes were forced from their homes in 1838 to make way for white settlement. Untold hundreds and perhaps thousands of Native Americans died during the removal to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.

The visiting children's teacher, Erin Kelly, described the field trip as part of a "unit study on Native Americans, and a little bit of their heritage and how that impacted Thanksgiving."

The Trail of Tears dates to 1830 -- 210 years after the first Thanksgiving -- when Congress approved a plan submitted by President Andrew Jackson to remove the tribes from the Southeast. Davy Crockett, like Jackson a Tennessean, was the only congressman from the state to oppose the plan.

Townsend said that Cherokees at the time of the forced removal were very established and "may have lived in better houses" than those of white settlers.

"We may have been having dinner and soldiers came to our door and took us at gunpoint," she said.

The National Park Service oversees the Trail of Tears. According to a park service handout, "families were separated -- the elderly and ill forced out at gunpoint -- people given only moments to collect cherished possessions. White looters followed, ransacking homes as Cherokees were led away."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company