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Traveling The Trail Of Tears

Posted in Events on November 1, 2012
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The “trail where they cried” is spelled in Cherokee as “Nunahi-duna-dlo-hilu-i.” It is better known in history books as the Trail of Tears. Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States in 1828. He said, “…No state could achieve proper culture, civilization, and progress, as long as Indians remained within its boundaries.” His plan involved the removal of all Indians from the eastern United States. He suggested relocating them west of the Mississippi River on lands that were recently acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 put his plan in motion.

The Cherokee Indians were a modernized tribe even by Euro-American standards of that era. They had their own alphabet, their own schools, their own form of government, and even their own constitution. Most of them lived in houses on farms and villages. They lost it all through no fault of their own.

We now consider such actions to be barbaric, but in those days it was no more uncommon than sailing across the ocean in search of something to conquer. Spain took over Mexico, the Soviet Union took over my ancestor’s country of Lithuania, and Great Britain took over Australia. The British took the 13 colonies from the Indians. The founders of this country took it from the British. To their way of thinking, the Indians had no claim to it.

During a recent visit to the Heck family farm in Illinois, Lone Writer took some time to explore a part of the Trail of Tears. He met with Joe Crabb, the vice president of the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. A part of the trail can still be found on the farm owned by Joe and his family.

During the winter of 1838, approximately 11,000 Cherokees marched down Main Street in Golconda after crossing the Ohio River on the Lusk Ferry. Some of the existing buildings date back to that time in history.

The history of the route across Illinois that became part of the Trail of Tears began in 1796. Major James Lusk led a group of people from South Carolina across Kentucky to settle on the banks of the Ohio River. At that time, Illinois was part of lands designated as Indiana Territory. It was the wild-west frontier. There were no roads or settlements between the Ohio River and the Mississippi River across that part of Illinois.

The following year, Lusk obtained a ferry license from Kentucky and began operations across the Ohio River. In 1798, he decided to base the ferry on the Illinois side of the river. He built a ferry house near the point where the town of Golconda, Illinois, is now located. In doing so, Major James Lusk and his family became the first settlers in Illinois between Golconda and Kaskaskia.

With completion of the ferry, explorers and travelers could easily get wagons and supplies across the Ohio River but that was the end of the road. To solve that problem Major Lusk obtained a permit to build a road six feet wide across the state from Golconda to Green’s Ferry on the Mississippi River. He finished that task before he died in 1803.

The Buel family moved to Golconda in 1836. They told the story of providing pumpkins to a Cherokee family. The cabin behind their home was moved to the site recently. Both buildings are in bad shape and the state says it has no money to make the repairs.

Fifteen years later, Illinois became a state. Twenty years after that, Lusk’s Ferry Road became known to the Cherokee as the Illinois section of, “The Trail Where They Cried.” Chief John Ross did everything he could politically including challenging the Removal Act in the Supreme Court. Once Chief Ross accepted that nothing could be done to stop the removal, he asked to be put in charge.

There were some groups of Cherokees that left ahead of the main group but Ross still had 11,804 people to move. That may not be an exact number but it was the count he recorded when he split them into 12 groups. He assigned Cherokee leaders with the title of conductor to each group. Each group also had a physician, interpreter, manager, wagon masters, and those in charge of the commissary. One reference claimed they had 645 wagon teams and 5,000 riding horses divided between the 12 groups. It claimed that 8,000 people had to walk the entire distance. Hundreds of them died along the way.

PhotosView Slideshow

Group number 11, with Richard Taylor as Conductor, began the journey on November 6. Within that group was a Chaplain by the name of Rev. Daniel S. Butrick. Thanks to a journal he maintained, we know a little about the journey for this one group. The group began the journey with 897 persons and arrived in Oklahoma with 942. They buried 55 people along the way and 15 babies were born. The additional people at the end of the trip were picked up along the way. Most had dropped out of previous groups due to illness.

Much of the same road that was used by the Cherokee is used today by farmers to access their homes and fields.

On December 15, 1838, Daniel S. Butrick arrived at the ferry on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. He was among the first to cross the river. There were riverboat-stores docked below the town of Golconda with supplies for sale. Being a Chaplain, Butrick took offense at the vulgarity of the language common on the boats and in the town.

It took two days to get all of Group 11 across the river. Butrick said his half of the group had a difficult time finding a place where they were allowed to camp. He did not say how far they traveled before stopping but they stayed in that area for the next two days. Lone Writer guesses that first camp might have been somewhere between Miller Creek and Homberg Road.

Much of the same road that was used by the Cherokee is used today by farmers to access their homes and fields.

On December 19, they moved six miles farther and stayed for a week waiting for some stragglers to catch up. Using today’s maps, it might be a good guess to put that camp somewhere near a small creek called Root Lick Branch.

On December 21, the group moved another six miles, which would have put them near the border for current day Pope County or maybe even on Joe Crabb’s farm. They stayed in that camp until Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, they had traveled approximately 350 miles since leaving the stockade in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were about half way to their destination in Oklahoma.

Joe Crabb is the vice president of the Illinois chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. To get access to the trail on his farm, call (618) 949-3355. To download maps for the trail, visit

The Trail of Tears has become the term applied to all the routes used in removing the Indians to Oklahoma. The one that crosses Illinois is known as the Northern Route. Except for some parts in this story, most of the route across the six states follows paved highways. For more information; visit


We thank the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association for their assistance. We thank Joe Crabb for his guided tour. Other parts of the story came from the National Parks website and numerous other websites. To become a member of the Trail of Tears Association, visit

Tires are provided by BFGoodrich. GPS and mapping software is provided by DeLorme. To download maps for the trail, visit or email

PhotosView Slideshow

Navigation: GPS Positions
Latitude Longitude Comments
37 21.8923 88 32.2547 Highway 146 connects to a road that provides access to the Trail.
37 20.8810 88 33.8893 At this point the trail crosses the Wagner Farm. Access to the trail can be obtained by calling (618) 683-6211.
37 21.8173 88 38.1287 In 1838, a farmhouse stood beside this creek called Root Lick Branch. Theopholis Scott was a young boy at the time. His story has passed down through generations telling how he stood on the porch and watched Cherokee people pass by his home day after day for weeks.
37 22.0458 88 38.8484 Another family story has passed down through generations at this location. This one relates John Farmer watching the Cherokee pass by his home day after day for weeks.
37 22.1206 88 42.3787 To get access to the trail across the Crabb Abbott Farm, call (618) 949-3355.

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