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Traveling The Trail Of Tears

Jeep Grand Cherokee
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted November 1, 2012


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.

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.


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