This photo was taken in 1976 by Missourian photographer Fred Lynch. It was published in the newspaper's Bicentennial Edition on July 4 of that year. The image shows the approximate location of the Moccasin Springs crossing used by some of the Cherokee Indians who crossed the Mississippi River in 1838 -- 175 years ago -- on the Trail of Tears.
What follows is an article that appeared with the above photo
TRAIL OF TEARS MARKED DARK AMERICAN PASSAGE
This is a day of perspective, a day for celebrating the greatness of America's past and for evaluating its national future. The value of perspective, though, lies in the capacity to see the truth, and the truth is, America and Americans have often been wrong, cruelly and tragically wrong.
During the frozen winter of 1838-39, our area witnessed one of the blackest episodes in this nation's history, the removal of the Cherokee from their Allegheny mountain homes through Cape County, to a tract of land set aside for them in Oklahoma. This forced march, in which nearly one-fourth of the 17,000 Indians died trying to endure the great hardship of the trip, came to be called the Trail of Tears. The story both exemplifies the American Indian's fate at the hands of white civilization, and depicts the extremes to which our belief in manifest destiny was carried.
The need for protection from the encroachment of white settlers was signaled as early as 1785, when the United States entered into a treaty that brought the Cherokee under the protection of the U.S. and forbade intrusion into their boundaries. But this treaty, and a number that followed, had little effect.
Around 1818, a part of the Cherokee nation, wishing to retain their tribal customs and tired of the constant harrassments, traded their land for a place in northwest Arkansas where there was more game and fewer white men. These Indians came to be known as the West Cherokees.
The Cherokee who remained behind had expressed a desire to shoulder the burden of becoming "civilized," and to develop their education and to send their children to mission schools.
An Indian named Sequoyah was a member of this group. He could neither speak, read nor write English, but reconized the value of the white man's ability to communicate on paper. Over a span of 12 years, though much ridiculed by his tribesmen, he developed a system of 85 symbols that became the Cherokee alphabet. Soon the Cherokee were studying the Bible and had established the first national Indian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.
But the people who had inhabited this region hundreds of years before the coming of the white man were not to be spared. The worst thing that could happen for them, did. Gold was discovered within their boundaries, and the already strong agitation for their removal became overwhelming.
In 1835 the United States convinced a small minority of the Cherokee Nation to sign a treaty whereby they agreed to sell what was left of their territory and move to Oklahoma. The treaty was so unpopular with the Cherokee that the leaders of the group who signed it were soon murdered. About 15,000 signed petitions of protest, but Sequoyah's newspaper was seized for upholding the Cherokee claims. The treaty was confirmed, and after three years of resistance President Jackson ordered General Winfield Scott and an army of 2,000 to enforce the removal.
What ensued was unspeakable. The reluctant Indians were rounded up in pens along with whatever belongings they could carry. As they walked away they could look over their shoulders to see their homes in flames or being looted.
The following account, written by James Moody in a sketch for the Bureau of American Ethnology, perhaps describes the drama best:
"The soldiers had been ordered to approach each Cherokee home without warning. Some of the Cherokee families went peacably, stoically, resigned to their fate. One old man called his family about him and they all knelt and prayed, in Cherokee, then went with the soldiers. But all the tribesmen were not so submissive. One old man named Tsali (Charlie) was seized with his wife, his brother, his three sons and their families.
"Exasperated at the brutality accorded his wife, who, being unable to travel fast was prodded by bayonets to hasten her steps, he urged the other men to join with him in a dash for liberty. As he spoke in Cherokee, the soldiers, although they heard, understood nothing, until each warrior suddenly sprang upon the one nearest and endeavored to wrest his gun from him. The attack was so sudden and unexpected that one soldier was killed and the rest fled, while the Indians escaped into the mountains. Hundreds of others escaped from time to time and joined Charlie and his family. They hid in the mountains, living on herbs and berries until the search was ended. Some died of starvation. Finding further search useless, Gen. Scott sent word that if they would surrender Charlie and his party for punishment, the rest of the fugitives would be allowed to remain in the East until the government had time to adjust their cases.
"At this, Charlie, with his brother and two sons immediately came down from the mountains and offered themselves as a sacrifice for their people. They were shot to death, a band of Cherokee prisoners being forced to act as the firing squad. The other fugitives were permitted to remain and they founded the present Eastern Cherokee tribal branch.
"The stoical courage of Charlie was a common attribute of the Cherokees. Throughout the terrible ordeal of the 'Trail of Tears,' the white soldiers were impressed, sometimes in spite of themselves, with the bravery and patience of this long-suffering people."
The first group of 5,000 began its trek West in June, divided into detachments ranging between 800 and 1,000 each. They were plagued by drought and insufferable heat. The marches were begun before sunrise and ended at noon each day, but each day meant another four or five in each party would not reach their destination. When the first party of 875 reached the Cherokee homeland in August, more than 150 had died along the way and about that many had escaped, hoping to return to their mountain homes.
When word of the suffering that had been endured by the first group filtered back, the Cherokee, headed by John Ross, the principal chief, submitted a proposal to Gen. Scott that they be allowed to remove themselves. Scott agree, provided the removal would begin by Oct. 20.
Among these Indians who began the journey on Oct. 4, 1838, was an old chief named Junaluska, who had saved Andrew Jackson's life at Horshoe Bend. "As long as the sun shines, and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokees shall be toward the East," Jackson had promised him, and Jackson had lied.
The once-proud Cherokee plodded along, heads down, in rains and cold weather that turned the roads into swamps. They crossed the Ohio River and made there way through Southern Illinois to a point opposite Cape Girardeau.
They could not cross immediately because of large ice floes that were hazardous to the ferry boats. The sick and dying lay in the wagons and the others shivered on the frozen ground, waiting to make the passage.
It was accomplished a few days later, one division crossing at Moccasin Springs, at the present site of Trail of Tears State Park, and the other ferrying across at Cape Girardeau.
It was at Moccasin Springs that Otahki, the daughter of the Rev. Jesse Bushyhead, leader of the party, died. From the (Jackson) Cash book, from an item dated Aug. 2, 1875: "Thirty-six years ago, when the Cherokee Indians were passing on their way to their new home, they lost one of their fairest daughters near Moccasin Springs. She was buried on a beautiful knoll near the road one mile west of the landing, by her husband, Hilderbrand. She was a daughter of one of their favored ministers of the gospel, named Bushyhead. Her husband and father erected a nice tomb to mark the spot where the Cherokees' fairest daughter lay at rest. That sacred spot was reverenced by everyone. A few years ago a fire swept over the place and demolished the tomb and only left a few broken stones to mark her last resting place. Last week some evil disposed persons dug up her remains. It is supposed, by the citizens, that they expected to find some valuable jewels, as her father was very wealthy."
Others think Hilderbrand and his father-in-law returned for her remains sometime later and buried her in Oklahoma. Whatever happened, the grave, now well-marked and the most prominent site at Trail of Tears State Park, retains its symbolic impact.
The weary Cherokee continued their journey, passing through Jackson en route to Oklahoma. They reached their destination in March. More than 4,000 had died along the way.
Interestingly, what remains of the Cherokee Nation as a distinct unit now resides in North Carolina. These are the descendants of men and women who escaped from the march to return to their homeland, or those who simply refused to go and were spared by the sacrifice made by Charlie. Many of these people still carry on with their traditional way of life, while the Oklahoma Cherokee have been all but swallowed up in white civilization.
While other and weaker tribes were easily driven out by the white man, this most highly advanced tribe of Indians hung on -- perhaps too bravely -- to their land. Since they were first discovered by De Soto more than four centuries ago, it seems the Cherokees were fated to walk the Trail of Tears.
Several stories were printed in the Missourian in 1938 marking the centennial of the Trail of Tears. One dated Oct. 10 gives more details about the Indians' travels through Cape Girardeau County:
"According to the Jackson Advertiser (newspaper), about 14,000 of these Cherokees crossed the river at Moccasin Springs. Thomas Nichols and Jacob Littleton owned the horse ferry which transferred the Cherokees from the Illinois shore to Missouri. At the store of William Sheppard near the landing on the west bank, the Indians traded the coffee, issued to them by the government, for finery, hats and other things; then they would stand before the mirror, primping.
"It was not until February, 1839, that the last contingent passed through Jackson. Out of 16,000 who started on the long tour, at least 2,000 died on the way, and 71 children were born. Today, 100 years later, graves can still be found along the Greens Ferry Road...
"Among the known graves in Missouri is that of the daughter of Rev. Jessie Bushyhead, the wife of one Hilderbrand, who was buried on a beautiful knowl one mile west of the Moccasin Springs landing. In the year 1875 a fire destroyed the wooden structure erected over the grave by Bushyhead and Hilderbrand. After that some ghoul dug up the remains of this Indian woman, expecting to find valuables, as her father was very wealthy. On the old John McLain farmon Little Indian Creek, a number of graves were kept inviolate until the death of McLain, after which the graves were obliterated...
"At the time when the (Cherokees) passed through Cape County on the way to the prairies of the West, Cape Girardeau had just assumed a position of importance, when the great increase in the steamboat business on the Mississippi gave it a decided impetus or 'boom.' Its superior location soon made it the metropolis of Southeast Missouri and the shipping point for a part of Arkansas also. Merchandising had taken great strides forward. Cape Girardeau had become a trading point for a vast territory.
"Two reasons why the Indians did not cross the river at Cape Girardeau were the impregnable swamp on the Illinois side, and because the ferrymen at Cape Girardeau wanted too much money for transferring them across..."
In 1957 the state of Missouri accepted the land in east Cape Girardeau County that is now the Trail of Tears State Park. It is a fitting memorial to those Cherokee who suffered and died on the Trail of Tears.