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Bussing Across Route 146—a Designated Historic Highway

Early this morning, we woke and headed down the verdant hills and hollows of Southern Illinois to Golconda.  There we met the motor coach filled with Illinois residents, who were returning from traveling through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and back again to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Some climbed the bank to the top of the Ohio River to see where the Berry Ferry (a steam-driven marvel in its day) brought the approximate 11,000 Cherokee into our state.  They visited beside the Buell House, preserved by the Pope County Historical Society.  They heard the story of the housewife suddenly frightened by non-English speaking Indians drawn to her kitchen by the smell of pumpkin cooking.  Recognizing their extreme hunger, Mrs. Buell shared what she had and at least that small group received a bit of necessary nourishment. Our group arrived well fed and looking rested for this final lap of their journey.  They were still in high spirits from hearing last night’s presentation and beautiful singing of Marlene Rivero, one of our area’s most talented story tellers.  There were many joking comments about the piece of pottery each one had created when they visited the Eastern Cherokee tribe in North Carolina, had lunch there with the elders, and attended the famous outdoor theater production Unto These Hills. In contrast, by the time the marching Indians reached Illinois, they were exhausted, seriously malnourished, and inadequately clothed.  Backed up river to river and unable to cross into Missouri because of the ice floes on the Mississippi, food was scarce and the Cherokee hunting parties had to go further and further to find any wild game to supplement the scant rations provided.  It had turned bitter cold unlike the previous winter when B.B. Cannon guided the soldier-led Treaty Party Cherokee across our 60 plus miles in eight days.  But fewer than 500 in Cannon’s group made that an easy party to supply.  Coming from Southern states, these 11,000 people had never experienced a climate so cold.  For that matter, many of the settlers here had not either.  That winter was breaking records for bad weather.  Telling Gerald goodbye with thanks for delivering me to Golconda, I climbed aboard the comfortable Presley Tours coach with my friend the tour director Marilyn Schild.  As we traveled the designated Historic Highway Route 146, with a hand-held microphone, I was able to share some of the many stories about the trek across our state 170 years ago.  Out Illinois Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association is collecting stories of the descendants who dropped off the Trail here.  Perhaps I should say who were dropped off.  To save the life of her baby, some Cherokee mothers had to leave a beloved babe behind with kind whites.  Others were not so fortunate and they left behind the frail bodies of their infants or elderly who died here.  (More probably died during the extreme privation here than any other place on the Trail.) Many of the detachment leaders were the highly educated products of the mission schools.  Among the ministers who led detachments as conductors or semi-conductors were native preachers Rev. Stephen Foreman and Rev. Jesse Bushyhead, and white missionary Rev. Evan Jones, who assisted Situwakee (one of the ways to spell his name) and translated for him.  Much of what we know about the 1838-39 Removal is because of the journal of white missionary Rev. Daniel Butrick, who with his wife voluntarily traveled in a carry-all and ministered with the Richard Taylor detachment.   Although the majority of the Cherokee were not Christians, a sizeable minority were.  The detachments with Christian leadership refrained from traveling on Sunday, held services wherever possible, and comforted their fellow travelers.  They tried to discourage the pitfalls offered by greedy whites pushing firewater and gambling upon these depressed and desperate people.  As we stopped at Camp Ground Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a certified site, we stood in the cemetery where kind George Hileman allowed the Cherokee to camp and to bury their dead. The church was not yet established on this traditional camping ground that natives and settlers had long used because of the springs of good water.  But the Hilemans had buried two of their small children on their farm and allowed the Cherokee to do the same.  Here on the cemetery lawn we sang “Amazing Grave,” a favorite Cherokee hymn while some of Mr. Hileman’s descendants worshiped at the services inside the church house.      I am indeed amazed at the enormous faith and grace that allowed these early Christians to start each day with prayer and then see each day bring more misery. Yet their message of hope and gratitude for each day’s survival was enormously sustaining, and their congregations were quick to build church houses and schools once they arrived in Indian Territory despite the continued harsh conditions there.   After returning to the motor coach, we went back down the lane to 146 and around the corner to drive up Interstate 57 which crosses the early road the Cherokees marched upon. Turning off at Makanda, the home of the late Senator Paul.Simon, we had to smile at the water tower with the smiley face and bow tie that Wayman Presley had added in Simon’s honor.  Driving through the winding roads overhung with thick trees and sometimes walls of rock on the side, we entered Giant City Park and completed the final lap of this Presley Tour. Gerald met the group there at the Lodge for the bountiful fried chicken lunch with fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert. In the short time we were able to mingle with these travelers, we met numerous people with common interests and some with ties to area friends and relatives. After lunch, we were reluctant to say goodbye.   

We drove on down to drop off a high school reunion photo for a friend near Cobden.  Then being in the neighborhood, we couldn’t resist stopping for a visit with Gerald’s brother Keith and wife Barbara at their farm before returning to Woodsong.