Driving the Trail of Tears
Continuing west across the Mississippi River on Highway 146, you'll discover the Trail of Tears State Park in Missouri. This 3,400-acre park preserves the original ferry site across the Mississippi and part of the original road used by the Cherokee. One group of exiles included the Reverend Jesse Bushyhead and his sister Nancy. This group reached the Mississippi River here in midwinter and ice delayed the river crossing. Nancy died following the crossing and a monument in the park marks the site of her grave. The park is characterized by commanding 600-foot bluffs overlooking the river and the forests within the park remain much as they did during the time of the march. Camping and hiking trails are accessible.
In Missouri follow Missouri 72, U.S. 67, Highway 8, or I-44. All roads take you through the Mark Twain National Forest, a lovely winding meander through the hardwood forests of southern Missouri's Ozark Mountains. Near St. James, Missouri, is the Sneldon-Brinker House, a restored log house built in 1834. One of the Cherokee detachments camped and purchased corn here. Nearby is the restored county courthouse (built in 1835).
Take U.S. 60 out of Springfield to Missouri 37; as you approach the Arkansas border, you'll come near Roaring River State Park. Roaring River Spring pours out 20 million gallons a day, forming the headwaters of Roaring River. This 3,400-acre park offers hiking trails, camping, a swimming pool, rental cabins, horse rentals, and an inn with dining and lodging.
Continue south on U.S. 62 and U.S. 71 through Fayetteville to Fort Smith National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service. Established in 1817 at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, Fort Smith was a frontier outpost on the border of Indian territory for decades. The park includes the Barracks and Courthouse building, the site of the first fort, the Commissary Building, and the gallows. Retrace your route to Fayetteville and drive on U.S. 62 west into Oklahoma.
You'll end your drive of the Trail of Tears in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. This was the terminus of the trail and was established by the Cherokee as the capital seat of the Cherokee Nation, a distinction it retains to this day. Cherokee commissioners selected the location in 1839 and incorporated the town in 1843. There are many historic buildings here including the Cherokee Supreme Court Building, Cherokee National Capitol Building, Cherokee National Prison, and the second site of the Cherokee Female Seminary. Just south of Tahlequah is Park Hill, where many Cherokee lived. This area is rich in history and includes the Cherokee National Museum, the first site of the Cherokee Female Seminary, Ross Cemetery, where many Trail of Tears participants are buried, and the site of the Tsa La Gi Ancient Village, a living museum re-creating the Cherokee lifestyle.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication