“THE TRAIL WHERE THEY CRIED”
by Jack Reeves
“The first people to inhabit what is now Bucksnort came from the Great Lakes region, some 4,000 years ago. They’re called Woodland Indians.
“For some three thousand years, to around A.D. 1000, these ‘mound builders’ dominated, until around 1600 of the Common Era. Their tenure collapsed 100 years after Europeans arrived.
“From 1600, the inhabitants of the Oconee plain were Creek Indians, who in 1755 were driven out by the Cherokees. Oconee is Creek for ‘spring of the hills.’”
“One hundred and sixty-six years ago our forebears rounded up these families--from this land, their land--and drove them like livestock some 1,000 miles to what is now Oklahoma, called Indian Territory.”
Thus began Rev. Harmon Fletcher’s sermon at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
“It became known as the Trail of Tears, or as literally translated from Cherokee, ‘the trail where they cried.’
“We hear a lot about passion these days. Let me guide your minds and hearts to a related word: compassion--sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress.
“The Cherokee who lived here had adopted our ways. They dressed like whites, they grew crops and fruit, lived in cabins, raised livestock, built churches, prayed to the same God.
“Yet because of our ancestors’ desire for land--and gold found in Georgia--an act of Congress and a sham treaty of cession, the latter signed in this state, were used to justify removal. Ruthless removal.
“In May 1838 the roundup began. Families were separated--the elderly and ill forced out at gunpoint--people given only moments to collect cherished possessions. Looters followed, ransacking homesteads as the victims were led to stockades in preparation for the harrowing drive.
“Some 17,000 Cherokees--men, women, children, old and young--were herded into these prisons. Crowding, poor sanitation, and drought made them miserable. Many died.
“A private in the U.S. Army, John Burnett, described it: ‘I saw the...Cherokees...dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades.... I saw them loaded like cattle...into wagons.... Many of them had been driven from home barefooted.’
“By March 1839, all survivors had arrived in the west. No one knows how many died throughout the ordeal, but the trip was especially hard on infants, children, and the elderly. Missionary doctor Elizur Butler, who accompanied the Cherokees, estimated that over 4,000 died--nearly a fifth of the Cherokee population.
“Remember, these souls had become acculturated to our lifestyle!
“I conclude with a recollection of a survivor: ‘Long time we travel on way to new land. People feel bad when they leave Old Nation. Womens cry and make sad wails. Children cry and many men cry...but they say nothing and just put heads down and keep on going towards West. Many days pass and people die very much.’
“I cannot look upon this land, this community without visualizing these deeds. They burn in my mind. You and I live on the ‘trail where they cried.’ We ought to weep, too.”