Do you ever think about the Trail of Tears? 16,000 Cherokee were forced out of their homes, into make-shift camps, and then trekked across the country about this time of year. 4,000 died. 4,000 people!
I have been obsessed with learning more about the Trail of Tears. I’ve been reading books, watching documentaries, teaching my children…and in January we visited New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun.
I believe that a family can get a lot from this experience without all the preliminary footwork that I did, but I think our 7-year-old had a better respect for what we were seeing after hearing the story from me a few times before our visit.
Why New Echota is Important
In case you are not familiar with this infamous historical event, let me tell you a tad about how New Echota figures into the account. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation. It is where the major government buildings resided, similar to our House and Senate, and Supreme Court.
New Echota is also home to the first Cherokee newspaper (The Phoenix) and printing press. This was the first time that Indians could write down their cultural stories, and also their opinions about treatment from the US during that time.
It was home to Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokee. In fact, his actual home- the one he built- still stands at New Echota. Aside from helping establish the newspaper, he was a hero in the Trail of Tears story.
Worcester was arrested and convicted by the US of living on Cherokee land without a license. He appealed to the US Supreme Court, who favored Worcester, saying that the Cherokee Nation was a sovereign nation and he did not have to pay money to the US for living in another country.
Had President Andrew Jackson or the Governor of Georgia honored the Supreme Court’s decision, the Trail of Tears may never have happened. But, with no TV crew or social media alerting everyone to their atrocities, Jackson ignored Justice Marshall and pushed on with efforts to procure the land.
New Echota was also home to Elias Boudinot, who worked with Worcester on the newspaper. Boudinot also partnered with General Ridge and his son to draft the New Echota Treaty (albeit against the wishes of the Cherokee Nation) to sell Cherokee lands to America, thus leading to the Indian Removal Act.
I couldn’t help but have a little angst in my heart for these men who “gave in” and gave away their land, but I recently read an account by Daniel Blake Smith that suggests these men were true Cherokee patriots, choosing the livelihood of their people over the security of the land. I’m not sure; but I think John Ross would disagree.
Curiosity > Fear
One final note that I read in a book by John Ehle (a GREAT account of the Trail of Tears’ history) that is not related to New Echota directly, but that captivates me none the less: In 1838, when the removal process began, command was first given to General John Ellis Wool. He did not go through with his orders, but resigned.
“Convinced that the treaty was neither moral nor legal, Wool asked to be relived of his command, a practically unheard of act by a commanding officer.” He was immediately replaced by General Winfield Scott, who bears the scar of Indian removal in the Southeast.
General Wool gives me hope. And his actions- imagine how difficult it must have been- are why we take our kids to New Echota…to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial…to new cities, with people who look different than we do. It is why we embrace the mantra, “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”
Here are five things we loved at New Echota
1. Take in the 17-minute movie at the Interpretive Center. While I do suggest talking with your kiddos about the Trail of Tears before you head out, this is a great reminder for them and might close up any lose ends.
2. Tour the museum at the Interpretive Center. It’s not too large so won’t take much time, but it offers some interesting photos and background. My boys LOVED the machine in the back that taught them English words in Cherokee.
3. Tour of the grounds, which will take the bulk of your time. We saw a middle-class farm and a typical dwelling, a tavern/market, the printing press and much more. We loved seeing Worcester’s home, which he built himself, though it looks like a modern 21st century dwelling.
4. We weren’t able to hike the New Town Nature Trails when we visited (though we can’t wait to return!) These trails are not long and lead to a beaver pond. You can hike here at any time, but a guided hike here is part of the 2016 Hidden Gem events throughout the park system.
5. As we were leaving, the Rangers were setting up for archery. This is just one of many events regularly held at New Echota. Some exciting upcoming events include brewing hard cider, using a compass, how to make honey, imagination playgrounds, and more.
Additional Trail of Tears Sites in Georgia
Chief Vann House State Historic Site, Chatsworth
The Vann House was the first brick home in the Cherokee Nation, built in 1804 by the wealthiest gentleman at that time. It was built by James Vann, who passed it to his son Joseph after his death. Joseph and his family were forcibly removed in 1835 due to the Indian Removal Act.
The home is now managed by Georgia State Parks. It survives as Georgia’s best-preserved historic Cherokee Indian home. A guided tour allows visitors to see the house which features beautiful hand carvings, a remarkable “floating” staircase, a 12-foot mantle and fine antiques. Visitors may also enjoy the nature trail, see a movie about the property or enjoy a picnic.
Major Ridge was a primary contributor to the crafting of the New Echota Treaty which sold Cherokee land to America in exchange for land in Oklahoma, and led to the Indian Removal Act. He, along with his son John and his nephew Elias Boudinot, believed that preserving the Cherokee people was more important than preserving the land. In defiance of the Cherokee majority, they wrote the infamous treaty, and paid the cost with their lives. The museum includes Major Ridge’s home, excavations and a ferry site.
Funk Heritage Center, Waleska
Learn more about Southeast Indians at the Funk Heritage Center. See a large collection of artifacts representing the American Indian cultures that preceded the European arrival in the Southeast, watch a film about native people, and walk The Hall of the Ancients, offering detailed historical information about the Indians and early settlers over a 12,000 year period. There is also an Appalachian Settlement for view, with cabins and a blacksmith shop, as well as a nature walk.
In 2013, the National Park Service Trail of Tears designated the museum as a certified interpretive center on its official Georgia Trail of Tears.
John Ross House, Rossville
John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, was born of the daughter of a Scottish trader and a Cherokee woman. He moved in with these grandparents at 18, when his mother passed. The home served as post office, country store, schoolhouse, and council room during the period that Ross lived in it. While he sold it to a relative in 1827, it became known as the Ross House.
You can see the house at Andrews Street and East Lake Avenue, just south of US Highway 27 =, in Walker County. The house and grounds include interpretive information about Ross, his home, and the Indian removal era.
Vann Cherokee Cabin, Cave Spring
This log cabin being restored by the Cave Spring Historical Society is most likely a Cherokee Cabin, and probably that of David Vann and his family. David Vann was the Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation.
You’ve heard of Ridge Ferry Park in Rome? From here, you can access the original surviving portion of what was once a road between the Ross and Ridge homes. The 3-mile path between the homes is now paved and part of Rome’s Heritage Trail System. Ross’s farm is now gone, but stood at the head of the Coosa River.
Cedar Town Cherokee Removal Camp, Cedartown
Big Spring Park sits at Biggers Drive and North Furnace Street, where once one of several camps were built to hold Cherokee Indians in transition to large camps in Tennessee. The camp, which was an ad hoc military installation, was active during the late spring and early summer of 1838.
Cherokee Garden at Green Meadows, Powder Springs
The Trail of Tears made no stops in Powder Springs, but the Georgia Native Plant Society recognizes the importance of what we learned from the Cherokee, and have built a Cherokee Garden at Green Meadows. Over 600 native plants were used for medicine, food, weapons, crafts, lodging, canoes, and basketry. The site is maintained as an environmentally correct demonstration garden showcasing the significance of these native plants. All plants are labeled with common name, botanical name and Cherokee usage.