At a recent address in California, our Principal Chief Chad Corntassel Smith made
reference to what he called a “Second trail of Tears.” I questioned him afterwards as
to the meaning of his phrase. He commented briefly that the Cherokee population of
Oklahoma decreased by 20,000 during the Dust Bowl years and the Cherokee
population of California increased by 10,000 during the same time. Those 10,000
California migrants, having moved because of economic reasons have lost a
connection to the tribe and he is taking steps to rejoin and connect them to their
heritage. Further questioning of Jack Baker and Julia Coates revealed that in addition
to those Dust Bowl Cherokees, thousands of the remaining Cherokees traveled to the
West Coast during the war and took jobs in the shipbuilding industry for the war
effort. Very few ever returned to Oklahoma.

Documentation as migrants exists but because of assimilation into the white man’s
society, not much of the documentation ties this to the Cherokee. By the 1930’s and 40’
s, these Cherokee descendants dressed in common farm cloths of the period and did
not appear to be Native American. Had they chosen to dress like the Hollywood
Indians like a few other tribes had done, the documentation of the trek would have
been easier.

We, as descendants of these dust bowl and war migrants have the task now to gather
all the information we can collect, and piece it together into some form of credible
history. Most of us have tiny bits of memorabilia hidden away in old scrapbooks,
diaries, or even the stories of our few remaining elders. Additionally, we have
something no other information seekers have ever had. We have the Internet and
other similar Cherokee Communities all across California as allies in this task.

Rick Westbrook

Throughout the early part of the 19th century, the old trail along the Front Range of
the Colorado Rockies served as the main connecting link between the Arkansas and
Platte river systems. Though now commonly referred to as the Cherokee trail, it was -
throughout its long history - a trail of many names.

The trail began, no doubt, as an extension of the old Ute Trail, which came out of
South Park and around Pikes Pike to the mineral springs of present Manitou. Over the
centuries this pre-Columban Indian trail seems to have been extended southward
along the east side of Fountain Creek, all the way to a favorite campsite on the
Arkansas River in present downtown Pueblo.

By the time of the first Spanish military expeditions to the Arkansas River - in 1706,
and again in 1719 - this portion of the trail was being referred to as "the lodgepole
trail of our enemies." A century later, members of the Long Scientific Expedition
described it as "a large and much frequented road." About the same time, trader
Jacob Fowler gave it the first of its many names. The "Great Ware (War) Road," he
called it, in obvious reference the unending series of war parties that followed it past
his makeshift cabin on the Arkansas River.

More obscure are the origins of the northern section of the trail - from where it left
Fountain Creek and climbed the divide to its crossing of the South Platte River. It too
seems to have begun as an Indian trail, used by the northern Crows on their
horse-stealing forays into the Commanche grasslands, used also by both the
Mountain Utes and the Plains Indians on their incessant raids into each others'
By the mid-1830's this old trail had become rutted and scarred by the iron-clad wheels
of trading wagons. Subsequent to the 1834 construction of Fort Laramie in present
eastern Wyoming, a trading route was established between it and Taos in Mexican
territory. This became known as the Taos (or Trappers) Trail, and it incorporated along
its way the old Indian trail over the Platte-Arkansas divide. A year later, the first of
four more trading posts were established on the South Platte River below modern
Denver, and at least twice a year into the 1840's the Indian traders took their wagons
across the divide trail, then along the Arkansas River Road to a meeting with the
Santa Fe Trail near Bents Fort.

By the time of the California Gold Rush the divide trail was already serving as the
great Front Range connecting link betwen the Santa Fe Trail to the south and the
Oregon Trail to the north. With the rush of gold seekers west, it became known as the
California Road, the Arkansas Emigrant Trail, and - after the passage of two bands of
Cherokee Indians in 1849 & 50 - as the Cherokee Trail.

This divide (or Cherokee) trail was never primarily an emigrant route like the Oregon
Trail, nor primarily a route of commerce like the Santa Fe Trail. Instead it always
remained primarily the trail of the adventurer: of the nomadic Indian, the Spanish
soldier, the Rocky Mountain fur trapper, the Indian trader, the explorer, the dragoon
from Fort Leavenworth, and the gold seeker. It is the stories of these adventurers
that need to be told, using their own words to best describe their experiences as
they followed the old trail across the Platte-Arkansas divide.

The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in modern-day Pueblo was
a favorite winter campground of the western Indians. It was used not only by the
Mountain Utes, but also by the nomadic tribes of the plains - first by the Apache, then
by the Comanchee, and finally by the Kiowa, the Pawnee, the Arapahoe and the

With the arrival of American explorers, traders and trappers in the early 19th century,
the old Indian campground became the site of several temporary structures: the 1806
breastwork of Zebulon Pike, the 1820 cabin of Jacob Fowler, the log trading posts of
three competing trading houses, the adobe Pueblo of independant traders, the
cottonwood cabins of Mormontown, and the gold rush town of Fountain City.
The Cherokee people were once a great tribe living in and around in the Smokey
Mountain area. They were probably the most civilized tribe in America with
established churches and fine schools that compared with any other school at that
time. They are credited with an independent development of the log cabin. The
Cherokees had their own recorded code of tribal laws with elected officials to
govern them. They adopted the white man’s ways and Christianity, were skilled at
farming and raising cattle. Some even owned slaves like their white neighbors.

President Andrew Jackson ordered and gave his full support to the removal of the
Cherokees from their land. An armed force of 7,000 made up of militia, regular army,
and volunteers under General Winfield Scott forced the remaining 15,000
Cherokees from their homes in the Smokey Mountains and removed them to
stockades at the U.S. Indian Agency near Charleston, Tennessee. Their homes were
burned and their property plundered. Farms belonging to the Cherokees for
generations were awarded to white settlers in a lottery.

The march of up to 1,200 miles along one of three routes began in the winter of
1838. Carrying only a few light blankets and wearing light clothing with daily rations
of only salt pork and corn meal, many became sick and died along the way. Medical
care was nearly non-existent. Only the very old, sick, and small children could be
carried in wagons or ride on horseback. Over 8,000 were on foot, most without
shoes or moccasins. They crossed Tennessee and Kentucky, about the 3rd of
December, 1838, they arrived in Southern Illinois at Golconda.
To reach Golconda from Kentucky, the Cherokee had to cross the Ohio River.

They were forced to pay $1 a head for a ferry passage on “Berry’s Ferry” operating
out of Golconda.  “Berry’s Ferry” made over $10,000 that winter out of the pockets
of the starving Cherokees. They were not allowed passage until the ferry had
serviced all others wishing to cross and were forced to take shelter under “Mantle
Rock,” a shelter bluff on the Kentucky side, until “Berry had nothing better to do”.
Many died huddled together at Mantle Rock waiting to cross.

Many diseases spread among the tribe during their journey – cholera, whooping
cough, and small pox. The Cherokee were given used blankets from a hospital in
Tennessee where an epidemic of small pox had broken out. Because of the
diseases, the Indians were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the

The Cherokee marched on through Southern Illinois. Their trail is marked by crude
camps from Golconda through Dixon Springs, Wartrace, Vienna, Mt. Pleasant, and
Jonesboro to the Dutch Creek Crossing. About December 15, 1838, they were
forced to spend the winter in the area of what is now the Trail of Tears State Forest.
Floating ice on the Mississippi River made it impossible to cross. Many died there
during the long, cold winter. Some were sold into slavery and a few escaped.

Those who were able to escape the march hid in the hills. Some eventually returned
to their land in the Smoky Mountains and their descendents live to this day in and
around Cherokee, North Carolina. An estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Cherokee Indians
died that winter along with the pride of a nation that may never be restored.

The Trail of Tears is generally considered to be one of the most regrettable
episodes in American History. To commemorate the event, the United States
Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in 1987. It stretches
for 2,200 miles across nine states.