I suppose I might never have heard of the Trail of Tears were it not for picking up a book of fiction that is set during that time and place 183 years ago. It is a shocking story of the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands during the Jackson administration which resulted in the death of thousands of native people. Among the many tribes that removed were: the Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasdaw, Creek, Seminole, and Yuchi.
The Cherokee tell the story of the removal and commemorate the tenacious spirit and resistance to oppression by their ancestors. Perhaps one of the best examples of commemoration east of the Mississippi can be found just off the Natchez Trace near Florence, Alabama. Mr. Tom Hendrix, the great-great grandson of a tenacious Yuchi resister, Te-lah-nay, honored her tenacity and resistance by building a walled path that is called "Wichahpi."
Te-lah-nay was a young teenager when she was rounded up – along with the rest of her people – in the Muscle Shoals area by the U.S. Army and eventually forced to walk to the place now called Talequah in Oklahoma. She didn't like it and determined to go back home. The elders told her what dangers she might face and how to avoid and survive them. When she was ready she began the long trek back to her homeland. It took her two years, but she made it and was able to continue her life in peace.
People from all over the world have been inspired by her journey. Moved by her brave spirit, they go to the wall and add stones to it to honor her memory and the memory of all those who perished on the march. Often, Native Americans bring a traditional offering of corn or tobacco and tie cloth prayer strips to the tree branches.
A drive down the Natchez Trace to mile marker 338 affords a close-up view of the wall. If you go, don't forget to take a stone to add to the wall in memory of Te-la-nay. Learn more about the wall by visiting the webpage. For further exploration of the subject, a drive to Pulaski, Tennessee – through which both the Bell and Benge routes of the removal passed – will take you to the Trail of Tears Interpretive Center.
Children who wish to learn more will find resources published just for them in Nashville Public Library's catalog. Here are a few of the many titles in our collection for you and your children to explore.