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Last year two colorful red and yellow floral wreaths were ceremoniously placed on the Lincoln County Courthouse lawn in recognition of the upcoming 175th Anniversary of the Trail of Tears.
This year marks the actual 175th anniversary of that poignant period in history, which will be commemorated locally during the ninth annual re-enactment of the Bell’s Route Trail of Tears Walk on Saturday, Oct. 26.
A horse-drawn covered wagon with driver and Lt. Deas on horseback are among the re-enactors and descendents of Native Americans who will walk a portion of the Bell’s Route. The route is in the same proximity of the original path that was taken by the military and Cherokee they marched through Fayetteville and Lincoln County in late October 1838.
This flashback in history is free to the public, and as in past years, the walk will begin at the end of Adams Street in Fayetteville, with walkers gathering there at 9:30 a.m.
It begins at 10 a.m., and the procession will wind down Mulberry Avenue to the courthouse square.
Those who wish to actively participate in the program are urged to wear period clothing, but it’s not mandatory.
Women and girls may wear long skirts, long-sleeved blouses, shawls or blankets. Men and boys may wear jeans and long-sleeved shirts, worn outside of jeans, said Debbie Capino, organizer of the annual walk. Groups are welcome to join the experience. Additional information is available online at http://firstnationspeople.org/shattuck/renact.htm.
Walkers will join Living History on the Fayetteville Square in progress from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Members of the Sons of the Confederacy and other re-enactors will don early 19th century costumes.
There will be a Veterans Table, where veterans from all wars will be honored. Veterans are urged to attend and bring medals that they’ve earned during their service.
The walk solemnly commemorates the tragic Bell’s Route Trail of Tears when Cherokee people were displaced from their lands and farms in 1838.
Bell’s Route is one of 17 Cherokee Removal Routes. In 1838, the U.S. military and Georgia militia expelled an estimated 15,000-16,000 Cherokee people from the homelands and farms. Of those, approximately 3,000-4,000 died during the Trail of Tears routes.
Cherokee were driven from their homelands in present-day Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, western North Carolina, South Carolina, northern Georgia and northeastern Alabama. Then, they were herded into internment camps and moved by force to present-day Oklahoma.
The Cherokees had taken on some of the ways of white society. They built European-style homes and farmsteads, farmed, developed a written language, established a newspaper and wrote a constitution.
The Bell’s Detachment was one of the last groups to be removed and was conducted by Lt. Edward Deas and John A. Bell, a Cherokee for whom the Bell’s Route was named.
On Oct. 11, 1838, the Bell detachment left Fort Cass in Charleston, Tenn. Starting out, the official count on the Bell’s Route was 660 people, although some of Lt. Deas written memos stated there were between 650-700 people. The detachment stopped in Fayetteville for the purchase of corn, blankets, shoes, flour, cornmeal and fodder for horses.
Between Charleston and Arkansas, Benjamin Ragsdale was paid $3 each for building 23 coffins and for burial services of those who died along the Bell’s Route.
But, the Native Americans were not the only victims of cruel and racist policies. One obscure chapter in the Trail of Tears was that not only were Cherokees expelled from their homeland, but also slaves of Cherokees who walked hundreds of miles along with their Indian owners. Cherokees of African American descent were also rousted from their land.
Enslaved blacks labored for Cherokees along the way, hunting, chopping wood, nursing the sick, washing clothes, preparing meals, guarding the camps at night and removing obstructions or wild animals from the roads. An unaccounted number of slaves died along the Trail of Tears route, as well as the Cherokee.