In Missouri, the evacuation followed three separate routes — the Northern Route, which goes through Waynesville; the Hildebrand Route, which broke off from the Northern Group and swung south near Houston, and the Benge detachment that went even farther south.

During the fall of 1837 and the winter of 1838-39, thousands of Cherokee Indians traveled across southern Missouri in a forced march under the supervision of the U.S. Army. The purpose: to free Cherokee property for white settlement.

This fascinating bit of history involved the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. For that reason, the Trail of Tears is considered by some as holy ground, as much a cemetery as a National Historic Trail.

In 1987, the federal government designated The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail to commemorate this removal of these people from their homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. Today, not only the National Park Service but a number of local and state organizations seek to commemorate and/or follow the path of the Cherokee removal.

In Missouri, the evacuation followed three separate routes — the Northern Route, which goes through Waynesville; the Hildebrand Route, which broke off from the Northern Group and swung south near Houston, and the Benge detachment that went even farther south. 

Northern and Hildebrand Routes

Those on the Northern Route proceeded from Jackson via Farmington, Potosi, St. James, Rolla, Waynesville, Springfield, Cassville and into Arkansas.

Cherokee Peter Hildebrand Route led a detachment farther south, beginning west in Pilot Knob just north of Ironton. Hildebrand headed west on the ridge roads fording the Big Piney River at Boiling Springs in Texas County. The Hildebrand Detachment met the Northern Route (the St. Louis and Springfield Road) in the Kickapoo Prairie at Strafford near the Exotic Animal Paradise in Webster County. 

Five years ago, to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Cherokee removal, there was a public unveiling of 31 miles of official National Historic Trail signs in Reynolds County that follow a portion of the historic route led by Peter Hildebrand.

Benge Route

Another Cherokee leader was John Benge. He led 1,200 people from Fort Payne, Ala., across the Mississippi near Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff and on to Ripley County, fording the Current River into Arkansas. 

Eventually all the groups ended in Indian Territory, with the Cherokee population settling around what is now Tahlequah, in northeastern Oklahoma.

Where: Jackson

Distance from the Lake: 4 hours, 5 minutes

Where to find the trail in Missouri:

• Trail of Tears State Park, Jackson

• Snelson-Brinker House, Steelville

• Maramec Spring, St. James

• Signs on park route segments

• Rubidoux Spring, Waynesville Laughlin Park

• Greene County Trail Segments: former railroad right-of-way near S. Golden Avenue and W. Republic Road, Springfield vicinity. One mile of marked gravel paths with development continuing.

• Bell Tavern campsite. Outside south boundary of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

• Mark Twain National Forest. Portions of all three routes, with wayside exhibits.

• Star City Ranch, 8 miles NE of Cassville. Route marker.

• Stone County Historical and Genealogical Society Museum: Crane. (see Facebook page)