- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ky. (AP) - Local historical and tourism organizations, along with state and national park representatives, participated in a recent ceremony at Columbus-Belmont State Park highlighting west Kentucky’s role in the historic Trail of Tears.

The ceremony was designed to honor the approximately 1,100 Cherokee Indians who endured the Trail of Tears Benge Route, named after John Benge, who led the detachment in 1838 on a route to Oklahoma that included passage through Hickman County.

The event included dedication of the signage that marks the route of the Benge Detachment and the unveiling of the newest park exhibits depicting the land and water routes of the trail.

The Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Indian nations to areas west of the Mississippi River following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Those who were relocated suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the trek from their ancestral lands in Southeastern states, and more than 10,000 died.

The Cherokee removal in 1838 took the lives of more than 2,000 of 16,500 people forced to leave their homeland.



According to the Kentucky Great River Region Organization, the Benge group arrived in Columbus in mid-November of 1838 and awaited transport across the Mississippi River by ferry to Belmont, Missouri. The Cherokees most likely spent several days camped around the ferry landing in the area of what is now the state park.

“We’re seeing a vision become a reality,” said Alice Murphree, Kentucky Chapter president of the Trail of Tears Association, of the project that involved the work of several organizations and countless volunteer hours. “This is the actual route they took … this site was witness to all of them who went by water.”

The new exhibits demonstrate how important west Kentucky is to the overall promotion of the state as a tourist destination, through cultural heritage tourism, according to Amy Potts, communications specialist with the Kentucky Department of Travel & Tourism.

“We can creatively market the state as a destination by how we tell our story, showing the places, artifacts and actions that represent stories of our people, past and present,” she said.

According to Ron Vanover, director of recreational parks and historic sites for Kentucky state parks, the dedication of the signs about the intersection of the land and water routes of the Trail of Tears “will raise the visibility for this park for many guests and the community.

“They will help tell the important story of what happened way before the Civil War. Moreover, these signs and the groups gathered today are here for a reason. That reason is to see that the Cherokee story will live on and on and on.”

Troy Wayne Poteete is chief justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court and executive director of the national Trail of Tears Association.

“I will tell you all that the designation of this route as a national trail was not a Cherokee initiative,” Poteete said. “This sad chapter is not something that we went to Congress and said we want you to make this a national trail.”

However, after legislation was passed establishing the Trail of Tears as an official long distance trail, a highly placed Cherokee in the National Park Service helped get funding together and established an advisory council through the park service, Poteete said. That led to the formation of the national Trail of Tears organization and the state chapters that followed.

“As a Cherokee official, I would have you know why we invest so much time and energy into the making of this trail,” Poteete said. “We don’t do this because we want to capture the image of our ancestors in the role of victims, and absolutely they were victimized.

“The reason we do this is because this is an opportunity for us to honor that generation of Cherokee which endured, and not only endured, but rebuilt the Cherokee nation,” he said. “We draw lessons and inspirations as a people now from that tenacity. From that perseverance, that strength and resilience.”

According to Poteete, “It is our responsibility to pass on to the next generation, a Cherokee nation strong, viable. It is our intention that our culture and our language be alive … and people will be singing hymns in Cherokee when the Lord comes again.”

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Information from: The Paducah Sun, https://www.paducahsun.com

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