Walking the trail: one man's journey along the Cherokee trail of tears


By Jerry Ellis | 1994-07-01 12:00:00

In 1989 a 41-year-old Alabaman, Jerry Ellis, set out to walk the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The Trail refers to the sorry episode when, in 1838, 18,000 Cherokees were marched at bayonet point from their homes in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina to Oklahoma, almost 1,000 miles away.

The U.S. government employed 7,000 soldiers to round up the Cherokees. Their homes were burned, and they were herded into concentration camps and marched westward in mid-winter.

Jerry Ellis walked the Trail of Tears out of respect for his ancestors. In walking it backward-from Oklahoma to Alabama-Ellis symbolically took the Cherokee spirits back to their first home.

Private John G. Burnett, who witnessed this mass exodus, wrote this message for his descendants in 1890: "Murder is murder whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music.... Somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the 4,000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exit. Let the historian of a future day tell the sad story...."

Walking the Trail is not a sad book. Ellis charms the reader with anecdotes about the characters he meets on the Trail, his love life, the wildlife, his relatives, the weather, the food, and the scenery. So, curl up with this good book, and Jerry Ellis will carry the pack.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1994

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1994, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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