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The Trail of Tears 2008

Posted: Sep 20, 2008

Today, Saturday, September 20th, some 150,000 motorcycles will make their way toward Florence, Alabama.  This is the 15th Annual Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride, and the route will be lined with cheering and picnicking crowds. (photo by Jim Hannon of the Florence Times Daily)

The Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride was begun in 1994 by Bill Cason to mark one of the trails used during the 1838 removal of Native Americans from their homelands in the Southeast to Oklahoma. The 1994 ride started at Ross’s Landing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with eight riders and ended with 100 riders in Waterloo, Alabama. TOTRAI's ride has now grown to over 150,000 riders and is billed as the largest organized motorcycle ride in the world.

The Trail of Tears annual ride commemorates the forced relocation of 17,000 American Indians in the 1830’s (of which some 4,000 died). Many riders end their journey at McFarland Park in Florence, while others choose to continue on for an additional 25 miles to Waterloo. Festivities will be held at both sites. An extended trail ride ends in Oklahoma.

A native American called Lone Elk (Dale Casteel) has written a fictionalized version of the removal based on the life of his grandmother who was a Cherokee Indian. The book is called The End of the Trail of Tears (Seacoast Publications, 2005)). Casteel lives on Elk River in North Alabama.

Another fictionalized account of the removal is Tom Hendrix's If the Legends Fade based on the experiences of his great-great-grandmother Te-lah-nay who walked the trail of tears and then escaped to walk back to Alabama. Hendrix has built a stone wall of native stone, using no mortar, to commemorate her journey. The wall, consisting of 6.5 million pounds of stones, took Hendrix 27 years to complete. The wall is located on Hendrix's property just off the Natchez Trace in Florence, Alabama.

The most recent addition to the Trail of Tears memorials is a life-sized bronze sculpture currently under construction by artists Pamela Keller and Gail Bergeron of the Athens State Unversity Art Department. The sculpture, for the city of Pulaski, TN, depicts a Cherokee family walking on the Trail of Tears.

This week's centerpiece photo on RiverVue,"Sacred Tears," depicts a Native American woman holding a baby and gazing at a child's grave. A tear runs down her cheek. The photo is of an eight foot statue by Birmingham artist Branko Medenica. The statue, which stands in Spring Park in Tuscumbia, Alabama, was dedicated in September of 2003 and was funded by the motorcyclists who participate in the “Trail of Tears Commemorative Motorcycle Ride” and the Alabama-Tennessee Trail of Tears Corridor Association.

--Penne J. Laubenthal

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pkeller says...

Thank you for mentioning the work that professor Bergeron and I are doing on the Trail of Tears sculpture for Pulaski, TN. The work has been in progress since 2000. It will be located near downtown Pulaski at the TOT Interpretive Center. This Center, to be completed at a future date, is interesting as well, having once been a Catholic Church built in part by Frank Mars ( candy bar fame !) of stone from his farm and relocated to the present site by truck. The Center stands near what was once thr crossing of two TOT routes, Bell's and Benge's. Historic documents show that local merchants and families traded with the Cherokee and sold goods to the soldiers during the relocation.Also known is that several bison travelling with the group died in Pulaski as a result of eating poisonous weeds.Our sculpture will portray both the heartache and the resolve a Cherokee family walking on the trail might have experienced as they came through Giles County on the forced march.The sculpture is being created in wax clay at present. Once the wax clay is finished, in October, the foundry will make a mold from it in the sculpture studio we have in Pulaski. The mold will travel to Atlanta for the bronze pour.

pdglenn says...

Penne Laubenthal has written a well done piece about a remarkable event and a remarkable man. Tom Hendrix, who considers himself only as "Keeper of the Wall," has built the largest monument to an actual woman ever built in this country. He has visitors from around the world who find not only inspiration, but a sense of peace at this holy place.

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