FORT PAYNE, Ala. (WHNT) — National and local officials dedicated about 100 markers to hundreds of Native Americans forced out of their Alabama homes nearly two centuries ago.
The signs show the Benge Route from Fort Payne to Guntersville.
Aaron Mahr, the superintendent of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, came from the National Parks Service in New Mexico.
“It’s a tragic story from our past that reveals some of the darker forces,” Mahr said.
“It speaks to the issue of racism, it speaks to the issue of forced relocation, removal, concentration camps on American soil.
“The dangers of extremism, issues that are part of our past.”
For hundreds, the Trail of Tears began here in Fort Payne in 1838.
Forcibly gathered together, Cherokee John Benge led 1,100 members of his tribe west to Oklahoma.
The first three-dozen miles led them to present day Guntersville, which many of these people traveled Saturday.
“I am very excited,” Olivia Cox said.
She is a member of Landmarks of DeKalb County, a historical society which does archaeological work and raises money to preserve the past for the future.
“This is the culmination of about five years of research and crawling around up and down roads, identifying the actual route that the Benge Detachment took from the Fort Payne cabin site to the Tennessee River,” she said.
Without their work, much of the route would be unknown, and the same is true for the historical cabin site.
“Not only are we able to preserve a very important part of our history, but we’re now able to share it with others so they can learn about this sad, sad part of the United States,” Cox said.
Patsy Edgar, a member of the Trail of Tears Association, said their work is not just to remember the horrible effects of the Trail of Tears.
She said another reason the tribes support monuments and markers may be something most people don’t think about.
“To point out to people that we are still here as a nation, and we still actually, we thrive, so it’s not all about the negative, it’s also very much about the positive,” Edgar said.
Mahr called it a profoundly emotional story of universal human values.
“It’s a story of resilience, it’s a story of the tenacity of the human spirit, he said.
“Those are elements of the American spirit.”
Spirit the Preacher was the tribal name of John Huss, the man who built the cabin.
He was already in Indian Territory when the Benge Detachment of the Trail of Tears began, but those gathered at the cabin Saturday ensure he and the others forced to join him will not be forgotten.
“Help us remember one of the darkest chapters of American history when sheer greed and the overwhelming desire to possess what others have motivated people to dispossess entire nations of their homelands,” Cox said
Many of the attendees at the morning ceremony retraced the Benge Route to Guntersville.
Recently, an Oklahoma museum director pedaled the same route as he bikes the Trail of Tears.
John Beaver is a descendant of the Muscogees, or Creeks, who were forced west during the Indian Removal of the 1830s.
Beaver is director of the tribe’s national museum, and is on a research trip.
It began at the Ocmulgee Mounds in Georgia and will take the team to their home in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
Beaver said he thought cycling would be better for the mission than a car.
“We wanted this to be a participatory event and actually coming out and seeing things and be it the event it’s really turned into, what better way to get out and see the countryside and experience what your ancestors might have experienced,” he said.
Some Muscogee live near the Poarch Creek reservation northeast of Mobile.