TN, KY, IL, and MO: Trail of Tears Pt 2

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Bob Brown

“Left Brainerd for the Cherokee camps … Thus we leave this place, 
perhaps never to return.” —The Journal of Rev. Daniel S. Butrick, October 4, 1839 Reverend Butrick departed from Calhoun, TN, with the Richard Taylor Detachment on the overland Northern Route. My wingman, Bob Brown, and me, however, initially follow a paved approximation of Bell’s Route west from Ross’s Landing in Chattanooga on our Indian motorcycles. Along the way to Oklahoma, we will travel segments of several Trail of Tears routes.

Day 8: Traversing Tennessee

After several warm days in early September, we awake to lower humidity and temperatures in the low 50s. Cobalt blue skies greet us as we fire up the Indians and ease our way into traffic. It always feels invigorating to get back on the road, especially in such pleasant riding weather.

Following the Tennessee River west, our route ascends part of the way up Lookout Mountain on switchbacks. Then, we descend and ride close to the river for a while, but tall trees largely obscure it from sight. Finally, the river makes a sweeping bend south as we continue west. We’re soon riding along a sinuous path and gaining altitude. There’s an almost-fall chill in the air when we finally pop out on top of a high ridge.

Plunging downward, we use only engine braking and steep lean angles to keep our rapid drop under control around wide curves—YEE ... HAW! Flatter terrain greets our arrival in Cowan, TN. The town’s vintage railroad depot, with a 1920 Porter steam locomotive and rolling stock parked outside, is now the Cowan Railroad Museum. A restored Texaco service station across the street adds to the town’s mid-20th-century charm. But it’s Sunday and most everything is closed.

The Trail of Tears Interpretive Center in nearby Pulaski, TN, is a former Baptist church, which was relocated here. Pulaski is significant because it’s where the Benge and Bell trails intersected on their two different routes to Indian Territory. John Benge departed from Fort Payne on September 28, 1838, escorting 1,079 Cherokee. John Bell, a member of the “Treaty Party,” left Fort Cass on October 11, 1838, with 660 Cherokee. Outside of the center stands a life-sized bronze statuary of a Cherokee family. It hauntingly depicts people uprooted from their homeland and forced to undergo the grueling journey west. 

Day 9: A Man Born for a Storm

More glorious riding weather invigorates our departure from Lawrenceburg, TN, this morning. Before leaving, though, we visit David Crockett State Park. One of its attractions is an original section of the Trail of Tears. But there’s little here, besides a few historical signs, to commemorate the Cherokee pilgrimage; ol’ Davey seems to be the main point of interest in his namesake park. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2017 back issue.