TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – Nine Cherokee bicyclists recently completed their 950-mile journey to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears.
Officials say they were part of the 2021 Remember the Removal Bike Ride, which began in New Echota, Georgia.
The bicyclists crossed through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma before they reached the Cherokee Nation.
“Today the Cherokee people grew stronger as these nine cyclists received the heroes’ welcome that they deserve,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. “The strength and growth of the Cherokee people have always been the work of generations, and it’s always been the work of community. You’ve seen that on display on this ride in both community and in former riders that are lending a helping hand to the new and younger generation or riders. This is what keeps us strong and keeps building us up to continue into the future as a tribe.”
They visited sites that were both historic and emotional – sites like Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which is the last piece of Cherokee homeland Cherokee ancestors stood on before beginning their forced trek to Indian Territory. Other stops included Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokee ancestors sought shelter as they waited for the Ohio River to thaw during a bitterly cold winter.
“Before the ride even started, I wasn’t in the best mental place at all. I didn’t think of myself as a strong individual. I doubted myself a lot and I had a lot of insecurities,” said Cherokee Nation cyclist Kaylee Smith, of Tahlequah. “But coming back from this ride I feel like I can truly do anything I can set my mind to and I couldn’t have done that without my team.”
It’s estimated that 16,000 Cherokees were removed from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina in the spring of 1838. Nearly 4,000 of them died during the roundup, incarceration and removal.
“This ride was really challenging in all aspects and I think the biggest thing that pushed me was that my ancestors had to walk it. Our ancestors did not have the best circumstances and that’s what kept me going. Because we’re descendants of strong people, we can get through it, too,” said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Raylen Bark of North Carolina. “What I want others to know is just that we’re still here. Even though you don’t hear about this ride nationally, the strength of our ancestors is alive and well in each and every rider.”