A trail of tears

Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn – ah, yes, Robert Burns, you certainly got that right. The countless thousands I have in mind are the Cherokee Indians and other Native Americans who were forcefully removed from their homes in the  1830s. Having enjoyed life on vast expanses of land in  Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida, their normalcy was soon to be disrupted as white settlers laid claim to their lands to grow cotton.

Forced by the federal government to walk hundreds of miles to a part of the country designated as Indian territory, they set out on a journey that the Cherokees called the Trail of Tears to a state now known as Oklahoma. Over 4000 of 15000 Cherokees who set out on this epic journey  in 1838/1839 died in transit.

IMG_5351 (800x600) (2)County lines in the USA are well marked. You know when you pass from one to another. Having driven across Arkansas and recognised some of the counties from novels set in the state, I was prepared for more of the same as we crossed the state line into Oklahoma. But to my surprise, instead of travelling through the various state counties, we instead passed from one Indian territory to another – Cherokee, Seminole, Muskogee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Cheyenne…

IMG_5350 (800x600)

The name Oklahoma is actually an Indian word – it comes from the Choctaw words oklah homma meaning ‘red people’. While some Indian tribes agreed to be ‘removed’ to the state and signed treaties surrendering their lands, more than 25 tribes did not agree and were forcibly relocated. Today, there are 34 Indian tribes registered in the State. Casinos are plentiful and trading posts scattered along the I40 interstate sell Native American crafts supplemented by the now ubiquitous offerings from Nepal and Bali. And, in the interests of transparency, anything not made by Native American crafters is clearly marked as such.

It’s interesting, too, to see globalisation at work and to see some new gems in the Native American jewelry market with Australian and Russian gems now being set in Indian silver. Nothing like cross-pollination in the name of commerce.

Oklahoma is a funny state. American humorist Will Rogers reckoned that when ‘the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the IQ of both states’ (and he should know – he was born in Oklahoma). I can’t comment on the relative intelligence of either state, but in an odd turn of events I had to wonder about Oklahoma’s penchant for understatement, which would appear to me to go against the national grain.

We saw a sign for Prague that laid claim to hosting the national monument of the Infant de Prague. Having already passed by signs for Palestine and Stuttgart, we figured a detour was in order. As the Infant is a particular favourite of mine (putting his statue in the hot press guarantees good weather), and as I’d not seen the inside of a church in days and was in need of three wishes, I figured Prague to be as good a place as any to veer off the I40 and I was driving 🙂

IMG_5347 (600x800)I was expecting to see a monument worthy of the embellishment ‘national’ – and was I disappointed. But shame on me for expecting so much. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know about Maria Manriquez deLara, she who first brought the image of the infant from Spain to what’s now the Czech Republic. But I did learn about Fr Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma city who was murdered while serving as a missionary in Santiago Attilan in 1981. Apparently, there is a petition registered with the Vatican to consider Fr Rother ‘fit for veneration’. According to the brochure, if canonized, he’d be the ‘first slain priest from Oklahoma to become a saint’. It begs the question: how many more priests from Oklahoma have been slain in the line of duty?

As I said, Oklahoma is a peculiar state but one that’s the birthplace of my heartthrob, James Garner.  Country singers Garth Brookes and Vince Gill are also natives, as was Ralph Ellison, and actors Brad Pitt and Tony Randall. Those luminaries aside though, the state has some pretty weird laws. For instance, in Bartlesville, if your dog is run over by a car, you have to pay any costs associated with its disposal. And you can’t own more than two adult cats or dogs. And in Oklahoma City, it’s illegal to own a stink bomb. The mind boggles.

Yes, VS, every day is a school day…


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  • 3 Responses

    1. On your next trip this way , we will have to go to the Great Smoky Mtns. At the Cherokee Reservation they have a play set in the woods “Unto These Hills ” about the trail of tears.I first saw it 48 years ago and saw it again in 2002.The setting had changed but the story the same..Very sad story.

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