Share This Article

The Trail of Tears Across Missouri, by Joan Gilbert, the University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1996, $8.95 paperback.

Most of the Indians of the Southeast were forced to give up their homes and move west beginning in the early 1830s. The Cherokee Indians’ turn came in 1838. Their forced exile resulted in much suffering in the winter of 1838-39 during a trip of almost 1,000 miles across five states–Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Nobody knows exactly how many Cherokee died along the way–Cherokee historians say more than 4,000–but the deadly trek would become known as the Trail of Tears. Joan Gilbert gives a fine account of what that long trip was like, with a special emphasis on the Cherokees’ experiences as they passed through Missouri (there is a listing of Missouri sites on the Trail of Tears). There are also interesting chapters on “Preserving Cherokee History” and “Commemorating the Trail of Tears.” Not everything that happened to the Cherokee as they crossed Missouri was bad. One community apparently opened its church to shelter the Indians, and some kind people living in the state provided food. Some of the Cherokee travelers stopped in Springfield or elsewhere and ended up settling in Missouri. Still, what stands out most about the forced march are the grim realities, and Gilbert draws from various primary sources to tell it the way it was. You don’t have to be from the Show Me State to appreciate this very readable account of a great American tragedy.