Along the Trail of Tears

In preparation for our trip to Georgia, I knew we would have an opportunity to visit numerous Civil War sites as well as memorials to the Cherokee Trail of Tears.  We had read about each of these events in our history book, Story of the World, and were excited to see them for ourselves and to hear the stories (first person accounts as recorded in written form and brought to life in the museum placards) from those who had taken part in these events in our nation’s history.  One of the stories that touched us the most profoundly was that of Major Ridge and the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Nation, largest of the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast, is a people of Iroquoian lineage.  By 1650, they commanded more than 40,000 square miles in the southern Appalachians with a population estimated at 22,500.  Similar to other Native Americans of the Southeast, their nation was a confederacy of towns, each subordinated to supreme chiefs. When encountered by the Europeans, they were agrarian people who lived in log houses and observed sacred religious practices.

The only hostilities by the Cherokees against white settlers occurred around the time of the American Revolution.  The Cherokees, as well as the Creek and Choctaw, supported the British and made several attacks on the revolutionaries’ forts and settlements. The result of their British alliances was a drastic reduction of tribal land holdings. After 1800, the Cherokee quickly assimilated European culture in their dress, farming, and building methods.  They adopted a government patterned after the United States.  Their culture continued to flourish with the invention of the Cherokee alphabet by Sequoyah in 1821, producing rapid literacy and thereby leading to the creation of the Cherokee Constitution, the spread of Christianity, and the publication of the only Native American newspaper.

Sparked by the discovery of gold in 1828, Georgia passed a law proclaiming Cherokee laws null and void after June 1, 1830.  The Cherokees filed numerous lawsuits in protest, and in 1832 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokees in the landmark case Worcester v. Georgia.  However, President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the ruling, leaving the Cherokees at the mercy of settlers and prospectors armed with the new Georgia law.  Their lands and homes were entered into a lottery system and redistributed to European settlers. Ironically, the Cherokees had fought alongside Andrew Jackson against the Creeks (who continued to align with the British) in the War of 1812.

Major Ridge’s home as it appears today.  Over the years there have been several expansions and remodels.  Plans are underway to return the home to the way it was when Ridge resided here. 

Seeing the situation as hopeless, a small band of Cherokees led by Major Ridge (who had adopted the name Ridge after his role in the War of 1812) signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, dooming the “Principal People” to removal.  According to this treaty, the Cherokees would forsake their land east of the Mississippi and move to Indian Territory for $5 million.

I am one of the Native Sons of these wild woods.
I have hunted the deer and turkey here, more than fifty years.
I have fought your battles, defended your truth and honesty, and fair trading …
I know the Indians have an older title than the Georgians.
We obtained the land from the living God above.
They got their title from the British.
Yet they are strong and we are weak.
We are few, they are many …
We can never forget these homes, I know.
But an unbending, iron necessity tells us we must leave them.
I would willingly die to preserve them.
But any forcible effort to keep them will cost us our lands, our lives, and the lives of our children …
Give up these lands and go over beyond the great Father of Waters. 
 
~ Major Ridge 1836

In 1838 the brutal execution of the Treaty of New Echota began.  More than 4,000 U.S. Army troops under the direction of General Winfield Scott rounded up 15,000 Cherokees into internment camps then herded them along the 2,000 mile march.  The 116-day “Trail of Tears” began in October 1838.  More than 8,000 Cherokees died as result of the march.

The Mining of Iron Ore at Cornwall: An Unexpected Field Trip

While staying in Rome, we made a day-excursion to Birmingham to meet up with one of my former students (now a nurse at the university hospital). After touring the botanical gardens and doing a little letterboxing, we drove up to see the Vulcan, the largest cast-iron sculpture in the world. Designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904, it has overlooked the urban landscape of Alabama’s largest city since the 1930s.

Iron Ore Mining

Here, we also explored the museum where we were able to touch several ores mined locally: iron ore, charcoal or coke (a fuel and reducing agent), and limestone. Below the museum entrance was an entrance to a mining shaft where raw iron ore was extracted. The ore was then transported to nearby furnaces where it was refined and iron ingots were formed for further processing.

Doing a little letterboxing near the Vulcan

Iron Ore Furnaces

Driving through Birmingham, it is impossible to miss the Sloss Furnaces, where iron was produced for nearly 90 years (between 1882 and 1971 under various owners), giving rise to the city of Birmingham.  Though the National Landmark was closed on the day we were there, the web of pipes and tall smokestacks were still impressive and provided us with a glimpse into the great industrial past.

On the drive home, we noticed a brown road sign indicating an historical site.  Choosing to take this little detour, the signs led us to Cornwall Furnace, a quaint little park tucked away alongside Weiss Lake. Though all that remains is the furnace (the wooden mill exterior had deteriorated long ago), it was still impressive, and enabled us to visualize the past.

iron ore furnace at Cornwall

Samuel Noble is thought to have over seen operations here and production started in late 1862.  Iron ore, charcoal, and limestone would have been fed into the top of the furnace to produce the iron. There would have been a charging bridge coming from the top of the ridge to the top of the furnace stack to facilitate the loading of the raw materials.  Iron was then extracted from the bottom of the furnace and ran into sand molds to produce pig iron ingots.  The ingots were marked CORNWALL.

The pig iron ingots were then transported to the foundry in Rome, Georgia.  Once the bars were in Rome, they were transformed into various products that supported the war effort.  We later learned that many of these furnaces (found throughout the south) had been destroyed during the Civil War to prevent the Confederate army from producing more arms.

Buddy was particularly interested in these historical sites as mining has always been a fascination to him.  He even painted a mine shaft during the painting class later in the week.  When we returned home, he continued to inquire about the specifics of mining iron ore and as we researched, he made numerous references to Minecraft.  While making connections to his favorite game, it was clear that he was truly understanding the complexities of the process.

Upon our return home, we explored ore samples in more depth. You can read about our approach in my post,  A Peak at Ore Samples.

Etowah Indian Mounds

We enjoyed many historical sites in Georgia, taking advantage of this opportunity to experience the history we had read about first hand.  Many of the sites we visited were a part of the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, enabling the kids to complete an activity book to facilitate their understanding of the cultural and natural history of the area.  Upon completion, they were able to turn in their work to earn one of four Georgia Junior Ranger badges (according to age).  Proudly, despite his age, Buddy chose to work for level three just like his sister.

One of the highlights of the state parks was the Etowah Indian Mounds near Cartersville.  This major Mississippian Period Cultural Center was home to several thousand Native Americans from 1000 to 1500 AD. The largest mound stands over 63 feet high and covers three acres. The impressive archaeological museum interprets life in what is now known as the Etowah Valley Historic District.  Beyond the mounds lies the Etowah River and Pumpkinvine Creek where a V-shaped rock wall impedes the water of the rivers.  At least 500 years old, the wall is one of the lasting reminders of the Mississippian Culture who resided in this portion of Northwest Georgia.

Known colloquially as the mound builders due to the large earthen mounds, flattened on top for homes of the elite, the culture flourished at this site until the arrival of Hernando de Soto, who visited the area in 1540-41.  Those that survived the illnesses brought by the Spanish abandoned the site and eventually blended in with the nearby Creek Indians along with their agricultural skills and past times (lacrosse, for example).

Fortunately, we arrived shortly before a bus load of school kids.  The interpretive volunteer invited us to take part in the talk he would be giving them and we were able to get a sneak peak at some of the weapons and materials (not on display) used by the Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans.  We enjoyed this museum very much as it was a very distinct contrast to the way the Native Americans lived on the Pacific Coast.  While only 9% of the site has been excavated, examination of Mound C (pictured in the collage above) and the surrounding artifacts revealed much about the people who had lived here.  One of the things that surprised us, however, was the extent of their trade routes … artifacts include Obsidian from Central Oregon and Idaho as well as asphalt from the La Brea Tar Pits in California.

The Civil War & Underground Railroad

We had allotted 3 hours to explore Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. When we arrived, we informed the volunteer that we would like the Junior Ranger booklet. She explained to us that the activities were divided in the book for each site and that we could choose which site we wanted to do, however the badges were the same. We opted to stick with Chickamauga as we were already there and as I flipped through, it quickly became apparent that the activities were much more intensive than we had experienced in the past … both in quantity and quality.

I commented on this to the volunteer, stating that I wasn’t sure we would be able to finish before they closed for one of the activities required we complete the driving tour as well. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do the inside activities, go on the driving tour, and return within the 3 hour window but we opted to sit down and give it a try. While we were working, she thankfully gave us a big hint, “Most of the answers to the questions on the driving tour portion can be found in the park brochure. The museum closes at 5:30 but the park is open until sunset. You can earn your badges before we close and do the tour afterwards.” Phew!!

One of the exhibits at Chickamauga in the Fuller gun collection, donated to the park in 1954, featuring 346 military soldier arms.  It was a stunning collection and finding the catalog numbers of six was one of our first tasks. Buddy, like all young boys, was fascinated.  Sweetie loved that the symbol for the battles that took place here was the acorn for the fields were surrounded by Oak woodlands.

While here, we also learned of an opportunity to earn a new patch, the Junior Civil War Historian. It required that one become a Junior Ranger at three distinctly different Civil War parks OR two parks and complete one online activity. We didn’t expect to be able to do this but on the evening of our last day, DH informed us he’d likely get out early. The following day, I printed the online activity book, Discovering the Underground Railroad, and we worked through the activities. We were thereby able to depart early enough so that we could stop at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield as well.

Each of the three activity packets were comprehensive of the role our national parks play in the preservation of our nation’s natural wonders and historical sites. The activity books assured that the kids would look carefully at the exhibits and read the placards and signage for important details. I was very impressed.

While undertaking the required tasks, I quickly became aware of how much the kids have grown academically. Sweetie would move along at her own pace and would come to me with questions when she was stuck. Buddy worked alongside his dad or I most of the time, but would read many of the questions and exhibit signs independently. They worked collaboratively though, dividing up the work for many tasks and sharing their answers. It was a delight to watch them so engaged in their goal of earning the historian patch. They were rightfully proud of their accomplishment.