Trail of Tears

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was designated by Congress in 1987 in recognition of a significant chapter in American history, to remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people despite their forced removal from their homelands in the Southeastern United States. Over the winter of 1838-1839, the U.S. government removed at gunpoint most Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homelands and resettled them in Indian Territory west of Arkansas. The Cherokee round-up and removal were the most visible and publicized outcomes of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the relocation of nearly all eastern Indian tribes, including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminoles. In the case of the Cherokee, more than 15,000 people were systematically rounded up from their homes and held in detainment camps. They then were divided into detachments and forced to travel by foot, horseback, boat, and wagon across the southern U.S. to Indian Territory. More than 1,000 people died from exposure, illness, and exhaustion during the round-up and removal. The entire tragic event became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

The Cherokee traveled across water and land routes to reach their final destination in Oklahoma. The Water Route passes by Missouri along the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri. The Northern Route, the Hildebrand Route, and the Benge Route are the three main land routes that cross Missouri. All three of these land routes pass through the Mark Twain National Forest.

Through all of the trials and tribulations encountered by the Cherokee during the removal process, the story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears is one of resiliency. Upon arrival in Indian Territory, the Cherokee reestablished their own system of government, and have managed to maintained their language, writing system, and tribal traditions for nearly 200 years. The modern day descendants of the Cherokee are members Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, as well as the Eastern Band of Cherokee, whose ancestors fled to the mountains of North Carolina during the forced removal.

Click here for a map of these routes in Missouri. In addition to the actual original Trail of Tears routes, there is an auto route across Missouri, so you can drive on modern highways that are located near, but generally not actually along, the original route.

Interpretive signs on the forest are located at Hazel Creek Recreation Area, the Potosi Ranger District Office, and the Mark Twain National Forest Headquarters in Rolla. To learn more about other locations in Missouri where the Trail of Tears is interpreted, visit:

Learn more about the Trail of Tears by viewing the video produced by the National Park Service and the Cherokee Nation by clicking here.

Surface varies with the section of the trail. The auto route through Missouri is asphalt, while most of the original route is unsurfaced, native material.