Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

100-mile trek

California's Trail of Tears Commemorated in Nome Cult Walk

Laura Leidner
Mendocino National Forest
February 16, 2024

In Fall of 1863, 461 Native Americans from the Yuki, Wailacki, Concow, Little Lake Pomo, Nomlacki, Pit River, Maidu and Nissinan tribes were forcibly marched from their homelands. The march was part of the nationwide, systematic removal of native people to make way for non-native settlers. 

In this video, we talk to descendants from those who were marched in 1863 and participants of the 28th annual commemorative Nome Cult Walk. They talk about their experience and reflections while on the 100-mile walk, what it means for healing, forgiveness and reconnecting with family and heritage.  (USDA video by Andrew Avitt)

“The land that you’re on, it came with a price.” – Sonja Thinn-Miller, Round Valley Indian Tribes

Across the country, national forests are cared for by the Forest Service, but Native American people have lived, traversed and taken care of these lands long before the land management agency existed. For the Forest Service, it’s important to understand this piece of American history and learn from tribal communities. The Nome Cult Walk — also known as the Konkow Trail of Tears— was one of many forced removals of Indigenous people from their homelands across what is known today as the Mendocino National Forest. 

The Nome Cult Walk Cultural Committee invited Forest Service staff to walk the old trail and listen to the stories of the descendants who walked those sorrowful footsteps long ago.

A Granddaughter Helps Lead the Way One of the original walkers was only eight years old when he was forced on the journey. Now 14 of his descendants walk a similar path. “My grandfather was one of the children that were able to make it over into Round Valley,” says Charlotte Bauer, who is Concow and Wailaki, born and raised on the Round Valley Indian Reservation.  Bauer was one of the “Crazy Eight” who worked with a Forest Service archaeologist in locating the Nome Cult Trail and began the annual commemorat
Walkers gather for morning circle at Log Springs in Mendocino National Forest. (USDA Forest Service photo by Andrew Avitt)

Early on a Sunday morning in September, about 60 people gathered in a circle near the Sacramento River just west of Chico, California. Most are wearing good walking shoes, sun hats, and safety vests. The women wore beautiful handmade skirts adorned with ribbons and butterflies. It is the beginning of the 28th annual Nome Cult Walk.

This ceremonial walk covers over 100 miles from Chico to Covelo and commemorates the California Indians who were forcibly detained and marched across the valley and North Coast Mountains in September 1863. It was one of many forced marches that occurred in Northern California following the establishment of reservations in the 1850s.

Man in baseball hat with beaded necklaces holds a staff with women in white t-shirt on right.
Ronnie and Lydia Hostler, of Round Valley, reflect on the journey ahead with participants during the morning circle. (USDA Forest Service photo by Andrew Avitt) 

“It started out as just a walk for our ancestors,” says Ronnie Hostler, an elder born and raised at Round Valley Indian Reservation, about the origins of the Nome Cult Walk.

“How were they feeling, leaving their home and looking at that mountain, not knowing where they were going?”

Over the course of a week, the Nome Cult Walk participants traverse an average 15-25 miles each day while their supporters drive water, food, camping supplies, and porta-johns alongside them. Support vehicles display handwritten safety messages of “Walkers Ahead!” and flashing lights to slow oncoming traffic. 

Each day, organizers prepare walkers for the hard journey, reminding them of the importance of staying hydrated, taking breaks, and applying moleskin to any blisters.

During the morning circle, they remember their ancestors who were forced along these roads under the most severe conditions. Each person has their own reasons for doing the journey, and some participants reflect on who they walk for each day.

"I walk for my mom, my grandmother, my father, my son. Now I walk for my granddaughter. So that's why I that's why I'm here today,” says Ronnie. 

Group in yellow safety vests walk on left side of rowadway. Leader carries staff with feathers.
Walkers retrace their ancestors’ footsteps, walking on average 15-25 miles per day through towns, farmland, foothills and across the North Coast Mountains in California. (USDA Forest Service photo by Andrew Avitt)

As the day warms, each step becomes heavier, harder. Raw spots become blisters. Physical discomfort mirrors the pain of interior wounds and loved ones now gone. The walkers — supporting each other — push on.

“We’ve been doing a remembrance walk for the Nome Cult Trail. Not just remembering it through story. It's reliving the history and getting a better idea of what my ancestors had to go through for me to be here today,” says Kyle Miller of Round Valley Indian Tribes. 

“This walk is my heritage,” says Brandon Miller, Kyle’s brother and also from Round Valley.

An illustration showing members of today's Nome cult walking with ancestors by overlaying historic depictions with current photography.
USDA Forest Service illustration by John Eudicone

Past and Present Merge on Nome Cult Walk

That original walk 160 years ago was unimaginably difficult. Native Americans had been rounded up in encampments with little food or water. Many were malnourished and sick before the walk even began. Soldiers guarded them on horseback and brutally forced them, like cattle, to march from Chico, across the valley, over the eastern spur of the North Coast Mountain range, and down into Covelo to the Round Valley Reservation (then called the “Nome Cult Farm”). Of the 461 who began the journey in 1863, only 277 survived.  

Back of person in straw hat, carrying a stick with feathers and wearing yellow safety vest.
Each person has their own reasons for participating in the Nome Cult Walk, a journey of healing and reconnecting with family. (USDA Forest Service photo by Andrew Avitt)

On the third day of the current Nome Cult Walk, the trail climbs into the foothills. Participants enter lands managed by the Mendocino National Forest along the 23N35 Road, locally known as Mud Flat Road. This is one of the hardest days of the journey. The walkers ascend during the late afternoon, in full sun with no relief from the shade. Memories of their ancestors haunt each step. Leaders of this year’s walk remind participants that this was the section of the trail when soldiers separated the babies from their mothers, then killed the babies with bayonets. This is also where many of the elderly or those who were too sick to continue were left behind.

“People don’t realize how America became America,” says Sonja Thinn-Miller, member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, and mother of Kyle and Brandon Miller. “The land that you’re on, it came with a price.”

As much as the walk is full of physical and spiritual pain, it is also a walk of healing, gratitude and resilience. 

“It’s healing our ancestors and ourselves and future generations,” said Jack Cunningham of the Mountain Maidu Tribe, who is on his 16th Nome Cult Walk.

People dance and share stores in silhouette against a night campfire. Many wear indigenous clothing.
Round Valley Feather Dancers share songs and stories with the Nome Cult Walk participants at Eel River Campground on the Mendocino National Forest. (USDA Forest Service photo by Andrew Avitt)  

On some nights, singers and dancers share beautiful songs, stories and prayers underneath the stars. In between the songs there is plenty of laughter. As much as it is about remembrance, the Nome Cult Walk has grown into something new, a celebration of life, family and traditions.

“This walk really helps bring us back together,” says Victor Alvarez, member of Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians. “We are mending our family ties that were once broken by generational trauma. I believe it will make us better as a whole, as a family.”

Today the Nome Cult Walk brings together many generations and members of several tribes in the area, including descendants of the Concow Maidu, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California, Redding Rancheria, Grindstone Nomlaki, the Mechoopda Tribe, Pit River, Wintu, Nisenan and Greenville Maidu. Over the course of the week, the walkers’ connections to each other grow deeper. 

A Granddaughter Helps Lead the Way

One of the original walkers was only eight years old when he was forced on the journey. Now 14 of his descendants walk a similar path.

“My grandfather was one of the children that were able to make it over into Round Valley,” says Charlotte Bauer, who is Concow and Wailaki, born and raised on the Round Valley Indian Reservation. 

Bauer was one of the “Crazy Eight” who worked with a Forest Service archaeologist in locating the Nome Cult Trail and began the annual commemorative walk in 1996.

"The reason I still do this walk is to not only honor my grandfather but all of the ancestors and also the people that walked with us and are no longer here,” she said. 

“I also walk for the future,” Bauer added. "We have encouraged, from the beginning, to hand this down to future generations where we want to keep it going on indefinitely.”

For nearly 30 years, tribal members have walked through their ancestral lands to honor the memory and retrace the footsteps of their ancestors, as part of an ongoing healing process. As the walkers descend the mountains toward the Eel River, a new group of young children from Round Valley school joins them. Kyle, great-great grandson of one who was forced on the original march, picks up the lead staff and guides the walkers home to Round Valley.

Group of 25, many in yellow safety vests with lighted sign “Caution Event Walkers” in background.
Support for the Nome Cult Walk ensures those walking are safe throughout their journey. This year’s group gathers at the entrance of lands managed by the Mendocino National Forest. (USDA Forest Service photo by Andrew Avitt)
https://www.fs.usda.gov/features/100-mile-trek