Cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have joined a dozen members of the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma. The group will ride their bicycles 950 miles over three weeks, tracing the route of the Trail of Tears.
In 1838 and 1839, the Cherokee Nation was required to give up all lands east of the Mississippi River. The requirement was a part of President Andrew Jackson's plans to remove the Indians.
More than 15,000 Cherokees were forced to march from their homeland across nine states to Oklahoma. The journey came to be known as the "Trail of Tears."
'These young people are going to come as close as you can come to realizing the strength within them. And it will blossom and they will be our leaders," Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation said at the kick-off event.
The riders have been practicing for several months. They will cycle more than fifty miles on many days. A Trail of Tears historian will be on the trip, and there are plans to stop at grave sites, stockades, churches and other historic sites. The trip is being documented on a Facebook page. Already, the riders are posting stories.
"Visiting the Harland House this morning," one of the participants writes near several photos of a beautiful white home.
"(It's)the home of a Cherokee family who were forced to leave their family homestead behind to go west. A white family then claimed the property and has lived there continuously since the Trail of Tears."
“Our riders are a true cross-section of our tribal community,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band, “and this experience offers a means for them to connect across generations and to learn from one another and about our history.”
Day-by-day, the riders are not only following the path of the Trail of Tears, they are finding out intimate stories -- stories of those who marched, and those who were left behind.
The group stopped at the graves of David McNair and his wife Delilah Amelia Vann McNair. The two were laid to rest east of the Mississippi, prior to the march. The graves had been marked by the McNair children, who were concerned that their parents' graves would be forgotten when the tribe was forced west.
The cyclists got off their bikes and approached the McNair graves through a field.
After the story about the McNair family grave site was posted on Facebook, a man named Bryan Jackson commented on the post.
"THANKS for visiting and for sharing," Jackson writes. "My 3rd great grand aunt, Mary Rogers McNair, who went on the Trail with her husband and children, was their daughter-in-law."
The riders will end in Tahlequah Oklahoma on June 19, 2014. You can follow their trip here.