PAPER TRAILS: Cherokee cyclists will stop in Arkansas during the “Trail of Tears” trek


A group of five cyclists from Oklahoma will pedal through northwest Arkansas later this week as they retrace the steps of their Cherokee ancestors on the Trail of Tears.

Emily Christie, Kayce O’Field, Jeanetta Leach, Madison Whitekiller and Desiree Matthews are part of the Remember the Removal bike ride, which kicked off May 30 in New Echota, Georgia, the former capital of the Cherokee Nation and is will end on June 17. in Tahlequah, Okla., the modern Cherokee capital.

The women follow the Trail of Tears northern route, which includes Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma and will pedal their Felt Broam bikes approximately 950 miles during the ride. A rotating team of support crew members in the cars help keep them stocked with food and drink.

They ride to honor the approximately 16,000 Cherokees who, between 1836 and 1839, were forced to march from their homes in the southeast to Indian Territory under the Indian Removal Act. About 4,000 people died during the trek. Since their start, the runners have visited Cherokee burial sites and monuments. They plan to stop at Pea Ridge, which is part of the trail, and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville when they reach Arkansas.

“I heard about the race in 2012,” Christie, 24, said last week during a pit stop at a target in Cape Girardeau, Mo. “One of my brother’s friends did it. and since then I wanted to go.”

Averaging about 60 miles a day, the cyclists rode in the rain and through the Appalachian Mountains, but the time spent on their bikes wasn’t the only test they faced.

“It’s been difficult in a way that I didn’t expect,” Christie said. “Physically we are prepared because we have been trained so well. The easiest thing on our trip is to ride the bikes. Everything else has been very heavy and difficult to deal with. We see the places where our ancestors struggled …where a lot of them died, so we feel all those emotions.”

Christie says she and her teammates are on this ride to let people know that “the Cherokee Nation is still here. The Cherokee Nation is strong…and one of the greatest things we do is advocate for our history is known and taught. Native American history is American history.”

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