Historians are confident they know where Cherokees walked through Walker County at the beginning of a march that would be known as the Trail of Tears.
They also feel certain about routes some took from Cedartown to Rome in the 1838 forced removal.
But in between, in Chattooga County, Ga., things get a little fuzzy.
“Chattooga is sort of a mystery,” said Jeff Bishop, president of the Trail of Tears Association Georgia Chapter. “Feeling like you know where the roads are and then proving where they are are two different things.”
Maps created for land lotteries when the Indian Territory was divided up for white settlers only show one road in Chattooga, but researchers know the Cherokees used at least three routes on the way north to Ross’s Landing.
The maps vary widely in detail, and while surveyors in Walker and Floyd counties didn’t spare any ink in recording roads, settlements and other locations, the cartographer in Chattooga County was more stingy with his pen.
“As you go from map to map, you have different sets of information based on what that particular surveyor thought was important,” said Bishop. “In Chattooga County, unfortunately, the surveyors decided to be pretty general.”
Bill Barker, a historian with the Chattooga County Historical Society, said locals are fairly certain one of the routes followed a path similar to where U.S. Highway 27 lies today. Another probably mirrors state Highway 337, and a third likely ran from Alabama through present-day Chattoogaville, Lyerly and Summerville, he said.
“They were here. Oh yeah, they were here,” said Barker, who has found Cherokee artifacts around the county.
Barker, who is working with Bishop’s group, said the locations are “pretty much settled,” but Bishop said the National Park Service will want solid evidence before it allows the group to post signs and markers as part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
The eventual goal, Bishop said, is to post signs wherever the modern roadbed mirrors the old trail on the routes between Cedartown and Chattanooga. But to do that, they’ve got to solve the missing link in Chattooga County.
“Sometimes — like Highway 411 — it lines right up. There’s no doubt,” Bishop explained. “Chattooga County’s a little trickier. We feel like we have a pretty good idea where the roads were, but the park service wants proof.”
Barker said the signs are important for visitors and locals alike.
“It is important to know our history, and when you talk to most of the people in this county, most of them don’t even know that Cherokees were here,” he said.
The group will hold a ceremony April 19 to unveil the first markers on the route in Cedartown.
Linda Baker, a secretary with Bishop’s group, said the road signs are a good way to remind people of the scale of the removal.
“When people see these signs, they have a sense of the history that happened on those roads,” she said. “We’re just trying to make sure this tragedy is never forgotten.”
Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...
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