DAYTON, Tenn. - Comanche Indian descendant Ron Cooper completed his 835-mile journey along the Trail of Tears' northern route last week, with more than 20 people awaiting his final steps across the Oklahoma state line.
Cooper, 43, said Friday afternoon that he was "relieved and sad" his journey, which began in mid-January in Charleston, Tenn., had ended, and surprised by the reception that awaited him in Park Hill, Okla. His aunt and uncle had brought a ribbon for him to walk through at the end, he said.
He chuckled when asked about his immediate plans.
"I'm looking forward to my feet not hurting," he said.
Cooper, a former blackjack dealer in Arizona, started his walk in mid-January's cold and rain with a smile and the determination to complete the trail before summer began.
When he started the walk, he said, he hoped others would learn more about what the Cherokees had endured and would gain awareness through his experiences.
During the 1830s, many Cherokees died along the Trail of Tears after a forced removal by the federal government, which moved them from their homelands in the Southeast to what is now Oklahoma.
His wife, Kristal, said she was relieved he had no "major instances" of sickness or injury during the three-month trek. She had followed along in their pickup, pulling a camper, and had written weekly blog entries and contacted local media in the states and major cities he passed through.
McMinnville, Tenn., resident George Roberts had encouraged Cooper and followed his blog entries, offering him information about the Cherokees and the trail.
"Glad I came to know you both," Roberts posted on Cooper's website.
Cooper said he'd love to write a book about his experiences, the people and the sites he had seen.
His wife said she plans to create a scrapbook of photos, newspaper clippings and souvenirs.
Cooper said he was grateful to all the "trail angels" he met along the way who greeted him with kindness and support, and said he hopes to visit them again soon. He said he wants to take the 450-mile Long Walk of the Navajo as his next adventure.
Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.