By Sarah Haney | DiscoverNorthwestArkansas.com
In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. This series of relocations is commonly referred to as the Trail of Tears.
The description “Trail of Tears” is thought to have originated with the Choctaw, the first of the major Southeast tribes to be relocated, starting in 1830. But it is most popularly connected with the October 1838 to March 1839 journey organized by the Cherokee Nation. In that tribe’s language, the trek is known as nunahi-duna-dlo-hilu-i — “the trail where they cried.”
Thirteen overland detachments of about 1,000 Cherokee each were assembled. Most of these wagon trains are thought to have followed similar routes across northwest Arkansas, entering the state just east of Pea Ridge (Benton County) and then veering west, near Fayetteville (Washington County). In 1987, Congress recognized this so-called Northern Route of the Cherokee as the land route of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Signs designating
the Auto Tour Route of the national trail are posted along highways in Benton and Washington counties.
On Jan. 13, 1839, a group of 1,100 Cherokees led by John Benge passed through the frontier village of Fayetteville. They were traveling on the Trail of Tears from the Cherokee homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma) as part of the forced removal of nearly 13,000 Cherokees ordered by President Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Congress. The Benge Party camped on the hillside to the north and east of this marker, near a creek and pond, secured supplies and repaired their wagons. They headed west on the Cane Hill Road the next day, arriving in Indian Territory on Jan. 17, 1839.
Benge’s Party had left from just south of present day Ft. Payne, Ala., around the end of September 1838. They arrived at Woodall’s Farm near present day Westville, Okla., on Jan. 17 1839. They reported 33 deaths and 3 births among the party. Their route of travel had taken them through northeastern Arkansas near Batesville, through Norfork, Flippin, Yellville, Harrison, Alpena, Huntsville and over present day Highways 74 and 16 to Fayetteville. Today, the Benge Party’s encampment in Fayetteville is memorialized with a park. Located at 1100 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the park is located just south of the University of Arkansas’ soccer field. In the park, you’ll find a native stone sculpture made up of three monoliths and a memorial plaque displayed in a grove of trees. There is no admission fee and the site is open to the public on a daily basis.