Duane W. Gang, The Tennessean, September 30, 2012
Hidden portion of Trail of Tears is rediscovered
In the woods of the East Fork Recreation Area in northern Rutherford County – amid aging rock walls and the crumbled remnants of old streets – Pat Cummins and Toye Heape are rediscovering the Trail of Tears.
The two lead the newly formed Native History Association and say they found a section of the trail that was thought to be lost, covered by the Stones River when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers built J. Percy Priest Lake in the 1960s.
But the area is not under water. It’s ‘high and dry, “Cummins said.
Now, Cummins and Heape hope to convince the National Parl Service and the U.S. Corp of Engineers of their findings and want official Trail of Tears markers and interpretive signs along the route.
“So many people are completely unaware that the Trail of Tears even passed through this area” Cummins said.
“People need to know” he said. “They need to know they can access this place. They can come out and hike the trail and learn something about the history of the Trail of Tears as it passed through Rutherford County into Davidson County.”
The Trail of Tears is central to the story and heritage of the Cherokee people. The Cherokee and other eastern tribes were forced out of their homelands in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. During the 1830s, the Cherokee made their way along several routes to what is now Oklahoma.
The journey west is known as the Trail of Tears.
According to the National Park Service, the northern route of the trail passed through Rutherford County. But near Murfreesboro the route briefly splits, and Cummins and Heape said several detachments of Cherokee took this alternative route to avoid expensive tolls.
It is in this area that the trail passed through the town of Jefferson, the original county seat of Rutherford County. Old Jefferson was razed to make way for the lake.
“In this particular instance, for whatever reason, there must have been a miscalculation,” said Cummins, who is of Cherokee ancestry. “The water level never really did come up to totally engulf the site that was Old Jefferson.”
Heape made the initial discovery. He said he was virtually driving the Trail of Tears on Google Earth and Google Streetview when he came to where Jefferson once stood.
He too thought the area was under water. Indeed a history posted on the Rutherford County Historical Society’s website said was a river town ‘now covered by the waters of Percy Priest.’
Heape found a map of Jefferson from the 1800s and compared it to the Google images.
“At that point I realized the town wasn’t flooded and we had a Trail of Tears segment here that no one actually knew about it,” said Heape, who also is of Cherokee ancestry. “It was amazing.”
Toby Francis, 74, a retired teacher and board member of the Rutherford County Historical Society, grew up in Jefferson. He’s know that the area hasn’t been underwater for years and led a tour of the area in 2003 to mark the town’s 200th anniversary.
“I walked from east to west and my shoes never got wet” Said Francis.
He said the discovery of the Trail of Tears segment is important.
“It would be very significant and something many of us did not know about,” he said.
Carroll Van West, director for the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University, agree.
“This is exciting news,” he said. “The records for the Trail of Tears tell us that some detachments followed this route for directness and to avoid tolls.”