Interests and Areas of Expertise
I am a Cherokee, born in Oklahoma and moved to Southeast Tennessee in 1965. I noticed the use of Indian names in general and Cherokee in particular, but there were no evidence of Indians living in the area. That is how I learned about the Cherokee Removal that has become known as “The Trail of Tears”. I had not been taught anything about the Cherokee Removal in Oklahoma schools or from my relatives.
I began to study Cherokee history and research my genealogy. I wrote several books, conducted workshops and published a newsletter, “Cherokee Blood” to assist others in tracing their Cherokee ancestors. I had several relatives on “The Trail of Tears“. I learned that my 3rd great grandfather, Captain John Spears, was wounded in the “Battle of Horseshoe Bend and became an interpreter to Cherokee Agent, Jonathan Meigs. His granddaughter, Annie Spears, walked to Oklahoma at the age of eleven. Her father, Joseph, was chosen by lot to participate in the execution of John Ridge, as provided in Cherokee Law, for his role in the infamous 1835 New Echota Treaty.
About one third of the Cherokees perished as a result of the Cherokee Removal. About 2,000 of these died while they were held in deplorable conditions in stockades and were buried in unmarked graves. There was little evidence in the area of who were these people, what happened to them or why.. Some thirty years ago I began my quest to build a Memorial to identify these people, by name, so they and what happened will not be forgotten.
About 15 years ago Shirley Lawrence, Gloria Schouggins and I as members of the Meigs County Tourism Board began to promote building the Cherokee Removal Memorial since the county has several significant Cherokee sites. The Memorial would contain the names and the Heads of Households from the 1835 Cherokee Nation Census taken in preparation for their removal. Thanks to TVA, TWRA, NPS, TDOT and Meigs County Cherokee Removal Memorial Park at historic Blyth Ferry is open to the public. Congressman Zack Wamp and Senator Lamar Alexander deserve special recognition for securing an appropriation to build the Park. It is a work in progress and much remains to be done.