Day 111, Trail of Tears State Park, Missouri

I want to write about this park that means so much to me , but it’s hard to put into words . So I’ll start with the picture above and slowly work my way into it .

That’s Dan at the fence , on the edge of our campsite on the muddy Mississippi . He’s watching the train go by , just like he and his brothers used to do in Maxwell . He told the kids they got in trouble for it , but wouldn’t give anymore details. We’ll ask Grandma Helen for her version as soon as we see her .

We’re on the Missouri side , although you can easily get confused by all the parks with similar names . We had been here in 1998, but I was still convinced , and had 2 maps to prove it , that we were on the wrong shore . Luckily, Dan was driving and he was right !

When we visited in 1998, we were so excited to discover the campground right on the Mississippi , and not overcrowded. It’s a little off the
beaten path . We felt the same this time. There were 30 sites, and only 2 reserved . We got the utilities hooked up , the bikes off , and went out to explore .

This was one of our favorite spots in 1998, and I couldn’t wait to show the kids . The first stop was a grave in honor of Nancy Bushyhead Walker Hildebrand . No thanks to president Andrew Jackson, she was one of the more than 16,000 Cherokees forced to leave their land by foot in the winter of 1838-1839. On foot . In the winter . With hardly any clothing or food . Over 4,000 Cherokees died on the march , and Hildebrand was believed to have died within the park and is buried close to the marker .

Part of the reason for this trip is for the kids to learn US history firsthand . To see how incredible our country is . To recognize what it took for us to become independent. To learn that being an American means you have choices, unlike in many other countries .

Building on the injustices that Martin Luther King preached about for one last time in Memphis , we hoped that seeing the Trail of Tears would teach them what other oppressed people had to endure . Mission accomplished .

And as on any other day , we don’t go overboard on the learning . Hopping back on our bikes , we started the first of many climbs . The road is a roller coaster . So steep on a few hills that 3 of us occasionally had to walk and would be screaming at the others if we made it a foot past their stopping point . Yes , slightly competitive .

The visitor center was closed , so we didn’t know how far it was to the bluff overlook . The park is 3400 acres , and it felt like we were riding forever . We had been here in the fall before and the trees were in their full glory . This time it felt like an alien wasteland. Dan was the same though “I think it’s around the next corner .”

The view was worth the ride . High on a bluff over the river with views in all directions . Eljza took a picture of us and couldn’t stop giggling and wouldn’t say why . I realized why later – I left my helmet on and looked like a total dork ! Very funny .

The ride back took less than half the time there , confirming that we’d done more uphill in the 12 mile round trip . It was a blast ! Had to be careful to not to get going too fast .

So why am I so sentimental about this park ? The history ? That there but by the grace of God and marriage to a white man , my ancestor would have been part of the tragedy ? Or is it the sun , great ribs over a fire and the spectacular Mississippi flowing by ? Or the trains and barges going by day and night ?

Probably all of the above and more. Dan and I were really looking forward to revisiting one of our favorite parks , and expectations were high . We also know that we will never be back . So many spots out west we will be able to drive back to , but there’s no way we’ll drive this crazy far again ! Fly maybe , drive , no way ! So it’s been a very special time and I will carry it in my heart and memory as a highlight of this adventure .


About sallyljacobson

I live in paradise again, Bend Oregon, after a 19 month RV trip around North America with our 2 teenagers and 2 dogs. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and now I'm on to my next one - selling real estate to those lucky enough to move to Bend. The trip blog is and my current blog is Follow along, I'd love to be in touch with you!

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