Heroes on the Trail of Tears

The jessebushyheadReverend Jesse Bushyhead (1804-1844) was a Cherokee religious and political leader. Although he opposed the policy of removal to the west, he accepted the inevitable and led a party of about 1,000 people on the Trail of Tears. The group led by Bushyhead followed the same northern route taken by the group led by Evan Jones. The route led them north through Tennessee and Kentucky to an Ohio River crossing at Golconda, Illinois, then west to cross the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. After that, they turned southwest to Indian Territory. At the start of the trek, the group numbered 950 people. During the journey, the group experienced 38 deaths and 6 births, so that 898 arrived safely at their destination on February 23, 1838. On his arrival near present-day Westville, Oklahoma he established the Baptist Mission, which marked the end of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. He became chief justice of the Cherokee nation in 1840 and remained in that office until his death.

I love the inscription on his grave marker. Front side—“Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'” An inscription in Cherokee is at the bottom.

And on the back—“Rev. Jesse Bushyhead was a man noble in person and noble in heart. His choice was to be a true and faithful minister of his Lord and Master rather than any high and wordly position. He loved his country and people, serving them from time to time in many important offices and missions. He united with the Baptist Church in his early manhood and died as he had lived, a devoted Christian.”

evan jonesEvan Jones (1788–1872) was born in Wales. He emigrated to the United States in 1821. Jones became a Baptist missionary and spent over fifty years as a missionary to the Cherokee people. The Baptist Foreign Mission Board initially sent him and his family to work among the Cherokees living in North Carolina, where he learned to speak and write in the Cherokee language, taught school at the Valley Town Baptist Mission, and became an itinerant preacher. Jones vehemently opposed the expulsion of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands. But Jones volunteered to lead one group of Cherokees to Indian Territory. His group consisted of 1, 033 people who left Valley Town on Febraury 2, 1838 just ahead of the group led by his close friend and ministerial colleague, Jesse Bushyhead. Jones’ group experienced 71 deaths and five births on the Trail.  When they finally arrived, he reestablished the Baptist Mission and school and resumed his missionary activities. With the help of his son, John Buttrick Jones, he continued his work preaching, translating religious books, and serving as an advocate for the Cherokee. One author claims that Evan and his son “…converted more American Indians to Christianity than any other Protestant missionaries in America”.

images6Junaluska, (Cherokee: Tsunu’lahun’ski) (c.1775 – October 20, 1868), was a leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in western North Carolina. He fought alongside Andrew Jackson and saved his life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, though later in life he regretted having done so. At the start of the infamous Trail of Tears in 1838, Junaluska and many other Cherokee people were incarcerated and held in nearby stockades. Fort Montgomery was located near present day Robbinsville, North Carolina. From this stockade, Junaluska was forced to march to Indian Territory in present day eastern Oklahoma. Junaluska was assigned to Jesse Bushyhead’s detachment. About seven weeks into the journey, Junaluska deserted and led approximately 50 other Cherokee in a bid for freedom. As noted in fictional Beyond the Cherokee Trail, he was captured and returned to Oklahoma but after several years Junaluska made the trip back to North Carolina on foot. In 1847, after a plea by Colonel William Thomas of the future Thomas’ Legion fame, the state legislature rewarded Junaluska for his service by making him a citizen and giving him land near Robbinsville. A museum and memorial stand in his honor at his gravesite.

For more information and behind-the-scenes photos of Beyond the Cherokee Trail, visit https://www.pinterest.com/lisacoxcarter/beyond-the-cherokee-trail/.