The Trail of Tears at Cadron
by Grant Foreman
Editor's Note: Grant Foreman's Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1932, is still considered the "standard" account of the forced removal of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes from their homelands in the southeastern states to lands west of the Mississippi.
Below is re-printed excerpts from Foreman's account (pp. 256-261) of the tribulations of Cherokees from Georgia on "The Trail of Tears" as a party came up the Arkansas River to the mouth of Cadron Creek in the spring of 1834.
In 1834, U. S. Army Lt. Joseph W. Harris of the Hampshire was leading a party of Cherokees up the Arkansas River. As they ascended the river in a steamboat, their progress was delayed by frequent stops at woodyards. Numerous snags and shoals compelled them to travel only in the daytime and tie up to the bank at night. Sickness from measles was increasing and they occasionally stopped to bury a dead person. They arrived at Little Rock on April 6 and after putting ashore ninety barrels of flour and pork to lighten the craft, proceeded up river the next day. Due to the difficulty of passing the shoals, stopping twice to bury children...and repairing damages to the paddle-wheels of the boat, they made only forty-three miles in the first two days. Towing the two keel-boats over the shoals and through the swift crossings had become so difficult that Harris induced 102 of his party to go ashore at the mouth of Cadron creek and proceed overland...,Finding it impossible to cross a shallow bar...they descended to the mouth of Cadron creek from which the land party had not departed.
The men were ordered ashore to prepare for their families shelters to which they were the next day to remove from the boats all of their personal effects, and wash and air their clothing and bedding. They were to make the best of their camp until an accession of water would enable them to renew their river journey, or teams could be found to take them overland. Many miles from their destination, these unhappy emigrants found themselves in a desperate situation, but their intelligent conductor did everything possible to relieve their distress. That night, about three miles away, Lt. Harris found Dr. Jesse C. Roberts and in the dark they groped their way to the boats and visited the various sick.
Harris returned to Little Rock and scoured the country searching for wagons and teams with little success as the few owners needed them to begin their spring planting The emigrants were cheered somewhat by the improvement in their health, when on the fifteenth an alarming change took place with the introduction of a malignant type of cholera. Two sisters...and a wife and several others died within twenty-four hours and were buried on the same day. The next day three died before breakfast and eleven in all before the sun went down. The Indians were panic-stricken Lt. Harris wrote in his report:
"My blood chills even as I write, at the remembrance of the scenes I have gone through today. In the cluster of cedars upon the bluff which looks down upon the Creek & river, and near a few tall chimneys-the wreck of a once comfortable tenement, the destroyer has been most busily at work. Three large families of the poor class are there encamped & I have devoted the larger portion of my cares to their sufferers- but in vain were my efforts: the hand of death was upon them. At one time I saw stretched around me and within a few feet of each other, eight of these afflicted creatures dead or dying. Yet no loud lamentations went up from the bereaved ones here. They were of the true Indian blood; they looked upon the departed ones with a manly sorrow & silently digged graves for their dead and as quietly laid them out in their narrow beds... There is a dignity in their grief which is sublime; and which, poor and destitute, ignorant and unbefriended as they were, made me respect them.
"The grief of the whites of my party is now loud and more distressing, yet less touching than the untold sorrow of the poor Indian. The heart-broken wife or mother whose feelings had not from the cradle been nerved by the philosophy of the woods, could not, when a beloved child or husband was snatched within an hour from rosy health & from her bosom, brood over her anguish in silence. She must teIl her misery to the world. The whites and the half breeds too are far more timid & far more selfish I find, in scenes of danger & of affliction than the full blooded Indian." After listing the dead, Harris added: " All of whom with the exception of Alex M'Toy have been decently buried, & his coffin will be in readiness in a few minutes."
Seven more died on the seventeenth and the same number the next day. Nearly all those afflicted with cholera were either suffering, or just recovering, from measles
Five died on the nineteenth. Harris wrote: "People employed in burying their dead, nursing the sick, washing, & burning the underbrush of the woods, & creating a smoke... Thus far all my dead have had as decent burial as the circumstances would admit, in some cases when pressed we have been obliged to put two or even three bodies in one coffin, but such instances have occurred rarely."
A Faithful Physician
Doctor Roberts, the faithful country doctor who had come from Alabama to this country a few years before with his little family, attended his patients constantly day and night. His treatment was limited principally to doses of from one-half to a grain of opium, and then fifteen to forty grains of calomel. Under his ministration the death-rate dropped to one a day on the twentieth and twenty-first. That evening with the battle apparently won, the doctor was stricken and died the next day. Doctor Roberts had attended faithfully and intelligently the sick and dying Indians. "He has left a wife and young family in embarrassed circumstances."
From about fifteen miles away came Doctor [Nimrod] Menifee...but he was obliged to leave and look after his own patients. Doctor Fulton of Little Rock came a few days later but succumbed to the hardships of his duties and was obliged to leave Lt. Harris alone with the sick.
In order to travel about looking for oxen and wagons, Harris had purchased a horse, but...it was stolen from near the camp by white horse-thieves who took also a few ponies of the Indians .
The twenty-fourth the "steamer Cavalier passed with sundry of the Cherokee emigrants...several of whom are very sick." The next day there were several deaths and more became ill. Six teams of six-oxen and one five-horse team that had been engaged, arrived at camp On the twenty-sixth, Harris was attacked and after taking forty grains of calomel and half a grain of opium took a hot foot bath. Although still sick, he mounted a horse and rode through the camp supervising the efforts to start the journey again.
The wagons loaded with food and sick started across Cadron creek. ...The oxen were poor animals weak from the custom of feeding them nothing through the winter but the cane which they foraged for themselves. Because of the large number of ill and infirm it was necessary to carry all the provisions possible; as the great flood of the year before had left very little food in the country, which, when it could be procured at all, was surrendered grudgingly in small quantities and at a very high price. For these reasons, Lt. Harris required the Indians to leave behind all their effects but blankets, light bedding and cooking utensils, indispensable to the comfort of the sick and for their subsistence upon the road, and these things they were obliged to carry on their backs.
All the people who could stand traveled on foot, many of them bare-foot, men, women, and children. Salvaging only what they could carry, they abandoned the many cherished possessions they had brought from their old homes with which to begin life anew in the wilderness: their bedding, household utensils, looms, ovens, pot-hooks, spinning-wheels, farming implements, plows, hoes, and harness. Three children died of the measles and were buried the first day of March, three the next, one the next, and one on the thirtieth, when the party reached the Illinois Bayou near the site of old Dwight Mission [west of present-day Russellville].
The Trail of Tears at Cadron
Faulkner County Facts and Fiddlings
Volume XL, Spring and Summer, 1998, Nos. 1-2