Thank you, Heather. As Heather mentioned, I work for the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University. Today, I’ll be discussing some of the work we’ve been doing with the Mark Twain National Forest since 2015. We entered into a cooperative agreement allowing us to document trail segments running across their property in the Poplar Bluff Ranger District. Specifically, this segment relates to the route taken by the Benge detachment.

Background

The Center for Archaeological Investigations first became involved with the Trail of Tears in Southern Illinois. We’ve been working in that area for a while, but significant cooperative projects began in 2012. Since then, we’ve collaborated with the National Park Service, the Shawnee National Forest, the Historic Preservation Agency in Illinois, and the local Trail of Tears Association to document properties associated with the trail. This has resulted in several properties being nominated to the National Register, such as Campground Church, Bridges Tavern, and Hamburg Hill. Our director, Dr. Mark Wagner, recently nominated these. Additionally, Kaylee Sharp and Dr. Wagner developed a GIS database of cultural resources associated with the trail, leading to the Mark Twain National Forest inviting us to work on the other side of the river.

Project Scope

In 2015, we began a broader project that included documenting historic tramways outside Bunker, Missouri, and trail segments in the Poplar Bluff Ranger District. These projects, while not related, have similar methodologies. Both required fieldwork during the fall and winter months, when the lack of foliage makes identifying trails easier. In some cases, snow on the ground helps by highlighting the relief of the terrain, making swales and ruts more visible.

Importance of Roads and Trails as Cultural Resources

Roads and trails are often underrepresented or underutilized cultural resources for archaeologists. While they are recognized as important, they are often seen as pathways to other sites rather than cultural features in their own right. However, roads can have cultural significance, such as Rodeo Drive representing wealth and status or Route 66 evoking a specific time in American history. Trails like the Natchez Trace have deep historical and cultural meaning, extending back thousands of years. Documenting these trails helps preserve these cultural modifications of the landscape and enhances our understanding of the past.

Trail of Tears Routes

Many of you have likely seen maps of the different routes taken by the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears in 1838-1839. Today, I’m focusing on the Benge detachment’s route from Alabama to Oklahoma. This route, traveled between October 1838 and January 1839, passed through Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Documenting the Trail Segments

We relied on previous research, particularly Rusty Wiseman’s extensive archival work, to track down the Benge detachment’s route through Southeast Missouri. Wiseman’s work involved examining General Land Office records, historical documents, postal maps, and an 1837 survey of the state road in Missouri. His research provided a projected route for the trail, which we used as a basis for our fieldwork.

Using GPS devices and field maps, we surveyed the trail during the fall and winter months. We documented trail segments, measured depths, and created detailed maps. Our methodology included using an RTK GPS system for centimeter-level accuracy, taking photos, and hand-drawing maps to capture changes in the trail’s morphology.

Field Findings

We identified several segments of the trail within the Poplar Bluff Ranger District. For example, near Greenville, we found segments that matched Wiseman’s projected route closely. These segments showed evidence of continuous use into the early 20th century, with features like bottle dumps and rock piles indicating historical land use.

In another area near the Black River, we found a trail segment leading to an 1837 ferry crossing. Although part of the trail was obliterated by a railroad, we identified sections that remained intact.

Significance and Preservation

Overall, we identified about nine miles of trail segments, recommending them for the National Register. Our research provided the Forest Service with GIS data and detailed documentation to manage these trail segments effectively. We also identified several archaeological sites adjacent to the trail, suggesting further research to determine their historical significance.

Conclusion

Being on the trail made the Trail of Tears more real for me. It’s more than a metaphor; it’s a physical reminder of our history. Preserving these trails is crucial for understanding our past and maintaining cultural identity. I hope our work encourages further research and community involvement in preserving these important cultural resources.

Questions and Answers

Question: In terms of miles, what is the distance between the two crossings on the Black River? Answer: About a mile apart, centered within one-mile sections.

Question: You found about nine miles of surviving trail segments. What is the distance from beginning to end? Answer: Roughly 20 miles, considering the distance between Greenville and Poplar Bluff.

Question: Did you find evidence of soil compaction? Answer: It’s challenging due to the rocky terrain, but we did observe soil movement and light swales indicating trail use.

Question: Did you find campsites or homesteads where the Benge detachment resourced food? Answer: We noted potential farmsteads but did not find direct evidence of known stopping points or campsites.

Question: Were there large numbers of wagons on these trails? Answer: Interpreting the ruts as solely from the Cherokee wagons is difficult since the trail continued to be used into the 20th century by various means.

Thank you for your attention. If there are any more questions, feel free to ask.

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Dr. Ryan Campbell

Thank you, Heather. As Heather mentioned, I work for the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University. Today, I’ll be discussing some of the work we’ve been doing with the Mark Twain National Forest since 2015. We entered into a cooperative agreement allowing us to document trail segments running

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