Georgia and Oklahoma Native American officials joined historians, Cedartown and Polk County elected officials, National Park Service officials, and those from the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association at noon Tuesday to dedicate an interpretative sign along the creek just off of Wissachikon Ave. in Cedartown.
The sign between two large Cedar trees marks the spot were thousands of Cherokees were kept in an encampment for about three weeks in the spring of 1838 before being forced to march through Tennessee and up to Oklahoma.
The area was known as Cedar Town then, they said.
Officials said around 22,000 Cherokees were removed during the Trail of Tears and 5,500 died along the route to the west.
Leslie Thomas, Vice President of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association said, even with the role Georgia played in displacing the Cherokee people and putting them in encampments, it had no markers to acknowledge that history until her organization began working on it a little more than a decade ago after it joined the National Trail of Tears Association.
At that time, the Trail of Tears began in Moccasin Creek in Chattanooga and did not include North Carolina or Georgia, she said.
There were 14 Georgia encampments and this is the first one officially recognized, officials said.
Thomas said it took volunteers four years to prove the Cedartown location was authentic and correct.
“We had to certify this with the National Park System. We had an archeological survey done. We had to do land grant verification. It was a long process,” she said.
Jeff Bishop, president of the Georgia Trail of Tears chapter, said in the dedication ceremony it is remarkable the land of the Cedartown encampment remains unspoiled in an area with growth all around.
“It’s almost like people knew this land was sacred,” he said.
Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, also offered comments.
“The lessons of history repeat themselves. Unless we learn from them, we are destined to repeat the same grave mistakes,” he said.
He said the displacement wasn’t because the government needed the land for there was little population grown in north Georgia for 100 years after the Native Americans were moved out.
They simply wanted the land and he compared the decision to domestic terrorism.
“I have to tell you that the way we see it is no less than that. Racist, greedy, wanting the land and willing to wrestle us from our homes,” he said.
He said the Cherokee people now see the Trail of Tears as a challenge from the tribe to become all that it was meant by the Creator to be.
“It is our destiny to be a happy, healthy, people,” Smith said.
Afterward, Smith said these recognitions are helping to reconcile the rift between the tribe and Georgia.
“Any effort of people of good will is appreciated,” he said. “These efforts mean a lot—to know the lessons have been learned and acknowledged.”
Dr. Sarah Hill, who was one of the primary researchers for this project and an expert on Cherokee history, said it was exciting for her to finally be able to accurately portray Georgia’s significance to the Cherokee people and the role the state played in the removal of the tribe.
“We’re pretty lucky in Cedartown because in my research I had come across a memo written by a man who had talked to one of the removal soldiers in Cedartown,” Hill said.
She said these additional details help to put a human face on history.
“When you find things like that, it illuminates the story,” she said.
After the dedication of the interpretive marker, the group traveled the original route along a segment of the historic Trail of Tears to Cave Spring to dedicate a Cherokee cabin discovered hidden under plank board and stone during a renovation of a building.