Road Trip to Oklahoma:Trail of Tears

The Great American Road Trip

Destination: Oklahoma

Book: Mountain Windsong: A Novel of the Trail of Tears (1992) by Robert J. Conley

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word, Oklahoma?

Oklahoma Movie poster

A fabulous Broadway musical and the movie that was adapted from it, right?  But  the musical and the movie leave out an enormous part of Oklahoma–the American Indians. Specifically the Cherokee for whom Oklahoma was the end of the Trail of Tears.

Who better to tell about the Cherokee experience than a reknowed Oklahoma Cherokee writer,Robert J. Conley, who is currently president of Western Writers of America. His book, Mountain Windsong: A Novel of the Trail of Tears, departs from the usual western adventure-style novels that he writes. He does manage to get in some rock ‘em sock ‘em fights, which are more characteristic of his fiction.

Trail of Tears, the Granger Collection, New York

In a unique presentation, Conley alternates between the present with a Grandfather talking to his young grandson whom he calls chooj, and the lives of two fictional characters, Oconeechee and Waguli (Whipporwill), who represent the hardships of the removal of Cherokee people from Alabama to Oklahoma.

Conley also includes pieces of treaties and histories that give the unvarnished facts about what became known as The Trail of Tears. One historian estimates that as many as 4000 Cherokee ( presumably some of their slaves) died either on the trail or from eating unfamiliar foods while being held in army camps. The piece of the book that caught me by surprise was a letter to President Martin Van Buren in 1836. The writer says that people have read in the newspapers that 18,000 members of the Cherokee nation are to be “dragged” over mountains and rivers to a far away land despite the fact that over 15,000 of them object.

Such a dereliction of all faith and virtue, such a denial of justice, and such deafness to screams for mercy were never heard of in times of peace and in the dealing of a nation with its own allies and wards, since the earth was made.  Sir, does this government think that the people of the United States are become savage and mad?…The soul of man, the justice, the mercy that is the heart’s heart in all men, from Maine to Georgia, does abhor this business.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

This letter to the President of the United States is signed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who along with Davy Crockett and Sam Houston spoke up for the Cherokee, but all were ignored.

Conley says that the idea for this love story set against the Trail of Tears came from a song by Cherokee singer, Dan Grooms, and the lyrics are sprinkled throughout the book. The story is one of deep love, persistence, continuity, and acceptance.  But it is a story that we do not often hear told in this detail, drawing on both fact and emotion.

After this book, Conley wrote The Cherokee Nation: A History, an award-winning non fiction account of history and a Cherokee Encyclopedia.

For more music for Oklahoma, check out Music Road, who joins us on the Great American Road Trip. You can follow the Trail of Tears. Take a look at this National Historic Trail. I am visiting Tulsa Oklahoma next week as a guest of the Cherokee nation, and am looking forward to learning more about their history and their culture. While I’m gone you will get to hear from guest writers about a Vienna mystery, an Irish animated film, and a Texas writer’s favorite Texas author.

Have you read about The Trail of Tears? How was that incident handled in your history classes (or your children’s)?

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler’s Library, recreating her family’s past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

6 thoughts on “Road Trip to Oklahoma:Trail of Tears

  1. I’ve been to many of the places in the south where Cherokee lived before removal, and several where they still have communities today. Heard their music and stories as well.

    As I recall, the trail of tears was always a part of history we knew growing up, and yes, it was taught in school, along with other conflicts between the First Peoples and the settlers in the expanding countries of the US and Canada.

    Look forward to hearing of your experiences in Oklahoma.

  2. Howdy – My Mother’s family are from Ft Gibson and Tahlequah. That corner of the state is gorgeous! I assume you are visiting the The Cherokee National Museum near Tahlequah. In Tulsa, explore the Swan Lake district! Have a great time! -r

  3. i haven’t read much about this, but the book sure makes me want to (besides the sock em fights, no thanks). there’s so much of our nation’s history that i am still eager to learn. thanks!

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