Our next stop was supposed to be St Louis. With the government shutdown, the Gateway Arch and Lewis and Clark museums were closed. Since those were our two main reasons for going to St Louis, we decided to skip the city and continue south. Disappointing! We had planned to go to Trail of Tears State Park after St Louis, so we continued there. Once again the park was almost deserted. The campground at this park was much smaller, but had full hookup sites which is always a treat! The sites were closer together than those in most state parks, but ours overlooked the Mississippi River which was nice. We enjoyed watching barges going up and down the river while we were there. The only drawback to this campground is it was located right next to a train track, which was not at all surprising since this has happened more often than not through our travels in Wisconsin and Illinois. What is it with this area of the country? We had not encountered this many campgrounds near train tracks during our previous travels in the south, especially not in state parks. I am still trying to find a way to sleep through trains, but I don’t think it is going to happen!
This park is a memorial to Cherokee Indians that lost their lives in the forced relocation during the winter of 1838-1839. The park is located where nine of the 13 groups of Cherokee Indians crossed the Mississippi River. As they traveled 800 miles west to Indian Territory, of the more than 16,000 forced to leave their lands against their will, it is estimated that over 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives on the trail, including dozens in or near the park’s grounds. Trail of Tears State Park is a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
Our first full day here we rode into Cape Girardeau to run some errands. We noticed what appeared to be trucks and equipment set up for some kind of filming. We found out that they are filming part of the movie, “Gone Girl”, starring Ben Affleck, in this little Missouri town! On the way back out of town we happened to notice a series of murals along a flood wall on the Mississippi River and decided to take a look. We were so surprised at the beautiful murals depicting the history of the area, followed by a Missouri Hall of Fame wall. The wall of murals, called “Mississippi River Tales”, covers almost 18,000 square feet and is 1,100 feet long.
First of the murals on history of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Hawthorne plant with brilliant blossoms and bright red berries became the Missouri state flower. The Carolina parakeet, once prevalent in the river valley, vanished by 1900. The last member of this species died in 1918 at the Cincinnati zoo.
Between 900 and 1200 AD many Native Americans lived in the Mississippi Valley. They lived in harmony with nature and trained red tailed hawks to hunt. In this mural they greet the morning sun as it rises over the great river.
De Soto on the left was the first explorer to encounter Native Americans. Marquette and Joliet led the first French expedition down the Mississippi. Near the mouth of the Arkansas River, the Native Americans warned them if they went farther south they would encounter heat, fierce people, and great beasts. They turned back to the safety of the French settlements on the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence.
Lewis and Clark introducing themselves to the people of Missouri.
The Louisiana Purchase. Napoleon renounces Louisiana in his bath, causing his servant to faint into the arms of his brother. At 1803 in New Orleans the French colors were lowered and the U.S. flag was raised. A French soldier sheds a tear. In March, 1804, Upper Louisiana was formally transferred to the United States at St. Louis.
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act which led to the forced removal of eastern tribes to Indian territory west of the Mississippi, which later became the state of Oklahoma. Residents of Cape Girardeau were reported to have provided baskets of food for the Cherokees.
View of the Mississippi River from one of the forts that encircled Cape Girardeau during the Civil War.
During the Battle of Cape Girardeau, Confederate forces attacked the town. A Confederate cannon ball pierced the roof of a residence and Ike, the family slave, extinguished the flames and saved the house.
Coming of the Railroad
The Big Freeze. In the early 20th century the Mississippi River was a wider and slower river than today. Because it was slower, it was more inclined to freeze.
For most of the 19th century and first third of the 20th, steamboats were vital to the economic livelihood of the area.
The Big Flood of 1927…remains the flood by which all Mississippi floods are measured. The devastation resulted in a coordinated system of levees and walls from Cape Girardeau to the Gulf of Mexico. This changed the nature of the Mississippi Rive and the course of history.
Famous people from Missouri, starting with Mark Twain
Calamity Jane, Frank and Jesse James, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Jean Harlow, Vincent Price, Redd Foxx, John Huston
Joe Garagiola, Walter Cronkite, George Washington Carver
Dale Carnegie, Joseph Pulitzer
Harry Truman, of course!
While we were there we took a stroll along the Mississippi River, enjoying the river views.
The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. He was an eight-term congressman.
When we returned to the park we decided to explore a little before returning to our campsite. We traveled paved roads over extremely tall ridges to suddenly reach an overlook with the most amazing view of the Mississippi River.
Historical plaque at the overlook
Historical plaque at the overlook……Lewis and Clark and their group explored and camped in this area….so much history!
View of the Mississippi River from the overlook 200 feet above
From this overlook, our campground is about half a mile down river on the right
When we were at the Mississippi River earlier in the day at Cape Girardeau, Bill had really hoped to see a barge on the river but we didn’t see one. To our joy, at the overlook, we saw a barge chugging down the river, filled with coal. The filming of a movie, interesting murals, and then the overlook with the view. All totally unexpected. One of the things that makes this lifestyle so much fun!
We learned the visitor’s center at the park is closed Sunday thru Wednesday during October. Another disappointment since we arrived on a Sunday and would be leaving early Thursday morning. The visitors center had some Indian census, exhibits on the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears that we really wanted to see. Our wonderful campground hosts made arrangements for the visitors center to be opened just for us and we were able to spend over an hour touring the exhibits. The campground hosts, a husband and wife, have been full time RVers for 7 years and have spent those 7 years traveling around the country volunteering at different national and state parks. They were so nice and it was such a joy to meet and talk with them!
Within the park boundaries is the Bushyhead Memorial which is a tribute to Nancy Bushyhead Walker HIldebrand (Princess Otahki), and all the other Cherokees who died on the Trail of Tears. Legend has that Nancy died and was buried within the park’s boundaries during the western relocation. Her husband, brother, and two children made it to the Indian Territory.
Bill standing at Princess Otahki’s monument