We left Cedar Lake with some regret and a certain wish that we could have stayed longer and that we will try to get back. Our next destination was Cherokee Landing State Park. The trip was more harrowing up the steep hill, down the steep hill to a river bottom, up the steep hill, down the steep hill, with the tranny complaining as we went. Stereotypically, Oklahoma is supposed to be flat prairie but in the east a few of those roads could match the worst driving in Arkansas. The cat was once again riding in his carrier in the bathtub and I left him very unhappy with me.
After Cedar Lake, this park was a let down although it is a rather nice park. The park is open year round but it is also far enough north that there aren’t a lot of visitors in March. Being accustomed to remote self serve campsites, we weren’t particularly put off to arrive and find the office closed. However it was kind of a shock to see absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, in the way of instructions or anything else at the gate. There was no map, no list of reserved sites versus open sites, no campground host, not even road signage. We drove in and looked around and eventually found one of the four sites the state park brochure said the park had that were full service. Hubby dearest had to get out of the truck and walk to check for a sewer connection. It was time to do laundry again.
As evening settled so did a pall of thick smoke. A large wildfire was burning the south east. We closed up and did our usual trick to avoid having smoke trigger one of my asthma attacks. We left a pot of water on a slow boil and the dehumidifier and air conditioner going. The water surrounds smoke particle preferentially in condensing and they get removed with the waste water produced by the air conditioner and dehumidifier. By morning the wind had shifted and the air was clear.
About 3:00pm a ranger came around and collected the $28 fee and then he gave us back $4 for being seniors. He was very friendly and helpful and told us about the nearby Cherokee Heritage Center. Our rationale for wanting to see the heritage centre was twofold. First, we knew almost nothing about the Cherokee and we thought it would be good to educate ourselves. Second, during this trip we kept encountering historical markers or commentary about the “Trail of Tears”. According to the movie Hilary’s America by Dinesh D’Sousa, the Trail of Tears was the product of a Democratic President stealing Cherokee land to buy white voters over the protests of Republicans like Davie Crockett. We decided we wanted to hear another perspective for balance. The nice ranger gave us good directions and tips on parking and such. We paid for two nights. The forecast was for storms in a couple of days so our plan was to be further north before any storms fired up.
Our visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center (my spell checker is having hissy fits here because Canadians spell it Centre) was a fascinating look into a parallel culture and we learned a lot. The walk through the preEuropean village, complete with actors doing early activities like flint arrow making and pottery, was fascinating. What I especially liked was there was no “noble savage” nonsense. Our guide talked about what was good about preEuropean life and what was bad. For example, he explained how the central fire pit in the house meant the house was always fun of smoke and this resulted in a reduced lifespan from lung disease. It seemed to be a fair and balanced kind of presentation, mostly interesting.
The center also had a mock up of a little Cherokee town from the 1800s. There, we were told that the Franklin wood stove was eagerly embraced by the Cherokee because the wood stove was a much more efficient way to heat a home compared to a fireplace and it reduced smoke in the home in winter. The little town look pretty much the same as any historical mock up of town of that era and so it was obvious the Cherokee had immediately adopted any European innovation they liked and that the arrival of European technology had vastly improved their lifestyle.
From there we went into the Museum proper. Most of the interior is dedicated to the history behind the Trail of Tears. I was really upset to learn how horrible it had been. These were a people largely accustomed to European style of living abruptly stripped of everything they had and sent on foot to walk west, over the Mississippi moved by brute military force and, for the most part, taking only what they could carry. It would have been bad enough if they had been a hunter-gatherer society accustomed to living off the land as they went. These were a people who had been farmers and had adopted European ways of farming, housing, and dressing themselves abruptly forced to travel hundreds of miles on foot in all weather. No wonder tens of thousands perished along the way.
I don’t think of it as being genocide because to me genocide means the deliberate attempt of one group to systematically kill off every member of another group. It was most certainly an ethnic cleansing. Every Cherokee was stripped of their lands and most of their goods and forced to move to a strange new place designated as “Indian Territory”. The rationale was they would be better off living as savages in a savage land off to the west while Americans “settled” the east. (As if it wasn’t already settled by the Cherokee and other Indians.) There were more than a few problems with this. Almost no provisions were made for the Cherokee on the journey and there were already a bunch of other Indians living in the same land. It was not just the Cherokee who were forced out. Other tribes including the Canoe of Florida and the Choctaw were also ethnically cleansed. The historical account we saw did acknowledge many whites were horrified by this ethnic cleaning and did what they could to assist the refugees. There was nothing about whether or not it was the Democrat versus Republican battle as presented in the D’Sousa movie so I didn’t get an answer to that question. I was reminded of the bitter pograms of Russia where Katherine the Not-So-Great bought off Russian peasants by stealing everything owned by Jews and redistributing their meager wealth. That kind of ethnic cleansing drove my husband’s Jewish family from Europe to America. Like the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Russia, along the Trail of Tears, tens of thousands died.
I must admit I am uncomfortable with using the term “Indian”. In Canada we don’t use it because it is not accurate. We are supposed to use more accurate terms like “First Nations” or “Indigenous Peoples” and wherever possible use the correct tribal name for the individual peoples. However the Cherokee use the term Indian when referring to themselves along with other First Nations people. I got a lot of weird looks when I used the term First Nations, like I was some kind of strange white with an acute case of noble savage complex. Indian is a common acceptable term in the USA, so I will use it when referring to Indians living there.
In spite of the great historical horror and tragedy of the Trail of Tears it still felt like a positive place. The Cherokee Nation seems to be doing very well for itself, thank you very much anyway. Their identity as a people, their language both written and spoken seemed to be well preserved and their culture thriving in spite of the best effort of Democrats (assuming D’Sousa is correct). We left the gift shop laden with goodies and a positive feeling. Cherokee and Jews would seem to have a lot in common.
Here is my review of the campground:
Cherokee Landing State Park
This state park is on a high peninsula sticking out into the lake. The park has a few shade trees but it is more exposed than not. We arrived in on a day that hit 92F and we baked. The wind was high and our trailer rocked and rolled with the blasts. There were wild fires south and west of us and the smoke was very thick so we didn’t go out much. Overall it is a rather standard state park with spaces somewhat closer than I would like. There are some sites with sewer but they are immediately adjacent to the dump site which meant stink and a lot of traffic. One thing we did really enjoy was there was a spring eruption of migrating birds so we got to see a huge variety of birds in large flocks including northern flickers, woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, juncos, starlings, blackbirds, nuthatches and several other species. We stopped here to be close to the Cherokee Heritage Centre which is 15 miles away. We thoroughly enjoyed the Heritage Centre and the coincidence of the spring migration but otherwise there was nothing special or noteworthy about the park.
The next morning we headed north to Kansas. the forecast for Oklahoma was becoming ominous and I had no desire to experience one of this state’s infamous spring tornado outbreaks.