Seven members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee and 16 members of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma recently participated in “Remember the Removal,” riding 950 miles of the Trail of Tears on bicycles.
The RTR riders, who biked up to 75 miles daily across challenging terrain and heat, reflected on the struggles their ancestors faced.
Judy Castorena, the oldest member of the group, said the ride reminded her of what her ancestors endured.
“Being the oldest always stuck with me,” she said. “I was on a dirt road, pushing my bike when it hit me; I could have been the one left behind or the one getting whipped and pushed because I was the slowest. I could have been the one that died.”
“Remember The Removal (RTR)” is a remembrance of the forced removal of the Cherokee from their homelands during the winter of 1838-39. The RTR riders retraced the northern route of the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. More than 4,000 Native Americans died on the Trail of Tears.
Southwestern Community College alumnus Jeremy Wilson said that he didn’t give much thought to applying for the ride at first because he hadn’t ridden a bicycle in years. “For some reason, on the last day of application, it [the ride] became a calling of sorts and I felt that I needed to do it,” said Wilson.
The first “Remember the Removal” ride was in 1984 when 20 Cherokee students rode the same route in commemoration of the Trail of Tears. The ride was revived in 2009 and is now an annual event meant to educate youth about the removal and to foster leadership skills.
To trace the ride, visit www.facebook.com/CherokeeRidersRememberTheRemoval.