Cherokee Cyclists Return From 950-Mile Trail of Tears Bike Ride

Cherokee Remember the Removal-2023

TAHLEQUAH, OK – Ten Cherokee bicyclists who were part of the 2023 Remember the Removal Bike Ride finished their 950-mile journey with a homecoming ceremony in the capital city of the Cherokee Nation.

During the trek, cyclists from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians retraced the northern route of the Trail of Tears in honor of their ancestors who were forcefully removed from their homelands in the southeast United States more than 180 years ago.

The cyclists began the memorial ride in New Echota, GA, and traveled through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma before they were welcomed back at the Cherokee National Peace Pavilion in downtown Tahlequah.

“I am a firm believer in our Cherokee people and our ability to persevere and overcome any obstacle we face when we stand united,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner. “The Remember the Removal Bike Ride embodies that each year. These cyclists traveled nearly 1,000 miles to pay homage to their ancestors, learn more about some of the worst tragedy in the history of the Cherokee Nation and demonstrate to the world that Cherokees are still resilient and strong as ever. Each year, I look forward to hearing the stories of strength and growth experienced by the Remember the Removal cyclists. These riders represent the future of the Cherokee people, and I believe they will help take our great Nation to heights we have never seen – not in spite of their obstacles, but because of them. I could not be prouder of these cyclists.”

During their journey over the last three weeks, the cyclists visited historical sites significant to Cherokee history. Among the locations was Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which is the last piece of Cherokee homeland that Cherokee ancestors stood on before beginning their forced trek to Indian Territory. Other stops included Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokee ancestors sought shelter as they waited for the Ohio River to thaw during a bitterly cold winter.

The ride is not an easy one, testing both the physical and mental capabilities of the cyclists as they traveled through rain, sunshine, heat and hilly terrain – sometimes pedaling up to 60 miles in a single day.

Cherokee Nation cyclists included Faith Springwater, 19, of Tahlequah; Amaiya Bearpaw, 22, of Jay; Mattie Berry, 18, of Warner; Kenzie Snell, 19, of Park Hill; and Samantha Cavin, 18, of Pryor. Eastern Band cyclists from North Carolina included Nelson Lambert, 35, of Birdtown Community; Destiny Mills, 20, of Wolftown Community; Sunshine Parker, 40, of Yelllowhill Community; Rae Queen, 42, of Big Cove Community; and Venita Wolfe, 47, of Big Cove Community.

“This is an experience that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life,” said Springwater. “I’ve learned so much about my heritage and, from a mental and emotional standpoint, I’ve only gotten stronger from this experience. Just learning everything about my ancestors and my heritage, it means the world to me. I couldn’t be more proud of this team of cyclists for the hard work and resilience we showed.”

The ride’s inaugural event was held in 1984 to illustrate the hardships that Cherokee people faced. It is estimated that 16,000 Cherokees were removed from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina in the spring of 1938. Nearly 4,000 of them died during the roundup, incarceration and removal.

“Finally making it back to Tahlequah after weeks of cycling was a surreal feeling,” said Bearpaw. “I’ve never been so happy to be back here and surrounded by family and friends. I’m just trying to let all of the emotions sink in because this experience was such a challenging and memorable journey with so many ups and downs. I’m proud that I will be able to share my experience on the bike ride with my family and the generations to come. I can honestly say that I’ve come out of this bike ride with a brand-new perspective.” 

Cyclists were greeted in Tahlequah by hundreds of friends and family from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.