“Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek…Chickasaw, Chickasaw Can’t Be Beat!”

If you grew up memorizing the 5 Civilized Tribes with a chant similar to the one above, you might be from “Indian Country”.

Every time I think of that chant, I smile. It takes me back to kindergarten when our class would sit on the gymnasium floor, “Indian Style”, for assemblies, and say the chant in unison. To this day, I still have to recite the chant to name the Five Civilized Tribes.

The Five Civilized Tribes

That chant was more than just a fun way to memorize the Five Civilized Tribes. It was a battle cry that would help Native youth in my community learn more about how we ended up in Oklahoma.

The Five Civilized Tribes were called that because they had shown indicators of adapting to the European influences brought in by settlers. They established trade connections, economic systems and even governance systems inspired by European influences.

But, the Indian Removal Policy temporarily challenged all they had established.

The Trail of Tears

May 18, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. Between 1830 and 1850, the US Government forcibly removed approximately 60,000 members of the Five Civilized Tribes from their lands in the Southeastern part of the US. Members of the tribes were driven like cattle down what is known as The Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears has several passageways to move people from various regions of the Southeast into Indian Territory. However, there is one place designated as the office end of the trail.

The End of the Trail

Although I had given thought of my ancestor’s experiences on the Trail of Tears, I never really thought about the emotions that they experienced when they reached “the end”. I think I was always so focused on the actual journey, that I hadn’t given much thought to the journey after the trail ended.

That is, until I ran across a roadside sign pointing toward the office “End of the Trail”.

Really and truly, I was in a hurry to get home from a business trip in Oklahoma. But, the sign for the end of the trail intrigued me. So, in typical “me” fashion, I turned my car around and began to follow the sign.

It took me down a long, two-lane road dotted with old homes and empty fields. It was peaceful as I approached a small, lone sign indicating I was approaching my turn.

The sign indicated the site was operated by the National Park Service, so I immediately became excited. I love a good National Park site!

Just a few more miles down the road and I would arrive at my destination.

An Anti-Climatic Arrival


My excitement turned first to disbelief, and then to disappointment as I found “The End of the Trail”.

I had been to this place a million times, and never knew the significance it held in my life. And, strangely enough, I had never noticed the small sign indicating it’s significance.

I’ll admit, it was an unceremonious moment.

So where was it located?

The End of the Trail was located in none other than the Stilwell City Cemetery.

You can read more about the site here, on the National Park Service page.

Why a Cemetery?

I searched for information on why New Hope Cemetery was erected at the end of the Trail of Tears, but was unable to find any. And searching for this information left me with more questions than answers.

Questions such as:

  • Did Native Americans have to carry their dead on the trail, thus burying them at the end? Is this how the cemetery was created?
  • And if so, has there been any effort to identify these graves via “grave witching” or other methods and subsequent memorialization?
  • Was recognizing the area as a cemetery a strategic way to preserve the end of the trail?

And perhaps my biggest question: were my ancestors just as underwhelmed as I was when I crossed the end of the trail?

Preserving the histories of peoples- where they came from and how they got here- is important for our future generations. It is important that they realize the emotion, strategy, passion and work that went into building a world that has contributed to their own personal lives.

One day, when I have more time to spend, I would like to go back to the end of the trail. I would love to spend time walking around, visiting with a local historian and learning more about the significance of the cemetery’s placement.


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