The 2013 Remember the Removal bike riders completed their 950-mile ride across seven states and finished in Tahlequah on Friday.
The Cherokee Nation had 15 riders and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians had seven riders participate in the ride to retrace their ancestors’ footsteps along the northern route of the Trail of Tears.
“These riders returned to us safely with the words ‘Never Forget’ emblazoned on the back of their well-traveled jerseys, and with a better understanding of what our ancestors experienced along the Trail 175 years ago,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said during the return ceremony. “We will never forget their sacrifices, and that we are here today because of our ancestors’ strength, perseverance and fortitude.”
The group, ranging in age from 15 to 54, started in New Echota, Ga., on June 3 and traveled across Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before rolling onto the Courthouse Square in Tahlequah to a return ceremony with family, friends and food.
“The ride has been an amazing experience and shaped my perspective of what our ancestors encountered along the trail,” said Jon Ross, rider and descendant of Chief John Ross. “It’s been a hard trek, but the struggles offer a small taste of what our ancestors experienced many years ago.”
Marvel Welch, 54, from Cherokee, N.C., said the experience and relationships built along the ride amazed her.
“The energy that these kids have is just so unbelievable, and they helped me get to where I’m at right now,” Welch said of her victory completing the ride.
On the journey, the Remember the Removal riders visited various gravesites and historic landmarks along the trail, including Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which was the last piece of Cherokee homeland the ancestors stood on before beginning the trek to Indian Territory, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, which provided shelter to the ancestors as they waited for the Ohio River to thaw in order to cross safely.
The ride was started at the Cherokee Nation in 1984 so Cherokee youth would never forget the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, approximately 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease.
The journey of the 2013 Remember the Removal Bike Ride can be found on https://www.facebook.com/removal.ride