Today, North Shore Riverwalk Park is a scenic pedestrian and cycling trail with fantastic views of the Arkansas River. But almost 200 years ago, before the City of North Little Rock was formed, the path was the site of what would become known as the “Trail of Tears.”
To help white Americans take Native Americans’ land for cultivating cotton, the federal government passed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, beginning forced relocation with the Choctaw then the Creeks (now called Muscogee) from their homelands in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. When the Cherokee did not leave their land quickly enough, President Martin Van Buren sent in soldiers to force the Cherokee “into stockades at bayonet point while whites looted their homes and belongings. Then, they marched the Indians more than 1,200 miles to Indian Territory.” (History.com)
“North Little Rock (Pulaski County)—then merely the opposite side of the Arkansas River from Little Rock—was state’s most active site during Indian Removal,” states the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Detachments of Choctaw, Muscogee, Chickasaw, and Cherokee arrived overland on the Memphis to Little Rock Road. Choctaw and Chickasaw were ferried across the river to proceed down the Southwest Trail. Others continued overland north of the river on the military road to Fort Gibson or south of the river to Fort Coffee, both in Indian Territory.”
An 1838 sketch in the Arkansas Gazette from the UA at Little Rock Collections and Archives Exhibits portrays Native Americans in North Little Rock on their way west. The captions reads: “A party of 720 Cherokee Indians, under charge of Lieut. Whitley, U.S.A. arrived here on Saturday last, on the s.b. Smelter, on their way to the West, and encamped on the north bank of the river, about half a mile above town…where they are now waiting for conveyance to Fort Gibson.”
The Trail of Tears was devastating to the Cherokee. “Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation were epidemic along the way, and historians estimate that more than 5,000 Cherokee died as a result of the journey.” (History.com) Those that made it to Indian Territory (today Oklahoma) had to adapt to a new, unfamiliar land.
To commemorate the Trail of Tears on the north shore of the Arkansas River, the National Park Service and North Little Rock Parks & Recreation Department recently installed new interpretative signs at North Shore Riverwalk Park. The panels aim to honor the tens of thousands Native Americans forced to travel west and educate the public about this tragic moment in American history.