Western N.C. resident Dale Stewart will solo paddle the entire Trail of Tears water route this summer, from June 12 to Aug. 20. During the 1,226-mile voyage of discovery from Ross’s Landing in present day Chattanooga, to Ft. Smith, AK, Stewart will paddle the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, and Arkansas Rivers.
Although many have heard of the Trail of Tears, most are unaware of the water route and the story of the 2,800 Cherokee who were removed by force from their homes to Oklahoma Indian Territory upon these four great rivers. These rivers are living threads of history; along their banks are the camp ruins and gravesites of many Cherokee who did not survive this journey of removal.
The first group departed from Ross’s Landing on the water route by flat boats in June 1838, lashed to the sides of a steamboat. Many Cherokee refused food or clothing from the U.S. government as a form of non-violent protest to the forced removal. Many died due to the extreme heat and drought in the 1838 summer, mostly children.
Mr. Stewart’s inspiration to undertake this journey is to honor the men, women, and children of the Cherokee. He has come to understand after spending much time with and listening to the voices of the present day Cherokee, that the Cherokee culture is alive in the hearts of the Cherokee people. It is strong, rich and enduring.
What he hopes makes this journey unique is its focus on the resilience and survivability of these great people.
Mr. Stewart has received the official blessing of the Cherokee Eastern Band’s Tribal Council and Principal Chief Michell Hicks. Principal Chief Hicks said of Mr. Stewart’s quest, “Dale's journey will provide new scholarship about the water route of the Trail of Tears and a new vision for the Cherokee Children who will benefit from his voyage. We support Dale in this effort and look forward to a long and meaningful friendship."
The public will be able to follow along with Mr. Stewart on the Expedition website: www.expeditionunbound.com in real-time and students may ask questions directly to him by sending him an email at email@example.com.
Besides the scholarship and remembrance of the journey, Mr. Stewart will be using the voyage to raise funds for the new Cherokee Children’s Home being constructed in the Qualla Boundary, Cherokee, N.C.
Much of the journey will be documented on film and by the written word. The result will be a living document of the voyage and its meaning, a tool that will be distributed widely through a variety of programs nationwide.
Mr. Stewart is an explorer, adventurist, speaker, and published author. His exploration philosophy is to immerse himself in extreme and often hostile environments, going alone and learning from indigenous people and what nature has to offer.
He likes extremes and feels at home where he finds himself. Mr. Stewart’s expeditions have taken him from the Sahara, of northern Chad, from kayaking the fjords near Svalbard, Greenland, and from the rain forest of Central and South America and from living and learning from remote indigenous people. He recently returned from Belize where he lived with the Maya near Sand Creek.
“Exploration, to me, is not about being the first but rather opening my mind to what is before me, gaining knowledge, and returning to share what I have witnessed and lessons learned,” said Mr. Stewart.