State parks mark Native American month at 24 sites
The numerous "Trail of Tears" markers along Arkansas highways give a clue as to why there are no federal reservations for American Indians in today's Natural State.
Early in the 19th century, longtime indigenous residents of what is now Arkansas -- mainly the Caddo, Quapaw and Osage -- were chivvied and coerced into moving farther west. In the late 1830s came the forced migration through Arkansas of Cherokees and other more eastern tribes on a web of routes today designated as the Trail of Tears. Territory that is now Oklahoma was their main destination.
So it is mainly the past, rather than the present, that comes into focus when Arkansas takes part each November in marking National Native American Heritage Month.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism does an informative job of spotlighting that history in a handsome illustrated booklet, "Native American Heritage in Arkansas." It focuses on 24 visitor sites in the state, while also providing histories of the main native tribes, a timeline of their presence and a two-page account of the Trail of Tears.
At the start of the booklet is a quotation from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Arkansan Dee Brown's memorable best-selling book: "History has a way of intruding upon the present. And perhaps those who read it will have a clearer understanding of what the American Indian is by knowing what he was."
An introductory text notes: "As in many other parts of the country, the history of Native American interaction with European explorers and American homesteaders is often painful but worthy of remembrance. By following in their footsteps and discovering who they were through the wealth of sites and museums all around the state, we live their past in the present."
The booklet makes clear that the many Trail of Tears signs are due to the various main paths (Northern Route, Benge Route, Bell Route, Water Route) taken by the Cherokees and other tribes forcibly moved through Arkansas.
One of the booklet's 24 locations is named Trail of Tears Park, at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Displaying a sculpture of native stone, it commemorates a spot where some 1,100 Cherokees led by John Benge passed through the frontier settlement of Fayetteville in bitter cold on Jan. 18, 1839.
The University of Arkansas Museum Collection in Fayetteville, with its cache of more than 7,000 American Indian pottery vessels, is among a number of museums highlighted. Others include the spectacular Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas State University Museum in Jonesboro, Museum of Regional History in Texarkana, and two Little Rock sites: Sequoyah National Research Center and Historic Arkansas Museum.
Going all the way back to prehistory are three listed archaeological state parks: Toltec Mounds, Parkin and Hampson. The centuries before the arrival of Europeans are also the focus of Petit Jean State Park Rock House Cave, Indian Rock Cave and Trail at Fairfield Bay, Buffalo National River Rockhouse Cave, and Cob Cave (also along Buffalo National River).
During National Native American Heritage Month, a literal taste of the past will be available Nov. 10 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, southeast of Scott in Lonoke County.
Visitors will learn from a park interpreter about traditional southern foods inspired by Southeastern American Indians. Following the presentation, a variety of those dishes can be sampled. Admission to the talk and tasting is $3 (free for children under 6). Call (501) 961-9442.
The free "Native American Heritage in Arkansas" booklet is available at roadside Arkansas welcome centers and some state park visitor centers. More information is available at arkansas.com.