The Bayou Meto Bridge and the Trail of Tears
The passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 resulted in the removal of thousands and thousands of Native Americans residing east of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee passed through Arkansas on their way to the Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. Because of the harsh conditions, lack of food and water, many of them died during the trip. The Military Road was one of the primary routes used by the tribes as they moved west. The first of these groups was a party of Choctaw who crossed the Bayou Meto Bridge in December of 1831 on there way to Little Rock. The task of provisioning the tribes resulted in contracts between the Army and farmers and merchants along the route. Samson Gray was active in these business arrangements and provided produce and livestock for use by the Army and the transport of the tribes. Gray also was paid to maintain and repair the bridge during its heavy use by the emigrating tribes.
Samson Gray died in November of 1834 and over the next several years the bridge gradually deteriorated. In July of 1838, a petition signed by 100 county residents stated that the Bayou Meto Bridge was in a “very decayed and dilapidated condition, so as to be almost impassable…” Thomas W. Gray, a brother of Samson Gray, was granted a charter to rebuild the bridge and operate it as a toll bridge. Tolls were fixed by the court such as fifty cents for the passage of a wagon pulled by two horses, three cents for each pedestrian user, and two cents for each head of pig or sheep. Following the rebuilding of the bridge, Gray transferred the charter of the toll bridge to John H. Reed on October 30, 1838 for $1,000.
Reed was the operator of the bridge when the John Bell detachment of the Cherokee crossed the Bayou Meto in December of 1838. During the early 19th century, the Cherokee Nation resisted emigration west but the tribe was finally forced to leave their homeland in 1838. Some 17,000 Cherokee were moved into emigration depots in Tennessee and Alabama during the summer and divided into various detachments for the journey west. One of these detachments was led by John Bell and his detachment consisted of Cherokee who had supported the signing of the treaty selling their land to the federal government. Known as “Treaty” Cherokee, members of the John Bell detachment traveled with a military escort to protect them from reprisals by “anti-treaty” Cherokee.
The John Bell detachment consisting of some 660 Cherokee left their emigration depot in Tennessee on October 11th. Traveling across the southern section of the state, the detachment reached Memphis on November 22nd. After crossing the Mississippi River the detachment marched west on the Military Road and entered Pulaski County on December 12th. The John Bell detachment crossed the Bayou Meto Bridge on either December 13th or 14th and it is possible that they camped in the general vicinity of the bridge as they made their crossing. The John Bell detachment was the last large party of Native Americans who used the Bayou Meto Bridge during the Trail of Tears.
Many Native Americans fought against the removal and being forced off their lands for the "White Man". Numerous War Parties were formed to fight the "White Man" to keep their land. Geranimo was the last Native American to surrender to the "White Man."
Brule Indian Tribe War Party
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LOCAL CHEROKEE TRIBES IN ARKANSAS
PLEASE VISIT THEIR WEBSITE @: http://www.arkansascherokee.us/