Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma: Riding the Cherokee Trail of Tears Part III
We pick up the Cherokee removal journey in central Missouri: “We travelled about 12 miles to a settlement called Port Royal (believed to be Waynesville by researchers), on the banks of a beautiful stream, named Rubedoo. Here we had a delightful place, on the bank of the river, convenient to wood and water. We employed our kind Nancy, a black woman to wash, and dried our clothes in the evening by the fire.” —Rev. Daniel Butrick, March 12, 1839
This burbling spring is a fitting location for us to begin the final leg of our epic ride along the Cherokee Trail of Tears.
Day 13: Ozark Byways
Bob Brown, riding the green Indian Chief Vintage, and I, on the blue Indian Roadmaster, arrive at Missouri’s historic Roubidoux Spring in September. The encampment history at this location, below a bluff in today’s Laughlin Park, is told via an interpretive tour. Roubidoux Spring, with a daily flow of 37 million gallons of water, made this one of the better locations for Cherokee encampment.
The spring was named after French trapper Joseph Roubidoux. Today, fly fishermen are submerged up to their waists in the cold water trying to hook a brown or rainbow trout. The spring is also a favorite location for another activity that the migrating Cherokee would have found quite incomprehensible: scuba cave diving! At the cave entrance, I peer down through clear rushing water to the black-as-coal opening into a subterranean water world. Hmmm, I think motorcycle touring provides more than enough adventure for me.
The Northern Route of the Trail of Tears continued southwest from here to Springfield, MO, before turning south into Arkansas. Because Bob has to catch a plane home from Little Rock, AR, the day after tomorrow, our course south begins just west of Waynesville, MO. Oh yeah, I’m also supposed to meet up with Bob’s relief rider in Little Rock, who will be piloting the Indian Chief Vintage over the remainder of the trip … Christa somebody.
Diving deeper into the Ozarks’ rural two-lane roads, we travel back in time at another popular fishin’ hole in Rockbridge, MO. Ice-cold Spring Creek cascades over the dam at historic Rockbridge Mill. This former mill town is now the Rainbow Trout & Game Ranch, which attracts sportsmen and women from far and wide. At the combination post office and restaurant, we enjoy a sumptuous meal of—what else? Freshly caught rainbow trout.
The final leg of today’s journey takes us across the Arkansas border to a lake that I have fond memories of scuba diving in. Scuba diving may not be for me now, but I was young the last time I was here. Our overnight lodging is situated on a hill overlooking Norfork Lake. From the small deck of my cabin, I watch the setting sun suffuse sky and water in a warm glow. Later, at dinner, we meet several other riders who ask if we will be riding Arkansas’s version of the Dragon. My ears perk up. Before retiring, I busily reconfigure tomorrow’s route to include Push Mountain Road.
Day 14: Clinton Country
It seems that every state I visit that attracts serious riders has its own, self-proclaimed version of Tennessee’s famous Tail of the Dragon. Although the Tail of the Dragon isn’t my favorite motorcycle road in America, it does have the largest number of technical turns in the least number of miles of any other I’ve found. Nevertheless, Push Mountain Road has much to recommend it.
Turning onto State Route 341 a few miles west of Lake Norfork, we start our 25-mile run on Push Mountain. We cross the White River with picturesque bluffs visible in the distance. The tarmac begins with large sweeping turns, but then it gains altitude following a high ridge. The Ozark Mountains are a colorful blur as we go up, down, and around blind curves, with precipitous cliffs dropping to valleys far below.
Motorcycles & Gear
2016 Indian Roadmaster
2016 Indian Chief Vintage
Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: Indian Motorcycle 57
Pants: Draggin Jeans
Boots: Alpinestars Supertouring GORE-TEX
Gloves: Klim Element Short
Continuing south, we pass through quaint Ozark towns, but the scenery turns to 21st-century suburbia as we draw nearer to Little Rock. We arrive at our hotel near the airport in time for Bob to catch his flight back east. With lots of time on my hands, I motor over to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. The modernist-styled building is positioned dramatically on the banks of the Arkansas River. Inside there’s a replica of Clinton’s Oval Office, where, for a small fee, one can have their picture taken while sitting at the former president’s desk. I would like to say that I resisted this touristy invitation, but I didn’t. Outside, a former railroad bridge over the Arkansas River has been converted to a pedestrian walkway. I linger there for a while, watching a tugboat slowly push barges upriver. Breaking my reverie, I realize it’s time to meet RoadRUNNER’s Christa Neuhauser at the hotel and brief her over dinner on tomorrow’s ride.
Day 15: The Water Route
Christa and I are rarin’ to go the next morning. We fire up the Indians’ big twins and roll west following the Arkansas River. Several of the Trail of Tears routes passed through or near Little Rock. Cherokee traveling on the water route from Tennessee were on the Arkansas River, while others went overland just north of it.
The first of three Arkansas River overlooks is at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. A historical sign, titled “They Passed This Way,” tells the story of Indians traveling on the removal boats along this section of the Water Route. A song, reportedly heard on several boats, had these lyrics:
“I have no more land. I am driven away from home, driven up the red waters, let us all go, let us all die together and somewhere upon the banks we will be there.”