“Left Brainerd for the Cherokee camps … Thus we leave this place, perhaps never to return.” —The Journal of Rev. Daniel S. Butrick, October 4, 1839 Reverend Butrick departed from Calhoun, TN, with the Richard Taylor Detachment on the overland Northern Route. My wingman, Bob Brown, and me, however, initially follow a paved approximation of Bell’s Route west from Ross’s Landing in Chattanooga on our Indian motorcycles. Along the way to Oklahoma, we will travel segments of several Trail of Tears routes.
Day 8: Traversing Tennessee
After several warm days in early September, we awake to lower humidity and temperatures in the low 50s. Cobalt blue skies greet us as we fire up the Indians and ease our way into traffic. It always feels invigorating to get back on the road, especially in such pleasant riding weather.
Following the Tennessee River west, our route ascends part of the way up Lookout Mountain on switchbacks. Then, we descend and ride close to the river for a while, but tall trees largely obscure it from sight. Finally, the river makes a sweeping bend south as we continue west. We’re soon riding along a sinuous path and gaining altitude. There’s an almost-fall chill in the air when we finally pop out on top of a high ridge.
Plunging downward, we use only engine braking and steep lean angles to keep our rapid drop under control around wide curves—YEE ... HAW! Flatter terrain greets our arrival in Cowan, TN. The town’s vintage railroad depot, with a 1920 Porter steam locomotive and rolling stock parked outside, is now the Cowan Railroad Museum. A restored Texaco service station across the street adds to the town’s mid-20th-century charm. But it’s Sunday and most everything is closed.
The Trail of Tears Interpretive Center in nearby Pulaski, TN, is a former Baptist church, which was relocated here. Pulaski is significant because it’s where the Benge and Bell trails intersected on their two different routes to Indian Territory. John Benge departed from Fort Payne on September 28, 1838, escorting 1,079 Cherokee. John Bell, a member of the “Treaty Party,” left Fort Cass on October 11, 1838, with 660 Cherokee. Outside of the center stands a life-sized bronze statuary of a Cherokee family. It hauntingly depicts people uprooted from their homeland and forced to undergo the grueling journey west.
Day 9: A Man Born for a Storm
More glorious riding weather invigorates our departure from Lawrenceburg, TN, this morning. Before leaving, though, we visit David Crockett State Park. One of its attractions is an original section of the Trail of Tears. But there’s little here, besides a few historical signs, to commemorate the Cherokee pilgrimage; ol’ Davey seems to be the main point of interest in his namesake park.
Motorcycles & Gear
2016 Indian Roadmaster
2016 Indian Chief Vintage
Helmets: Schuberth C3 Pro Modular, Shoei GT-Air
Jackets: Indian Motorcycle 57, Speedand Strength Society Leather
Pants: Draggin Jeans, Draggin Jeans Retro Fit
Boots: Oxtar, BMW Airflow 3
Gloves: Klim Element Short
After continuing several more miles west, we head north on the Natchez Trace Parkway to join the Northern Route in Nashville.No journey along the Tennessee portion of the Trace, however, is complete without stopping to pay respects at the gravesite of Meriwether Lewis. There’s also an original section of the Natchez Trace close by.
Ironically, Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, is located in Nashville, where Cherokee on the Northern Route passed through during their removal. At the pedestrian entrance, a large vertical banner displays an image of Jackson gallantly riding a white horse with his saber drawn and raised high in the air. Above the image is a jagged lightening bolt and text declaring that our seventh president was “BORN FOR A STORM.” Since Bob has never been to The Hermitage, we go in for a tour of the buildings and grounds.