CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -- The Trail of Tears, where 15,000
Cherokee Indians were removed from their homes and forced to march
in 1838 to what became Oklahoma, is a recognized national historic
But insufficient funds and poor historical records have kept
much of the trail hidden from public view. Now, Congress is
considering a fourfold increase in support to highlight the route
and its place in U.S. history.
"We've been hamstrung by a lack of funds," Paul Austin of the
National Trail of Tears Association said Tuesday. "It's important
we don't lose this opportunity."
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., inserted a provision in an
appropriations bill that would provide $150,000 for the Trail of
Tears in 2000. The House has passed the legislation and the Senate
will consider the measure next.
Wamp acknowledged the amount was low, but said a backlog of
maintenance projects at the National Park Service was taking a
priority in Washington.
"We're trying to squeeze out adequate funding," Wamp said,
standing across from the spot on the Tennessee River where
government troops rounded up Cherokees in Chattanooga.
Much of the National Park Service master plan for the Trail of
Tears -- including hiking trails and highway markers -- have yet to
be built. More research is needed to actually find the route, which
runs through Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois,
Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and the Cherokees'
present-day home in Oklahoma.
"A lot of people think we can go get our bicycles and ride down
the trail, but a lot of the trail hasn't been located," said Al
Johnson, president of the Tennessee Trail of Tears Association.
More than 4,000 Cherokee died from disease, hunger and
exhaustion along the 1,000-mile march. Wamp called the forced
removal a stark lesson about government cruelty.
"It's kind of swept under the rug because we want to tout what
we've accomplished as a nation," Wamp said. "But we also should
acknowledge some of the mistakes we've made as a nation."