By Branko Medenica
— September 19, 2003 —
Tuscumbia and much of the Shoals area played an integral part in the "Trail of Tears" with the Tennessee River route and the overland routes. In 1825, the U.S. Government formally adopted a removal policy, which was carried out extensively in the 1830's by Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. The result was particularly overwhelming for the Indians of the southeast, primarily the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. While some resisted removal by escaping, each tribe suffered numerous hardships, battles and deaths. This period of time is referred to in the Cherokee language as ny du hi du na tlo hi lu i or "Trail Where They Cried", now called the "Trail of Tears". This was the start of one of the darkest chapters in relations with the United States Government and the Native Americans. In all, some 90,000 Indians were relocated to the West, while thousands died along the trail.
Creek Indians began to pass through Tuscumbia on their way west as early as 1827. Generally, the Indians were treated well in Tuscumbia. The newspaper reported that the citizens of Tuscumbia felt "sympathy and general admiration" for the Cherokees. A Creek chief, Chilly McIntos described their stay here as: "The citizens of Tuscumbia have treated us like brothers, and our helpless women were furnished by the good women of the town with clothing... As long as our nation remains upon this earth we will recollect Tuscumbia." November 30, 1827Tuscumbia's citizens' positive acceptance and care of the Indians as they were moving through the area saved many lives, and is a proud party of the city's heritage.
The grant proposal was written by Tom N. Estes and Jerry D. Davis
Text of Dedication Speech by Branko MedenicaFriday, September 19, 2003
Before I begin a project like this, I go through an extensive research process, which in this instances involved the Indian tribes of the Southeast during the early 1800s. I try to delve into every aspect of the history of the tribes: their culture, customs, beliefs, politics, and economic conditions, anything that would help me to formulate an understanding of their way of life. I then use that information to form the embodiment of an idea for a memorial, in this case, depicting the trials and tribulations on the Trail of Tears. During this process, I acquired a wealth of knowledge, much of which was not pretty. In fact, the mistreatment of the Indians by the U.S. Government is a very sad and dark chapter in American History.
I wanted to create a memorial with meaning, something that would cause one to pause and reflect on the past, and maybe, hopefully, even to learn from those mistakes. Also, I wanted this memorial to be representative of not just one, but of all the tribes of the Southeast who were forced to march along the Trail.
The work is 8 feet tall, made of cast bronze, and weighs about one ton. It depicts and Indian woman holding her baby in one arm, while the other hand is resting on the cross of a love one who has just died while marching along the Trail of Tears. She is very sad over the loss, yet she also represents the Indian spirit: the inner strength and courage to survive, to preserve in the face of extreme hardship. This is a noble attribute found in the heart and soul of the Indian. The baby she is holding represents hope for a new life, the future, and the renewal of the spirit. Also, wrapped around her shoulders is a blanket given to her by the good people of Tuscumbia. So, in this monument I have tried to combine death, sorrow, struggle, perseverance and hope for the future.In conclusion, I hope the Indian tribes of the Southeast will take pride in the memorial, and accept the work as a visual expression of a dark time in history, during which they not only persevered, but endured to provide a rich legacy for America.Model for statue: Kristin Harrison of Sheffield, Alabama