Vinita teen to travel historical “Trail of Tears” journey

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A Vinita teen will ride by bicycle the 950-mile Trail of Tears trek taken by her ancestors on foot.

Lexi Melton, 22, is one of 12 Cherokee cyclists participating in the three-week “Remember the Removal Bike Ride” that spans from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Photo Cutline (L-R): Cherokee Nation Education Services Executive Director Mark Vance, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Shella Bowlin, RTR participant Ashawna Miles, RTR participant Camerin Fite-James, RTR participant Shawna Baker, RTR participant Heather Fite, RTR participant Jaslyn Christie, RTR participant Hannah Neugin, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., RTR participant Jasmine Goodman, RTR participant Lexi Melton, RTR participant Kiyah Holmes, RTR participant Jaxen Smith, RTR participant Taylor Armbrister, RTR participant Kristy Ross, Cherokee Nation Education Services Deputy Director Aaron Emberton, Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Corey Bunch.

Around 60 miles will be covered by the cyclists each day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same journey by foot more than 180 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, about 4,000 died due to starvation, disease, and exposure to the elements.

“The Remember the Removal Bike Ride is an incredibly powerful way to honor the sacrifices and perseverance of our ancestors on the Trail of Tears,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

The cyclists had their family trees mapped out by a professional genealogist, providing them insight into their ancestral past as well as connecting any family links they might share.

The group has been training since December. As part of their training, the group spent weekends undergoing rigorous physical training and cycling on various routes throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation.

“We are proud of these 12 Cherokee cyclists who are undertaking this grueling 950-mile journey to retrace the paths our ancestors took under forced removal from our homelands. Their commitment to keeping this piece of Cherokee history alive is admirable.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

During the bike ride, cyclists will visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. Among the sites is Blythe Ferry in Tennessee on the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, as well as Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokees spent several weeks during the harsh winter of 1838-1839 waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.

“The 40th anniversary of the Remember the Removal Bike Ride is a solemn tribute to the thousands of Cherokees who endured the Trail of Tears,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “While a challenging endeavor, this ride allows us to forever remember their resilience in the face of profound hardship and tragedy. We wish these cyclists safe travels as they take on this meaningful journey reconnecting to our roots.”

A team of cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina will join the Cherokee Nation cyclists. Together, they will start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, a former capital of the Cherokee Nation.

For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, click here.

The 2024 Remember the Removal Bike Ride cyclists from the Cherokee Nation include the following:

  • Taylor Armbrister, 24, Little Kansas

  • Camerin Fite-James, 24, Fort Gibson

  • Jaxen Smith, 21, Tahlequah

  • Jaslyn Christie, 19, Fort Gibson

  • Jasmine Goodman, 23, Fort Gibson

  • Kiyah Holmes, 24, Tahlequah

  • Hannah Neugin, 18, Muskogee

  • Shawna Baker, 45, Tulsa

  • Heather Fite, 46, Fort Gibson

  • Ashawna Miles, 50, Tahlequah

  • Kristy Ross, 49, Pryor

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