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Nearing Mile 500, Dogs Attack on the Trail of Tears

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The visitor center at Missouri’s Trail of Tears State Park has shortened hours during the winter. When bad thunderstorms knocked me off the Trail for a few days, I was happy to use that excuse to go back to the Park. The trip was well-worth our time! The visitor center is half dedicated to the story of the Trail of Tears and half to the flora/fauna in the park. Both sides were very informative, but the best part was meeting Denise – one of the Missouri TOTA members that helped me map my route. She showed me receipts she found at the National Archives that helped to prove when and where supplies were purchased along the Trail of Tears route. Again, I found it fascinating how much one dedicated person can do to preserve history for all of posterity.

My wife and I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Bollinger Mill State Historic Site near Burfordville. The original dam and mill were constructed in 1800, but the mill was burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The current four-story stone and brick mill was rebuilt in 1867 and operated until 1950. The covered bridge on the property dates from 1858, making it the oldest of the four covered bridges remaining in Missouri. Both are impressive structures and a photographer’s dream!

Back on the Trail, the many county roads that I enjoyed walking across rural Missouri became a problem when Kristal got lost trying to find me at the end of the day. It was complicated by the fact that I was in an area where three counties converged and where all of the roads changed names and numbers. Just before dusk, she stopped and knocked on a door that was answered by Carol Werner – a Cherokee descendant! Carol went at least ten miles out of her way to meet me and re-unite me and Kristal. We were all thankful for the small-world co-incidence.

Although that was a long day, it was a good one. I was happy to discover that I had just walked my first pain-free day! Since Day 1 of the Walk, I’ve been constantly tweaking my gear and supplies, trying to find relative comfort. My knee was rested, braced and apparently healing – but the feet were a persistent problem. Tweak #14 was the purchase of some gel insoles… and they worked! The fact that I solved this problem fully half-way into the hike doesn’t say much for my learning curve, does it?

The next day didn’t go quite as planned either. My topographic map showed a foot path through the forest that would take me exactly where I wanted to do. It started out promisingly enough, but soon branched into too many ATV trails to keep track of. I ended up back-tracking and walking about four extra miles on roads instead.

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The two days of walking around Farmington weren’t very noteworthy. The roads were busy with little-to-no shoulder. I had to stop often and take a few steps off the road to let each car go by. The scenery was back to small farms again, punctuated with a community church once in a while.

Passing through the old part of Farmington, I did see and photograph a few buildings that were built in 1832, so were possibly “witness houses." I also found the Cherokee Trail Roadside Park near downtown. The monument plaque says it’s to commemorate “the overland movement of more than 300 Cherokees from Georgia and Tennessee into Oklahoma Territory… in 1837.” This initially hit me as really, really wrong. I’m retracing the Northern Route because it was the most commonly used: thirteen detachments with a total of about 10,000 exiles passed through Farmington during 1838 and 1839. When I had a chance later on, I picked up one of my reference books and found that the first detachment, lead by B. B. Cannon in 1837, included only 365 Cherokees. So I stand corrected!

Our stay in Farmington was fun anyway because Kristal kept the RV at St. Joe State Park. This park is a big one, specially geared toward equestrian and ATV activities. The park boundaries also include the Missouri Mines State Historical Site – the remnants of a lead and zinc ore mining operation that dates from 1906. The ex-St. Joseph Lead Co. powerhouse is now an interpretive center and museum of mining equipment. It’s open daily for self- or docent-guided tours.

Back on the Trail and just south of Bismarck… I got bit by a dog! I’ve had plenty of canine company on my Walk – not all of them totally friendly – but this was a first. Two of them came charging up to me and I put my hand out for them to sniff, as I always do. The big hound dog snapped at me, so I turned to go and that’s when he gave me a good bite on the back of my thigh! He had his tags so I guess I don’t have to worry about rabies – but he did leave a mark and a multi-color bruise to remember him by.

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