Intersecting Exoduses

The following passage is included in the book, Zion on the Mississippi.  I find it very interesting.  It tells of a seemingly insignificant event taking place during the trip up the Mississippi aboard the steamboat Knickerbocker.

“The last day of the week, January 26, found the immigrants at New Madrid, Missouri, and one more day brought them to the mouth of the Ohio River.  Two days later, near Hamburg, Illinois, it was necessary to halt for repairs, because the barge had sprung a leak from bumping into some obstruction in the water.”  Zion on the Mississippi, p. 213

The reference given for this passage is Rev. Gotthold Loeber’s diary for January 30th.  It should also be pointed out that in Memphis, the Knickerbocker began towing a barge up the river.

Hamburg, Illinois can no longer be found on a map, but it was once a named place along the east banks of the Mississippi just north of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  For a time, it was a place which ferried people across the river.

trail-of-tears-ferries

A ferry was once operating there known as Wilbourn’s Ferry.  This is significant because, at the end of January in 1839, another important event in American history was taking place at this location.  This was one of the places where Cherokee Indians were transported across the Mississippi River on their forced exodus which has gone down in history known as the Trail of Tears.

The removal of Indians from the southeastern part of the United States is certainly not one of America’s proudest moments.  It was a tragedy.  Many, many Indians died on this arduous journey from their homes in the east to what was to become their new homes in the Oklahoma Territory.  The ones who survived had to endure incredible hardships.

We find descriptions of the Trail of Tears from many sources.  Here is a description of the winter of 1838-1839.

The winter of 1838 was bitter cold mixed with rain and snow in southern Illinois.  The days and weeks spent in crossing southern Illinois were the most brutal for the Cherokee Nation. Many landowners would not allow the Cherokee to camp on their land or cut firewood for warmth and hot food.  Only adding to the Cherokee’s misery, the Mississippi
was frozen solid far out from the river bank and in the center were blocks of ice as big as houses. As the water flowed, the huge ice blocks crashed down the current, rear on edge and crash down with mighty
shocks. This fearful noise went on day and night for a month as the Cherokee watched the mighty Mississippi in awed wonder as they waited to cross into Missouri.
This description corresponds with the evidence we have that the steamboats that were used by the Gesellschaft experienced much ice along their way up the river.  In fact, it may have been ice that caused the damage which resulted in the Knickerbocker having to stop for repairs at Hamburg.
The Cherokees were forced to stop in December because they couldn’t cross the river.  Many of them camped in Jonesboro, Illinois where many deaths are recorded.  These were buried in the Campground Church Cemetery.
campground-church
Campground Church – Jonesboro, Illinois

I found this description of what might have been seen at the ferry in Hamburg.

The used three ferries to cross the river, Green’s Upper and Lower Ferries, and Littletons Old Ferry also known as Wilbourn’s Ferry was located at Hamburg Landing. All were either flatboat current powered or perhaps horse powered. Flatboat ferries were attached to a rope strung across the river-the boat was rowed or pulled across the river using a windlass. Horse-powered ferries consisted of flat-bottomed scows with paddle wheels attached to treadmills powered by horses or mules.
mississippi-ferry-boat
Mississippi River Ferry

Rev. Daniel Buttrick wrote this journal entry on January 25, 1839. He was part of the Trail of Tears.

“At this place a sand bar in the middle extends, probably half across the bed of the river….therefore it is like two rivers, crossed by two ferries, that is, two sets of boats, one conveying passengers to the bar, and one from it.”
Here is another map of that area which shows the sandbar which may have existed at that time.
hamburg-landing
We find this passage in Rev. Buttrick’s journal for that same day.
“We fixed our tent on the bank of the Great River, one of the wonders of creation. Soon after we arrived, our attention was arrested by the passing of a large beautiful & grand steamboat. Neither my dear wife, nor myself had ever seen one before…”
steamboat-trail-of-tears
The timing is a little off for this steamboat to be the Knickerbocker,  but we know the Knickerbocker stopped at this precise location for repairs just a matter of days later.
Ferrying the Indians across the Mississippi River is said to have taken weeks.  I think it is likely that the Cherokees and the Saxons got a little glimpse of each other during this intersection of two movements of people.  If so, both groups must have been amazed at what they saw.
This amazing coincidental crossing of two cultures exhibit several similarities.  As the title of this post indicates, these two groups were undergoing an exodus of their own.  Both were moving from their homeland to a new land which was unfamiliar to them.  The Saxons had chosen to make their journey voluntarily; the Cherokees went involuntarily.  Although several Cherokee groups made the trip to Oklahoma using a water route, this group had to make their trip overland.  This was going to add to their misery.  Both of these migrations were full of hardships and deaths, but the Indians experienced so much more of it.  The transition both of these groups had to make once they arrived at their new homes was indeed going to be difficult as well.
Much more could be written on this subject.  In fact, I think this confluence of two cultures in January of 1839 could be a good subject for additional research for someone with the interest and the time to do it.
This coming year, we will be hosting five tours at our museum which will come from the steamboats American Queen and American Duchess.  These tours will visit both the Trail of Tears State Park and the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum.  These tours have been billed using the name, Tale of Tears.  It is indeed an interesting pair of similar stories of movements of people who just so happened to cross paths in a location not far from here.
Note:  I would like to acknowledge a website which was very helpful in providing resources for this post:

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