Trail of Death Caravan Across Missouri
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

Visiting the farm home of Cliff and Josephine Gander is like stepping into the past. They live a quarter of a mile back a lane in an old farm house with an 1826 log cabin beside it. The houses were both in Cliff’s family and he has kept them looking like they did long ago. One side of the cabin is covered with old horseshoes Cliff found on the farm. The porch of the house has several murals he made of arrowheads he picked up while tramping over his farm and the adjacent Salt River. Every room in their house is filled with antique furniture and the walls covered with his arrowhead collections, all beautifully framed or placed in glass-front cupboards. Cliff and Jo are both 87 years old and have been married 67 years. They are such a friendly couple and always want the Trail of Death committee to stay at their house when we go through there to dedicate new historical markers. So the four vehicles with campers parked there at Gander’s on Sept. 25 to spend the night. The caravaners in cars stayed in Monroe City motels, even though Jo had invited them to stay in her four upstairs bedrooms.

Huntsville, Mo. - Fourth graders surround the Trail of Death marker by the Huntsville court house and hold the Welcome Potawatomi Caravan sign they made. Shirley Willard tells them about Mas-saw, a Potawatomi chieftess from Lake Kee-wau-nay (now Lake Bruce), great grandmother of Jim Thorpe, World’s Greatest Athlete. Shirley’s dress is a replica of that worn by Mas-saw when her picture was made by George Winter, frontier artist, in 1837. The dress was made by Elsie Turner, Rochester. (Photo by Bill Willard)

The local priest came and offered Communion in Gander’s living room at 6:30 a.m., using Father Petit’s chalice. Then we all had breakfast in Gander’s kitchen and dining room. I had pleaded with Josephine not to go to a lot of trouble and not to cook a big breakfast like she usually does, so she and her daughter- in- law served homemade sweet rolls and coffee cakes. After breakfast we sat on the big front porch facing the abandoned road where the Potawatomi had marched by in 1838. It is a sweeping view of a large meadow or grain fields, backed by woods where deer and eagles and wild turkey are often seen. At 8:30 we started on the caravan again.

Sept. 26, Fri. - Monroe City to Carrollton, Mo., 106 miles. Visited 10 Trail of Death markers: See’s Creek, North Fork of Salt River at Old Clinton, Paris, Moberly, Huntsville, Salisbury, Keytesvlle, Brunswick, DeWitt, and Carrollton. Ganders traveled with us to the first two markers, which they had helped to erect. Former County Commissioner David Utterbeck led us to Paris where we had a brief ceremony at the Paris court house. We talked to school children at Huntsville, Brunswick and DeWitt. The Huntsville fourth graders waited for us at the courthouse with a big banner: Welcome Potawatomi Caravan. Ginger played her drum to illustrate the footsteps of the children on the Trail of Death. When we gave them Trail of Courage badges with Jim Thorpe’s pictures and told his story, one girl said she is a cousin to Jim Thorpe. Huntsville Historical Society served lunch to the caravan. It rained real hard when we got to Brunswick so we sat in our vehicles to wait for it to end. As soon as the rain ended, here came a school bus with kids and a van with cookies, brownies, fruit and lemonade. Tim Schisler gave us Tecumseh tobacco and said he has friends who attend the Trail of Courage. The next stop up the road DeWitt served refreshments too, and I sold several of our Trail of Death booklets. Mrs. Albert Link said she had done research and found the Thomas encampment in the Trail of Death diary was on their farm five miles west of DeWitt. We also visited James Pecan Farm near Brunswick where Potawatomi ate pecans in 1838. Mrs. James had a special exhibit of Lewis & Clark going up the river near Brunswick. All along the highway we saw Lewis & Clark Historic Trail signs. We visited the Carrollton Museum and got free copies of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial map-books of the Lower Missouri River. The Trail of Death marker is in front of the museum. Sheryl Cox, mother of the Boy Scout who did the marker, told us Kyle is in the Army and will be going to Iraq. Pat Dockry led us in prayer for his safety and all our troops. We ate with Carroll County Historical Society members in JB’s Steak House. The jail is across the street from the restaurant, and the woman who worked in the jail came outside and wanted to talk to us. She is Cherokee descended from Quanah Parker. We camped free in the town park near the high school.

Sept. 27, Sat. - Carrollton to Independence, Mo., 90 miles. Visited eight Trail of Death markers: two at Richmond, Lexington, Wellington, Napoleon, Buckner, Lake City, and Independence. We had a hard time getting out of Richmond because of all the school buses bringing bands for the High School Band Contest. We drove to Richmond to eat breakfast at McDonald’s, passing by a town that was destroyed by the flood of 1993 - it even washed the caskets out of the graveyard. At 9:00 we walked across the street to dedicate a new Trail of Death marker/map at Richmond High School, assisted by Jean Hamacher, Friends of the Ray County Museum, and about 20-30 townspeople. We crossed the Missouri River at Lexington and stood by the Madonna of the Trail statue and our Trail of Death marker as Galen Kabance gave an inspirational speech. He then headed home to Kansas. The James O’Malleys, who helped pay for the marker at Richmond, were the only people to meet us at Lexington. They had met us on previous trips, and Mrs. O’Malley apologized for the way white people treated the Indians. Dolores Grizzell had an accident as we were leaving Lexington, a fender-bender so Prichard and Hamilton stayed with her to help. We led the caravan on to the next stop to keep the schedule, and they caught up with us at Wellington. The president of Wellington- Napoleon Historical Society, Marlene Strodtman, met us at Wellington and escorted us to Napoleon and on to Buckner to eat lunch at the Sonic drive-in. Gene Pittman, Boy Scout leader, escorted us to the Trail of Death markers in Bicycle Park near Lake City and at Fire Prairie Creek Wetlands near Buckner. We discovered we were ahead of schedule and had an hour to kill so we visited Fort Osage, founded by William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) in 1808. The view from the restored fort looking down on the Missouri River was spectacular and the rustic buildings inside the fort were historically accurate, even down to the fur press and whipping post.

We went to Independence to visit the TD marker at Pioneer Spring Park, where Roy and Julie Slavin met us. They are cousins to the Pearls and Slavins in our caravan. We took the campers to Campus RV Park. Ginger had gotten free tickets to the Kansas City Royals baseball game and most of the Potawatomi went with her. That left Tom Hamilton and us Hoosiers to give a program at National Frontier Trails Museum that evening. We were eating supper at the Courthouse Exchange Restaurant when in walked Susan and Eric Campbell. Susan is a Citizen Potawatomi and had worked with me on the new book, Potawatomi Trail of Death, for the past three years. We had e-mailed chapters back and forth. It was so wonderful to see her, I cried as I hugged her. She went with us to the National Frontier Trails Museum to help give the program. There were about 100 people in attendance and they asked so many questions, we finally had to cut it off at 9:00. Carol Layman left some of her books to sell at the museum because Isaac McCoy’s son John had founded Kansas City. We asked them to include the Trail of Death in with the other frontier trails. They did not know whether they can because the others are National Trails, supported by the federal government.

What a big day! It was only 90 miles but we traveled 200 years in time. Only one more day to go!

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This page updated Mar 27, 2011.