Monday, October 16, 2006

Elkhorn Tavern along the Trail of Tears

Echoes Of Yesteryear


Leslie McDonald

The suffering of Cherokees was beyond description. Buckner states that between Hopkinsville and the next stop a Cherokee woman was left behind in the woods to give birth to a baby while her detachment marched ahead. She was to be picked up within 48 hours by the next detachment which followed.

In a recent letter to the Cherokee Historical Society confirmed local tradition that in Caldwell County the stop along the Trail of Tears was at Elkhorn Tavern. .

The Cherokees camped on Skin frame Creek, probably near the old grist mill and dam, and I am sure some of the soldiers were quartered in the Elkhorn Tavern. Elkhorn was built between 1810 and 1815 by James Blue.

The charming old log building contains a huge stone chimney and big fire place and is the second remaining inn along the Trail of Tears in Kentucky. Mrs. Marquess says the Tavern’s name originated from the fact that in the early 1800’s an elk was killed on the creek by a man named Maxwell. The horns were hung upon the front of the building hence, Elkhorn Tavern. A few years ago, on of Maxwell’s descendents took the elk horns and placed them over his drug store in Paducah.

In 1951 the Cherokee Historical Society under the leadership of McKinley Ross, a great-great-grandson of John Ross retraced the Trail of Tears on its 113th anniversary.

Ross and members of the society made many pictures at Elkhorn Tavern and counted that site of prime historical importance. John Ross’ wife died after they left Hopkinsville and tradition has it that several Cherokees were buried in the meadow across the creek from Elkhorn Tavern.

One of the important histories of the Trail of Tears was written by Private John G. Burnett, who was one of the soldiers who served under Capt. Abraham McClellan of the 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry. He was a friend of the Cherokees and talked their language. His story is part of the official history of the Cherokee Nation and reads, “On the morning of November 17, we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th, 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold and exposure. Among this number was the beautiful Christian wife of Chief John Ross. This noble woman died a martyr to childhood, giving her only blanket for the protection of a sick child. She rode thinly clad through a blinding sleet and snow storm, developing pneumonia and died in the still hours of a bleak winter night with her head resting on Lieutenant Gregg’s saddle blanket.

“I made the journey to the west with the Cherokees and did all that a Private soldier could do to alleviate their suffering. When on guard duty at night I have many times walked my beat in my blouse in order that some sick child might have the warmth of my overcoat.”

The Trail of Tears leads from Elkhorn Tavern along the old Princeton-Fredonia Road to a point on Livingston Creek near the site of Centerville. There isn’t anything left of Centerville which was once the county seat of Livingston County except a lovely little cemetery and its cedars.

The deeply worn and for many years abandoned Centerville to Salem Road near Mexico, Ky., in Crittenden County, is the Trail of Tears.