Number Thirty Six: Illinois

Southern Illinois may sound more exotic than it is. We stayed in Harrisburg, which shares an airport with Raleigh. We were near Cairo, Vienna, Mt. Vernon, Princeton, Metropolis, Sturgis, Marion, Franklin, and Crab Orchard.

Like most of the trails we are riding, the Tunnel Hill State Trail is a converted rail line, the Cairo-Vienna Line, primarily carrying coal. This means it is mostly flat, running through Illinois farmland. But as the name suggests, it does have a hill and a tunnel. Two tunnels actually. They weren’t very photogenic.

One of the things we first learned about tunnels from riding the Sparta-Elroy trail in Wisconsin, is that they build tunnels as high up on the hill in question as possible (to make the tunnel as short as possible). That rule still applies and means there is always a climb up to a tunnel. Somehow the downhills never quite make up for the uphills.

The trail also follows a piece of the “Trail of Tears.” Early in its history, the US led by President Washington thought the solution to the “Indian Problem” was to Europeanize them. And of course save their souls in the process. The effort was generally successful in the southeast; the Native Americans in the area more or less accepted farming, private property, and Christianity. They were considered “civilized” for about 30 years.

Then a new “Indian Problem” arose with the invention of the cotton gin: they had land that the Europeans wanted for cotton. You just can’t trust those immigrants.

Because the US considered it one Indian Problem, when a “settlement” was reached with one group, the US declared it mission accomplished. Because there were at least half a dozen Nations involved, the deal with one group rarely satisfied any other group. Presidents Van Buren and Jackson changed to what essentially amounted to a policy of ethnic cleansing. Nearly 100% of the Native Americas were forcibly moved west of the Mississippi. Of course, thousands died from disease, malnutrition, exposure, and abuse in the process.

Harrisburg and the path of the rail line were on one of the migration routes.

I have no problem with communities putting up memorials for veterans (although I do think veterans would be better served by improved health care, job training, and affordable housing), the thirty miles of the trail that we rode included no memorials for the Trail of Tears.

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