Snow and ice covered the roads on January 9, 2010, in Northeast Arkansas, so, true to southern pattern, few people ventured out, and the ranger at Village Creek State Park spent a lonely day in the visitor center. When I relied on my four-wheel-drive Jeep to navigate the hills and curves of the park, I was the only one to do so. The ranger doubted that I really wanted to drive two miles farther into the park, and walk the mile across the dam and into the woods, until I reached the last remnant of the original military road on Crowley Ridge. There the ancestors were among the 670 Cherokee travelers who followed the road west for 790 miles until they reached the Indian Territory that would “forever” be theirs for another forty years anyway. But I was willing, and she gave me directions. There would be just enough time before sunset to make the journey.
Crossing the ice-covered dam tested my resolve, as did the sound of dogs howling deep in the woods ahead, but I grabbed a straight branch for a walking stick, and walked on, following a marked trail, up and down the hills until I reached the ridge, and the simple historical marker. Only a few miles remain of the original road, but I had time before sunset only to hike a mile of it before turning around to start back. The silence and the snow were sufficient to let me hear the distant echoes of one hundred twenty wagons and carriages, pulled by teams of horses and oxen, accompanied by many walkers through the winter of 1838 and 1839. One hundred seventy years later, it was very quiet, but telling its story loudly.
I had turned around and started back when she joined me—a doe walking through the woods parallel to the road and about thirty feet away. She seemed curious about me, and as I did not threaten her, she walked along at that distance for about half a mile until she decided to amble down into the deep ravine. I was glad for her company, and I could not help but think that all of the Bell ancestors of the Deer Clan would be pleased.