Although he is a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, which was not a tribe removed as part of the Trail of Tears, he said the historic event should have significance for all Native Americans.
“I just thought about my tribe and their tribe (Cherokee) and how different we were, but we still ... had basically the same story. We had the same fights. We had the same struggles, problems. And we both pretty much came out of it,” Cooper said.
Today, descendants of those who survived have increased in population and have their own governments, he said.
“You should never forget the past, but we should always be looking at how far we came from that day ... during those confinement reservation days,” he said.
Cooper is doing research on the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee in preparation for the hike. He has also been comparing the Comanche tribes to the Cherokee. When the Cherokee were removed from their lands during the Trail of Tears many of them were relocated to Comanche land. This caused some fighting between the tribes, according to Kristal Cooper, Ron’s wife.
Ron Cooper said the Comanche fought for survival on the battlefield while the Cherokee fought more through the legal system in the Supreme Court.
He wants his hike to bring awareness to the trail because there were many tribes involved and each had struggles.
Many of the soldiers who were in charge of relocating the tribes followed different routes.
“I’m hiking the Northern Route because the land route and the water route are the National Historic Trail right now,” Cooper said, commenting that work is being done to have the other trails added.
Following the Northern Route, he plans to start Monday in Charleston, where Fort Cass was one of the main starting points for tribes on the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears. The route goes through parts of Kentucky, Illinios, Missouri and Arkansas, and ends just inside Oklahoma. Cooper said the trail will be a lot easier and faster for him because he will be on mostly paved roads, and walking alone. He will also have the option to go inside the couple’s RV if things get too cold. Kristal will be following a similar route and staying at campgrounds along the way. For the most part, though, her husband will be camping out for about four days before going in to resupply and rest before heading out again. Kristal said the route is 833 miles. To think of the entire hike is a little overwhelming, so Ron said he has to focus on just getting from one town to the next. Every step of the journey will be a new experience for him because he’s never been on any of the roads he will be traveling.
Along the way, Cooper will be stopping at key historical sites, and updating his blog at www.ronhikestrailoftears.com. He has already started the blog with background and historical information. One place he is really interested in visiting is The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson, in Nashville. Cooper said it was Jackson’s policies that initiated the Trail of Tears. He also wants to visit the graves of some of the chiefs who died on the Trail in Kentucky. He is also looking forward to the times when he will be walking alone in the woods.
When the removal via the Trail of Tears started, the government said it would take 80 days, according to Kristal Cooper. It took a lot longer than expected, Ron said.
Many of those forcibly removed started out in October and November, and experienced a bitter winter before they reached Oklahoma. Yet, this is not why Cooper is hiking the Trail in winter. The main reason is because this is when he had time to do it. The couple enjoys a flexible work schedule that gives them January through March off from work, and they live in their RV. They work in national parks during the summer in gift shops and running concessions. Around Christmastime the couple are seasonal workers for Amazon.com warehouse in Kentucky, giving them the year’s first three months off. Cooper also said he would rather hike when it’s cold than when it is extremely warm.