While most young ladies are preparing for their prom, Emma Harris-Swensden has been readying herself for a horseback trip along the path of the Cherokee and their Trail of Tears. She will eventually end her trip in Missouri.
Emma was granted early graduation from Anderson High School in her hometown of Lawrenceburg, Ky.
On Thursday, the ambitious 17-year-old set out from Charleston on her planned two-month journey. Emma has been riding horses since she was a toddler, according to her mother Susan Harris.
Darlene Goins of the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society met with Emma Wednesday evening after she and family members landed at the Hiwassee River Heritage Center.
The family towed “Blaze”, an Arabian-Mustang, and “Rune,” her canine companion for the trip.
“I am proud but scared at the same time,” said Emma’s mother.
Her reason for the trip? Her educational advisers suggested Emma needed more experiences in her life. She had been homeschooled prior to her high school years.
She is a Harlan Scholar and plans on attending the University of Louisville, where she will begin studying law.
One of the most prolific historical Trail of Tears events began at Fort Cass at the Cherokee Indian Agency, which is present day Charleston.
Emma began her journey on Market Street where National Park Service officials, after researching the history of the area, said it had been located.
Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Charleston Police Chief Johnny Stokes escorted Emma, Blaze and Rune along the beginning point route of thousands of Cherokee — a route along which many had perished along the way.
During that time in history, Principal Chief John Ross and others fought President Andrew Jackson and the Georgia legislature for their land. The battle in the courts and on the lands of the Cherokee went on for years.
In 1838, Fort Cass stockades were filled with Cherokee and some members of other Native American Indian tribes. Many died in the encampments surrounding the Fort Cass Emigration Depot.
Emma began searching for what her advisors had suggested.
“I know what I am supposed to do,” Emma told her mother.
She had studied in history about the fight the Cherokee had waged against the U.S. It was mostly a political war, according to historical accounts.
The battle for Cherokee land centered on precious gold found in Dahlonega, Ga.
Of course the rivers, streams, farms and mountains were also a factor in the rebellious Georgia government’s reasons for wanting to rid the state of the Indians.
The Cherokee for the most part were well educated, but still held onto their heritage, and adapted to European culture.
Emma’s advisers suggested she prepare herself for law school through volunteering for justice service issues overseas.
“That made no sense to me. We have issues happening [in the United States] that no one is addressing as much as they are addressing what is happening in other countries,” Emma explained.
At the time, she was also taking part in government activities.
“I was lobbying for House Bill 3 in the Kentucky Senate regarding the Women’s Violence Protection act and the Violence against Women act in the national Congress,” she said.
Some women were being denied certain protections.
“They were getting denied because they were Native Americans and Hispanic women. Their argument was they shouldn’t need our protection because they aren’t considered human. This dawned on me that this happened 130 years ago. They are going on again with the ‘They aren’t human debate,’” Emma explained.
“As I am talking to people in my school, I realize I am the only teen who really cares about this stuff,” she added.
As this was unfolding in her life, she then began to realize what her mission was and planning began a year ago.
“We have to take this over — politics, business — in our generation. If we don’t get invested now, when are we going to?” she asked herself.
“I want to get my generation to realize and know what is going on through reflecting on our past. What has happened in our past could lead to it happening again in our future, so it important for us to remember to learn from it,” Emma said.
After a year of preparation, Emma, Blaze and Rune have begun their travel along the infamous trail. She has set up a Facebook page to document and inform those interested of her daily trials and achievements.
The Cherokee Nation has been advised of her trek. Along the way, she will be monitored by a number of veterinarians and others.
She traveled west toward Blythe Ferry Thursday, stopping at Billy Ogle’s home, where she spent the night. With tent, supplies, and Rune in tow, Blaze trotted toward the ferry site early Friday morning.
The trip should last 68 days, according to Emma.
She is expected at the university for orientation in June.
To friend and follow her ambitious journey, go to Facebook and search “Trail and Tears Through Time.”