The ambitious 17-year-old, who graduated early, was greeted in the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah, Okla., for completing her adventure with her horse “Blaze” and canine companion “Rune.”
The long trail home began in Charleston at the end of March. Emma, Blaze and Rune made their way slowly along the route of the infamous Trail of Tears, documenting each step of the way via social media.
What began as a few friends on Facebook, turned into nearly 700 followers — many whom she met along the way.
Swensden decided to take the journey along the trail because educational advisers felt she needed a cultural and social experience.
After studying the atrocities of the 1800s federal government against the Cherokee Indians, she decided to prepare for the trip.
Swensden reached the Cherokee National Courthouse June 7, officially ending her trek.
She had missed her senior prom and having the opportunity to walk across the stage at her graduation.
Along the way, many people took part in watching over her and the animals as they traveled town to town.
Veterinarians cared for Blaze when he developed an abscess on his back. Time was taken off from the journey to let the wound heal. Once on the road again, Swensden would be confronted by obstacles such as spring storms, cold weather and eventually higher temperatures, which could have taken a toll on her animals.
After reaching Tahlequah, she pulled off her riding boots and bought a pair of shoes.
The three traveled lightly, with tent and small supplies.
News media also documented her courageous journey. Newspapers searched her out along the trail for interviews and photo opportunities. News stations also sent crews to speak with Swensden. She has even had article offers from equine magazines.
She could travel up to 25 miles per day. Some days the trio didn’t go a full 25 miles.
Along the way, residents in towns she would be traveling came out to greet her and offer shelter, food, pastures for Blaze and room for Rune.
Swensden noted in her memoirs that at times, phone service or Internet was not available.
She would apologize to her followers for not being able to post her daily trip log.
She found refuge from pop-up storms by sheltering where she could — once inside a car wash.
“Let’s be honest — although I am proud of finishing I do not have a clue what to do with myself!!” she exclaimed after reaching the Cherokee capital.
Her journey had ended, but she continued her learning by touring at historic sites in and around the Cherokee nation.
She visited the Ross Cemetery, where Principal Chief John Ross was buried, where his brother Lewis was laid to rest a few years later and many others in the Ross family, as well as other sites of historical significance.
Her travel companions had the opportunity to rest while she was given the tour of the area by officials with the Cherokee Nation.
“Oddly enough I don't think Rune enjoys being done as much as I do. He is so funny wandering around then laying down then wandering again. I am going to have to take up jogging or find a dog park before his restless energy drives me insane,” said Swensden.
She said earlier this week, Rune continues to randomly “take off running.”
Many people, especially her mother Susan, worried about her ambitious journey along the Trail of Tears where 4,000 Cherokee died along the way.
In one post, Susan said “Flame has carried her through so many dark times, and I had to learn to trust that horse. Then I had to learn to trust Emma. Then I had to trust God that he was watching over her, and leading her in the right direction.”
Swensden shared a post with a friend.
The post simply stated, “You only have to look around at your soul companions who are making this journey with you to realize how blessed you are.”