Comanche Ronald Cooper spent much of his life enjoying outdoor hobbies such as hiking, backpacking, birdwatching and more. He had taken many walks around national parks but wondered if he could do a really long walk, one with meaning. That's when he got the idea of retracing the Trail of Tears.
In an interview with Garrett Woodward with Smoky Mountain News, Cooper talks about how he thought it was be a simple task finding a map of the Trail of Tears route, but it proved to be difficult.
He began to look for information on where it started, ended and what was in between. Recognized as a historic trail by the National Park Service, it seemed, at first, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get the ball rolling.
“I thought it would just a simple matter of calling the park service and asking for maps,” he chuckled. “They couldn’t provide me with that. All they did was give me a general idea of where the trail is. They had no idea on how to walk it. I couldn’t believe they didn’t have anything.”
Far from discouraging him, however, that phone call sealed the deal, his interest piqued not only by the allure of the journey itself but also by retracing footsteps buried by time.
Cooper dove further down the rabbit hole of research. He combed the Internet, numerous books and contacted historical societies. Though he thought there might be wilderness sections of the trail, it turned out most of the trail followed popular travel routes during the 19th century, which nowadays have been transformed into highways and interstates.
It took nearly a year, but eventually, a clearer picture emerged, and by January 2011, he was ready to begin his journey.
As you can imagine it was a tough 3 month journey, especially through a particularly brutal winter, but nothing deterred Cooper from finishing what he started. He brought along his camera and a digital recorder to document his walk, which led to him eventually publishing a book about his journey titled It's My Trail, Too: A Comanche Indian's Journey on the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The book is described as “part memoir, part trail guide – with history and philosophy throughout”.
As shown in the book, Cooper encountered many great people along the way and saw some pretty awe inspiring things. Here are a couple of pictures from his journey that capture the history of the walk.
“This water source, at Gray's Inn in Guthrie, KY, was used by the ill Chief Whitepath as his detachment camped there. After he felt a little better, the Cherokee dubbed this “The Well of Sweet Water.” Unfortunately, the well is no longer in use.”
“This wagon has been documented to have traveled the Trail of Tears. It is the only one known to still exist. I couldn't stop touching it.” The Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center.
So what's next for Ronald Cooper? He has plans to retrace the Navajo Long Walk. He recently plotted out his course and by his calculations it will be a 535 mile walk from Fort Defiance / Canby, AZ to Fort Sumner / Bosque Redondo, NM. We wish him well on his upcoming journey!
It's My Trail, Too: A Comanche Indian's Journey on the Cherokee Trail of Tears is available on Amazon Kindle and also Paperback. Please visit Amazon.com for more information.
And be sure to follow Ronald Cooper on Facebook at It's My Trail Too to get updates on any future book signing events and updates on his upcoming journey along the Navajo Long Walk.