Coming out of Eureka Springs we found ourselves north on 62, a windy mountain road that had a special fall feel to it. Fog rising over rivers added to a mystique that lingered over sleepy homes dotting the valley below us. We got off to an early start, partly due to the lack of internet at the hotel the night before, but mainly because we had 300+ miles to cover, and a lot of stops along the way.
First on the agenda was Pea Ridge National Military Park. Touted as the battle that saved Missouri for the Union, this is one of the most intact Civil War battlefields today, and is the only battle in which Native American troops participated. 1000 Cherokees fought for the Confederate army and routed two companies of Union cavalry before being forced into the woods by cannon fire.
Pea Ridge Park also has a very visible portion of the Trail of Tears, also known as Telegraph Road, which thousands of Cherokee and other American Indians traveled in the winter of 1838-39 after being forced to move from their homelands. It also served as the Butterfield Overland Stage Route from 1857-61, and during this key battle in March of 1862, both Federals and Confederates would use it as well.
The auto tour is great, and includes a fantastic view from a hill of the entire battle field. You can almost imagine being there as interpretive signs show positions of various troops and tell the story of how Pea Ridge was the last push of the Confederates to take Missouri, and with their failure how many of the troops, both Union and Confederate, moved on east of the Mississippi to fight in other campaigns.
From Pea Ridge, we continued on highway 62, now heading southwest skirting Fayetteville, Arkansas to Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. This smaller Civil War battlefield site is also an auto tour, but unlike Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge, this one lacked a bit. In fact, part of the auto tour took you out of the park, back on 62 and then into a residential area. It's still a great place for history though and I'm glad we had the chance to see it.
We stayed on highway 62, winding our way to Oklahoma and Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation Capitol. Just outside of Tahlequah is the W.W. Keeler complex, the seat of the tribal government, and we made brief stops at the Cherokee Heritage Center, The Murrell Home built in 1844, and a fairly new Cherokee Warriors Memorial, dedicated in 2005 to those who have fought in the United States Military.
Still on 62, just outside of Muskogee, we reach Fort Gibson, one of the most important posts on the "permanent Indian frontier." Established in 1824, this Fort was a key transportation point and testing hub for the newly activated Ranger units and Dragoon Regiments. It played roles in the Civil War, Mexican-American and Indian Wars, and was long gone by the time it was reconstructed in 1936 under the WPA. Be sure to tour the stockade and other reconstructed outlying buildings, it's worth the stop.
By this time we were running out of daylight. Shorter days mean less sightseeing, so we boogied on down highway 69 from Muskogee to Howe Texas, just south of Sherman, where we would bunk with family for a couple of nights in "Fort Bertoldo" (Thanks Jimmy and Deb!) Be sure to watch the "What's New" page for expanded articles on our adventures. Next blog we travel the Texas Forts Trail from Howe to Abilene.