In the steps of our ancestors
From the Desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle
The winter months are almost over. Several ice storms made their way through the country this year and as I walked carefully down my drive during the last bout of freezing weather I thought of the steps made by our ancestors on the Trail of Tears. We read of the hardships and the disease, hunger and death along the trail. It is difficult for us to fully comprehend everything they endured. Approximately 15,000 Choctaws began the journey from Mississippi to the new Indian Territory. There were three migrations during the years 1831 to 1833. It is estimated 12,500 survived the removal.
The Choctaw Nation’s commemorative Trail of Tears Walk is held annually to honor those who died along the way and the men, women and children who survived to begin a new life.
This year’s Trail of Tears Walk on May 17 will begin at the park in Millerton and end at Wheelock Academy. The grass will be green and the small lake behind Pushmataha Hall will reflect the tall trees surrounding the water. It’s a peaceful location, and will come alive again that day with hundreds of people exploring the campus.
This beautiful area in McCurtain County was one of the first to be settled by Choctaw people as they entered Indian Territory. Alfred and Harriet Wright, missionaries who traveled with the Choctaw from Mississippi, built Wheelock Mission School in 1832 to fill a void for many children. The mission ceased being co-ed in the 1840s, becoming the Wheelock Female Seminary. The seminary functioned until the beginning of the Civil War.
Education is, and has always been, a top priority for the Choctaw Nation and by 1842 they had developed a school system. As the system continued to grow, the purpose of Wheelock Seminary was changed to one of housing and serving Choctaw orphans. The Nation assumed control of the school in 1893 until the federal government and other entities took on administration of the school in 1898 and it eventually became open to girls from other Native American tribes. Wheelock Academy closed in 1955 while under the management of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a decision made to integrate Native American students into public schools.
The buildings stand testament to the perseverance of a people who believed in education. LeFlore Hall has been renovated to house a museum and gift shop where photos line the walls and rooms hold the desks, books, and memorabilia of a century ago.
We hope you are able to join us during the Trail of Tears Walk at Wheelock, a time to follow our ancestors’ path, a day for fellowship, and an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Choctaw Nation.
Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk is Saturday, May 17. An opening ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at Millerton’s city park and the approximately 3-mile walk will end at the historic Wheelock grounds. Please park at Wheelock where buses will be available to transport participants to Millerton. Drivers will begin taking passengers at 8 a.m. Lunch will be shared with everyone. Wheelock Academy is located at 1377 Wheelock Rd., Garvin, OK.