Trail of Tears, Benge Route, Kentucky

Columbus-Belmont State Park, 350 Park Road, Columbus, KY 42031, (270) 677-2327, Access: Open to the public, Historical Significance: The John Benge detachment, with some 1100 Cherokee heading west toward Indian Territory, arrived at this spot (via present-day State Highway 58) in mid-November 1838. Since the early 1820s a Mississippi River ferry had been operating between the present-day Columbus community and the site of Belmont, Missouri. Given the large size of Capt. Benge's detachment, however, participants doubtless spent several days in and around the ferry landing and camped both along the road and in a large semicircle surrounding the landing. In a later period, the park area witnessed the construction of Confederate fortifications; these were later occupied by Union forces. The 1861 Battle of Belmont, a raid fought to test the strength of the Confederate stronghold, marked the opening of the Union's Western Campaign. Available Facilities: The state park has varied facilities including trails, a Civil War museum, a campground, and picnic shelters. Exhibits: Several historical markers are located on the property, as well as various exhibits in the park museum; present interpretation is focused on the Civil War battle and the fortifications.

The Trail of Tears refers to the forced relocation of the Southeastern Indians (the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) by the American federal government from their homelands in the east, to lands west of the Mississippi River in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). The Indian Removal Act passed by Congress in 1830, required all American Indians in the east, to give up their lands and move west to Indian Territory.

In 1838, more than 16,000 Cherokees were removed from their lands primarily in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. They traveled west in detachments of about 1,000 people. Three detachments traveled by water on the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers to Indian Territory. Thirteen groups traveled by land across the southeastern U.S. including Kentucky. In Kentucky, the primary land route went through Todd, Christian, Caldwell and Livingston counties. One detachment traveled through Graves and Hickman counties, and is referred to as the Benge Route.

Thousands died and endured extreme hardships, illness, and icy winter conditions on their trek west. Some of the Cherokees had only thin clothes and no shoes for the harsh winter. They arrived in Indian Territory in 1839 and began building a new life. One group managed to hide in the mountains during the removal and today, their descendants still live in North Carolina. This tragic event in American history is known as The Trail of Tears.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokees (in North Carolina) are federally recognized tribal nations and provide many opportunities for education, economic growth, housing and healthcare for the Cherokee people.

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Route is a commemoration of the forced removal of the Southeastern American Indians and is administered by the National Park Service partnered with the Trail of Tears Association. The Trail travels through nine states and encompasses thousands of miles of land and water routes.

Ky Great River Road Trail of Tears


Latitude: 36.765337 Longitude: -89.112884 Elevation: 301 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
KY GreatRiverRoad

Driving Directions

Pickup a map at Columbus-Belmont State Park, then trace the route to Clinton, Kentucky to Dukedom, Tennessee on the Kentucky-Tennessee State Line. 

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

Old traces, historic buildings, and other resources are being discovered and, where possible, preserved. Many sites have been certified and numerous on-the ground projects have been completed, such as route signing, visitor-use development, interpretive wayside exhibits, and interior museum exhibits at existing facilities. Columbus-Belmont State Park is a Certified Site of the Land and Water Trail of Tears with the National Park Service.  

Leave a Comment