UA Little Rock’s Sequoyah National Research Center creates website visualizing American Indian removal through Arkansas

Daniel Littlefield sits among boxes of files at the UALR Sequoyah National Research Center, which will soon be home to one of the largest public collections of Alaska Native videos in the world.

The Sequoyah National Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has created a website and touchscreen table that brings the journey of American Indians who traveled through Arkansas on their way to Indian Territory to life.

The center has completed a two-year research project, “Journey of Survival: Indian Removal Through Arkansas,” that includes a website and interactive touchscreen table that visually maps the journey of American Indians who journeyed through Arkansas after the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The project was funded by a grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.

“Indian removal, or the Trail of Tears, through Arkansas was not being taught in the public schools,” said Dr. Daniel Littlefield Jr., director of the Sequoyah National Research Center. “We wanted to create a resource where teachers and students could go to get accurate information about this historical event. We think this website will be a valuable tool for educators to use in developing curricula for elementary and secondary classes.”

Those who worked on the project include Littlefield, graduate assistant Alex Soulard, GIS Analyst James Holly, Principal Investigator Erin Fehr, programmer and developer Erik Stevens, and Freta Rogers-Mason, information technology coordinator. The company Media & More provided graphic design services.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by President Andrew Jackson, forcibly displaced the Southeastern tribes in the U.S. – Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole. Each tribe that was removed from their ancestral homes journeyed through the state of Arkansas to their new homes in Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.

“The idea of removing the Indians to the West was decades old before the Indian Removal Act of 1830,” Littlefield said. “Americans’ desire for Indian land was the motive for pushing the Indians out. As the debate over Indian removal grew hotter after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jackson took advantage of the debate and ran on a pro-removal ticket in 1828.”

The Journey of Survival project maps each route taken by all five tribes and provides historically accurate narratives that document the routes traveled. More than 80 sites have been identified as significant to the story of Indian Removal through Arkansas. The project includes photographs of the current-day locations and historical markers created by the National Park Service and other entities.

“We know where every group that came through was nearly every day the group was in Arkansas, taking away some of the vague historical interpretation that often surrounds the story of the Trail of Tears,” Littlefield said.

Digital images of original manuscripts found at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., have been included that will make great primary source tools for educators. The map was based on the 2009 map created by the Arkansas Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association and updated with new research.

Littlefield said that Arkansans would find some of the less-known historical information surrounding American Indian removal in the state surprising.

“Many people do not realize that the five tribes who came through Arkansas on their ways west were slaveholding people,” Littlefield said. “As a result, thousands of African-descended people, including slaves and free blacks, came over the Trail of Tears with their tribes. A large number of interpreters used in the removal were blacks.”

Another little known fact is that the Indian removal was instrumental in the granting of Arkansas statehood in 1836.

“Arkansas Territory had no banks because territories could not charter them,” Littlefield said. “So much money was pouring into the territory as a result of removal that Arkansas was granted statehood so it could charter banks, even though it met few of the qualifications for statehood.”

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