NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE
In partnership National Parks Service, Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, and representatives from the Cherokee Nation through the Trail of Tears Association (national) and the Missouri Trail of Tears Association, MHC is working to locate and mark historic sites along the Trail of Tears in Missouri.
THE STORY OF THE SNELSON-BRINKER CABIN
In 1824, Levi Snelson built a double-pen log cabin along a roadbed in rural Missouri—nine miles west of Steelville. In just a few years, this homestead would become an important site in the story of American Indian removal.
The Cherokee Trail of Tears (1837-1839), in which Cherokee Indians, as well as Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Ponca were forcibly removed from the American southeast to the southern plains, crossed 600 miles of Missouri territory in three distinct routes. In total, some 10,000 Cherokee crossed through Missouri on the Trail of Tears.
In November 1838, one such detachment of 1,000+ Cherokee, led by Richard Taylor, departed from a camp on the Vann Plantation near Chattanooga, Tennessee—taking the northern route through Missouri toward Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. By late February 1839, they arrived at the Snelson cabin (now the Snelson-Brinker family farm and homestead), where they would camp for the night. W.I.I. Morrow, a physician, was among those who traveled with the Taylor detachment. Morrow noted in his diary:
“26th Feby. Cloudy & cool. Traveled to Davis near Steelville 10 miles – clear – 27th clear and cold, traveled 10 miles to Brinker near Massy [sic] Iron Works – snowed some during the day a very cold night – four Indians died, and were buried viz – 2 of Mills family, Old Byrd, and Mary Fields”
Another written account confirms the details of at least four named burials at the Snelson-Brinker homestead, making the rural Missouri farm one of just a handful along the entire 9-state network of the Trail of Tears (over 2,200 miles) that is a confirmed campsite and burial ground of the Cherokee people.
Although largely rebuilt, the Snelson-Brinker house has remained at its original site and setting since the 19th century. As Crawford County’s oldest home, it also served as an early courthouse for the county. In March 2007—in recognition of this rich history—the Snelson-Brinker house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sadly, an arsonist set fire to the homestead on July 4, 2017. The original stone hearth and chimney are all that remain of the cabin. MHC is leading an effort to preserve the chimney with expert assistance from structural engineers. As part of our Native American Heritage program, MHC has also commissioned an hour-long documentary on the Snelson-Brinker property and its historical significance in the Trail of Tears. This film follows a team of archaeologists from Lindenwood University as well as representatives from the National Park Services, the State of Missouri, and the Cherokee Nation, as they seek to locate exact trail routes and burial grounds on the property.